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Splendid Isolation

Perth, Australia

The city of Perth, on the south-western tip of the Australian continent, is one of the world’s most remote major cities. If you define it as a capital city – which, in principle, it is, as Australia is a federation of states rather like the US – then it is one of the most remote in the world, beaten only by Honolulu, which under the same criteria must also be counted.

The locals are an exceptionally friendly bunch, although they have been accused in the past of being rather parochial and inward-looking. They are certainly inclined to be jokily dismissive of western Australians from the great centers of Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney, thousands of miles away on the eastern coast of this vast country. This is generally good-natured contempt rather similar to the opinions most Scots will express about the English – but you can see how it has arisen in a settlement that is three time zones away from its nominal capital city.

Perth at Dusk As you might expect then, Perth is a rather relaxed place, and, while it doesn’t have quite so many of problems of ethnic divides and poverty that can arise in the western cities, neither does it have quite the cultural breadth of a city like Sydney. There’s no giant, avant-garde Opera House here, and it probably wouldn’t occur to the city’s inhabitants to build one – Perth isn’t that kind of city.

One thing it does have in common with its distant western siblings is that it’s a great place to kick back and relax. In and around Perth you’ll find some of the finest beaches in the world, so if you’re touring Australia and you feel the need to chill out for a while by the side of the deep blue Indian Ocean, this is the place to do it. Perth is also something a Mecca for surfers: if you want to learn this coolest of pastimes, Perth is a good place to do it. There’s a vast range of beaches for beginners to try their luck on, and the friendly disposition of the local instructors makes learning a breeze. There are plenty of surf schools in the area – just make sure the one you decide to use is fully accredited by the Surfing Australia organization, which, in turn, is recognized and supported by the Australian federal government.

If the immediate environs of this most relaxed of city’s still aren’t sufficiently chilled out for you, you have one last hope of finding the ideal relaxation station before you give up on Planet Earth forever: Rottness Island. The island lies a few miles offshore, more or less opposite Perth’s port town on Fremantle. Thousands of years ago it was attached to the mainland before rising seas cut it off, forcing the aboriginal population to migrate. These days it’s a top spot for having a vacation. Be warned, though: it’s very important to secure accommodation on the island before you arrive. Rottnest is very popular with foreign tourists and locals alike. During the local school holiday season the island authorities have chosen to control admission by outsiders to prevent overcrowding – so if you arrive in peak season you may have to have your name entered into a lottery (they call it the ‘ballot’) to gain admission.

Taking a chance on Rottnest is very much worth the effort, though. Once again, this is a great place for surfing. Divers are also well catered-for. Various dive companies organize expeditions to the coral reefs that surround the island. Unsurprisingly, given the historically treacherous nature of the local waters, these are littered with shipwrecks. If you enjoy scuba, this area is a playground. If you prefer to keep your feet dry, you should consider hiring a mountain bike. Rottnest Island is very short on roads, but this deficiency is more than made up by the very large number of cycle tracks. Indeed, given the predictable climate and the island’s small size (it covers a total area of less than twelve square miles) cycling is the major way of getting around for tourists and the small local population alike.

Swan Bell Back on the mainland, do take the time to explore Perth proper. Although it’s not an inspiring city in the same way that, say, Sydney is, it’s still an interesting place. There is an abundance of pubs and restaurants where you can be assured a warm welcome. The city is a very pleasant one to stroll around, as it is full of green areas – King’s Park, on Mount Eliza, is close to the center of the city, and alternates carefully cultivated gardens with sections of unspoilt wilderness.

It’s a relaxed place, and a beautiful place. Above all, Perth is a happy place – something that can’t be said about too many places in the world, and which should serve as recommendation enough to those who are considering a visit.

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