Perth has an identity crisis. Western Australia’s capital fronts the Indian Ocean, has a Mediterranean climate, is closer to Asia than Australia’s east coast and is one of the world’s most multicultural cities. However, it is unmistakeably Australian and the closest port of call for Asian travellers.
Over the past few years, new life has been injected into Perth’s once sleepy downtown to provide cool dining, drinking and entertainment options for locals and visitors. Enlightened policies have activated alleyways and liberated laneways. Street art has transformed the city and office workers linger longer after hours to relax in hip and happening outlets.
While the city’s heritage has been retained, public areas have been re-energised with the city centre now reunited with the lively Northbridge precinct thanks to the opening of Yagan Square on what was formerly railway land. The new heart of the metropolis is home to restaurants, bars and shops, as well as a large digital display tower beaming in sporting events, much to the delight of sports-loving locals. Wirin, a 9m-high sculpture of a Noongar indigenous man representing the creative power that connects all life, stands guard.
If Yagan Square is Perth’s heart, the lively Elizabeth Quay redevelopment is its lungs, breathing new life into the Swan River waterfront. International hotels have the precinct firmly in their sights, with The Ritz-Carlton and DoubleTree by Hilton set to soon offer uninterrupted Swan River views.
Quay Perth is a recently opened boutique hotel on Elizabeth Quay. Its tenth floor is home to HQ Bar and Kitchen, a chic rooftop outlet serving Western Australian wines, craft ales and artisanal cocktails along with splendid views over the quay, while guests order from a modern Chinese-inspired menu with twists on regional classics.
Elsewhere in the city, DoubleTree has just opened in Northbridge, while QT Perth, The Westin, InterContinental Perth City Centre, Crown Towers, COMO The Treasury, Alex Hotel, Aloft and Tribe have revitalised Perth’s accommodation offerings.
Restaurants and bars within each are carving out their niche too, with Santini Bar and Grill (QT Perth) and Petition Kitchen (COMO) capturing much attention. From its intimate hideaway setting, Santini serves classic Italian fare using local produce, while Petition Kitchen is especially popular for leisurely brunches.
Budget travellers can enjoy satay and paella at the Twilight Hawker Market staged every Friday evening from October to April in Forrest Place near the main railway station. Visitors can discover more on walking tours of the city. Operators such as Food Loose (foodloosetours.com.au) and Two Feet & a Heartbeat (twofeet.com.au) offer walks led by young, enthusiastic locals keen to share insider tips on well-known sights and hidden dining gems. Alternatively, join a Segway tour (segwaytourswa.com.au) for an invigorating journey of discovery along the Swan River foreshore.
Living It Up
While the city’s fortunes wax and wane with global resource, commodity and mineral prices, Perth’s downtown skyline is punctuated by the headquarters of many of Australia’s leading mining companies.
Glistening modern buildings sparkling under the blue sky, abundant sunshine and quality of light make Perth so appealing. Summer days are normally refreshed in the afternoon when winds change direction and a breeze from the Indian Ocean cools the city. Known as the ‘Freo Doctor’, these winds flow in from the port city of Fremantle to bring much-appreciated relief from the heat. Perth’s weather is one of the main reasons why it is consistently rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Perth is as cosmopolitan as many other cities and its sense of remoteness is only experienced beyond the metropolitan boundaries. Bunbury, with 71,000 residents, is the state’s second largest city and is 175km to the south. The next major city is the South Australian capital, Adelaide, 2,104km to the east. Perth is closer to Jakarta and several other Asian cities than it is to the cities on Australia’s east coast.
Every Sunday morning, the fabled Indian Pacific train pulls out of East Perth for its legendary four-day, three-night journey 4,352km across the continent to Sydney. This luxury rail journey includes travelling 478km along the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track across the parched Nullarbor Plain.
City in a Park
Located on Perth’s doorstep, Kings Park and Botanic Garden is one of the world’s largest inner-city parks. Extending over 400ha, it has everything a city park should offer, from being a biome for plant species to a recreational area for residents.
Its main entrance is lined with an avenue of stately gum trees and, from the elevated vantage point over the Swan River, pelicans and black swans (native to Western Australia) can be seen swimming below in the shallows. In summer, people enjoy picnics on the shaded expanses of grass, play impromptu games of cricket, watch performances or even enjoy the moonlight cinema under the stars.
Fremantle – Vibrant Port
Some of Perth’s best attractions are less than half an hour from the city centre. Nearby attractions include the Swan Valley vineyards and beautiful metropolitan beaches like Cottesloe (home to the world’s first Dôme coffee shop) and City Beach. Even the famous vineyards of Margaret River are only a three-hour drive south. At the mouth of the Swan River, the historic port of Fremantle is popular with tourists who flock in particular to the Fremantle Markets (open Friday to Sunday) and the former Fremantle Prison.
Historic warehouses, merchant offices, shops and pubs have been rejuvenated and rejigged as cafés, bars, restaurants, galleries, bookshops and boutiques. Simply wandering the streets, relaxing in a coffeeshop on ‘Cappuccino Strip’ (South Terrace) or sipping a microbrew in an atmospheric pub has great appeal.
Wander down to Fishing Boat Harbour to watch fish being unloaded directly into the neighbouring seafood restaurants. Enjoy the freshest seafood at Kailis, Cicerello’s and Sweetlips or pop next door for pizza and craft ales at Little Creatures.
Don’t be surprised if local bands and now global artistes like the John Butler Trio, The Waifs or Tame Impala are playing a gig portside.
Rottnest – A Resort Island
What was once referred to as a rats’ nest, Rottnest Island offers yet another alluring reason to holiday in Perth. First visited by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was named Rats’ Nest Island because its best-known native animal, the quokka, was mistaken for an oversized rat.
The furry, cat-sized quokka is now the island’s official mascot, and taking a selfie with this docile marsupial is an essential activity. Actors Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Margot Robbie plus tennis ace Roger Federer have all posed with possibly the happiest and cutest animal on Earth.
Perth residents are blessed to have this holiday island paradise located nearby at just 18km from Fremantle. Covering only 19km2, it is mostly vehicle-free and best discovered on foot, bicycle or e-bike. While the Island Explorer Bus regularly circles the island, many hire e-bikes with a complimentary snorkel for exploring Rottnest and its underwater wonders.
The island especially appeals to families as its waters are protected by offshore reefs and are safe for swimming.
Ferries depart from Fremantle, Perth city centre and Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth’s north. It takes just 30 minutes to reach Rottnest from Fremantle.