Perth

Perth is relaxed, modern and cheerful. The Swan River winds its way through the city, and there are excellent beaches close by, fine restaurants, great shopping, theatre and lively nightlife. The city is famous for its blue skies, friendly people and sunny climate.

Western Australia offers a warm welcome, warm weather and it’s more than just a part of Australia: it’s diverse and distant enough to be another country.

In fact, the Land of the Long Lost Vowel is more accessible (flying time) to Aussie east coasters. But I reckon if they put up a fence from Kununurra in the north to Wilson’s Bluff in the south, and charged admission, tourists would be queuing up by the busload. As they say, Western Australia’s a place for ‘holidays of a different nature’.

Just don’t mention that anything in the east is bigger or better than in the west!

Excellent surfing beaches include Cottesloe, City Beach, Floreat, Scarborough and Sorrento. Swanbourne is a naturist beach (remember the SP30+ if you’re new at this) and there are safe, calm beaches on the Swan River (Point Walter and Como).

Sunset at Cottesloe is one of the special things I like to do when in the west. It’s a lovely drive getting there, a very pretty spot with its Norfolk Pines and, while the sunsets may not be special to locals, we easterners don’t often get to see it set over an ocean.

The State’s beaches have had a bit of a bad run with sharks – there have been a couple of attacks. They do exist but rarely approach swimmers. Like crocodile attacks, they make for great headlines. As tragic as shark attacks are, we are swimming in their territory and you have more chance of being killed by a lightning strike, a bee sting or a scuba misadventure.

Lifesavers keep a watch and sound a warning if a shark is sighted. In the unlikely event of this happening, do go ashore immediately. Serious surfers may choose to head south to Margaret River.

Perhaps the city’s best known and loved attraction is Kings Park, home to the botanic gardens, the famous spring Wildflower Festival (October) and Australia’s largest and most varied display of native plants and wildflowers. It is popular for picnicking and walking, and you can get a bird’s eye view from one of the lookouts before you begin exploring the city.

There are guided walking tours of the city but it’s a pretty easy city to discover by yourself. Perhaps begin in Barrack Square (near the jetty) with its impressive bell-tower, Swan Bells, the location of the historic bells from St Martins-in-the-Field. Wander through the Supreme Court Gardens to Perth’s oldest surviving building, the Old Court House. A stroll through Stirling Gardens will take you to Government House.

Across St Georges Terrace, in Pier Street is St George’s Cathedral with its fine jarrah ceiling. Continue north along Pier to the Murray Street precinct, a National Trust-classified area with a group of historic buildings funded by the gold rush. Turn left into Barrack Street and head for the Hay Street Mall, then into London Court.

London Court (photo) is a quaint little Elizabethan-type street that is a delightful contrast to the wide, brown State. There are amusing little diversions like knights jousting above a replica of Big Ben every 15 minutes – a little bit kitsch but a little bit cute.

Other places worth seeing include Northbridge by day (it’s a walk from the central city) for the Perth Cultural Centre and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, renowned for its exceptional collection of Aboriginal and Australian art. Cross the Cultural Centre Mall, where on weekends there’s a colourful art and craft market.

The Western Australian Museum, which includes the original Perth Gaol and a cottage from the 1860s.

Northbridge, in the evening, has a great choice of restaurants (especially Asian and Italian), bars and nightclubs. Other eating spots include the Barrack Street Jetty, King Street in the city and Subiaco for street cafes and stylish pubs.

At The Perth Mint (along Hay Street), you can see gold pours and coins being minted and, for native fauna, visit the Australian Walkabout at Perth Zoo in South Perth. Ferries run from the Barrack Street Jetty.

The zoo also has a great butterfly house and ‘animals of the night’ exhibit.

Across the Swan River are the gardens of Burswood Park and the Burswood International Resort and Casino. Apart from gambling there’s nightly entertainment, nine restaurants and an 18-hole championship golf course. The atrium is a fine piece of modern architecture with a 47-metre-high glass pyramid containing a tropical garden and waterfall.

Cruising the Swan River is simple and rewarding (downstream to Fremantle, upstream to the wineries or just around the city to soak in the ‘rich’ waterfront real estate). Dinner cruises show the glittering, reflecting city at her best.

Locals, please forgive me for lumping Freo in with Perth, but Fremantle is only 19 kilometres away at the mouth of the Swan and joins the city.

Thanks to the hosting of the America’s Cup some years back, this charming, busy and colourful old port (founded 1829) got a timely facelift and is still a hive of al fresco cafés and street entertainment.

Head for the Fishing Boat Harbour and South Terrace, the ‘Cappuccino Strip’ with its delightful shops and cafes.

From here you can stroll the narrow streets to the historic Round House (which actually has 12 sides). It’s the State’s oldest building, built in 1830 as a gaol.

The Fremantle Arts Centre and History Museum and the Maritime Museum, home of the wreck Batavia, are worth a visit.

The bustling markets and cafes at Victoria Quay are also worth checking out.

From here you can cruise, as part of the crew, on Australia’s largest tall ship, the Leeuwin, or hop a ferry to Rottnest Island.

Fans of Little Penguins should visit the aptly named Penguin Island to see its breeding colony of around 1000 penguins, and there’s a good chance of spotting dolphins and sea lions. It’s a 42 kilometre ferry ride south of Perth, off the coast of Rockingham.

Sunny Perth (with its weekend playground of Fremantle) could easily be called Australia’s most liveable city, if Brisbane hadn’t stolen the slogan first.

Perth offers a whirlwind of shopping experiences, seven days a week.

The Murray Street Mall and Hay Street Mall are particularly popular as pedestrian only streets for a treasure trove of fashion, jewellery and accessories. The affore-mentioned London Court is the stand out for atmosphere.

The iconic His Majesty’s Theatre, or the Maj as it is affectionately known, is the only remaining working Edwardian theatre in Australia and is home to WA Ballet and WA Opera. It is the perfect venue to catch plays, comedy, dance, opera or an evening of cabaret Downstairs at the Maj.

Disabled facilities include wheelchair access to the auditorium, a wheelchair accessible toilet on the ground floor, wheelchair access to Downstairs at the Maj and Museum of Performing Arts. There is a hearing induction loop throughout most of the auditorium.

Far more than just Western Australia’s only World Heritage listed building, Fremantle Prison is a piece of living history, Situated in the heart of bustling Fremantle, the Prison is a lasting monument to the city that was. Step inside and be transported back in time to experience both good and bad in our history.

Officially opened in 1885, the WACA is the home of cricket in Western Australia. More than a cricket ground, the WACA has also operated as a harness racing venue, an athletics venue, home to Perth’s baseball team and as an AFL venue. The ground continues to host special sporting events, but is generally used for local and state cricket games.

The WACA Museum has a superb collection of sporting memorabilia.

And last but not least, Rottnest Island is only 25 minutes by ferry from the mainland for lots of fantastic beaches and even more ‘rotts’. The early Dutch explorers thought the resident little quokkas were rodents so they called it Rat Nest Island in Dutch – they are actually very cute little critters – I could take that little fella home.

Bicycles are the best way to explore the island and they can be hired at Thomson Bay. There’s lots of marine life in the coral reefs around the island, and that makes for excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.