Things to do in and around Perth
Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, ruled by workers in high vis clothing and kookaburras that steal your food. A city full of expensive coffee shops and people who complain about expensive coffee – then buy the expensive coffee…every single day…twice a day. A city with shark infested waters, terrible public transport and bars that serve schooners instead of pints and charge the same for it. A city I love so much that I feel the need to start this post with a torrent of negativity to scare people away.
I want this laid back state with it’s endless beaches, craft beers and sunshine all to myself. The sand at the beaches is too white, it’s sunny too often and there’s too many dolphins in the river. Why bother with Perth?
But if somehow you do find yourself travelling or living in Perth I am reluctantly willing to share some of my personal favourite things in and around Perth. I’ve purposely excluded the obvious things, like the beach, Kings Park and Rottnest Island, because Trip Advisor and Google exist. And because it’s Perth, a sprawling city where the commute to work is still considered reasonable when it takes an hour, “around Perth” counts as anything within a few hours drive. Welcome to Perth!
Guildfords antique stores
At some point in fairly recent history we collectively decided that instead of “second-hand” or “hand-me-downs” we’d opt for the more romantic term “vintage” to describe all the stuff in the back room that you keep meaning to give away. If you’re a fan of vintage and antiques, then James Street, right opposite Guildford train station, is a junkyard heaven. The street is like your grandparents display cabinets, but way bigger and with less moth balls.
Amble along the leafy main drag and laugh at the ridiculous prices people will pay for old things, until you find that one piece of junk you can’t leave without. It’s a museum of life where you can pay $50 for an old dial up phone that probably came from your parents cluttered shed, but it’s fascinating. I get an irrationally magical feeling browsing through all the junk, as if in my heart I believe that I’m about to stumble across a haunted mirror or the elder wand (or my letter to Hogwarts that somehow ended up in an old ladies cupboard by mistake).
Make a day out of it by doing a walking tour of all the nearby historic colonial buildings (late 1820’s counts as historic in Perth- sorry Europeans). Then grab a beer at the Guildford Hotel to celebrate all the junk you’ve brought, and when you’ve had enough of drinking, scoff your face with a burger and warm your toes around the fire pit at the iconic Alfred’s Kitchen across the road.
Hidden Street Art
It’s not quite Berlin or Melbourne, but Perth has really been busy with a paintbrush lately. Strolling the streets of the CBD and Northbridge is an easy way to kill an afternoon. Ducking down dodgy alleyways to look for masterpieces and uttering pretentious things so that it sounds like you’re really arty are fast becoming classic Perth pastimes. My commentary is normally something like “ohhhh, what pretty colours”, but if you want to delve deeper into the artwork, then this amazing map guide can help you plan your street art walk and give you some background information.
You can also spend some time hunting for space invaders, with the street artist Invader hiding small mosaic space invaders in all sorts of obscure places around the city. There’s 26 of them hidden around, but I have no idea where!
Abandoned South Fremantle power station
This decaying concrete eye-sore in North Coogee closed its doors in 1985 and has since been transformed into an illegal urban art wonderland. The brutal looking concrete shell stands looming over C.Y.O’Conner Beach and really doesn’t need the “Keep Out” signs to radiate the vibe of danger and adrenaline.
Every inch of the walls are covered in graffiti, much of it tags and profanity, but some of it genuinely stunning artwork. There’s layer upon layer of art smothered on top of each other, as if every centimetre of wall is precious space and the quest for the best wall space is a war.
If you believe in ghosts, then this place is definitely somewhere that you’d expect to find them. Imagine walking past a room so dark that when you peer inside it feels like your eyes are closed. You hear raspy breathing and your legs forget how to move. It may be a ghost… but it’s more likely the sad sounds of a homeless man with a green painted face who is about to chase you from the building. If you explore this building, you’re also in the home of those that society has failed. (That only happened to me once, but I still hear the shattered glass crunching under his urgent footsteps in my nightmares).
While there is definitely something about a “Keep Out” sign that makes you want to explore a place, it’s definitely illegal and deaths have occurred in the building. But it’s also really cool. Not that I’m encouraging going in there. Or am I? No, I’m really not. No truly. I’m not.
