WHAT IS IT about Western Australia? Is it the sunset over the water (Perth’s sunset was recently credited as being the ninth most beautiful in the world), the vast coastline offering a myriad of aquatic experiences, the ever-increasing sophistication of its cities, or the largely untamed landscape? Perhaps there are too many reasons to narrow down to just one.
If you’re tired of enduring the 20-plus hours flying overseas for a holiday or simply desperate to avoid long queues at foreign customs desks, then maybe traversing the western side of this massive island of ours is a way to not only understand this country of ours better, but to have ‘no worries’ about the foreign exchange imbalance every time you buy something, or the exhausting after effects of jet lag after having had such a relaxing European experience.
Western Australia, our biggest state, should be high on your list of options for your next escape. Its capital city Perth might be described as the most remote city on the planet, but along with its coastal cousin, Fremantle, the offerings to a traveller are on par with some of best tourist destinations in the world.
Once off the plane in Perth, take a car to Fremantle, a port town that was once the bastion of strong unions, which explains why the city’s AFL team is called the Dockers. Founded in 1829 (six years before Melbourne) and located at the mouth of the Swan River, the city was the first settlement in WA.
Its trade union roots and an unwillingness to give into what some might have called ‘progress’ meant that the architecture of this city is classic colonial, Victorian and Federation — strolling down the city streets is like being on the sets of Bridgerton or The Gilded Age, for those partial to a period drama. Grand buildings mix in with warehouses converted into restaurants, distilleries, galleries and all manner of hospitality destinations.
For history buffs seeking a unique experience, stay a night or two at The Warders Hotel. These historic limestone cottages were the warders’ homes for the world heritage-listed Fremantle Prison, and have since been reimagined as a boutique hotel in the middle of the city. Fremantle Prison itself was included on the National Heritage List in 2005, and was the first WA site and the 13th national site listed alongside icons such as the Sydney Opera House, Port Arthur Historic Site and the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne.
There are many diversions in Fremantle for the holiday-hungry traveller. Everywhere you turn, you encounter culinary delights that you’ll find hard to forget. This is a bookshop lover’s town and if you’re into vinyl LPs or Indigenous art, you’ll be captivated by what’s on sale for the artistic holiday-goer.
After a day of getting to know the old-world streets and shops of Fremantle, your first night out should be a visit to the Italian restaurant Vin Populi. Located in a heritage building in High Street, the chef is from Lazio (the Italian region where Rome resides), while the manager is Tuscan-born. The owners, Emma Ferguson and Dan Morris, have a history of creating incomparable Italian eateries with their Perth-based restaurants No Mafia and Balthazar being cases in point. The exposed plaster walls, mosaic-tiled floors, softly fluttering linen valance curtains, charming yet timeless furniture oozes authentic Italian vibes, and the food unique yet quintessentially Italiano.
If you’re a brunch enthusiast, the appropriately named Moore & Moore Café‘s more-than-ample servings mean you’d be very unlikely to ask for seconds. Everything from the hearty sourdough toast to the smashed avocado squeezed between the smoked salmon or bacon means this is a breakfast sure to amply fuel the rest of the day’s adventures.
More walking is essential after stomaching the fare at Moore & Moore, and when that’s done, you could do worse than lining up for an eye-opening tour of the Republic of Freemantle distillery in one of Fremantle’s classic warehouses, where you’ll learn that these almighty stainless steel and copper vats take wine and turn it into vodka, which is then turned into gin. And for your ‘sins’, you’ll get to test and taste the different gins and vodka that this internationally-awarded distillery produces. Even as a non-gin or vodka drinker, your taste buds will thank you for the experience.
This certainly is a business that’s going places, with the Republic of Fremantle Full Bodied Gin named the Best International Contemporary Gin at the 2021 American Distilling Institute Awards, becoming the first ‘from scratch’ grape base spirit to take out the Best in Category for International Contemporary Gin. Meanwhile, its Signature Vodka became the first Australian Vodka to receive the prestigious Double Gold in the history of the Awards.
Powered by a taste or two of the gin and vodka, take lunch at the famous Kallis Fishmarket Café, where there’s no end of seafood to whet your appetite. This must be one of the world’s most impressive fish eateries. After savouring some red emperor and the mandatory chips, the most sensible strategy is to stroll through Fremantle’s Markets — but the best tip is to hit this place once you’ve worked up a bit more of an appetite, because the variety and quality of the food at these markets is tummy-rumbling.
Nearby is the UNESCO-listed Fremantle Prison. The tour of this World Heritage jail, which paints a picture of extreme hardship for the poor convicts who were sent by the British to the struggling settlement in 1850, because workers were needed to make the town work.
For a final escape in Fremantle, try an evening meal in the highly rated and popular innovative restaurant called Nieuw Ruin, where chef Blaze Young cooks outside the square.
Pulling up stumps, you couldn’t do much better for a place to stay than the Como Treasury, a 48-room contemporary luxury hotel buried in the state buildings from the mid-19th century. (If you love the idea of afternoon tea straight from a BBC period film, definitely add Como Treasury to your travel diary.)
For those keen to know about Perth’s natural surrounds and its Indigenous heritage (the land is known by its original owners as Boorloo), a visit to King’s Park and a Djurandi Dreaming tour with Wadjuk man Justin Martin, a qualified tour guide and Aboriginal artworks specialist, is an essential education experience.
And if education is your go, make sure you get to the WA Museum Boola Bardip, whichfor over 120 years has been making the State’s natural and social heritage accessible and engaging. This is a museum in a state that arguably has the greatest mining resources and therefore the most enthralling geological stories you could ever imagine. This is a place where you can actually touch a meteorite.
If you need a swim or a meal after a day’s touring, then swan out to Cottesloe Beach where you can savour the delicious food of Latin America at Indigo Oscar.
Of course, delicious food is not all WA offers for your savouring: The state also has some of the highest-rated wineries in the country. Forty-five minutes from Perth, Mandoon Estate must be one of the best put-together vineyard-meets-hospitality ventures you’ll ever see. And yes, the wine is worth the very easy car drive from Perth to these ‘easy on the eye’ fields of drinking joy.
If you want to finish off the day with a sampling of the rich produce of the Swan Valley, slip into Old Young’s Kitchen, where the menu — on the chef’s own admission — is “both thoughtful and thought-provoking”. And their gin and vodka is worth a sampling too, in case you needed convincing.