Perth is considered one of the remotest cities on Earth, far from the popular eastern side of Australia and a good 16-hour direct flight from London. Aussie-bound holidaymakers often miss this cosmopolitan city because of its far-flung location, but we decided to give it a go back in December 2016, to see whether Perth was somewhere worth exploring.
Join us in this blog-post as we reveal the best things to see and do in Perth (especially while on a budget): from the buzz and bustle of the inner city to the sun-soaked beaches along the western shores, explorations into the red desert bush or trips down the Swan River, this state capital has something for everyone’s tastes.
When to go
October to March is summertime in this part of Western Australia, and by January the region is sizzling hot. We visited Perth in the summer of December 2016, when the temperatures soared into the high 30s (Celsius) and we were melting even in the shade of the gum trees. I recall us strolling down the high street in Fremantle and needing to take breaks in the air-conditioned shops because it was 42 degrees! If you’d rather not feel like you’re sightseeing on the surface of Mercury, head to WA in the spring months of August and September instead, when daytime temperatures range between 11 and 23 degrees Celsius.
When we first arrived in Perth, we took the air-conditioned 380 bus from the airport to the centre of the city, which conveniently drops you right at Elizabeth Quay by the Swan River. Information for this service can be found at the airport website.
With an ultra-modern skyline of glass and steel, this place has sprung up out of the arid lands based on the economic riches of oil and minerals in the local area. There’s a real 21st century feel to the place, even if the first settlers founded Perth in 1829!
We walked to Kings Park and lounged under the trees for a while to recuperate after our flight from Brisbane; despite being in the same country, the two cities are a 7-hour flight away from each other, which gives you an idea of just how far Perth is from other big Aussie cities.
Kings Park has great views of the city and the river and is somewhere we’d recommend if you want to get away from the urban rush (although truth be told, Perth seems like a sleepy provincial village compared with the frenetic tempo of NYC or London).
Head here for the Botanic Gardens if you love wandering around acres of exotic horticulture. You can catch a summer concert at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial or watch a movie at the outdoor “Moonlight Cinema” screenings in the gardens – we didn’t do this in Perth, but if it’s anything like the experience at Melbourne’s Moonlight Cinema we can certainly recommend it. Take a blanket for those chillier nights!
Where we stayed (and what we did)
After spending six months house-sitting our way around New Zealand, we decided to pet-sit in Western Australia before we flew on to Thailand. There was chaos and uncertainty regarding our Aussie assignment (another story for another blog-post, perhaps) but we ended up in a small suburban area called Golden Bay, 64km south of downtown Perth. We helped out a Navy couple named Jodie and Mitch, who needed a sitter for their hound Humphrey. Although there wasn’t much going on in the burbs, the house-sit was only a 5-minute stroll to white shores and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Christmas ended up being beach-side bliss.
We took care of the gentle giant mastiff-ridgeback Humphrey, had the hottest Christmas of our lives (always a weird experience for Brits used to a cold and damp Crimbo) and saw in the new year of 2017 on the beach of Golden Bay. Once our pet-sit was over we headed up to Cottersloe to stay with our artist friend Beverley (you can find her amazing artwork at her website here). Cottersloe Beach is a fabulous place to go swimming and boating, with shimmering white sands in a sheltered bay. We could see why Beverley had decided to emigrate here from the UK!
We explored her neighbourhood, took day trips into the city and enjoyed quality fish and chips (from Amberjacks on the Marine Parade) as the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
Next up was a couch-surfing stint with a German couple who lived close to the city centre. Holger, Sabine and their lovely pooch Bingo welcomed us into their home and invited us to join them for different activities around Perth. Couch-surfing is something we like to experience on our adventures, as it puts you in touch with interesting, like-minded people and can lead to doing stuff you wouldn't expect: like being invited on a night out to see a Prince Tribute act or joining in a meeting for the Green Party election campaign in the local park! Life is never dull as a nomad.
At this point in our adventures, online work had dwindled; English classes not being a priority for most people at Christmas time. Our funds were running so low we could barely afford to feed ourselves. Holger and Sabine introduced us to Annalakshmi on Elizabeth Quay. This centre has the ethos “Eat as you like, pay as your heart feels” and serves delicious Indian meals in exchange for whatever you want to (or are able to) pay. We’re incredibly grateful to all the wonderful people at this establishment who volunteer to feed people in need, as this restaurant was a lifesaver for us when we hit hard times!
