Chris Parry is a Western Australian writer, with a weekly travel show on Perth radio station 6PR. Follow Chris on chrisparrywritesforus.com but not in Weekend Notes.
Published February 7th 2017
Move over Broome Time, it's time for Rockingham Time
Great weekenders, and the much savoured long weekend, often mean we try to travel as far as we can to somehow ensure the best time possible because we're as far as we can be from home. For so much of the Australian population, the state capital cities are our homes and these cities all have fond traditional weekend destinations. In Melbourne, the locals love Daylesford while in Sydney it might be the Blue Mountains. In Brisbane there's the Gold Coast while Adelaide has the Barossa Valley and Hobart has just about the whole island of Tasmania to choose from to get away for the weekend. In Perth, Margaret River is the big one to head for. Close to four hours from Perth it is renowned for its opportunities to indulge and excite.
What if I told you that south of Perth, just 45 minutes away, or north of Bunbury, just 90 minutes away, is a seaside community that offers high quality accommodation less than five minutes' walk from the most remarkable beach and boardwalk in Western Australia? And, that it has a well-coordinated suite of tourist activities to interest anyone with a heartbeat?
For a breakaway with the family, and to shake off the beguiling summer laziness of the weeks immediately following Christmas, we headed to Rockingham to have an adventure and try out the Christmas presents, including the snorkel sets, boogie boards and beach towels.
For two days my family of four experienced the brilliant freshness and vibrancy of the Quest Apartments; a Rockingham Wildlife Encounters tour of Shoalwater Bay with dolphins, seals, ospreys and pelicans surrounding us for over two hours; a stand-up paddle board lesson tailored for all ages; and dining experiences along the Palm Beach foreshore to rival, and largely outdo, the most popular Perth beachside eateries. On top of this, I took the opportunity to enjoy the Jetpack experience available on Rockingham Beach and my son Tom enjoyed a ride on one of the jet skis available for tour group hire.
On a recent trip to Rockingham by a very different route I had arrived on Rockingham Beach after jumping out of a perfectly operating aircraft at 14000 feet. As I had swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem skydiving instructor, I had looked around. We were high enough to see curvature of the horizon and I could see Penguin Island and the smaller islands of Shoalwater Bay and the broad, thin white stretch of Palm Beach that marks the Rockingham foreshore.
It was at the Penguin Island jetty, where Shoalwater Bay meets Safety Bay that our weekend began. By mid-morning we were on the waters of Shoalwater Bay, within the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Just past Seal Island we encountered a pod of ten dolphins. Watching them graze on the sea grass below and lazily rise to breathe was remarkable but then the pod must have realised a few of us had cameras. Sliding behind the wake of the boat they suddenly leapt from the water, spinning and splashing with what I am absolutely sure were smiles on their faces.
We made our way around the bay and found some seals basking in the sunshine on Seal Island. All males, these seals get down to Rockingham from the islands around Lancelin to the north of Perth to escape the females and enjoy a bit of fishing and lazing about doing nothing on the beach. Oh, for the life.
It's a tour with so much to see and while I probably am not usually too keen on commentaries, there is a lot worth listening to as well. After a quick stop on Penguin Island to successfully locate some little Fairy Penguins it's back to the mainland, about a kilometre away, to complete this first adventure that has surprised and thrilled us all.
We made our way to the Quest Apartments and the kids were immediately impressed by the spaciousness of two adjoining rooms but before they could grab the remote control for the television it was time to hit the beach and try out the snorkelling gear and boogie boards. Palm Beach has to be the best beach in Western Australia for a child to learn how to snorkel and Waikiki Beach, with the sea breeze in your back, has to be one of the best boogie boarding beaches.
That evening, we were sun blasted and salt encrusted and even though the kids were fading they didn't want to miss an opportunity to walk along Palm Beach once the sun had set, and with torches and nets in hand they caught some prawns as they flicked along the surface of the water. It was strictly catch and release as we were booked into Rustico's, a popular tapas bar on the foreshore, and with a big day deserving a big meal we suitably indulged and then walked back to our rooms for the evening where salty heads slept soundly.
The following morning after a great foreshore brekky we met up with Bill at Surf Mania whowais keen for us to have a go on a stand-up paddle board. I would like to have a few photos of us falling in after overbalancing but we were all surprised with how stable the boards are, particularly on the still waters of Palm Beach. We all took our turn and while I was obviously the best at standing up and paddling I didn't say anything to the family, choosing to wait until I write about the experience.
Having completed the slow, calm and relaxing activity of stand-up paddle boarding we made our way a few hundred metres down the beach, about halfway between the café strip and where the skydivers are starting to land on the beach. We were at one of Rockingham's newest adventures, the jetpack experience. The device works through a water jet propulsion system with arm levers that determine the direction you travel. The controls are surprisingly sensitive and as Jetpack and Flyboarding Adventures operator Edward explained, you need to learn quickly how to vary your direction and altitude to avoid being dunked in the water. It was tough to get the hang of and you swallow a bit of water but it is something completely different and completely enjoyable. With a bit of practice I'm sure I could be put to use doing stunts for the next James Bond movie.
Checking out of Quest Apartments later that afternoon I noticed my daughter Matilda on the balcony taking a last look at the sea view. She turned and told me that she was thinking about what I always tell her; if you're sorry to leave it means you've had a great time. She said she is very sorry to leave.
As we drove back to Perth I think about a family weekender we recently made to Broome, near the top of Western Australia. Broome is often described as being on 'Broome Time'. I guess it's meant to convey a slowing down, a lack of rushing about and taking it easy.
Is it possible we can enter a new description in the lexicon of Western Australian travel? Rockingham Time. Let Rockingham Time be a very Western Australian description for making the most of every minute. Let Rockingham Time be more than the traditional view of Rockingham being a pleasant day trip from Perth. Let Rockingham Time be a weekend, or even better, a long weekend to explore and indulge yourself, your friends and your family at full speed.
Whatever your age, whether it is a taste for dining or a thirst for adventure, let Rockingham Time guide you through at least two days of exquisite time well spent. Get to Rockingham. Get stuck in to what it has to offer. Be exhausted and be alive.
Rockingham is 40km south of Perth and is home to the Royal Australian Navy's biggest fleet base at Garden Island.
Quest Apartments Rockingham features 96 fully self-contained studio and one and two bedroom apartments with rates starting from $199 per night. Call 08 9591 0600 to enquire about their summer packages.
For information on tours, adventures and equipment hire in Rockingham call the Rockingham Visitor Centre on 9592 2778 or email firstname.lastname@example.org