For the past few years, Perth, Australia landed itself on several top lists, including Travel & Leisure’s Best Places to See in 2017 and Lonely Planet’s Top New Openings of 2017 list. CNN Travel calls it one of the coolest cities in the Southern Hemisphere and included it on the 2018 Best Places to Travel list. Even Vogue shone the spotlight on Perth.
But Perth, located on the far west coast, opposite the populous and well-travelled east coast trifecta of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, often escapes a busy tourist’s itinerary. It shouldn’t.
Perth enjoys 3,200 hours of sunshine annually, more than Darwin, the next sunniest destination in Australia. There’s plenty to do in this sun-soaked city, from an exciting new food scene to outdoor activities galore.
Perth, Australia, by the numbers
Perth – one of the world’s most isolated (state) capital cities – lies nearly 4,000 kilometres from Sydney. With a population of a little more than two million, it’s the fourth most populous state capital.
Because of its isolation, the majority of American travelers to Australia simply do not get there. In 2016, for instance, only 79,000 Americans visited Western Australia, of 668,000 visited Australia. Sydney and Melbourne top the list for U.S. travelers to Australia, but Perth has a wealth of unique attractions that beckon.
It should come as no surprise then, that Western Australia’s tourism numbers continue to rise. I fell in love with not just the city, but also the Western Australia region, back in 2017, and want to share it with you. Here’s why I love Perth, and why I recommend it as a worthwhile destination on an Australian itinerary.
How to Get to, and Around, Perth
For U.S. travelers, the most logistical itinerary is Los Angeles LAX to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith (SYD) or Melbourne’s Tullamarine (MEL) to Perth Airport (PER). US-based carriers and their codeshares all fly this route, and it allows for time in the eastern cities.
Using Points/Miles to Get to Perth Is Doable, but Requires Both Patience and Flexibility
Airlines tend to hoard seats on long-distance Australia flights until the last minute. Typically, saver level awards and partner awards don’t become available on Australia flights until about two weeks prior to departure.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines all offer flights between the U.S. West Coast and numerous East Coast Australia cities, and will allow award bookings through their own frequent flyer programs ahead of time, though typically at outrageous prices.
If you want to maximize your points, you’ll have to be flexible enough to wait until that two week window, when Qantas, Virgin Australia and the U.S. carriers open up flights at saver award rates.
Flying from other Australian cities to Perth is a cinch. Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia all offer domestic service between Perth and the populous east coast. Unlike U.S. flights, points and miles awards are typically available all year and can be booked ahead of time using American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles and Qantas Frequent Flyer. United does not have a partner with regular domestic flights to Perth, unfortunately.
Get There Easier With Qantas’ Frequent Flyer Program
One exception is Qantas’ own Frequent Flyer program, which accepts points transfers from the Citi ThankYou Rewards program. Qantas does make some of its seats available through Frequent Flyer well in advance of partners.
American Airlines AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on both American and Qantas flights — economy class seats at the saver level are 40,000 miles each way, business class seats are 80,000 and first class seats are 110,000. American makes pricier anytime awards available sooner, but these saver rates typically become available within a couple of weeks of departure on select flights. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan offers slightly better rates on both airlines.
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles can be redeemed for as few as 45,000 in economy class and 110,000 in business class, but those rates typically don’t appear until a few weeks prior to flight departure, at the soonest. Booked, in advance, Delta’s Australia flights tend to be pricy in miles.
United Air Lines MileagePlus miles can be redeemed to Australia at a rate of 40,000 miles each way in economy class, 80,000 miles each way in business class and 100,000 miles in first class. United also allows redemptions on transpacific flights via Asia, which can often open in advance.
Partner programs can offer better redemption rates. We will cover Australia and Oceania award strategies in a subsequent post.
Nonstop to Perth
Perth recently became somewhat less isolated from its eastern counterparts when Qantas launched the longest flight in the world, an 18-plus hour nonstop to London, earlier this year. The following options are doable on cash fares, or as awards originating in Europe. Unfortunately, none of the major frequent flyer programs make it reasonably feasible to book these eastbound flights from the U.S. using points and miles.
Other eastbound service to Perth includes an Emirates flight from Dubai (DXB), a Qatar Airways service via Doha (DOH), Singapore Airlines service via Singapore, and Qantas new London Heathrow (LHR) nonstop.
Transit in Perth
Perth’s public transportation system is extensive. There are six train lines that run through and into the suburbs, a ferry system, and four free bus lines. Fremantle, the former port city of Perth, has two free bus lines, and Joondalup, a north coast suburb, has three. Getting around the city is very easy.
Getting out of the city, though, is easiest with a car. Whether you want to head south to the Margaret River region, explore the Swan Valley, or road trip to the Outback, a car allows you the freedom to stop whenever. And, trust me, there are some great places to stop!