If you’re interested in alternative accommodation in Perth, check out our guest blog post on Fair Dinkum’s website or head to www.couchsurfing.com and www.trustedhousesitters.com to find out more about budget options of places to stay.
Stuff worth seeing
Nate and I love street art, and Perth is a city that delivers royally when it comes to outstanding graffiti and murals. We wandered around the lanes and avenues on our own quest for art, but you can also find excellent walking tours to guide you around the city. One of the most recommended is Oh Hey WA!, who offer cultural tours for AUD30.
Some of the best art we saw was around Wolf Lane, tucked behind Murray Street: find the alleyway alongside the Margaret River Chocolate Company and you’ll be led to dozens of cool murals, as well as a host of super-cool bars and cafes that line this bohemian street.
Another epic-scale set of murals can be found surrounding a parking lot further along Murray Street, before you reach the junction at Milligan Street.
We also found some amazing pieces in the alleyways behind our couch-surfer hosts’ house in Mount Lawley. Head to Beaufort Street to see scores of quirky designs. There are updates for this arty area at this website: http://www.beaufortstreet.com.au/art/ While the regularly updated Streets of Perth website also features artwork to discover.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Beverley took us to the largest collection of fine art in the heart of Perth. The gallery is one of three heritage buildings that are part of the Perth Cultural Centre. There are traditional and modern sculptures and paintings and a collection of art representing Aboriginal culture too. It’s free to enter (although donations are gladly accepted) and makes for an enlightening way to escape the scorching Perth heat for an afternoon.
The pedestrianised areas around the Cultural Centre are also a great place to chill out with an iced coffee and people-watch for a while (or to hook up to the free WiFi and teach some international students to boost your income, like we did…)
Fremantle was one of our favourite places in the Perth area. The streets have a “Wild West pioneer” feel to them, with grand Victorian architecture and historical features remaining from its time as a penal colony.
This town has plenty of markets, bookshops and alternative stores to explore. Somewhere we loved for all things esoteric and spiritual was the Blue Budha store in the Manning Arcade (there's another in the Piccadilly Arcade of downtown Perth). Freo has a bohemian, arty vibe that's reflected in its artists community and stunning street art.
Freo has loads of cafes to choose from, but somewhere we particularly loved is Moore and Moore on Henry Street in the West End. As well as a huge selection of vegan goodies to eat, this down-to-earth eaterie features a pleasant courtyard to relax in, and a contemporary art gallery to explore.
Beverley also introduced us to the up-market area around the Esplanade, where there are dozens of cool bars and restaurants around the marina. One of her favourite places is the Little Creatures brewery, which is a hip place to enjoy an Aussie beverage and some tasty grub (although not the witchetty kind).
Perth is fast-becoming recognised as a gateway for lots of other incredible destinations in Western Australia. Although we didn’t get the chance (or have the funds) to see much beyond Perth central and Golden Bay, we heard plenty about the picturesque landscape of the Margaret River region, a three-hour drive south of Perth. Head there if you’re a wine connoisseur or you love outdoor activities like kayaking, horse-riding or surfing (to name a few).
We never made it to Penguin or Rottnest Island, two places worth taking a boat to if you want to have encounters with native Australian wildlife. Nor did we get to venture out into the bush east of the city and see any of the national parks. Whenever we miss stuff that usually features on a “must-see” list, we’ve learned not to have regrets about being unable to afford it, or fit it all in. Instead, we see it as something we can do the next time we’re in town, when we’re on a better budget. It’s all about being grateful for what you have, rather than dwelling on what you don’t.
Perth on a budget? Probably not…
As two tree-hugging wanderers who prefer not to indulge in classy, luxurious holiday destinations, Perth was perhaps a strange choice. At a time when our finances were at an ebb rather than a flow, this up-and-coming economic hub of Western Australia was an expensive place to go to before hitting the hippy trail in Thailand.
We’d certainly recommend Perth for big-spenders; its laid-back, sophisticated vibe will appeal to anyone who loves luxury travel. It’s somewhere you can enjoy fine art, club and café culture, glorious beaches and extravagant shopping. And for anyone keen to experience the unique landscape of Western Australia there’s stunning scenery for miles around this modern metropolis.
With its free spaces of parks, beaches, galleries and street art, there’s still enough to keep a budget traveller happy too. And thanks to the generosity of friends (and strangers), our resourcefulness as wandering hobos and a canny knack of falling on our feet even in the most desperate of times, we still made this city a memorable experience.
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