With its superb beaches and Margaret River's wineries, the Western Australian capital is a sure thing for sailors, sunseekers and foodies alike, says Simon Calder
WHY GO NOW?
The Western Australian capital blossoms between September and November; the city's Wildflower Festival takes place 22-26 September. Because Perth is so isolated (South-East Asia is nearer than Sydney), the city has become thoroughly multicultural. And with a superb setting on the Swan River, and the historic port of Fremantle nearby, you can understand why the city is home to four out of five Western Australians.
The only airline with a direct flight from the UK to Perth is Qantas (08457 747 767; www.qantas.com.au), which flies three times a week from Heathrow. Alternatively, you can change planes in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Dubai with Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flying from Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow.
Perth's international terminal is about 20km from the city centre, with no public transport. The Airport-City shuttle (00 61 8 9475 2999) will drop you off near most of Perth's main hotel areas; the fare is A$15 (£6.75). A taxi costs around A$30 (£13.50), making it the better option for two or more people travelling together.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
The Swan River expands shortly before it snakes downstream to Fremantle on the Indian Ocean. The city centre is a grid of streets on the north side of a stretch known as Perth Water. The Visitor Centre (1), on the corner of Forrest Place and Wellington Street (00 61 8 9483 1111; www.westernaustralia.net), opens 8.30am-6pm Monday-Friday, 8.30am-noon on Saturdays. To the north of the William Street Bridge is Northbridge, hub for much of the city's nightlife. The excellent buses, trains and ferries of Transperth (00 61 8 9428 1900; www.transperth.wa.gov.au) offer free rides within the "central business district". This includes the three "Cat" midi-bus services, which run frequently on circular routes throughout the city centre - including Kings Park, the majestic space on the city's doorstep.
Outside the central area, fares start at A$2 (£0.90). The 20-minute train ride between Perth Station (2) and Fremantle runs every 15 minutes for a fare of A$3.80 (£1.65).
Most accommodation is aimed at backpackers. The best combination of location, ambience and price is at Governor Robinson's (3), an upmarket hostel at 7 Robinson Avenue, Northbridge (00 61 8 9328 3200; www.govrobinsons.com.au). This comprises a couple of workmens' cottages knocked together and expanded. The price of A$65 (£28) per night for a comfortable double room includes DIY breakfast. For something more upmarket, Rydges Hotel (4) on the corner of Hay and King Streets (00 61 8 9263 1800; www.rydges.com) has sophisticated decor, post-modern furnishings and a double-room rate of about A$250 (£110) including breakfast, depending on demand.
TAKE A HIKE
From the railway station (2), go south along Forrest Place - often the venue for free cultural events - to Murray Street Mall, where a few older buildings have survived alongside ungraceful new structures. Thread through one of the arcades to Hay Street Mall, and find the entrance to London Court (5), a half-timbered folly built by a homesick Brit and even now containing a shop selling UK "delicacies" such as crisps and sweets. At the end, turn left along St George's Terrace. Just past Barrack Street, Stirling Gardens appear on your right; admire Government House (6), the mid-Victorian governor's residence with echoes of the Tower of London, then cut through the Supreme Court Gardens. The Georgian-style courthouse, next door to the Supreme Court, is one of Perth's oldest buildings (built 1836). End close to the water at the Swan Bells (7), a futuristic structure built to house the bells of St Martin's, given by the UK to Western Australia for its bicentennial in 1988; you can visit between 10am and 5pm daily; A$6 (£2.75).
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Halo (00 61 8 9325 4575), just inshore from Barrack Street Jetty (8) has beautiful views and food, but for something more economical you will need to head north - for example to the Magic Apple Wholefood Kitchen (9) at 447 Hay Street (00 61 8 9325 8775) for tasty soups, salads and sandwiches.
TAKE A RIDE
With luck you should be in time for the 2pm sailing downriver from Barrack Street Jetty (8) to Fremantle aboard Oceanic Cruises (00 61 8 9325 1191; www.oceaniccruises.com.au). The one-hour voyage, past fine scenery and millionaires' mansions, costs A$16 (£7). It deposits you on the outskirts of Fremantle, but locals will put you on track for the town centre. For a more extreme ride, explore the 1km labyrinth of tunnels beneath Fremantle's prison, which includes a paddle on a replica punt; see www.fremantleprison.com.au.
For anyone at the start of an Australian adventure, Fremantle is an excellent place to stock up on books and maps - notably at the Map and Chart Shop at 14 Collie Street (00 61 8 9335 8665). While in Fremantle, explore the exuberant market, open 10am-5pm from Friday to Sunday. Besides buying fruit, you can have your palm read or buy T-shirts reading: "When I married Mr Right, I didn't realise his first name was Always." Then hop on the train for the pleasant ride back to Perth.
Northbridge is the entertainment hub of WA - which means if you can't have a good time here, there's not another opportunity for 3,000km. On the corner of William and James Streets stands the Brass Monkey (10), a century-old property that is an excellent place to sample the rough-and-ready nature of much Australian nightlife.
DINNER WITH THE LOCALS
Just along James Street you will find the Old Shanghai Markets Food Hall (11), where you can choose from half a dozen Asian cuisines and even Mexican food, in a cheery, communal environment. For a more sophisticated meal, try Viet Hoa (12) at 349 William Street (00 61 8 9328 2127).
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Perth's most notable place of worship is the Gothic-style St Mary's Cathedral (00 61 8 9223 1350) in Victoria Square (13). It was originally built by Benedictine monks in the 1860s but with additions from the 1920s. It opens 6am-6pm. Five services are held on Sundays starting at 7.30am. Opposite is the pretty Convent of Mercy.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Head for the coast, and hit the seaside before the hottest part of the day. The Blue Duck Cafe (00 61 8 9385 2499; www.blueduck.com.au) is set on dunes overlooking North Cottesloe Beach, and offers a choice of three buffet breakfasts from 7am at weekends - prices start at A$15 (£6). From the city centre, bus 72 serves Cottlesloe.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Kings Park, Perth's expansive wilderness on the edge of the city centre, was created in 1872. The park's website ( www.kpbg.wa.gov.au) has details of free guided walks. The park also contains the Botanic Garden and the Federation Walkway, a 620m steel elevated path which slices through the treetops with lookouts and interpretive signs. For more information call 00 61 8 9480 3600.
The Perth Cultural Centre is the loose term for the area north of the main station that is home to a number of artistic and historical enterprises. The most notable is the Western Australian Museum (14 ) (00 61 8 9427 2700, w ww.museum.wa.gov.au), which traces the lineage of the Aboriginal inhabitants - the oldest continuous culture in the world - plus the more recent history of the state. The museum opens 9.30am-5pm daily, with admission "by gold coin donation", ie an Australian dollar or two.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Between September and December is humpback whale-watching season. Several firms compete to take you out to the Indian Ocean to see the mammals, including Boat Torque (00 61 8 9325 5888) from Barrack Street Jetty (8) and Oceanic Cruises (00 61 8 9430 5844; www.oceaniccruises.com.au) from Fremantle.Reuse content