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.
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
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
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.
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.