by Fleur Bainger, The Telegraph, August 6, 2019
Living the good life on Australia’s western seaboard
Some might say Perth’s a late bloomer; others may suggest that she’s simply been biding her time. For locals, the secret is most definitely out. Direct flights to Perth from London threw quite the spotlight on the Western capital, revealing a metropolis that basks in more sunlight hours than any other major Australian city, has the beaches to match, and is no slouch after dark. What’s more, Perth has its own island playground 12 miles (19km) off the coast, it lays claim to the largest inner-city park in the world and is ringed with wineries.
Perth’s new affordability also adds to the allure: a flood of hotel and restaurant openings has driven prices down to the most competitive they’ve ever been. Liveability has been simultaneously amped. The swish Elizabeth Quay waterfront – where The Ritz will open in late 2019 – provides a revitalised platform to the Swan River, while Yagan Square joins the inner city’s ying and yang sides the for the first time in a century: hello free-flowing foot traffic. Another big ticket opening is on the cards for 2020, when the new Western Australian museum will complete the Perth Cultural Centre.
Hot right now . . .
Fleur Bainger, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest places to eat and drink, plus the best things to do this season.
The Western Australia Gourmet Escape (00 61 2 9285 8000), which draws the globe’s sharpest chefs (Heston, Nigella, Marco and Rick, to name a few), is being expanded across Western Australia for the first time in 2019. This enviable foodie festival, encompassing 10 belt-loosening days from Nov 8 to 17, will take place in Perth and the Swan Valley, as well as throughout the festival home of the Margaret River wine region.
Tropical interiors, a fiesta vibe and staff wearing Hawaiian shirts – what more could you want from Panama Social (245 William St, Northbridge; 00 61 8 9227 6153)? Aim to get a seat inside one of the kooky dens inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and Latin pop star Ricky Martin.
Fresh from being crowned Perth’s Best Small Bar – Critic’s Choice for 2019, subterranean whiskey haunt, Varnish on King (75 King St; 00 61 8 9324 2237) is where you want to be after the sun goes down. The food’s excellent, the drinks slick, but the real drawcard is the anthem-rich playlist.
There was a lot of hoo-ha about Wines of While (458 William St; 00 61 8 9328 3332) being Perth’s first natural wine bar, but the real feat is the food. Handmade pastas, house-baked loaves, an astonishingly good white bean dish and convivial atmosphere make it a must-try.
48 hours in . . . Perth
Take a taxi to a breakfast den that’s a local’s hangout. Have the leek and parmesan croquette bowl at Sayers Sister (236 Lake St, Northbridge; 00 61 8 9227 7506) then walk it off at nearby Hyde Park. Huge Moreton bay fig trees lean over pretty lakes – look for turtles beneath the surface.
Walk for about 40 minutes or take a taxi to Elizabeth Quay, the waterfront development perched on the Swan River. From here, take a one-way Captain Cook Cruise (Pier 3/Barrack Street; 00 61 8 9325 3341) to Fremantle. Make sure you sit on the right hand side of the boat so you can take in the city skyline, followed by the mansions lining the waterway. Australia’s richest woman lives here, and the cruise commentator will point her abode out. If you’re lucky, you may also spot dolphins in the water.
The cruise will deposit you in Fremantle, Perth’s character-rich port town, loved for its serpentining streets, historic buildings and artsy vibe. Grab a bite at Moore and Moore, an eclectic café that shares space with a yawning art gallery (46 Henry Street; 00 61 8 9335 8825). The healthful, vegan 'bowl of Moore' is very Fremantle.
Arrange a walking tour of Freo, as it’s affectionately called, with Two Feet and a Heartbeat(00 61 1800 459 388). The Convicts and Colonials tour will get you up to speed on the harbour area’s early days, and includes a look at Fremantle’s Unesco World Heritage-listed prison. When the tour is over, ask your guide to point you in the direction of the Bon Scott statue, at the Fisherman’s Wharf. The late AC/DC frontman grew up in Freo and is buried in its cemetery.
Afterwards, skip across the road to Little Creatures Brewery (40 Mews Road, Fremantle; 00 61 8 6215 1000) for a Rogers Amber Ale, best enjoyed out the back where you can watch working vessels and leisure craft bobbing in the harbour.
You’d be silly to pass up dining at Bread in Common (43 Pakenham St; 00 61 8 9336 1032), a part-bakery, part-restaurant housed in an 1890s warehouse. Lamb ribs are the must-have dish – they haven’t left the menu since day one. Ask if you can see the restaurant’s herb garden; it’s impressive.
