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 one of the largest building projects ever seen in the city and several new developments were in progress at the time of writing. 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 will shortly see the currently above-ground train line buried beneath an area of squares and public spaces to be completed by the end of 2014.
Just north of the CBD, 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.
Commercial ferry operators are all based at Barrack St Jetty and offer cruises up and down the Swan River – to Fremantle in one direction and the Swan Valley in the other. Bus and 4WD tours also leave daily in all directions from Perth, with popular destinations including the peculiar Pinnacles, near Cervantes, the wineries of the Upper Swan Valley, New Norcia, Wave Rock and even the Tree Top Walk near Walpole – the last two entailing a long day on a bus.
For the Southwest, overnight tours are better: a three-night trip will typically pack in all the highlights in a loop via Albany. North of Perth the west-coast hotspots after the Pinnacles are Kalbarri, Shark Bay and then Coral Bay on Ningaloo Reef, with four days or more being a good relaxed pace for the trip up. From here some tours shoot back down to Perth; others head inland to Karijini National Park in the Pilbara, something that’s well worth the effort if you’ve come this far north, though not generally accessible during the wet season (Nov–May). In the Northwest, there are many companies specializing in tours of the Kimberley.
A number of tour operators also specialize in Rottnest Island and the Swan Valley.
Captain Cook Cruises
08 9325 3341, captaincookcruises.com.au. A whole range of tours on the Swan River including wine cruises up the Swan Valley ($99–165), trips to Fremantle (from $27 one way and $37 return), twilight sightseeing cruises ($29) and Perth’s only dinner cruise (from $120).
Golden Sun Cruises
08 9325 9916, goldensuncruises.com.au. Cruises upriver to visit the National Trust property at Tranby House, historic Guildford, and the Swan Valley wineries ($45–70). Also downriver cruises to Fremantle ($25 return, $18 one way) and bus tours of Freo ($10).
Jet Boat Adventures
1300 554 026, swanjet.com. Take to the water on a jet boat to travel at up to 80km/hr with a continuous mix of 360-degree turns, fish tail spins and power brake stops (25min, $55). You can also add a 15-minute helicopter flight over the city and Fremantle ($255) or a spin along the riverside on a Harley ($149).
08 9325 1191, oceaniccruises.com. Two-hour whale-watching adventures on which sightings are practically guaranteed (mid-Sept to early Dec), leaving from Fremantle ($67) and Perth ($77). Boats have large viewing decks and an interpretive DVD.
Red Earth Safaris
08 9279 9011 or t 1800 501 968, redearthsafaris.com.au. One-way and return tours to Exmouth. The northbound journey takes six days and includes the Pinnacles, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia and Coral Bay; the southbound return is a speedy hop done over just two days. One-way $200 southbound, $745 northbound; return $945.
Western Travel Bug
08 9486 4222, travelbug.com.au. Packed full-day tours to the Pinnacles, Wave Rock, Margaret River, the Swan Valley or Mandurah ($175) plus multi-day trips around the Southwest or up the coast (from $465).
08 9414 8423, westernxposure.com.au. Numerous itineraries including tours up the coast to Exmouth, Broome and Darwin and a loop around the Southwest taking in Esperance, Albany and the Valley of the Giants. Four days to Monkey Mia, Kalbarri and the Pinnacles costs $645; the six-day loop around the Southwest $770; and the 10-day one-way tour to Broome $1645.