Although the Swan River colony was established in 1829, Perth is a relatively new city, and many of the locals have told me the 1983 America’s Cup win was the event that really “made” Perth and Fremantle in particular. That said, although Fremantle has some wonderfully well-preserved old buildings, the same can’t be said for Perth. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the buildings in the CBD had been built in the last twenty years. What it does give you, though, is an insight into what’s beneath the surface – sand – and an insight into how why Perth is the way it is: a city focussed on the ocean and the land. Any why not, it’s gorgeous.
Although at opposite ends of the country, Sydney and Perth are united: Sydney has the harbour and Perth has the river. Unlike Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, for example, where it’s a fair drive to a decent beach and the rivers are crap, Sydney and Perth are fortunate to have wonderful waterways. For that reason, a visit to Perth should include one of a number of river cruises that are available. The one-hour cruise along the Swan River from Perth to Fremantle gives you a really great opportunity to have a look at the river, taking in sights of particularly large and sometimes tacky houses, owned by the likes of Rose Porteous and Kerry Stokes, amongst others. Another favourite of mine is the full-day cruise to the Swan Valley wineries. Just be warned, at the end of a day’s wine-tasting not everyone will be as classy as you!
Another of the “must do” things in Perth is visit Rottnest Island, which is located 19km off the coast of Fremantle. Rottnest seems like one of those places where you can do whatever you want and have no regrets that you’ve wasted a holiday or that you’ve done too much. You can do whatever you want to. I travelled there with a company called Boat Torque which offers an all inclusive one day package tour to the island which includes return a ferry trip from Perth, bike hire morning and afternoon tea, and lunch at the Rottnest Lodge Resort. The scenery is stunning, even in winter, with coastal dunes covered in vegetation and small bays. There are also daily tours covering the island’s interesting history.
By and large I wouldn’t say that Perth’s restaurants are great, but there are some highlights. Since arriving, my favourite lunchtime venues have become The Mussel Bar at Fremantle which has terrific food and great views and the Blue Water Grill at Applecross which has good food with a terrific views. Later in the afternoon, especially during the summer months, I’ve become very partial to the Indian Tea House at Cottesloe which has a “Raffles” feel to it. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun set into the ocean while sipping on a Long Island Iced Tea. My all time favourite place, though would have to be the Subiaco Hotel which combines good food with a great atmosphere. If your budget can afford it, I’d also recommend The Loose Box, which is widely regarded as the best restaurant in WA. Be warned, it’s a long way from the city, so you should be prepared either not to drink, to be willing to pay for a cab or take advantage of their overnight guest accomodation available on-site. The food, service and decor were indisputably excellent.
The arts scene in Perth is quite good. Highlights include the Janet Holmes a Court Gallery which features works from her families personal collection and the Art Gallery of WA which has good collections of Aboriginal art and photography. The state’s flagship companies, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the West Australian Opera are both very good. When it comes to art and theatre on the edge, though, I have been a little disappointed, since I don’t think it’s edgey enough.
Do some of these things in Perth and the locals will know you’re a tourist, but you’ll also have a great time and gain an insight into the soul of the place.