The city of Perth, Australia, was founded on June 12, 1829 (also my birthday), by Captain James Stirling as the center for the Swan River Colony. Despite a slow start and skirmishes with the native Aborigines, the city prospered and grew. In 1850, an influx of convicts boosted the size of the colony, and their labor helped build the city.
The discovery of gold in the 1890s triggered a mineral boom that has still not subsided. This boom has been the key to Perth’s growth, as well as the growth of the whole of Western Australia.
Over the last few years, the rise of commodity prices and the subsequent mining and oil drilling boom has ballooned Perth’s population. The city is now a hub of activity and growth. (It grows 10% per year.) But, despite all that growth, the city still remains a wonderful place to visit. It’s clean, the people are friendly, it’s easy to get around, and it sits right on the ocean. It has more a small town feel than that of the biggest city of Western Australia! (Though it does have big city prices!)
As a young and modern city, there are a few “attractions” here. You won’t find many historic buildings or quaint little shop lined alleys. There are no cute little neighborhoods. The city is spread out on wide streets. Yes, there’s stuff to do: The Perth Cultural Center; King’s Park; Swan River, which also provides great views of the city, or a quick train trip Fremantle. If the heat (and it gets really hot) gets to you, head to Perth’s famous beaches.
But it’s the people that really trap me here. It’s knowing you are miles from anything but never feeling that way. On Sundays, Cottesloe fills with young adults engaging in one of Australia’s most time honored traditions — the Sunday Session. At night, the action heads down to Northbridge. There, the natives unwind with a good beer and socialize until the early morning hours.
And the locals love meeting strangers because, with the city being so far away, not many come! Normally, you go out to the bars, and people are stand-offish when you try to strike up a conversation. But in Perth, everyone talks. The city is a great place to meet people — I found the locals to be very friendly. Northbridge may get crowded and sometimes a little rowdy, but everyone’s always willing to talk. Here are some things to see and do in Perth:
Check out King’s Park and Botanic Garden
(Fraser Avenue, Kings Park, +61 8 9480 3600, website)
Kings Park, with its 990 acres of landscaped gardens and bushland, gets impressive views of the city and river. Walk through the eucalyptus tree canopy, explore native habitats, and take in the rich bird life. Kings Park is also host to many music and theater events, so be sure to look out for what’s going on. King’s Park is open daily and entrance is free.
Climb the DNA Tower
(Forrest Drive end of the Broadwalk Vista)
From this tower, you can get panoramic views of the city skyline, Swan River, Darling Scarp, and the Indian Ocean. It is the highest point in Kings Park. You only have to walk up 101 steps for the view! It’s free and always open to the public.
Visit the Quokkas at Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island is the perfect spot for a day trip. In addition to awesome beaches and the native Quokkas, there is snorkeling, bike rentals, camping, restaurants, and plenty of family activities. Avoid “schoolies week” in late November and early December when the island becomes a drinking festival for 18-year-old Aussies.
See the Art Gallery of Western Australia
(Perth Cultural Centre, +61 8 9492 6600, artgallery.wa.gov.au)
This gallery was founded in 1895 and houses the state’s most distinguished art collection. It includes post-WWII works, as well as Indigenous pieces. It’s open Wednesday-Monday from 10am-5pm. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
Enjoy one of the many beaches
Perth has a number of good beaches: Cottesloe Beach (one of the most popular), Swanbourne Beach (nude beach), City Beach (also very popular), Scarborough Beach (great for surfing), and Trigg Beach (also popular for surfing), among others. No matter what your tastes are, there is a beach in Perth for you.
To many Australians, Perth is a world away. The majority of the country’s population lives on the east coast and rarely venture off it. To them, Perth might as well be another country. Perth always seems to be the end of the world — far removed from the rest of the country.
But any visit to Australia that doesn’t include this city leaves out a truly Australian experience.
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Note: This article was originally published in 2008.
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