Basking in the glow of some heroic urban regeneration projects, Perth has never been more appealing.
Way out west, Perth has got it all going on. The city’s mojo is positively seductive, with a fizzy sweep of fresh temptations and grand triumphs of urban regeneration, redefining the urban platter. First impressions count and one of the best ways to find your feet is to join one of Oh Hey WA’s irrepressible walking tours. Under the command of the equally irrepressible Adie Chapman, who has been operating these tours for nine years, a walkabout with Adie and her vivacious troupe of guides is a sure-fire way to get a dynamic sense of the city’s spunk and sparkle. www.ohheywa.com.au
My enthralling 90 minute walking tour traversed a variety of themes, from riveting street art and storied architecture to exciting new public spaces and hidden laneways laden with libations. The enhanced presence of indigenous street art is most conspicuous and Adie led me to one of the most uplifting specimens, the spectacular rainbow serpent, slithering along the walls of a laneway.
Other shining lights of urban laneway regeneration include the trail-blazing Wolf Lane (with its wondrously large murals), Brookfield Place behind St. George’s Terrace, bursting with swish culinary offerings, and the hidden gem of Howard Lane. After ripping up the asphalt, the lane’s original cobblestones were delightfully rediscovered. It’s also where you can enjoy the ultimate example of a signage-free saloon, Helvetica Bar, housed in a small brick storehouse, brimming with character and whiskies. The locals love it because they offer a bottle-keep service, whereby you can resume your intake from the same bottle on return visits to the bar.
Then there’s old-school Perth that has been strikingly repurposed. Beneath the soaring archways of the majestic State Buildings, new life courses through the venerable cluster of heritage buildings in Cathedral Square. Reinvigorated as a compelling hub of retail and hospitality, the three interconnected properties sat empty for 20 years, before being reborn as COMO The Treasury and its alluring slate of hospo destinations like Petition, Long Chim and Wildflower.
Best coffee in Perth? Paying homage to the building’s previous life as a post office, you can’t beat a brew to go from Telegram Coffee. Strolling down the retail artery of Hay Street Mall, Adie pointed out to me a clutch of heritage buildings, like the sublime wrought-iron blockbuster of the Savoy Hotel, awaiting regeneration. Then there’s the kitschy novelty of the London Court shopping arcade.
Built for gold miner and financier Claude de Bernales, London Court was designed as an extravagant salute to Tudor England, modelled on London’s Liberty department store. makes for an atmospheric shopping arcade, connecting with Hay St Mall. At the Mall entrance, admire the clock face which is a replica of the “Great Clock” in Rouen, France. The clock chimes every quarter hour, unleashing four knights to circle the window. Meanwhile, at the St. Georges Terrace end of the arcade, the clock face is a replica of “Big Ben”, and St. George does battle with a dragon.
Barflies rejoice. Over the past decade, liquor licensing changes have spawned a profusion of small bars, setting up trade and re-energising dishevelled alleys. Chic cocktail spots, cosy boltholes and speakeasy bars bubble away in their tucked away hidey-holes. Adie ushered me to Alfred’s Pizzeria, a New York gangster-style pizza bar, tucked away in a Barrack St basement, this six year old establishment has a strong and playful escapist streak – and the pizza is divine. You can order it by the slice. The drinks list is tailored to pizza consumption, with an extensive craft beer, wine, gin, whisky and rum list.
Stake out Globe Bar, which has re-energised the original landmark hotel, now featuring a vertical garden, heritage brick wall, timber floorboards and supreme mural work. It’s a trendy spot for casual bites and drinks, with 25 beers on tap. In Queen Street, I loved The Flour Factory, fusing together a New York Deli with a Spanish Bodega cocktail bar across three levels of a former 100-year old flour mill. With over 150 types of gin on offer, if you’re feeling indecisive, just spin the gin wheel to place your order.
The Perth City Link project has reconnected the CBD with the bohemian hotbed of Northbridge for the first time in a century in recent years. Severed by the swath of railway lines leading to Perth Station, the inner-city neighbourhood has been readmitted into the city centre’s clutch by sinking the railway tracks and undergrounding the bus station, reclaiming over four hectares of high quality public spaces, including the enticingly designed, art-filled meeting place of Yagan Square.
Northbridge has long been a popular playground for night owls, home to many of Perth’s best nightclubs and ethnic eateries. The hospo scene is constantly resetting the table, but some of the local stars in the line-up include Joe’s Juice Joint. Off the laneway and down the stairs, this rock ‘n roll den beckons as your classic dive bar – fried chicken, cheese burgers, pinball, a serious backbar, a cracking beer selection and a classic rock playlist. Also in the Chinatown precinct, Sneaky Tony’s. A homage to infamous rum-runner Tony “the hat”, Sneaky Tony’s is a prohibition bar with shelves bursting with liquid gold. With over 300 bottles of rum from all corners of the globe, pull up a stool and let them pour you a dram.
