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September 12, 2017, Australia

Footloose in Perth

David Bowden discovers the bustling city from a local’s perspective

David Bowden

NOVELIST Richard Russo said: “To walk is to understand a paradox: Though it takes longer to get to places on foot, we’re less likely to feel as if we’ve wasted time than if we drove. It’s the difference between spending time and wasting it.”

I was in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, to prove him right. Perth is as close to Singapore as it is to the more populous eastern states of that country.

However, mining and agricultural wealth have ensured that it is no longer an islolated frontier town, but a contemporary and sophisticated city.

I have always been a great believer in discovering a new destination on foot as it is a total sensory experience that enables me to take in everything at a leisurely pace.

Ms Adie Chapman, who operates a variety of walking tours under the banner of Oh Hey WA, introduced me to Perth.

Through her eyes, I appreciated the scale of the city from King’s Park, with views extending on both sides of the expansive Swan River, down towards Fremantle.

Roam freely in Fremantle

Fremantle (“Freo”) is considered to be one of the world’s best-preserved 19th-century seaports with over 150 heritage buildings protected by the National Trust.

But it is not a port trapped in a time warp. Instead, it has a vibrant tourist precinct with trendy cafés, bars, restaurants, a bustling market and a busy fishing wharf.

According to my guide on the Two Feet & a Heartbeat walking tour, Fremantle was once a rough-and-tumble working-class area full of rundown warehouses.

That all changed in 1983, when the Aussies beat an American yacht in the prestigious America’s Cup challenge off Rhode Island.

This meant that Australia hosted the next series of races in 1987 in the Indian Ocean waters off Fremantle.

Fremantle was rejuvenated for the contest, and it has never looked back.

It is now one of Perth’s busiest tourist areas, with the main attractions being the former Fremantle Gaol, the lively market and the many restored heritage buildings.

Cafés and restaurants buzz with activity, especially along what is called the “Cappuccino Strip”.

Some places to seek out are Little Creatures Brewery (craft beers and tempting pizzas) and the original home of the successful global coffee concept, Dôme. The other essential dining experience is fish and chips along the wharf at Fishing Boat Harbour.

Food for the soul

I had never been on a guided night walk before and, as several offered by Food Loose Tours were chow-related, I leapt at the opportunity to join 20 other foodies on a walk and taste tour of Northbridge, the entertainment precinct adjoining the city centre.

Earlier, the tour company’s founder Justin Blackford had met me in the city to show me some quirky and iconic bars that are capturing the imagination of Perth partygoers.

We started at Choo Choo’s Bar for a specialist tequila-tasting session. Then, it was off to King Street into the speakeasy setting of Varnish where the finer attributes of American whiskey were on offer; and across to Northbridge for some made-on-the-premises limoncello at No Mafia.

Suitably primed for the evening, my guide and I rendezvoused with 20 eager diners, to be shown around three distinct restaurants in Northbridge.

Expecting the group to comprise tourists eager to discover some dining options in a new city, I was amazed to learn that everyone was a local. Surely they didn’t need a guided tour of their own city?

But many told me they had walked past some of the restaurants but did not feel sufficiently confident to walk in and do their own ordering.

Well, Mr Blackford did that, and by the second of the third restaurant we dined in, the group was getting along famously and asking rather complex questions about the dishes, the restaurants and the cuisine in general.

Perth is the ideal outdoors city as it has a Mediterranean climate with an abundance of sunshine, mild winters and pleasant summers; it is perfect one day and even better the next.

Arm yourself with Google Maps or, better still, join an organised walking tour and spend some quality time gaining an insight into the city from local guides who know it best.

GUIDELINES

We flew from Singapore to Perth on low-cost carrier Scoot.

Useful websites:

- Tourism Western Australia: www.westernaustralia.com

- Oh Hay WA: www.ohheywa.com.au

- Food Loose Tours: www.foodloosetours.com.au

- Two Feet & a Heartbeat: www.twofeet.com.au

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