Discovering Perth, Australia

by Stuart Haggas

Perth's outdoor-loving residents have numerous alfresco spaces, parks, beaches, and hip urban villages to enjoy.

Stuart Haggas

Three disused state buildings in the center of Perth have been combined and comprehensively restored to create Perth’s leading hotel. Dating from the 1890s, the Treasury, Lands and Titles offices, and General Post Office now stand together as COMO The Treasury. This five-star property is decorated in an elegant minimalist style, with statement artworks throughout.

Within its footprint are a host of first-class bars and restaurants. These include Petition Kitchen and Petition Beer Corner, both opting for a more urban aesthetic of exposed brickwork and raw concrete, alongside a menu of local and seasonal produce. Basement eatery Long Chim Perth serves authentic Thai street food in a vibrant space decorated by some of Thailand’s best street artists. Upscale fine dining restaurant Wildflower is housed in a stunning steel and glass box on the hotel rooftop. Well-being amenities include the indulgent COMO Shambhala Spa, an indoor lap pool with rooftop views, a gym, and a yoga studio.

Another vanguard property is Tribe Perth, located in a business district a few minutes by car from the center. The hotel is conceived for young, techsavvy guests who enjoy modern-luxe style at an accessible price. Its 126 prefabricated modular rooms are stacked eight stories high like shipping containers, hence the hotel was constructed in just two weeks. The rooms are compact, designed for sleep-and-shower stays, and each one is identical, although rooms on the upper floors have views across Kings Park and therefore command a slightly higher price.

 

There’s also plenty to do, see, and enjoy just outside of the city. Wine aficionados will know that Western Australia is home to the regarded Margaret River wine region, located a few hours from Perth. There’s also Swan Valley and its wineries right here in Perth’s backyard.

To best get acquainted with this area, there are numerous tour options, including Swan River cruise and Swan Valley winery tour combos, plus boozy wine-fueled bus tours favored by bucks and hens (the Australian equivalent of bachelor and bachelorette parties). Although a lot of fun, bigger tours are limited to where they can visit, because only large wineries can handle large coach parties. Such tours are often padded out with non-wine activity, such as visits to a chocolate factory.

Bird Sculpture and Swan River

For a more individual wine-centric experience, I took a winery tour with Up Close And Local. Paul, a Perth native who co-owns and runs the business, personally leads each tour so you’re guaranteed to get a truly local insight from someone who is passionate for wine, and a passionate for his hometown of Perth. With a maximum of 12 people per tour, the itinerary is all about the best boutique vineyards of the Swan Valley.

On our wine list was Olive Farm Wines, fourth generation winemakers who originally came from Croatia. Here, we sampled sparkling Chenin blanc, verdelho, Chardonnay, late picked verdelho, cabernetFranc, shiraz, petit verdot, and their flagship Stari, which is deliciously rich, treacly, and indulgent. And that was all before lunch!

After pausing for a gourmet cheese platter at neighboring The Cheese Barrel, our tour continued onto Faber Vineyard, Mandoon Estate, and John Kosovich Wines where we personally met some of the winemakers, and appreciatively sampled more delicious Swan Valley nectar.

For an even more personal experience, Paul can create bespoke tours tailored to your interest, group size, and budget. This can range from a Perth food tour, to a fully customised three-day itinerary exploring Margaret River and the southwest corner of Western Australia.
A popular weekend excursion, Fremantle is 30 minutes by Transperth train from central Perth. Or you can travel more leisurely by ferryboat from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.

Known locally as ‘Freo,’ this historical port town is a grid of Victorian and Georgian-era buildings, and includes many independent shops, galleries, and cafes. One particular street boasts so many coffee shops that it’s nicknamed ‘Cappuccino Strip.’

Built in 1897, Fremantle Markets occupies one of Freo’s landmark heritage buildings. Open Friday-Sunday, over 150 stallholders sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to natural soaps and artisan pottery. As well as being a place to browse local arts and crafts, the market is a champion of performing arts with a program of free entertainment by local buskers, budding musicians, and street performers.

