Western Australia is now more accessible than ever with Virgin Blue offering flights for as little as $99 each way from Sydney to Perth. These cheap fares do exist – I got one. Top value to get all the way to the other side of Australia.
Having been shown around by a local myself, here is the local know-how to plan a great trip before you go!
Perth offers many hotels throughout the city; and the backpacker district where you’ll find cheap hostels, meal deals and loads of bars is Northbridge, located close to the city centre.
For shopping you can’t beat Harbourtown in the city centre, which has outlet stores for virtually every shop you can think of. Keen shoppers should allow at least half a day to attack this one.
For beach lovers Perth is a paradise with several beaches stretched along the coast not far from the city centre: including City Beach, Scarborough Beach and Perth’s most famous, Cottesloe Beach. At any of Perth’s beaches you can soak up the sun, jump into clear, clean water and relax on white island-like sand.
Cottesloe is a mecca for fans of the great Aussie Sunday session. There are two huge pubs right across from the beach where Perth locals head to in droves every Sunday, to drink multitudes of beer, catch a live band and watch the sun set on the beach. The Cottesloe Beach Hotel (CBH in local lingo) is famous for its Sunday sessions all over Australia and the Ocean Beach Hotel (OBH) is the pick of the two if you’re over 25 and also like the occasional cocktail: they also have a cocktail bar overlooking the beach.
To get a taste for WA’s culture and history head to Fremantle, only half an hour drive/train ride South of Perth. Freo, as the locals call it, is packed with history and buildings built by the convicts. It’s still a working port and uni town, home to the University of Notre Dame, which has taken over many of the historical buildings.
Being a uni town it is also a hippie town. You can spend all day wandering around arcades full of alternative shops selling crystals and motivational books and/or dousing the 40C (in summer) heat with a refreshing pint or five in the beer garden of one of the many pubs. Note to backpackers – Freo is great for nightlife and boasts Perth’s biggest selection of $2 stores.
The old buildings in Freo are lovingly restored back to their old glory, but it’s just as well because it’s the only place in Perth you’ll find any history. As a rule everything in Perth is astoundingly new, and any building over 20 years old has been knocked down and replaced with McUnits or McMansions.
Perhaps it’s all part of the mining boom, which saw property in Perth skyrocket in price and housing costs rise with it. This boom also brought about a new species, which you’ll find all over WA – the CUB, or cashed-up bogan. You will recognise the CUB because he has a mullet, is often covered with tats, and makes more money in one year in the mines than your politically correct office job in Sydney will make you in three years. Sometimes he also wears a suit – a rare photo opportunity for Facebook.
People in Perth are friendly, very polite and protective of their personal space (probably because the State they live in is around as big as QLD, NSW and Victoria combined). At one point they were going to ban mobile phones on buses because they thought the noise was offensive to other commuters.
For more of the alternative scene head to Leederville, in suburban Perth. Eat at the top café diner on the main street with Chinese lanterns covering the ceiling, retro band posters covering every inch of the walls, comfy couches, loads of mags to flip through and the best home-made smoothies.
For a bar with a difference hit The Leederville on a Saturday night. The whole back area is an open air beer garden with a huge dance floor, loads of dance podiums for the drunken exhibitionist in us all and a huge dome covering the lot around three stories up in the air. There’s loads of platforms and suspended wires up in the air around ceiling height which come to life with fire twirlers and trapeze artists after dark.
To see the city views head to Kings Park. You can see over the entire city basking in the sun in its high-rise glory on the Swan River. There are walking paths around Kings Park and the River, as well as a tower you can climb for an even better view.
WA is famous as home of the majestic black swan, which you won’t find anywhere else in Australia. Go to Lake Mungo and you can see them in droves, but don’t get too close during nesting season as they can get nasty. Especially with anything smaller and therefore below them on the food chain, like kids or photo-happy Japanese tourists.
Perth even has its own island, Rottnest Island or ‘Rotto’ as locals call it. On Rotto you’ll find beautiful white sand beaches, a bike track around the entire island and loads of native wildlife including the quokka, a cute native marsupial resembling a large rat which you’ll only find on this island.
Built by convicts in the 1830’s and once an Aboriginal prison and Italian prison during the War, Rotto is now very PC to the point of being wind-turbine powered to save the environment and a car free zone. There’s only one way to get around Rottnest and that’s by bike – so you’d better be into pedal power! It’s a small island (19 square km in area), too big to walk around but the right size to bike around.
My friend Lizzie showed me how Perth locals do Rotto. Pack an industrial sized picnic food stash from the mainland and when you get to the island head straight to the bike hire to get your wheels. We cycled around the coast paths, through the old village and down to the Basin, just one of the stunning bays on the island, where you swim in crystal clear rockpools lined with white talcum-powder sand. This was followed by much cycling, fresh air, healthy picnic feasts and simply relaxing on the island’s many lovely beaches. Rotto is a place you just don’t want to leave. Give yourself two to three days here you’ll have time to do it all, and relax with a cold beer at your beach cabin or the island pub, where wild peacocks and their tiny chicks have the run of the place, roaming free around your feet and behind the bar.