If you want to feel all indie and artsy for a night then skip the big chain cinemas and head to Luna. It’s a delightfully obnoxious independent cinema that, according to their website, brings “the very best mix of arthouse, contemporary and classic cinema”. The building itself is a bit run down, but this kind of ads to its “counter-culture” vibe and there’s always something unique showing. My last viewing here was a documentary about a man who had a passion for making penis sculptures. If you know what arthouse is without googling it (I don’t) then you’ll love it here.
Bon Scotts memorial/grave
Fans of the Australian rock band AC/DC will appreciate a visit to the memorial grave of lead singer Bon Scott. From 1974 until his death in 1980 he gave us sing-along classics like “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” and it’s glorious cousin “It’s a Long Way to the Shop (If You Want a Sausage Roll)”. He’s been described as a tragic hero, but what is so heroic about death from alcohol intoxication at a mere 33 years old? Nevertheless his music was legendary and AC/DC pilgrims can visit his memorial grave and those of serial killers at the Fremantle Cemetery on the Heritage Walk Trail.
What better way to spend your day than being reminded of human mortality? Ain’t nothing I would rather do. And while you’re at it you may as well visit his statue at Fremantle Boat Harbour. There at least you’ll be surrounded by seagulls and the smell of chips instead of graves. And you’ll be right next door to Little Creatures Brewery, that, admittedly, is probably more worthy of blogging praise than a graveyard…
One of a few spots in Perth city where you can indulge in beer by the waterfront, Claisebrook Cove is a small inlet in East Perth. Take a stroll around the surrounding gardens and along the Swan River and you might be lucky enough to see some dolphins. Or spend the day at the bar gazing upon the quaint townhouses, imagining a life where you could afford them (maybe if you stopped paying $10 per pint… but YOLO, right?). Claisebrook Cove does have an air of elitism that makes it feel like a town-sized barbie house, but it’s also a lovely spot to sit in the sunshine and eat and drink your sorrows away.
If you like puns and gnomes (I’m fairly sure this is everybody) then you should visit Gnomesville; there’s gnome place like it! Nestled within the Ferguson Valley, Gnomesville is a quirky roadside attraction that is exactly what its name suggests: a large collection of over 5000 gnomes on the side of the road. The makeshift village is a somewhat depressing and eerie reflection of our world, with exhibits like the Gnomesville Detention Centre coexisting with all the happier gnomes on the other side of the fence. But how about we just ignore that and take pictures of gnomes.
Gnomesville is located at the intersection of Ferguson, Wellington Mill and Wellington-Lowden roads and is now big enough that it’s searchable on Google maps. The nearby Apple Fun Park in Donnybrook is worth a visit if you’re nearby with children (or if you’re a fun adult).
Lake Clifton Thrombolites
Yalgorup National Park, about half an hours drive south of Mandurah, is one of the few places in WA to see rock-like structures called thrombolites. They’re 2000 year old structures built by micro-organisms that are the closest thing you can get to seeing what life was like on planet Earth 3.4 billion years ago. They are easy to visit as a detour if you’re heading down south and certainly easier to see than their stromatolite cousins in Shark Bay (a painfully boring 9 hour drive away). There’s a boardwalk that extends over the thrombolites so you can admire them without doing any damage. Lake Clifton is home to the largest lake bound thrombolite reef in the southern hemisphere; let’s keep it that way.
Named after Norcia in Italy, the birthplace of St Benedict, New Norcia is the only monastic town in Australia. Located 132 km from Perth, what began in 1846 as a mission to the local Aboriginal people is now a permanent monastery. The grand Spanish architecture wildly contrasts with the arid, Australian bushland and the buildings grandeur distracts from their rather grubby history. Among the buildings are two orphanages for Aboriginal children, but ”orphanage” is really a clever euphemism for “place to keep stolen children”. New Norcia is not simply a humble monastery, but a business, with the monks selling breads, olive oil, and a version of history that better suits them.
With only the sound of wind, church bells and passing cars, the place feels deserted and creepy. The Benedictine monks, dressed in grey full lengths gowns, stay within the monastery, living a quiet life of prayer. I can’t think of a worse way to spend your life, but the place is worth a visit for the pure oddness of its existence.