When you've finished, walk for about two minutes to the Fremantle train station and take it all the way back to central Perth. If you’re still keen for more, pop in to Varnish on King (75 King St; 00 61 8 9324 2237), an excellent speakeasy-style whiskey bar that gets better as the night gets long.
While summer in Perth is all about crystalline Cottesloe beach, once the weather cools, locals seek out sunshine in more protected haunts. Take the commuter ferry from Elizabeth Quay across the Swan River to South Perth. Just beyond the arrival point, you’ll see Mister Walker (Mends Street Jetty; 00 61 8 9367 1699). The window-wrapped café-restaurant offers excellent breakfasts with tranquil views – don't miss the Uncle Benny (eggs Benedict).
Belly full, you can either retrace your steps, then take a free public bus from Elizabeth Quay bus station to Kings Park (Fraser Avenue; 00 61 8 9480 3600), or simply take a 10-minute taxi ride to Perth’s vast bushland. Try and join a free walking tour (departures at 10am, 12 noon and 2pm) or simply roam through the Botanic Garden, pausing at the 750-year-old boab and crossing the tree canopy bridge.
If you’re in town in September, you’ll find the park splashed with masses of colourful, native wildflowers – a month-long festival offers extra guided walks, as well as open-air exhibitions, live music, wellness pursuits and more – it’ll keep you captivated for hours.
Take another free public bus back to the city and walk up Barrack Street to the Perth Cultural Centre (Francis St & William St). It’s home to the Art Gallery of WA, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Urban Orchard, the State Library and, set to open in 2020, the WA Museum.
There are a couple of pod cafés within the pedestrian centre; either grab a quick bite there or walk through to William Street in Northbridge, turn left and sit down at Bivouac Canteen & Bar (198 William St, Northbridge; 00 61 8 9227 0883) for some excellent Middle Eastern-inspired fare. Roam along William Street, keeping an eye out for edgy street art between the small boutiques holding local fashion, quirky gifts, books and more.
Post 5pm, do a classy crawl through Cathedral Square (St Georges Terrace & Barrack St), a revamped heritage precinct spread across Perth’s point zero – the place from which every measurement of WA towns and landmarks begins. Start with craft beer at Petition Beer Corner (00 61 8 6168 7773), started by the people who dreamt up Little Creatures (mentioned above), then pick a dinner venue depending on how flush you’re feeling.
On the rooftop of COMO the Treasury, Wildflower (1 Cathedral Av; 00 61 8 6168 7855) is Perth’s best and priciest fine diner, specialising in native flavours and sharp technique, while on the ground floor, Petition Kitchen (00 61 8 6168 7771) has a sassy, modern, great-value line-up and in the basement, Long Chim (00 61 8 6168 7775) fires up the tastebuds with unblinkingly authentic (and moderately expensive) Thai cuisine.
End the night with a door knock on Sneaky Tonys' unmarked iron gateway (38 Roe St). On Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll need to grab a password from their Facebook page, and the doorman will eye you through a medieval peep hole before granting you entry. Slick cocktails and towering candles await.
Where to stay . . .
A restoration of Western Australia’s grand 1890s state buildings has reimagined the disused Treasury, Lands and Titles offices and General Post Office as COMO the Treasury, an elegant haven you’ll never want to leave. If you don’t want to leave the hotel during your stay (and many don’t), you’ll be easily sated by its culinary spread and libations, ranging from fine dining on the roof to a charming taproom, to a buzzing basement restaurant delivering flavourful, authentic Thai.
Doubles from AUS $495 (£270). 1 Cathedral Avenue; 00 61 8 6168 7888
QT Perth is dark, sophisticated and slightly kooky. From soul beats, fluorescent splashes and snakeskin in the lifts to black wallpaper featuring melting steel wildflowers, there’s quirky DNA in this modern, centrally located hotel. Rooms are impressively spacious and make an impression with sleek bedside lighting and black marble bathrooms. Its flagship restaurant, Santini, has made a name for itself as one of Perth’s best.
Doubles from AUD $220 (£126). 133 Murray Street; 00 61 89225 8000
An anarchist of the hotel world, Tribe Perth does things (delightfully) differently. There’s no minibar, no concierge and no bellhop. Instead, this adult-friendly accommodation bears ultra-modern accommodation that is compact and smartly designed for sleeps and showers. Its focus on social spaces means its communal zones receive a lot of attention, with an excellent library of coveted hardcover books. The hotel also offers free-to-use retro-look bikes for exploring the neighbourhood.
