Western Australia’s capital city, Perth, is a thriving, energetic, creative hub that is proof that good things come in small packages
Perth might be overshadowed by its big brothers on the east coast, but it holds its own all right. Big enough to be cosmopolitan but small enough to still count as charming, the city’s a bagful of surprises. Whether it’s crystal-clear beaches, tranquil parks, plenty of culture, edgy arts or a fun night out – the city offers an interesting mix of it all.
Take a walk in a park
The expansive King’s Park is not only the green lung of the city, but also a great lookout point. Plonk down on the grassy slopes and take in views of Swan River and the city, or just sprawl back and watch fluffy clouds float by. Being a botanic garden, expect a tonne of biodiversity peppered across the bazillion zones here. Wander around aimlessly, stopping to peer at the little signboards that will tell you something interesting about every tree here – sort of like a living museum of horticulture. If you really want to get under the skin (er, bark) of the plants here, the park offers a number of guided walks, some of which are free. Make sure you meet the wise old (over 700 years) boab tree (a type of baobab tree), Gija Jumulu (Gija are the indigenous people of Western Australia, and ‘jumulu’ means boab in their language), who travelled 3,200km from Warmun in Kimberley to this park. Incidentally, most of the boabs in this park have been transported from various other locations. The park regularly hosts several events, too, from screening movies under the stars, live performances, theatre, and more.
Fall in love with art
Come weekends, it feels like most of the city is hanging out at the Perth Cultural Centre – a lively, creative space in Northbridge, home to a whole bunch of cool places like the Art Gallery of WA, which is a great place to learn about the mesmerising indigenous art, and The Wetland, a freshwater pond that doubles as an ‘outdoor classroom’ for kids, as well as a scenic spot for events with a stage and steps on which to sit and sip on a lemonade from one of the food carts nearby. The Art Gallery of WA is not much to look at from the outside, but step in and you realise what an incredible arts platform it is (00-61-8-9492-6622; www.artgallery.wa.gov.au; 10am – 5pm Wed – Mon; free). Pop into any of the rooms and you’ll find something that will catch your eye. Exhibits range from interactive, to installation and indigenous art, and there’s always a special event or activity lined up to keep you engaged. Free guided tours take place daily, except on Tuesdays. Apart from this, the centre hosts several regular events – check out the events page on Perth Cultural Centre’s website for what’s on when you visit (00-61-8-655-70700; www.mra. wa.gov.au/projects-and-places/perth-cultural-centre; between Perth city train station and Northbridge, bounded by Roe, Beaufort, Francis and William Sts).
Drink in the scenery
Perth is blessed with great weather. Great beaches. A great art scene. Great open spaces. But more than anything, it’s blessed with a great location, with Margaret River on one side and Swan Valley on the other. While Margaret River isn’t exactly next door (a couple of hundred kilometres away), Swan Valley is about 20 minutes away. This means two things: chocolate tastings and wine trails.
Book a tour to this region swathed in vineyards, which is wildly popular among locals for hen parties (wine, chocolate, cheese tastings – it’s a no-brainer). Some of the country’s oldest vineyards call this region their home and you’ll find award-winning vintners here. A tour of this region lets you taste wines at a couple of vineyards supplemented with copious tastings of cheese, chocolate, honey and coffee – basically it’s a day of indulgence and excess, depending on the tour you pick. Oh, and don’t worry about the squealing hens – it all fades after a couple of glasses of crisp chardonnay.
Visit cuddly rats
Ordinarily the words ‘cuddly’ and ‘rodent’ don’t belong together, but, on Rottnest Island, they do. Quokkas are actually marsupials, but they look like large rats with permanent smiles affixed to their faces. This is probably why a Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, named this island ‘Rat’s Nest’, thanks to these adorable critters. Apart from attempting goofy selfies with quokkas, there’s much else to do on Rottnest, a short ferry ride from Perth. Take a 90-minute bus tour of the entire island, which is just 11km in length, or pedal around exploring at your own pace, hop aboard a Segway or take in the sights from a scenic flight or jump off the flight in a tandem skydive.
Surrounded as the island is by all that gorgeous blue water, you can also snorkel, surf, kayak or do some stand-up paddleboarding by renting gear at Pedal & Flipper. As there are no cars on the island, your only options to get around are by bus or bicycle, which you should book before arrival. You can book activities through Rottnest Island’s official website (Visitor Centre: 00-61-8-9372-9730; www.rottnestisland.com; Thomson Bay, Near Main Jetty; 7.30am – 5pm Sat – Thur, till 7pm Fri; check website for packages). We travelled with Rottnest Express, one of two ferry operators on the island, which arranges for the mentioned activities and equipment hire, as well as day-tour packages in various combinations.