It may be a city on the edge of a desert, writes Sue White, but Perth offers the perfect urban experience – most of it outdoors.
Perth may be one most isolated cities on the planet, but on a Monday night out the back of its bohemian heartland, Fremantle, you’d never know it. Here, the Fremantle Environmental Resource Network, known to locals as FERN, offers dinner by donation as a fundraiser for this bike repair hub, community garden and education centre rolled into one.
Volunteers are always welcome, arriving around 3pm to pitch in, slice and dice fresh produce for hours to produce a vegetarian feast for the 100 plus locals and tourists who turn up every week from 7pm. Officially, the ‘do’ is all over within a couple of hours, but most weeks see diners relaxing in the garden for hours, enjoying Perth’s year-round temperate climate over dessert and a slice of good conversation.
If dinner for 100 isn’t your style, come back and dine at FERN by daylight, when there are plenty of comfy couches filled with happy eco types, resting after a bike repair workshop or gardening stint - you’re welcome to join either. The only thing that might disrupt this plan is that in the daytime it’s pretty easy to get distracted by Perth’s ‘broader’ great outdoors.
Riders usually choose either to stick around Fremantle or cycle the sunset coast; a beach-lined strip running along Perth’s western fringe. If you do the latter, make sure to stop off at Cottesloe Beach, famous for its sunsets. It’s also the site of Western Australia’s art event, Sculpture by the Sea, which is held every March. For super keen cyclists, there’s no need to finish your ride at Cottesloe: it’s possible to cycle the whole 28 kilometre stretch from North Fremantle to Whitford’s (just beyond Hillarys Boat Harbour).
Back in Fremantle to return your bike, grab a takeaway coffee and rest up round the corner from the Visitor Centre at Fremantle’s outdoor reading room, where activity equals nothing more than grabbing a book, a chair and settling in for an hour or two. If that’s too sedate try the free outdoor table tennis or give your brain a work out via the large chess board opposite.
1. Freemantle Environmental Resource Network (FERN)
26 Montreal Street, Freemantle.
Monday night’s ‘Soupie’ (dinner by donation) is fabulous.
2. Greenhouse Perth
100 St. Georges Terrace, Perth.
Eco friendly eating in a building covered with plants. Why not?
3. Perth City Farm
1 City Farm Place, East Perth.
Cafe opens early (7am) and the ambience is great.
4. The Raw Kitchen
36 South Terrace, Fremantle.
If you’ve ever doubted how good raw food can taste, head here for the proof.
5. Greens & Co.
(08) 9444 4093
123 Oxford Street, Leederville.
Come for the old school vibe: poster wallpaper, paper light shades and old couches, rather than the service
1. Take it easy: North Freemantle to Cottesloe Beach, around 6 kilometres one way.
2. Ride the Sunset Coast – North Fremantle to Hillarys is around 28 kilometres one way.
3. Explore the Swan River. The 3 kilometre Windan Bridge loop is just one of many options here, with over a short bike routes available along the river’s edge. On this trip, keep an eye out for kangaroos on Heirisson Island.
4. Go north: If you don’t want to do the whole Sunset Coast, try the Marmion to Burns Beach stretch. This easy 14 kilometre section passes Hillarys Marina and offers natural scrub and coastal views plus family friendly swimming spots.
5. Roll through Kings Park. With over 400 hectares to explore, this (somewhat hilly) parkland makes the perfect bicycle outing.
To round off the city experience, don’t forget that Perth’s water frontage isn’t all about beaches. The Swan River feeds into a large bay, and you could easily spend a half day wandering around it. Locals love the ‘two bridges’ walk (Narrows and The Causeway), and its flat, scenic path which connects the city with South Perth. Starting in the city, head from Riverside Drive in either direction to enjoy the 10 kilometre loop. If you tire halfway through, there’s good news: a seven minute ferry ride from South Perth will have you back at Barrack Street jetty in no time.