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The local’s guide to Perth: What to see and do in 2024

Kiwis frequently holiday in Australia, but we don’t often think of Perth first. With year-round good weather, beautiful beaches, a burgeoning food scene and plentiful outdoor pursuits, it’s high time we did, writes Julia D’Orazio.

Consider this both a love letter and a guide to my hometown, Perth. For a good decade, I did my best to escape the West. I moved to Sydney and did the whole Kiwi-Aussie unofficial “rite of passage” by moving to London, prepared to live in a shoebox-sized room to make ends meet. Yet, the pandemic put a spanner in the works regarding continue living a fun but frugal life in Europe. I wasn’t planning to stay, but four years later, I’m glad I have.

Perth has also come of age in the last decade. I’ve seen it celebrate its natural assets and embrace state-of-the-art venues and experiences focused on creating a “sense of place”. These include new public spaces, cultural tours, and boujee haunts dotting scenic hotspots. The city flaunts its unique wildlife experiences, such as meeting an unbelievably cute quokka, swimming with wild dolphins, and going on a ‘roo safari. Where else can you embrace cosmopolitan living with adorable, friendly creatures?

An aerial view of the Elizabeth Quay waterfront in Perth, Western Australia. Photo / Getty Images
An aerial view of the Elizabeth Quay waterfront in Perth, Western Australia. Photo / Getty Images

READ MORE: How to plan a multi-generational trip to Sydney with your family.

There are more reasons to “doll up”, with Perth’s trendy bar and dining scene ever-evolving. Even celebrated cook Nigella Lawson cannot stop raving about what the city can plate up, recently twirling forks on a pasta circuit around Perth. As for nightlife, it thrives. Wine bars, themed saloons, rooftops – pick your vibe. Bars with sticky floors seem to be a rarity, and stock-standard pub grub is almost a thing of a bygone era (thank God!).

Perth flaunts unique wildlife experiences, such as meeting an unbelievably cute quokka. Photo / 123RF
Perth flaunts unique wildlife experiences, such as meeting an unbelievably cute quokka. Photo / 123RF

The sole city on the West even gets its share of showstopping events to make the others – ahem, the East Coast – riddled with envy. Coldplay, WWE, English Premier League football games – they’ve all recently put on a show in Australia’s best stadium award-winner, Optus.

Besides these one-off events, what else sustains the city as a happening place to visit? Well, I’ve done a 180-degree turn by becoming Perth’s biggest cheerleader, so let me spell it out for you all…

The Optus Stadium in Perth. Photo / Nathan Hurst on Unsplash
The Optus Stadium in Perth. Photo / Nathan Hurst on Unsplash

Life’s a beach

I know, I need to do a lot of convincing here, especially when New Zealand is brimming with natural beauty. But the outlook here in the West is quite different, perhaps more suited to swimmers.

Perth has 19 beaches with which to make a splash. The city’s coastline stretches 123km, and its wide, white sandy beaches with small waves are ever-inviting. Towel Tetris with crowds? Paid parking? None of those here.

Turn a dip into a spectacle event, with ocean sunsets a thing. The best beaches to bask in a sky show are Cottesloe Beach (Perth’s answer to Sydney’s Bondi, but for the right reasons) and hippy haven South Beach in Fremantle (more on “Freo” later). For a sundown session, it’s hard to go past the legendary Cottesloe Beach Hotel, opposite the iconic beach. Other great seaside outings include the new Hillarys Beach Club, Island Market (Trigg Beach) and Coast Port Beach.

Cottesloe Beach is Perth’s answer to Sydney’s Bondi. Photo / Getty Images
Cottesloe Beach is Perth’s answer to Sydney’s Bondi. Photo / Getty Images

Less about drinks and more about getting kicks. Water sports enthusiasts will also be satisfied with breaks suited to beginner to intermediate-level surfers. But once the “Fremantle Doctor” arrives, AKA the afternoon sea breeze, kite surfers come out, with Perth regarded as one of the world’s top spots in which to surf the sky. For underwater explorers, there are many snorkelling spots metres from shore, including Mettams Pool, famed for its concentrated marine life, and the Omeo shipwreck in Coogee.

Perth boasts 19 pristine beaches, more than any other Australian city, offering ample space for every visitor. Photo / Tourism Australia
Perth boasts 19 pristine beaches, more than any other Australian city, offering ample space for every visitor. Photo / Tourism Australia

A sanctuary for nature and wildlife lovers

Perth is not short on natural charms; some are cute, too.

Kings Park is the city’s creme-de-la-creme tourist attraction. Moments from the CBD, the 400ha reserve is one of the world’s largest inner-city parks, providing sweeping views of Perth’s prized Swan River and skyline. Within it is the Western Australian Botanic Garden, featuring over 3000 native plant species; a 620m arched walkway over Eucalypt treetops; multiple kids’ playgrounds; bush trails; and commemorative monuments.

