Western Australia’s youthful capital city PERTH is home to around 1.7 million people and has a reputation for endless sunshine and an easy-going lifestyle. After work, it’s typical for people to go surfing, sailing, swimming or fire up a barbie somewhere on the shores of the Swan River, which forms a broad lagoon through the city, ideal for recreation and sport. This enviable social life partly explains Perthites’ contented detachment from the rest of the country. Another factor is simply the physical distance: Perth is Australia’s (and many say, the world’s) most isolated city, almost 4000km from Sydney by road, a four-hour flight from the east coast and in a different time zone (Western Standard Time) to the rest of the country.
The state’s recent mining boom has sparked some of the largest building projects ever seen in the city. The Central Business District (CBD) is undergoing something of a renaissance as more international companies set up shop here (particularly Chinese and Indian firms), while the area between the city and Northbridge is having its above-ground train line buried beneath an area of squares and public spaces.
Just north of the city centre, Northbridge is perhaps Perth’s most notorious suburb, with an other-side-of-the-tracks feel and a vibrant, intoxicating nightlife – it is also the centre for Perth’s Asian community. Much of the city’s daily life takes place in its outer reaches, with the inner west suburbs of Leederville and Subiaco boasting boutiques, cafés, restaurants and pubs galore, and the beach areas of Scarborough and Cottesloe home to a nightlife that’s starting to rival that of Northbridge.Read More
Although long since merged into the metropolitan area’s suburban sprawl, Perth’s port of FREMANTLE – “Freo” – retains a character altogether different to the centre of Perth. It’s small enough to keep its energy focused, with a real working harbour and busy yacht marina, and has an eclectic, arty ambience without too many upmarket pretensions. Myriad buildings in the atmospheric historic precinct have been taken over by Notre Dame University and the students give the town a youthful, vibrant feel.
Much of the convict-built dock, dating from the 1890s, was spruced up for the 1987 Americas Cup yacht race and the eagerly anticipated tourist boom. Before the makeover Freo was as rough as any port – the historic hotels were “bloodhouses” full of brawling sailors – but today the town attracts Perthites from all over the city and all walks of life for its famed weekend markets (worth planning your visit around) and “Cappuccino Strip”, as café-lined South Terrace is known. It’s also worth noting that in the heat of summer Fremantle is often a breezy 5 °C cooler than Perth, a mere half-hour away by train.
Perth’s closest beaches extend along the Sunset Coast, 30km of near-unbroken sand and coastal suburbs stretching north of the Swan River, bordered by the Indian Ocean and cooled by afternoon sea breezes. There are also tiny inshore beaches worth a look along the Swan River at Crawley, Nedlands, Peppermint Grove and Mosman Bay on the north shore, and Como, Canning Bridge and Applecross on the south shore, which are calm and safe for children, and make wonderful picnic spots.
Cottesloe Beach, 7km north of Fremantle, is the most popular city beach, with safe swimming. There are ice-cream vendors, cafés and watercraft-rental outlets aplenty, all just a ten-minute walk from Cottesloe train station. Two kilometres north of here, Swanbourne Free Beach – cut off by army land in both directions but accessible from the road – has nude bathing. North of Scarborough Beach, 6km north of Swanbourne, the surf and currents are more suited to wave-riding and experienced swimmers, though with fewer beachside facilities, crowds are reduced.
A little further up the coast is Hillary’s Boat Harbour where you’ll find the Aquarium of Western Australia (daily 10am–5pm; $28; wwww.aqwa.com.au). This is the country’s largest aquarium and underwater tunnel, and it features giant sharks, rays and turtles plus living coral reefs.