Doubles from AUS $129 (£74). 4 Walker Avenue; 00 61 8 6247 3333
What to bring home . . .
If your holiday budget allows, purchase a bottle of Kevin John Chardonnay by lauded Margaret River winery, Cullen Wines. Nigella Lawson raves about the family-owned, biodynamic label’s orange wine, but we think this one’s even better. Find it at good wine stores, including Petition Wine Bar (St Georges Terrace & Barrack St; 00 61 8 6168 7772).
Your walls will treasure a genuine piece of Aboriginal art created in Western Australia, especially when you can be sure the proceeds go back to the artist and their community. Find a reputable, certified dealer such as Japingka Aboriginal Art in Fremantle (47 High St; 00 61 8 9335 8265) and do your homework before purchasing.
When to go . . .
Given the size of Western Australia, it’s always warm and sunny somewhere. While most people visit during summer and stick to the south, if you’re there in winter, then travelling northward during its dry season is a good idea.
Summer: a certain fervour strikes as December 1 approaches. West Australians live for summer: it spells lazy days at the beach, balmy nights, cold beers, holidays and Christmas. It’s also when a whirlwind of festivals tear through town, with the quirky Fringe World colouring Perth in January, and the Perth International Arts Festival keeping the party going in February and March. Weekends allow escapes to Margaret River and Sunday afternoons are traditionally spent at the pub. Sure, it gets hot – temperatures can rise to 40°C and sunburn is an ever-present risk – but the mood is joyful. Head south to escape the worst of the heat.
Autumn:March through May is a magical time in Perth. While the summer party is over and work has resumed its regular hum, the weather is still gorgeous enough for beach-going, yet the crowds have departed the holiday hotspots of Margaret River and Denmark. That said, Cottesloe’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibition packs out the beach in March. From April, temperatures become more pleasant as you head to northern parts of the state, such as Pinnacles Desert and Exmouth, where whale sharks visit until July.
Winter: the atmosphere in Perth can slump in the colder months – locals panic when the mercury dips below 22°C and tend to hibernate (it can drop to 0°C overnight). Like migrating birds, many people flock north to blue skies and warm climes. You should do the same: it's the best time to explore the miraculous Kimberley region, land of billions of years old rock formations, waterfalls and Aboriginal rock art.
Spring: come September, thousands of wildflower species bloom across the state, a perfect time for road trips and hikes. The valid 'cheats option' is the Wildflower Festival in Kings Park, which showcases WA’s floral diversity. Whale migration also draws visitors back to the cool south, and by November, when the Margaret River Gourmet Escape festival is held, days are warm again.
Know before you go . . .
British Consulate-General (00 61 8 9224 4700; british-consulate.net), Level 26, Allendale Square, 77 St Georges Terrace, 6000
Emergency services: dial 000. From a mobile phone the number is 112
Tourist information: The Western Australian Visitor Centre is at 55 William Street, on the corner of Hay Street Mall, Perth (00 61 8 9483 1111; wavisitorcentre.com). It’s open Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm; Sat, 9.30am-4.30pm; Sun 11am-4.30pm. For more information, see: westernaustralia.com
Currency: Australian dollar. Prices are rounded off to the nearest 5c (1c and 2c coins are not used in Australia). ATMs are commonplace and accept Cirrus, Plus, Visa, and MasterCard. Money exchange booths with competitive rates can be found in Perth’s two city malls, in London Court and on St Georges Terrace
Time: +8 hours
Travel times: flying time from London to Perth is around 18 hours. Flying time from Sydney to Perth is around 4 hours
Tipping: not necessary, but always appreciated. Locals tend to reward good service by rounding up the bill – be it at a restaurant or in a cab – to the nearest A$5 or A$10 mark
Getting around: Uber is available in Perth. There is also free public transport (see the insider tip above).
Local laws and etiquette
Be aware that there is no mobile phone or Internet service throughout many parts of country WA. Telstra has the widest coverage.
When you’re heading out bush, be sure to tell someone where you’re going and bring plenty of water, food and spare fuel. At dawn and dusk, keep a lookout for wildlife crossing the road. If you’re travelling through remote parts or during the north’s wet season, check route conditions with the Main Roads Department (00 61 1800 013 314).
In the north, crocodiles are a very real threat: always obey warning signs and check with locals before swimming.
Fleur Bainger is Telegraph Travel’s Perth expert. Drawn to Western Australia’s obscenely good weather, Fleur strongly suspects her home also bears Australia’s best beaches. When not eating flappingly fresh seafood, you’ll find Fleur bar hopping in the city’s transformed heart.
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