Kings Park in Perth is one of the world's largest inner-city parks - larger than Central Park in New York. Photo / 123RF
Kings Park in Perth is one of the world’s largest inner-city parks – larger than Central Park in New York. Photo / 123RF

Another must-do is Rottnest Island, a 30-minute fast ferry ride from Fremantle. The bike-friendly island is famously known for its smiling resident furballs which have dominated social feeds: quokkas. Besides getting the obligatory selfie with Western Australia’s happiest marsupial, “Rotto” woos with its raw beauty – a blue marble-effect coastline featuring 63 beaches and 20 bays, thriving reefs and limestone cliffs – and heritage builds. After a day of pedal power and beach hopping, join the revelry at Hotel Rottnest’s beer garden, watching ferries journey back to the mainland.

Head 45 minutes south and you’ll reach Perth’s other adventurous postcode, Rockingham. The seaside precinct offers guided marine encounters, such as swimming with wild dolphins and sea lions in Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Get cultured on a walkabout with Whadjuk guide Steven Jacobs in Point Peron, where you’ll hear “Dreamtime” stories of the Derbal Nara.

The seaside precinct of Rockingham in Western Australia. Photo / Getty Images
The seaside precinct of Rockingham in Western Australia. Photo / Getty Images

Sip and swing in the Swan Valley

Go from refreshing dips to decadent drops in the Swan Valley. Located a half-hour drive from the CBD, it is the state’s oldest wine region and Australia’s second-oldest, with vines first planted in 1829. Upper Reach Winery’s small cellar door is a must-visit for its award-winning wines. For something off-kilter, visit Lancaster Wines, which takes an unpretentious approach with tastings in an outdoor shed and hosts weekend shucking among the vines.

The indulgent region isn’t just about full-bodied tangs. Craft beers and ciders flow at several independent breweries, such as the family-friendly Bailey Brewing Co and Funk Brewshed. The gin craze is also felt, with distillers Limeburners Ginversity, Old Young’s, and Damaged Goods Distilling Co each offering distinct tasting and blending experiences.

After a day of sipping all sorts, why not stretch your legs teeing off? Premier accommodation spot The Vines Resort has two world-class golf courses surrounded by native bushland. It is unlike anywhere else, with around 700 kangaroos calling the green home.

A fun way to see ‘roos bouncing between balls is on a one-of-a-kind kangaroo safari. The two-hour late afternoon guided tour includes self-driving a golf cart to spot hordes of kangaroos up close on both courses, an 18-hole round of mini-golf and a post roo-watching drink.

Late nights in Perth

Let’s get to the more fulfilling part: where to eat and drink in the city. Perth and its entertainment district, Northbridge, have both come a long way, with exciting happenings sky-high and below ground.

William Street is Perth’s food and beverage strip, with plenty of options to suit palates and moods. Once a temperance headquarters, it is now an energising vertical laneway, The Rechabite. The multi-level hall features the basement bar Goodwill Club, Asian-fusion modern eatery Double Rainbow Eating House, and Hello Rooftop Bar, with cheeky tipples permitted on all floors.

Opposite is the strip’s newest late-night darling, Edward Ida’s. This cosy small pub aces innovative cocktails and good food with British flair (Go for the beef and guinness pie with a bone marrow chimney). Upon entry, you’ll find its bar walls covered in antiquated signs spruiking booze. Chill back in the beer garden at the rear or opt for intimate ambience in the basement bar. Its wrap-around glass cabinets display over 3000 mini-bar-sized spirit bottles.

Admire city lights at Agwa Rooftop, the state’s largest rooftop bar, which rests on top of the Art Gallery of WA. It includes an open-air sculpture walk with 360-degree city views and a 34m-long contemporary Aboriginal art mural by Minang/Wardani/Bibbulman artist Christopher Pease.

Unwind in Fremantle

Catch the train to the eclectic port city of Fremantle, 22km south of Perth. The town has a distinct feel, with a mishmash of beautifully preserved Victorian-era buildings alongside street art murals, lively beer gardens, an exciting small bar scene, and modernised public squares (Fomo Freo).

Get your bearings around town on a guided tour with a walking human rainbow, Oh Hey WA’s Adie Chapman. Continue to feel part of the buzz wandering the centuries-old Fremantle Markets, perfect for miscellaneous knickknacks, souvenirs and street food. Stay close to the hip and carefree atmosphere this town radiates by staying at the Warders Hotel. The boutique limestone cottages were once used by warders in the nearby Unesco heritage-listed Fremantle Prison.

The town is dotted with temptations when it comes to joining local merriment. Go for a cold one at the state’s largest brewhouse, Gage Roads, housed in Fremantle’s historical B-shed along the inner harbour, and watch cargo ships pass by. For “cool as cucumber” vibes, check out new vinyl record bar, Ode to Sirens, along lively High Street. Enjoy a DJ spinning tunes while you feast on Greek-centric shared plates and sip wine. Sounds like a good time, doesn’t it?

Fremantle, a part of Perth, combines Victorian architecture with a lively modern bar scene. Photo / Tourism Western Australia
Fremantle, a part of Perth, combines Victorian architecture with a lively modern bar scene. Photo / Tourism Western Australia

Checklist

PERTH

GETTING THERE

Fly non-stop from Auckland to Perth with Air New Zealand in seven hours and 25 minutes.

DETAILS

westernaustralia.com/nz/home.

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