Freo is also home of delicious food and handcrafted beer. A fully operational fishing port since the early 1900s, fresh fish are still hauled in daily at Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour. Today it also boasts some excellent bars and restaurants. Char Char Restaurant + Bar is a stylish full-service restaurant where diners can tuck into fresh oysters or award-winning prime Australian steak while appreciating panoramic harbor views.

If you love fish ‘n’ chips, head for Cicerello’s. What began in 1903 as a small kiosk is now an expansive boardwalk restaurant that serves (according to popular opinion) the #1 best fish ‘n’ chips in the whole of WA. Cicerello’s is hard to miss: standing right beside it is a large Lego-yellow sculpture of a naked man with a chunky tin-can penis, an artwork called “Coast Guard” by local sculptor Greg James.

The harbor is also birthplace of the famous Little Creatures Brewery. Established here in 2000 by a group of mates wanting to brew an American-style India Pale Ale, Little Creatures is considered Australia’s most successful micro-brewery; its founders pocketed millions of dollars when the business was acquired by Japanese brewing giant Kirin in 2012. Once used as a crocodile farm, the Great Hall is the hub of Little Creatures: authentically industrial in both scale and style, tables are set amidst the brewing infrastructure, and beer comes fresh from huge steel serving tanks. Its kitchen is also open-view, and the meånu of woodfired pizzas and share plates is intended to go perfectly with beer. Creatures NextDoor offers more of a cozy lounge ambience, and the Brewhouse is a great starting point for beer tastings, to join a guided brewery tour, or to shop for gifts and takeaway product.

Other popular attractions explore Freo’s history, most notably Fremantle Prison. Built in the 1850s, it was used as a place of incarceration for 136 years before being decommissioned in 1991. Open to the public since 1992, it’s the only UNESCO World Heritage listed building in WA. Regular day tours give an insight into prison life with tales of infamous convicts and daring escapes, plus there’s the option to take a spooky torchlight night tour, or to descend to the labyrinth of passageways below the prison and discover its darker side on a tunnel tour.

Sculptures by the Sea

Sculptures by the Sea

Fremantle is also a departure point for Rottnest Island. Known locally as Rotto, this popular recreation spot is located just 18km off the coast. Operators including Rottnest Express and Rottnest Fast Ferries make frequent crossings from Fremantle’s B Shed (it’s also possible to take a ferry from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty). With no motor vehicles permitted on the island (except for a bus service), many visitors opt for bikes, which can be hired on the island or as an add-on when booking a ferry ticket. It’s worth noting that fares can be cheaper on Tuesdays, on what’s known in Australia as Tight Ass Tuesday.

Having served as an aboriginal prison, a boys’ reformatory, and an internment camp in both World War I and World War II, the island is now devoted to recreation and the preservation of nature. Surrounded by coral reefs and shipwrecks, Rotto’s numerous beaches and coves are ideal for sunbathing, snorkelling, and picnicking. There’s a selection of basic accommodation and campsites on the island, although the vast majority come for the day to simply enjoy the unspoilt, car-free environment.

The island’s most famous inhabitant is the quokka, with Rotto being the only place in the world to see them in large numbers. A part of the kangaroo and wallaby family, these cute little marsupials are responsible for the islands name, albeit in a case of mistaken identity. When a Dutch sea captain first explored the island in 1696, he mistook the quokkas for giant rats and so named it Rats Nest Island. This mistake has evidently not upset the quokka, because they’re known for having a friendly disposition and a charismatic smile; a smile that has led them to become known as the Happiest Animal on Earth and an international selfie sensation via the hashtag #quokkaselfie (though be respectful, and remember not to feed or touch them).

Perth may be one of the most remote cities in the world, but it’s a place of glorious isolation. Spend some quality time here, and you might find yourself beaming non-stop just like a quokka!

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