Sun, sea and style: why everyone’s beating a path to Perth

Source: Irish Times

Western Australia keeps drawing the crowds with its laid-back style, superb climate and thriving restaurant scene.

Once defined as the most isolated ex-colonial outpost in the world, Perth is now a thriving city, happy in its multicultural skin and proud of its huge economic success.

It’s also a city willing to embrace newcomers, as many Irish people have discovered over the years. A recent trip was principally to spend time with family (my brother has lived here for almost 30 years) but also to get a feel for a city that we hadn’t visited for more than a decade.

After more than 20 years of continuous boom, the Western Australia capital has developed into a smart yet relaxed city. Built on the large estuary of the Swan River as it enters the Indian Ocean, it has a small city centre which spreads out to the suburbs along the coastline and on the river’s edge.

It’s the suburbs, with their spacious, contemporary homes, that attract many people here. It’s also these suburbs, especially those backing on to the river – Cottesloe being the most loved of them all – or on the edge of the magnificent King’s Park, where Subiaco is a must for its speciality shops, cafes and restaurants, that bring people outdoors as often as possible.

The city centre itself is easy to get around, with a small grid of shopping streets bordered by the high-rise business quarter in St George’s Terrace that defines the Perth skyline. The mineral-rich state has exported much of its iron ore, nickel, lead and gas to Asia in the past decade, saving it from the economic recession faced by much of the developed world. This has also meant that the cost of living in Perth is high and, although some wages can keep pace, it has – like much of the Western world – succumbed to rising domestic debts.

However, the state government has opted to stimulate the economy with large infrastructural projects such as a new public square, a new state museum and a new city-centre ferry terminal for commuter and leisure boats. The most impressive project is Yagan Square, which by 2017 promises to link the cultural quarter in Northbridge with the main shopping streets by covering over the railway lines.

Named after an aboriginal warrior from the local Noongar tribe, the project is also an example of how Western Australia is now embracing the cultural tourism potential of its Aboriginal history. The development allows easy pedestrian access from the shopping district to the West Australian state art gallery, the state museum, the magnificent new state theatre, and a good range of Asian cafes and restaurants.

If it’s a more stylish eating or drinking experience you’re after, make your way back to St George’s Terrace and its side streets, the business district that becomes a buzz of little bars serving craft beers from micro-breweries at night. In a country that is already well known for its beer, these craft beverages are increasingly competing with Australian wines as the drink of choice amongst hipsters and suits alike.

The free buses operating within a 10- minute ride of the city centre provide convenient public transport for locals and tourists alike, and create less congested streets in the city.

To get a full view of the city and the Swan estuary by day or night, a visit – or several – to Kings Park is absolutely essential. These magnificent outdoor botanical gardens have every tree and plant that grows in Australia, a large expanse of bush, (with a new hands-on children’s bush trail), a treetop walkway, the best craft gallery in Perth and a choice of cafes.

But, lest we forget, it’s the beaches that also give Perth its worldwide reputation as a lifestyle destination. One coffee-shop owner told us that in the summertime, most people choose to work from 7am to 3pm, taking the rest of the day off to go to the beach. There’s plenty to choose from: Scarborough Beach to the north, then City Beach which becomes Swanbourne Beach and then Cottesloe, the coolest of them all. And, there are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants – with shaded areas to retreat from the sun – to keep everyone happy.