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The rebirth of Perth! How direct flights to Australia will help put this vibrant city on the map

  • Direct Qantas flights (17 hours) to Perth begin on March 25
  • Perth has had a makeover with the lavish Elizabeth Quay development
  • There’s a beach, water park,‘indigenous’ art installations, restaurants and bars

The best programme on Australian TV is the weather forecast. 

An impossibly tanned presenter in a floral shirt flashes his bleached teeth, smiles at the camera and waves his hand airily about a map of the huge land mass with barely a cloud on it.

‘It’s a beaut in Adelaide today!’ he exclaims and slaps the word BEAUT across the south coast.

Ready for action: Perth is now only 17 hours away thanks to a new direct flight with Qantas 

Ready for action: Perth is now only 17 hours away thanks to a new direct flight with Qantas 

‘It’s gonna be a bottler in Alice Springs,’ he continues, sticking BOTTLER (Aussie slang for muggy) in the centre of the country. ‘And in Perth, today’s a bonza!’

In fact, every day in Perth is a ‘bonza’ (interchangeable with ‘beaut’). Perth, in Western Australia, averages nine hours of sun daily. It’s why so many Yorkshire folk have moved there. There’s even a Scarborough beach (though you can’t buy chips ’n’ mushy peas or a stick of rock there).

The temperature sometimes climbs to 40 degrees (‘Scorchio!’ proclaims the weather guy). Two things have prevented Perth being a realistic winter sun destination from the UK.

First, it took too long to get there; and, second, once you’d done the beach there was nothing much else to do, except get drunk listening to a terrible band playing Eric Clapton covers. That’s all changed. Direct Qantas flights (17 hours) begin on March 25. So after a couple of movies and a night’s upright kip, you’re there.

And Perth has had a makeover. The old joke about a carton of yoghurt having more live culture isn’t justified any more.

With the lavish Elizabeth Quay development on the city’s river shore, the seaside has come to town.

Vibrant spot: A view of Perth by night with the skyline reflected in the Swan River

Vibrant spot: A view of Perth by night with the skyline reflected in the Swan River

There’s a beach, a water park, a suspension bridge, ‘indigenous’ art installations, outdoor restaurants and bars literally over the road from your central hotel, finally connecting the majestic Swan River to the skyscraper glitz of the city.

Five minutes walk the other way and they’ve buried the seedy Northbridge railway hub underground, creating a buzzing centre of funky shops, galleries, hotels and restaurants. When I lived in Perth in the Eighties, the only way to get around was in a gas-guzzling 4‑litre Falcon; recently, a hotel pushbike was all I needed.

From the main street, Adelaide Terrace, I rode straight onto the riverside cycle path and passed a succession of river beaches with egg-timer sand, kayaks for hire and big grassy areas for a shady lunch. I even passed children taking camel rides.

Cycle routes of different lengths are regularly signposted. Half an hour’s easy ride from the centre I was relaxing on the sundeck of a quiet cafe at tree-lined Matilda Bay, watching a large pelican surveying a family and their dog frolicking in the shallow water.

Animal magic: A cheeky quokka

Animal magic: A cheeky quokka

My reverie was broken by a large man with, in local lingo, ‘an awning over the toy factory’ (a beer gut), looking up from the backpage headline in The Australian – ‘Beer-soaked Brits turning Ashes tour into a booze cruise’ – and asking: ‘Can any of you poms actually play cricket?’

‘Well, no,’ I said, ‘but at least we eat healthily.’

That’s changed, too. Where your Perth diet used to be confined to the ‘Great Aussie Meat Pie’ or ‘All you can eat for $10’ buffets, there is now an array of ocean-front restaurants with creative fish dishes (the Cottesloe Hotel, Barchetta, and the Shorehouse at Swanbourne) or fashionable Asian eateries in town.

The hip, Scandinavian-style Alex Hotel is surrounded by trendy restaurants, in one of which – Sauma – we ate excellent Indian street food.

Perth, once a byword for flashy superficiality, has acquired some class.

Make time for a day trip to Rottnest Island. It’s a 90-minute boat ride from the city centre. Take the Alex Hotel bike. Cycle around (there are no cars) and find yourself an (almost) private beach for a few hours (there are 63 to choose from.)

You can camp overnight, but those ‘smiling’ little quokkas – guinea pig-sized marsupials – may well chew through your guy ropes and steal your food.

So get back and have dinner in town. You’ll have a bonza time.

TRAVEL FACTS 

 Qantas (qantas.com, 0845 774 7767) flies from Heathrow to Perth from £703 return. 

Doubles at the Alex Hotel in Perth (alexhotel.com.au, 0061 8 6430 4000) cost from £113 B&B.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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