Western Australia has a long history of defying expectations. For millennia Europeans knew some things were true without a shadow of a doubt. Pigs don’t fly, unicorns were mythical and swans were white. So when the Dutch mariner Willem de Vlamingh returned from exploring the west coast of Australia in 1697 with a couple of black swans he’d caught there, Europe was amazed.
So it’s not surprising that WA’s original European settlement was named the Swan River Colony in 1829. It became Western Australia in 1832 but the black swans on the Swan River remain.
While Perth, a city of almost two million people, is a long way from the rest of Australia’s population – and separated from it by the expanse of the Nullarbor Desert – it rewards exploration.
Here’s the WYZA list of a dozen things to see and do in and around Perth.
This is a great starting point as it provides the best views over the city from near the War Memorial. Take the time to wander through the Botanical Gardens up here to grasp the incredible diversity of WA’s wildflowers. Ideally, take a picnic lunch and soak in the great views of the city and river. Visit: bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park
Admire the spectacular city views from King's Park
Much of Western Australia’s early growth came about from its various gold rushes. At Perth Mint you can watch gold being poured every hour and see a one tonne gold coin in a heritage building. Visit perthmint.com.au
The Bell Tower is a must-see attraction when in Perth
Swan Bell Tower
This striking building on the banks of the river may not be the first place you’d think to look for bells from London’s St Martin in the Fields with a history going back to the 14th century. The bells were a bicentenary gift in 1988. They rang out to mark the sailing of James Cook on the Endeavour, the voyage that led to the founding of Australia. Visit: thebelltower.com.au
This thriving area of eclectic restaurants and hip bars ensures you can dine out on a wide range of international cuisines or pop in to one of the many pubs, hotels and nightclubs here. Visit: northbridgealive.com.au
Take a cruise along the river to Fremantle and take in the sights along the way. You can drive there in half an hour but the river is a much more atmospheric way to arrive.
If you are in town when the two local AFL teams are playing each other do whatever you can to obtain a ticket to Domain Stadium (previously known as Subiaco Oval). There’s no love lost between the two tribes of West Coast Eagles and the Freo Dockers and that can provide great entertainment. This will be the last year for the stadium before the footy moves to the new Perth Stadium for the 2018 season. Visit: domainstadium.com.au
This city and offshore Rottnest Island deserve their own article but here’s a summary. Besides boasting the nation’s best 19th century streetscapes, Freo (as it’s universally known) was recently declared as one of the best cities in the world by Lonely Planet for its appealing mix of craft breweries, hipster bars and varied dining options. That’s especially true on weekends. You can stay in the stylish YHA Hostel within old Fremantle Prison and take a walk through the bustling Freo markets. Visit: visitfremantle.com.au
Fremantle from above
It would be worth flying to WA simply to visit the smiling quokkas of Rotto, the world’s friendliest marsupials. Hire a bike and ride around to swim at some of the island’s 63 beaches and bays. There are coral reefs to dive upon and decent surf in some bays. Visit: rottnestisland.com
Say hello to the adorable quokkas – and take a selfie or two
Just two hours north of Perth at Cervantes are the strange desert landforms of the Pinnacles, limestone outcrops rising through the sand. While you’re in the area visit Lake Thetis, where you’ll find thrombolites that are strange living fossils. Visit: visitpinnaclescountry.com.au
The Pinnacles at Nambung National Park
While in Perth you need to head to the coast to watch a sunset over the ocean, a sensation denied to those living on the east coast. That can be done from a café or pub on the boulevard or on the lawn beneath the Norfolk Island pines at Cottesloe after a day of swimming, snorkelling or surfing. Visit: cottesloe.wa.gov.au
Rustic cellar door at Lancaster, Swan Valley
Less than an hour from Perth, the Swan Valley is a convenient place to visit some WA wineries, do some bushwalking or visit a weekend market. Visit: swanvalley.com.au
This is a great place to take an earth morning hot balloon flight over the valley’s patchwork fields. It’s even more spectacular during WA’s wildflower season. One of the region’s more unusual experiences is New Norcia, Australia’s only monastic town. It was founded in 1847 from Spain and remains a place of spiritual retreat. There’s an impressive museum or you can join a town tour.
Incongruously, in 2003 the European Space Agency opened a Deep Space Ground Station here with a 600 tonne, 40 metre-high antenna to monitor projects such as the Mars express. New Norcia was picked because it’s at the right latitude, has good weather and is far enough from a major city but still has good telecommunications. Visit: avonvalleywa.com.au
Have you travelled to Perth? What were some of the highlights?
Photography: (in-text) Alan Deveau, Greg Snell, Pernille Aggerholm.