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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The appeal of Perth: endless sunshine, blue skies and a bearable "lightness of being"

I've just returned to our temporary home and office (my uncle and aunt's house at Bendigo, north of Melbourne) after almost a week visiting family in Perth, Western Australia, the country's most isolated capital. And as much as I love it here, returning has been a shock to the system. While we had clear blue skies, daily sunshine and temperatures in the mid-high 20s (Celcius) in Perth for a week, here it's grey and cloudy, it feel like it hit 0 degrees last night (and probably did) and we're well and truly rugged up in the winter woolies, and stoking the fireplaces every night. While I was busy seeing my family and still worked every day, I somehow felt rejuventated and reinvigorated from being there. It's not only the weather, but it's the water everywhere - from the Swan River that meanders through the city, lake-like in parts, to the beautiful beaches of Cottesloe and Scarborough where we stayed a few days. There's a "lightness of being" (thanks, Milan Kundera) to Perth that you don't find in grey old Melbourne or even gorgeous Sydney, no matter how beautiful that city is - and I think it's because they're big, fast, polluted, high-density, traffic-heavy cities. There's a lot to be said for small, slow-paced, clean, low-rise, low-key, and laidback cities like Perth. I've spent a fair bit of time in them on this trip and I'm increasingly finding them more appealling. I think it's a shame that the vast majority of travellers to Australia have a few sights and a couple of cities on their lists to tick off - Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef (Qld) and Kakadu National Park (NT) tend to comprise the top three sights, and the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne mark the main entry and exit points. Far fewer foreign travellers make it to Australia's other cities, the highly underrated cities of Darwin, Adelaide and Perth. Yet I'm finding them far more alluring.

P.S. I've just written a story on Perth for Carlson Wagonlit's business travel magazine Connect; I'll let you know when it's out.


Eileen said...

I have (a no-longer) secret desire to see Alice Springs. I've read a couple of nonfiction books where it figures somewhat prominently. But you're right, if I were to go to Australia it would be easy to get shunted into those few places and manage to never really see anything. Will put Perth on the list.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Eileen

You must go to Alice Springs - if you're a lover of Aboriginal art, you'll especially enjoy it, and if you're not, you'll become one. Perth is a really lovely city also, as is Adelaide - add that one too!

Fly Girl said...

Hmmm. You're right, all you ever hear about as an Australian traveler is Sydney or Melbourne. I have heard about Perth and Adelaide but never knew that they differed so drastically from the major cities. These are good tips to keep in mind.

travel said...

nice blog

Adventure Rob said...

Perth is the easiest and cheapest to get to from Asia so I would have thought it would be a bit more popular. I am going there late July but haven't heard many people talk about Perth.

I will make the trip to Alice Springs, sounds nice :)

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to these cities during my trip to Australia! Can't miss it!
Actually, I can't wait to go there!!

Natasha said...

Perth is a great place to relax, we may not have daylight saving but we make the most of our sunshine nevertheless! One of my fave things to do on the weekend is ride my bike around the Swan River =) I think Perth pleasantly surprises a lot of visitors.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Fly Girl - every Australian city has quite a different personality, I guess, like anywhere in the world. I have a soft spot for Adelaide - great arts scene, fantastic bars and restaurants, very attractive with loads of historic architecture everywhere, it's one of Australia's best preserved cities. I love Darwin's tropical vibe, and Alice Spring's frontier-spirit, and both of those cities attract thoroughly intersting characters. You'll have to do them all - do the big loop so you can get a taste of each one!

Hi Travel - thanks!

Hi Rob - We fly into Perth from Dubai a lot actually,a nd Darwin is also very cheap to fly into from Indonesia and Singapore; great deals to and from Bali, a lot of travellers are increasingly coming to the country that way, which is good to see. July is not the best time to visit Perth, but it's a helluva lot nicer in Perth in winter than it is in Melbourne. Let me know if you need any tips.

Hi Fabio - let me know if you need any advice, but I've posted lots of info on the blog. You'll have to buy our "Rough Guide to Australia" although it won't be out until October.

Hi Tash - I think you're right. It's a really lovely, laidback city. We also wrote most of the "Perth and Western Australia" book for Lonely Planet a couple of years ago, so check that one out and let me know what you think (although we didn't do Perth actually...)

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Jewellery Recruitment said...

Sounds fantastic! Makes me want to go...

Mark H said...

I suspect most countries suffer this same "top three" syndrome. The Poms must think it strange that a UK visit is London, Bath and Stonehenge and the French assume visitors are bizarre for not struggling further from Paris than Versailles. I suspect in Australia it is exacerbated by the huge distances and frustrating travel between some of the places, but even many Australians haven't ventured far across our grand land.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Mark

Yeah, I think you're right - especially for first time travellers to those countries.

I've always been a fan of second cities myself - I find Lyon more Parisian than Paris, I love San Sebastian and Valencia as much as Barcelona and Madrid - so when I travel these days I'm much more interested in exploring those less-visited cities.

And as for Australians... I think it's appalling that so many haven't seen more of their own country, but I guess it's the same everywhere, isn't it? Parisians would much rather go to Morocco than Marseille, etc.

Thanks for the comments!