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Perth was the first destination of my eight month tour of Australia and, bar a few paragraphs in Bill Bryson's Down Under and a fairly clinical description in the Lonely Planet guidebook, almost a complete unknown to me. My imagination conjured up images of a clean, attractive city bathed in perpetual sunshine with a laid back, fun-loving and friendly population. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to find the roads damp from a recent downpour and the following morning when I peered out of my window to see an onslaught of torrential rain. My feelings of disappoint in the great Australian climate were not tempered by the news that London was in the midst of a heat wave and some 10 degrees hotter than Perth.
Thankfully after some contemplation and a few days in Perth my feelings for the city improved considerably, generally the city did bask in sunshine with crisp clear blue skies that highlight its impressive skyline. Also temperatures of just under 20 Celcius are not to be scoffed at during the middle of winter, indeed when the sun was shining my perceived image of Perth seemed remarkably close to the mark.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia, by far the largest state in Oz, and is renowned for its remoteness as well as its temperate climate (it's the sunniest state capital apparently). To gain some idea of its remoteness it's closer to Singapore than Sydney and is a massive 2750km from the nearest state capital, Adelaide. That is over twice the distance from Lands End to John O'Groats to give some idea of the distances I'm talking about.
All this makes the fact that Perth is a lively and modern city all with a population of around 1.3 million all the more surprising. It is situated on the Swan River roughly 20km downstream from the port of Fremantle and began significant development after gold was found in 1890. But enough of the facts and figures and on to the more interesting aspects of this remote city. As with my other travel opinions much of this will be aimed at the backpacking end of the travellers spectrum but hopefully will be of interest to all... besides you've already started reading.
Northbridge is the place to head for if you're a backpacker as it is close to the city centre and transport links and contains a plethora of youth hostels, bars, restaurants
and several nightclubs.
A quick note on accommodation in Oz, almost all places offer concessions for YHA members so get hold of a card either before you go or when you turn up if you're eligible. In addition to a usual $1 discount per night on accommodation, the card will get you savings on travel and entrance to tourist attractions amongst other things. (Exchange rate is currently a favourable $2.8 to the pound.)
I stayed in the Britannia YHA which is on William Street in the heart of Northbridge. It's a large hostel which has friendly and helpful staff, good facilities (cooking, cleaning and washing) and a crazy parakeet that tries to follow you around the hostel. The only slight drawback is that, as is the nature of such large hostels, it loses the more family atmosphere that smaller hostels have and can, at times, feel a little impersonal. The cost of a dorm bed in small 4 bed dorms is $17 (about 6 quid) a night which is comparable to many of the hostels in the area. There are also a selection of single, double and twin rooms available.
Whilst there are hostels located slightly closer to the centre of town, Northbridge is a livelier place to stay and is a mere five minutes walk to the centre. I should at this point also mention Scarborough which is close to Perth's beaches and hence should be considered if you're travelling in the Summer months.
The Touristy Bit
As I spent the best part of two weeks in and around Perth I felt obliged to don my shades gather up my camera and guidebook and visit some of the sites. The most appealing of these is King's Park, which covers an enormous four square kilometers of the north east of the city. Basically it makes Hyde Park seem little more than a large back garden to give some idea of the scale. It is an amazing place that contains a vast amount of wildlife, allows for beautiful walks as well as affording picture postcard views of Perths dramatic skyline and the Swan River upon which the city is built. Rather than try to do it credit I'll borrow a quote from the travel writing guru himself, Bill Bryson who succinctly sums it up.
"King's is all those things a park should be - playground, sanctuary, strolling area, botanical garden, vantage point, memorial - and so big that you can never fell you've seen it all."
Nothing could be more true and in my education in all things Australian this was the first time I became aware of how they manage to do everything on a more impressive scale, with more consideration and thought and with far more appealing results than us Brits when it comes to any tourist related affair; a fact that was compounded with every different attraction I visited.
Whilst King's Park is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown as far as things to see in Perth there is still much else that is worth seeing before venturing further a field. Several of these attractions are located in Perth's cultural centre which is comprised of the state museum, gallery, library and PICA (Perth's Institute of Contemporary Art). I must admit that after visiting the gallery and taking in some interesting aboriginal and local art and a beautiful Monet and Japan exhibition I felt all cultured out and decided to sample the local beverages. Before moving on though I should mention that I've heard that the museum is well worth visiting as it contains, amongst other things, a 25m blue whale skeleton, also the Perth Mint and Zoo are both supposed to be worth a visit.
Going out in Perth
Whilst both Subiaco and Leederville are both advised as places to go out, Northbridge is still the most popular by all accounts with the greatest concentration of restaurants, bars and clubs in the city. It is also the most convenient as, if you're staying in Northbridge, you can avoid the difficulties of taxis and buses and merely stumble back to your hostel and into bed, assuming you can remember where it is, the door code and what room you're in. A feat I some how achieved after several very enjoyable nights out in Perth.
There are a wide range of restaurants and eateries in Northbridge and they cover a truly global scope of culinary flavours, everything from steaks and burgers to Oriental, Italian to Indian and kebabs and other fast food outlets. The quality in the few places I ate in was very good for the price but obviously my budget didn't allow me to sample all of the restuarants.
The bars and pubs are of course a different matter entirely and there are a host of good ones in Northbridge. The Brass Monkey on William Street is a lively venue especially on weekends and spills into three or four different rooms. The strange blue neon lighting in the gents is a little disconcerting though especially after a few sherbets as the Aussies would say. For those that prefer real beer to fizzy lager I'd definitely advise the IPA as it makes a refreshing change from Australian beer.
On the beer front I must digress briefly... thankfully in WA they serve beer in pints which is not always the case in other states. To order a drink an understanding of a range of different terms is necessary to actually succeed - glass, schooner, beer, butcher, handle, middie, pot or pint are all used. The result of ordering can therefore be actually getting a drink or just a confused look depending on the State you're in... or should that be state you're in?
Anyway, other places I recommend checking out are the English style Elephant and Wheelbarrow which serves Tetley's, the two Irish style pubs, Rosie O'Grady's and the open till four Bog all have great atmospheres at the weekend with friendly locals happy to spark up conversations at any moment. All this combines to ensure that an enjoyable night of drinking and socialising is a sure thing in Perth.
As to the club scene I only went to two different clubs during my stay in Perth, Rise which played a diverse range of music from cheesy chart music through to house and techno. Free entry on Wednesday nights was our main reason for going but it was a good night out. The Church is a more serious clubbers club and at $6 for entry on a Saturday night which includes a complimentary drink is well worth a visit. I must admit my memory of the place is a touch hazy but I do recall dancing like a maniac through to the early hours which is a commendation in my book.
It's impossible to really write a comprehensive opinion on a city but I hope that I've given some useful information on Perth to any potential travellers as well as a enjoyable read for others. Perth is a wonderful city that certainly has the laid back fell that I for one always associate with Antipodeans. It does not suffer from the London head down, no eye contact rush preferring a take things easy in idyllic settings and temperate climate approach. For many travellers a trip to Perth is often to find work or to use it as a starting point to explore the vast and beautiful state of Western Australia, which is to be the subject of my next travel opinion as I'll describe my 3500km 10 day road trip...