Yes, Perth seems like a long way to go, especially if you’re in Australia for a short time, but after finally getting there myself after too many years, I can tell you with great certainty: It’s worth going the distance.
Perth is what Australia used to be like, the Australia I knew growing up. Lovely, friendly people. Big town atmosphere. Easy to get around. No stress. Easy living. And then there is the amazing history, culture and natural beauty that is all so accessible.
The Indigenous Nyoogar people have been in the Perth area for approximately 400,000 years. In the places I’ve travelled in Australia, with the exception of the Northern Territory, I’ve not seen an area respect and honour the indigenous culture the way Western Australia has done. Maybe it’s because without the help of the Indigenous, much of the state would never have been explored by Europeans (and thus bring the rich mining industry), much less, the Europeans surviving in the outback conditions.
In our time traveling the southern coast to Perth, we saw a great deal of indigenous names used and information displayed and I was happy to see it every time. I only wish the rest of Australia did that with a little more respect that the standard “we acknowledge the (applicable Indigeous) people…” that is said in bored tone before every official event. But growing up in Australia, at least we’re now acknowledging who the original landowners were! (Yah, I am pretty opinionated about this topic, despite my fair skin.)
As a British Colony, Perth was established in 1829 but the British were not the first European nation to land on these shores. In 1629, three Dutch ships, captained by de Vlamingh, landed off of Rottnest Island. In that same year, the Swan River was named by de Vlamingh when he saw black swans swimming on it. (Original – not). In 1829, Captain Stirling created the Swan River Colony, which is reportedly the first free settlement in Australia.
Sadly Rottnest was used as a penal settlement for Indigenous men and boys, when they were sent to Rottnest for stealing food or escaping their European ‘owners’.
What to Do In and Around Perth
Located on a hill overlooking the city, Kings Park is massive. Our timing was perfect to visit King’s Park: It was Wildflower season. Part of the attraction of Kings Park is they plant wildflowers, based on the state’s regions in planted gardens near the gift shop/restaurant area.
Our plan was to spend a little time in the park, before heading the Art Gallery. After our intial minutes of walking into the gardens, we ditched the Art Gallery idea. There was plenty to see here and with camera in hand, I was happy to spend hours with my camera and these delicious flowers.
There’s more to Kings Park than wildflowers so if you’re not visiting in September, there’s still plenty to see. Pack a picnic, take your camera, but plan on spending a while.
A quirky shopping arcade in the middle of the city. It hosts not one but two clocks, imported from Switzerland. The buildings are designed in the Tudor style and wandering through is a fun sideline the bustling city centre.
There’s a lot going on at Elizabeth Quay, construction wise. The city have done a great job is establishing this as a tourist destination and when the construction is complete, it will be a hotspot for the city for sure. Even now, it’s a nice spot to be on a sunny afternoon, wandering the paths, checking out the statues that line the Swan River, indulging in a Gusto Gelato as you people watch.
The thing we both commented on was that this was a place that competes with other cities and while it’s a nice place to be, it doesn’t compete with Sydney’s harbourside attractions, like Circular Quay and the Opera House. But what does set it apart are the crowds – or lack of. You can actually see the city and what’s going on around you, without being bumped into or inadvertently screamed at, by a passer by. Here you can wander at your own pace or cop a squat on the steps and admire the surroundings.
Fremantle has many attractions, with the Fremantle Prison being the primary attraction. It was originally constructed as convict barracks in the 19th century and remained in continual use as a prison until 1991. The history is pretty sordid. It is where hangings, floggings, dramatic convict escapes and prisoner riots all took place. Inmates included imperial convicts, colonial prisoners, enemy aliens, prisoners of war and maximum-security detainees*. (Source: http://fremantleprison.com.au/)
On the upside, there’s the Fremantle Markets, a busy place to be on a Saturday, but great for good eats, people watching and some interesting souvenirs. I wouldn’t recommend visiting though when you’ve come off of 3 months of traveling through quiet country towns. The markets are a madhouse, noisy and can be quite overwhelming.
For the quintessential Aussie beachside experience, Cottesloe is a good place to be on a Friday afternoon/evening.
Beach goers hang at the beach, swimming or throwing the frisbee even after the sun sets. Surfies try their luck on the other side of the jetty. Others lay out the picnic blanket on the tiered grassed area and partake in fish and chips from the very happening nearby Amberjacks. Bottles of wine are enjoyed as people catch up on their week.
It’s a true community get together at this time of the day and you’d think that once the sun set, that the picnickers would head home, but the lights keep the place alive, at least for another hour or so.
Put Rotto, as the locals call Rottnest Island, on your ‘must do’ list.
Yes, it’s expensive to get to the island, but it’s totally worth the excursion. I would say our day on Rottnest would be in my Top 10 experiences of our 10 month road trip. Maybe even Top 3.
Make it a full day and take the first ferry of the day out of Rous Head and catch the last ferry back to the mainland. You can stay overnight on Rotto, but I will warn you: it’s not budget friendly. However, it’s worth the stay if you are in the Perth area for more than a few days to get the full Rotto experience.
How to Get Around Perth
Perth is like a big country town when it comes to highways and getting around. The only time you realise it’s an actual city is if you’re trying to get through the city between 7-9 and 4-6pm, or if you are trying to find free parking in the city centre (good luck with that) or Fremantle.
If you are flying into Perth and don’t plan on renting a car, you can get around via their rail system. The Perth Rail system is reliable and clean. You can buy tickets at the station, or if staying longer, a SmartRider pass at station or through the TransPerth website.
Part of the time we were in Perth, we stayed in [Leederville], which was a great base for city excursions. With the station close by, we made it into the city in under 15 minutes and smack bang into the city centre.
Fore more information, check out the TransPerth website. The information is really helpful for visitors!
Cottesloe is a great place to base yourself if you have a car. I can’t recommend the Airbnb we stayed in, as it was probably one of the worst we stayed in during our entire road trip (think thorn amidst the roses), but here are a few other alternatives that look lovely and wish were available when we were there!
If you want easy access to the city and good restaurants, and don’t mind a bit of city noise, we recommend the Airbnb we stayed in, in Leederville. It’s only two suburbs from the city centre. While it was a bit too noisy for us, it was spacious, comfortable, and accessible to amenities. I picture ‘young things’ loving this place. It seemed like a ‘hipster’ kind of place to be.
If you don’t mind being off the map a little and have a car to get around, there’s another AirBnb we liked in Perth that was cosy but very quiet. It’s accessible to the city within 15-20 minutes and Fremantle in about 30, with beaches within a 5 minute drive. It’s a great stay for two people (and two people only).
If you’ve never stayed in an Airbnb, we recommend you try it. Here is a credit for your first stay, if you do want to check it out. We stay in Airbnbs primarily on our (re) Discover Australian roadtrip, when we’re not camping or housesitting that is.
Since we didn’t stay in any hotels, I can’t recommend any specifically. However, I will provide a link for searching booking.com. We’ve used booking.com extensively for our travels and find them to have the best prices for hotels in Australia.
Things to Know Before Heading To Perth:
Parking in the city is expensive so plan for that or use Public transport
Parking at Kings Park is free and worth spending hours there. Pack a picnic and enjoy the outdoors.
While the ferry to Rottnest is expensive, it’s worth the expenditure. Spend a full day or stay overnight. Accommodation on the island is basic accommodation but if the weather is nice, you won’t be indoors much anyway.
For More on Western Australia, check out these posts: