The Pleasures Of Perth

Western Australia’s capital surprises with rich culture and cosmopolitan energy

By: By Dawna L. Robertson


City of Fremantle
Perth Visitors Bureau
Swan Valley
Tourism Australia
Tourism Western Australia 

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When John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962, the friendly people of Perth switched on their lights to honor the astronaut as he soared above. Glenn tagged Perth the "City of Lights," acknowledging one of the world’s most isolated municipalities for shining so brightly.

Kings Park is sacred to Aborigines. // (c) Tourism Australia
Kings Park is sacred to Aborigines.

Remoteness well explains why many U.S. visitors never find their way to the scenic Western Australia capital. Few East Coast Aussies make it there, either. And, that’s a shame. The travel-time investment is far overshadowed by the adventure itself.

I knew little about Perth prior to visiting, but quickly learned that it’s a clean, hospitable city with a relaxed lifestyle that embraces the vacation mindset. Geographically speaking, the metropolitan area is tucked between the Indian Ocean and a low coastal escarpment known as the Darling Range — making it an ideal springboard for discovering rustic regions beyond.

The city is flanked by the celebrated Swan River to the east and south and the 1,000-acre Kings Park on the west. In fact, Perth feels more like a big country town than a bustling city, which simply adds to its appeal.

Opting to stroll, I found the city extremely walkable, with its four major thoroughfares running east to west. You can also hop aboard a trio of complimentary CAT bus lines.

My first stop was at the colonial-era Perth Mint, where coins have been struck since 1899. Here, we witnessed a traditional "gold pour" where pure gold is heated to molten temperature and transformed into a solid gold bar.

The city also boasts museums and art galleries, a slew of historic buildings and ample shopping. For nature lovers, there are more than 50 miles of white, sandy beaches nearby.

One of my favorite treks was to The Bell Tower, a glass spire overlooking the jetties at Barrack Square. From here, ferries head to Swan Valley wineries, Rottnest Island, Perth Zoo and the popular port of Fremantle, which I visited via an outbound ferry and railway return. Friday through Sunday, the eclectic city becomes even more colorful with its lively markets lining the Cappuccino Strip.

At Barrack Square you can catch a double-decker bus for a broader sightseeing tour that takes in the regal Kings Park and splashy Burswood Entertainment Complex.

Considered one of the world’s largest musical instruments, The Tower was custom built to house the historically significant bells of Saint Martin in the Fields Church, the parish church of Buckingham Palace in London’s Trafalgar Square.

From The Tower staircase, it’s easy to see why the Swan River is the heart of the city. Its banks brim with runners, bikers and walkers who appear in no particular rush as they pause to soak in the scenery.

Kings Park, the largest central city park in the world, is revered as a sacred place for Aborigines. Legend holds that their mythical serpent, the wagyl, entered the ground nearby and emerged at the foot of Mt. Eliza to create the Swan River. Free guided walks are offered daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Unless your clients prefer heat, the best times to visit Perth are during spring (September to November) and fall (March to May). Summers are traditionally hot and dry, with winters wet and mild — although I was spared showers during my stay.

While the Swan River is considered Perth’s heart, I found that the friendly Aussie attitude was undeniably its soul.