What to Do in Perth, Australia
Despite the limited number of overseas visitors, there’s so much to see and do in Perth. The city’s isolation often means that international musicians and artists exclude it from tours, so the local music and art scene thrives. Museums across the city highlight the extensive maritime history, Western Australia Aboriginal culture, and more. Nature and wildlife abound as well, from Kings Park in the city to nearby Rottnest Island. And when it comes to food and drink, Perth shines. The nearby Margaret River wine region is considered one of the best in the world, where the Mediterranean-like climate is ideal for growing exceptional fruit.
Nature and Wildlife – Meet the Quokka, a Rottnest Island Inhabitant
Visitors to Perth often include one major wildlife experience on their itinerary, and it has nothing to do with kangaroos or wallabies. Instead, take the chance to meet a quokka, the world’s happiest animal (it always looks like its smiling). The quokka is a large marsupial that inhabits Rottnest Island, a 30 minute ferry ride away from Fremantle. Ferries depart from four different points in either Perth or Fremantle regularly throughout the day. There is overnight accommodation on the island, although it’s a popular vacation spot for locals, so book in advance if you want to overnight.
The best way to get around the island is by bike, and the ferry companies offer bikes as part of a package ticket. Several companies also provide bus tours, for those wish either less time or who don’t bicycle. Rottnest’s main road is 18km (11 miles) around; cycling the entire island takes anywhere from 2 to 5 hours depending on fitness level and how often you stop.
It’s relatively easy to spot the quokka as you explore the island; they’re very used to humans and are more than happy to come up and hang out.
My personal favorite stop on Rottnest is the sea lion haul out, at Cathedral Rocks on the island’s western side. I highly suggest taking a swimsuit as well, since there are gorgeous beaches all over the island and it’s easy to procure snorkeling gear.
Arts and Culture
Despite its isolation, or probably because of it, Perth has a thriving arts and culture scene. From world-class museums to vibrant local music and theatre productions, not a night goes by when there isn’t something exciting to see. Perth’s history as a convict city and later as a mining town means that the city’s cultural heritage is varied and rich.
The new Museum of Perth (opened virtually 2012, opened a brick-and-mortar museum in 2015) and the Western Australian Museum both explore the natural and social history of the city and the state. The Fremantle Prison also peeks into the social history, but from a convict perspective. Transport enthusiasts will enjoy the Motor Museum of Western Australia, the Aviation Heritage Museum, and the Western Australia Maritime Museum, all of which highlight a different aspect of transportation in WA.
The Perth Cultural Centre, in the city centre, is home to the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the State Library, and the above-mentioned Western Australian Museum.
Festivals abound in Perth; the most popular are the Perth International Arts Festival, now in its 65th year, and the Perth International Comedy Festival.
Food and Drink
There are a lot of restaurants in Perth, and plenty of great food and wine a stone’s throw from the city center. Northbridge is a popular bar district, but also has plenty of great ethnic restaurants and is the unofficial Chinatown. Elizabeth Quay, a fairly new waterfront precinct, is home to some of the city’s best new restaurants, upscale gelato shops, bars, and cafes.
I can’t mention food and drink in Perth without briefly touching on the nearby Western Australian wine regions, Margaret River and Swan Valley. Both are exceptional regions, although Margaret River is more well-known. Swan Valley was one of the first settled regions, and has always had fertile soil for agricultural purposes. Its proximity to Perth’s city center make it ideal for a half day excursion.
In addition to wineries, there are also coffee roasteries, chocolate factories, cheese farms, beekeepers, rum distilleries, breweries, and more.
Margaret River has many of the same characteristics as Swan Valley. In fact, many producers have a Swan Valley site as well as a Margaret River one. Margs, as the locals call it, is one of the world’s most remote and pristine agricultural regions. Its distance from a major city (3+ hours), cool Antarctic air, and the warm Indian Ocean air combine to form a unique microclimate ideal for growing wine. And because those winds don’t cross any other land before sweeping across the coast, they’re pure. Margaret River is known for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Where to Stay in Perth
As Perth grows ever more popular on the tourism radar, the hotel industry is one step ahead. There are several luxury properties in the city, a few on the near horizon, and plenty of options for points travelers.
One of our favorite Small Luxury Hotels is in Perth. The COMO Treasury is located on Cathedral Ave, just one block from Elizabeth Quay. Its central location is ideal for indulging in the food scene, attending performances, or catching the ferry to Rottnest Island.
Hyatt Regency Perth is located in East Perth, along the Swan River. It’s not in the heart of the city, but it is well-situated for those using Perth as a base to explore the surrounding region. IHG Rewards members have a few options. The InterContinental Perth and the Holiday Inn Perth are located a few blocks from Elizabeth Quay, while the Crowne Plaza is in East Perth, near Langley Park. Marriott Rewards members also have some selections, from The Westin and Aloft to the Four Points by Sheraton.
Perth deserves to be on an Australian itinerary, even if it takes a few tricks to get there. Perth ticks all the boxes, from nature and wildlife to exceptional food and drink and everything in between. With great weather almost all year round, award-winning dining, luxury hotels, and world-class beaches, it’s a destination on the rise.
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