We raced to the coast just in time to catch the huge red molten sun dipping below the sea in a split second. My first glimpses of Fremantle were an exciting mix of tropical paradise and some kind of old Western town;  historic character pubs and buildings, red dusky sky and desert-like climate. So exotic and different to the urban European vibe of Melbourne.

I peered up into the squawking Norfolk Pines to see if the nesting birds were starlings, and was amazed to see hundreds of bright rainbow lorikeets rustling and nesting for the day. I’d never seen such colourful birds, and so many!

I’d gone to Freo to visit Rob, who I met at a festival near Melbourne where I was living at the time. Rob’s neighbourhood of South Fremantle is a short walk to an amazing sheltered beach with turquoise water and white sand. (South Beach) Swimming there was like swimming in a warm blue pool.

Exotic flowers such as frangipani and hibiscus are everywhere in front gardens.  There’s an arty feel to the ‘hood, with colourful street art on many walls. Tamer and neater than Melbourne street art.

Going for walks at night I imagined living in one of the cute special Federation houses. Many are painted with lovely subtle colours such as teal and peach. Homely glowing interiors, fairy lights and cute cosy porches hinted at how linked the outdoors and indoors are here. Exotic floral scents like jasmine and honeysuckle smelled heavenly on the warm night air.

At dusk we cruised through the cappuccino strip which has the vibe of a Mediterranean island holiday in summer with its busy restaurants and enticing outdoor seating. I just couldn’t believe people LIVED here!

Wafting through Fremantle’s trendy shops and pretty markets on a dry sunny Saturday we felt high on life. Dipping in and out of Rob’s regular haunts to pick up his ‘essentials’ seemed as far from my weekly plod to Brunswick Coles as things could get. We dropped by the ‘oil lady’ for essential oils and Frankincense incense sticks…visited the herb and spice lady in the markets who clearly had a crush on Rob and let him scoop out his own herbs as he was a special customer…Locals interacted with real warmth and openness everywhere we went.

It seemed like everyone noticed us, caught our eye and smiled. The woman in the deli gave us a knowing smile and asked how our day was going while Rob picked up his organic coffee beans, and we exchanged some cheeky banter with smiles and nods.

It’s amazing how people engage with you when you’re happy and open. I inspected the delicacies and chocolate bars in pretty wrapping. Everything seemed special and easy. In bed that night I closed my eyes to see colourful patterns of dresses and chocolate bar wrappers I’d browsed.

The many organic cafes and health food shops stocked amazing arrays of products I’d never seen. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. The Raw Food Cafe is a great space with cool industrial decor and some incredible dishes. The ice cream is the best I’ve ever tasted – vegan and sugar free! The rose and rich chocolate stick in my mind.

Fremantle Markets sell colourful fruit and veg, healthy (and not so healthy) food, pretty homeware and gifts. It’s crazy to think the famous Fremantle Prison housed convicts from the 1850s to as recently as 1991. How very different life must have been for them compared to the healthy wealthy residents of the town today.

Jogging south one day from dog beach along the beachfront path which winds through the dunes and trees I found an old shipwreck off Coogee Beach jutting out of the water near the shore.

Further down the beach this incredible old abandoned power station came into view with an eerie green pond in front of it. It’s a super quiet area with almost nobody about except the odd dog walker. I cautiously snook inside and snapped some photos of the graffiti-ed walls, ignoring signs threatening to keep out.

Another great thing about Fremantle is that you can get the Ferry right over to Rottnest island in only half an hour. It’s a small island with little coves and lovely beaches, with a view of Perth in the distance. We hired clunky bikes and cycled round the island. We met some inquisitive quokkas – cute little marsupials that were mistaken for giant rats by the early Dutch settlers, hence the island name of ‘Rat Nest’. If you offer them some water in a cupped hand they come and drink it!

The sunsets in WA are incredible. The sun melts down right over the ocean horizon with incredible colours. It’s one of the best places on earth for sunsets I’ve been to, along with the Northern Territory. It’s even better than India which was pretty amazing. One night we even saw the moon set over the sea in a smudge of dark brownish clouds – something we’d never seen before!

I stayed in Fremantle with Rob for a week in February – the height of WA summer, then for a couple of months in winter. They were some of my most memorable times in Australia. The first time was not long after I met him, in a whirlwind of summer love. The second was a more realistic taste of what it’s like to live together. But that’s another story…We remain close friends to this day, and chat when we can. He’ll always be a special part of my life, and taught me many important lessons about love, life and relationships <3