The capital of Western Australia is rapidly changing, and it's for the better
24 hours in Perth, Australia
If there’s one thing about Perth that stays with you it’s the light. Bright blue, haze-free skies are the norm in the Western Australian capital. This has an impact on the look of the place – it feels new, glassy and utopian, as if it has been computer-generated to be that way.
Once upon a time, this led to an eerie soullessness, but Perth is rapidly changing. Its exquisite Indian Ocean beaches are now complemented by a city life that has genuine energy – especially if you start ducking down the alleyways.
07.00 The morning dip
Scarborough Beach is in the middle of a big refurbishment at the moment, although a brand new Olympic-size pool has emerged from the construction sites. This is for those nervous about getting into the sea. Everyone else can take the plunge. The surf is generally not too heavy and the colours are postcard-like teals and turquoises.
The beach itself is magnificent, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction, with near-white sands and grassy dunes that give it that wilderness look.
09.00 Go for gold
Modern day Perth’s development boom is funded by mineral mining in the north of Western Australia, but the original mushrooming came about in the 1890s gold rush. Gold is still mined in Kalgoorlie to the east, and the Perth Mint (www.perthmint.com) has historically been where much of it has been processed. The commemorative coins and Olympic medals are pretty enough, but the exhibition on the history of gold in the state is much more interesting. It’s followed up by the world’s largest collection of gold bars, and a gold-pouring demonstration – a bar is melted down in a furnace, put in a mould, dunked into water and formed into a bar again.
10.30 Clamber on a camel
Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world, which is pretty impressive given there were none until the 19th century. This means that there are plenty roaming the Outback for Camel West to capture and train for its quirky half-hour camel tours (www.camelwest.com.au). The bizarre history of Australia’s camels is told on the way, but the truly weird part is that they go through the city centre, starting at the glossy new Elizabeth Quay development and plodding along the north bank of the Swan River. Rides cost A$45 (Dh130).
12.15 Float upstream
After a nose around Elizabeth Quay’s sculpted parklands and art installations, hop on a dinky, solar-powered, 11-seater boat for a mini cruise up the expansive Swan River with the Little Ferry Co (www.littleferryco.com.au). Keep an eye out for wildlife on the way – there’s a resident pod of dolphins that lives in the river, the fabled black swans can be found paddling around near the banks and kangaroos live on Heirisson Island.
Another highlight is the seductively bowl-like, 60,000-seater Optus Stadium, which opened in January and will be Perth’s new home of big Aussie Rules football and cricket matches.
Day passes for the ferries cost A$24 (Dh69), but hop off at On the Point before completing the journey.
13.00 Riverside lunch
On the Point is a slightly odd, out-of-place collection of restaurants perched by the riverside. The main one of these is Ku De Ta (www.kudeta.com/perth), the first overseas outpost of the legendary Balinese joint. The big terrace provides the views, and the menu marries Australian produce with Asian ideas. Shell out A$65 (Dh187), and they will bring out a series of the chef’s favourite dishes.
15.00 Get a guide
Perth’s hotspots aren’t all immediately obvious – they’re often set back from street level or tucked down laneways. That’s where Two Feet and a Heartbeat (www.twofeet.com.au) comes in. They have been running walking tours around the city for 10 years, and there are several themes on offer, but all point out easy-to-miss local favourites while delving into the city’s history. The latest in the roster is a A$99 (Dh285) cheese-focused tour that takes in vast old-school delis and modern restaurants offering cheese platters, often including WA-made bries and cheddars. It finishes in Fromage Artisans (www.fromage.com.au), where an old bank vault has been spectacularly turned into a cheese restaurant and tasting room. The 10-cheese toastie is a revolutionary spin on a student staple.
Walk off the dairy binge in Kings Park, Perth’s crowning glory. The late afternoon light makes the tall, silvery gum trees sparkle, while the Botanic Gardens provide a region-by-region insight into Western Australia’s unique plants and trees. Much of the four-square-kilometre park is given over to semi-wild native bushland. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place to get lost in.
20.30 Adventurous dining
The Fremantle area is the best spot for dinner, with dozens of cafes and restaurants spilling out on to the streets. Bread in Common (www.breadincommon.com.au) is the star here, inside a former warehouse and with wow-factor looks. Breads, sauces, pickles and condiments are handmade (and often stacked in huge jars on the shelves), and dishes are designed to be shared. Black vinegar chicken or lime and black garlic-glazed lamb ribs are among the hugely tempting options in the A$20 to A$30 (Dh58 to Dh86) bracket.
Rest your head
Perth’s accommodation strength is in functionality rather than design pizzazz. This is very much the case at the difficult-to-fault Attika Hotel (www.attikahotel.com), which offers spacious, comfortable apartments a short stroll from several cafes. Offering full kitchens, washing machines and tumble dryers, they’re exceptionally handy for longer or family stays. Apartments cost from A$180 (Dh518) per night.
For more information, visit www.westernaustralia.com