Another show-stopping stop is Ezra Pound Bar on Northbridge’s Williams Lane. This intimate haunt with exposed-brick walls & a 1920s aesthetic serves up splendid cocktails & craft beer. Born out of a desire to recreate the small bars of Melbourne, lurking down darkened laneways, there’s a very heavy nod towards the speakeasies of the prohibition era thrown in to complement its secluded setting.
Open since 2009, it is one of Perth’s oldest small-bars and a perennial locals’ favourite. Whistle up a Negroni at this cultural institution – it would have to be the best I’ve ever had. Tucked below the verdant oasis of King’s Park, make a lunch date with Cooee Perth, a ritzy riverfront venue, housed in the old Swan Brewery. After savouring a delicious chicken terrine, I succumbed to the most marvellous Toffee Pudding.
Some startlingly ambitious regeneration projects have defined the heart of Perth. None more so than the Elizabeth Quay waterfront development, reawakening and accentuating the city’s focus on the iconic Swan River. Think Sydney’s Darling Harbour and you’ll get a feel for how transformative this project has been. Spanning nearly 10 hectares of blue-ribbon riverfront land, the multi-billion dollar project boasts a split level promenade wrapped around an inlet, lively new public spaces including the nautical playground, walking trails, retail and hospitality offerings and exciting new entertainment venues.
Ritz-Carlton Perth takes pride of place, perched over the glittery new horseshoe-shaped Elizabeth Quay waterfront precinct. From the pink-hued exterior glass symbolising Western Australia’s pink Argyle diamonds to the 10,000 blocks of Kimberley sandstone that define the walls of the radiant lobby, in addition to the rich polished timbered interiors, this splendid new high-end hotel is a triumph of craftsmanship.
My spacious king room, with its sweeping floor to ceiling windows, afforded panoramic views across to the Swan River and the new city landmark, Swan Bells, a set of 18 bells suspended inside a specially built 82-metre-high copper and glass campanile. My enormously sized bathroom was loaded with luxurious accoutrements, from the half egg-shaped bathtub, to the Frette bathrobes and exclusive Asprey of London toiletries.
Perth’s credentials as a culinary capital are on full display at the on-site signature restaurant, Hearth. For the five-star experience, dive into the Taste of Hearth degustation menu with expert pairings of exemplary West Australian wines to complement the state’s magnificent produce. From the gorgeous infinity pool and bar overlooking Elizabeth Quay to the sumptuous spa with Balinese overtones, Ritz-Carlton Perth is the complete five-star package, underpinned by polished, outgoing and welcoming staff service. www.ritzcarlton.com/perth
I crossed the Swan River to Birdswood to meet up with Nick Abraham from Warrang-Bridil, who offers a fascinating indigenous walking tour that seeks to ‘close the gap’ on knowledge and understanding of the Nyoongar people’s vast heritage. Translated from Nyoongar language, Warrang-Bridil means “enlighten to acknowledge.” Soothingly, soulfully charismatic, Nick was eager to disarm my fellow guests that his tour “isn’t about blame and shame.” Rather, over the course of the following hour we gleaned so many indelible insights about the Nyoongar, their relationship with the land and river, the immense challenges they have faced and the renaissance in indigenous culture and understanding, in these parts.
As we strolled the shores of the gleaming Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River), Nick’s easy patter spilled forth with so many illuminating anecdotes. I was struck by his insights on the revered rainbow serpent and how a shocked family member supposedly saw one, just days before their grandfather lost his life in the exact same spot of the river.
Backdropped by the striking beauty of Optus Stadium, Nick imparted his commanding knowledge on how Nyoongar cultural influence has been deeply threaded into the stadium’s design (which resembles a giant swan nest) and the equally eye-grabbing Matagarup Bridge. Open just four years and connecting the stadium to East Perth, the striking design of flowing steel arches represents a pair of black and white swans, the coming together of diverse cultures, while also resembling the deified rainbow serpent, steeped in Nyoongar culture.
You can climb to the top of the bridge, taking in the sparkling vista 72 metres above the water, before zip-lining your way down! Nick’s tour concluded with a spiritual smoking ceremony, whereby your negative energy is banished by the burning fire, allowing positive energy to take fly.
The aromatic experience of those burning eucalyptus leaves is quite profound. Nick joked that he’s frequently asked to smoke visiting sports teams, and after smoking Collingwood recently, they’ve been on a winning blitz in the AFL! There’s no better way to enrich a trip to Perth, than to take a tour with Nick. https://www.warrang-bridil.com.au/
Air New Zealand has daily direct flights between Auckland and Perth. If you want to lie flat and get some rest in Economy, the Skycouch is the way to go, especially if you’re travelling with the family. Sit, spread out, or lie down and snooze. Share the space with a partner or children, or keep it all for yourself. Bag a fare and seat to suit at www.airnewzealand.co.nz
To maximise the magic of a getaway in WA, the official tourism website is packed with constantly updated guidance and inspiration. Have a golden time out west. www.westernaustralia.com