Getting to Perth
Perth is isolated from the rest of Australia so the easiest way to get there is to fly. You can get there by train on the Indian Pacific, but it’s not cheap. If you choose to drive, be aware it is a long drive, almost 4,000 km’s from Sydney and not a whole lot different from Melbourne or Brisbane.
Getting around Perth
Perth has an excellent public transport system in the city centre and between the CBD and Fremantle. The Central Area Transit (CAT) buses are free with stops convenient to most of the key attractions in the Perth city centre. Check the route maps and timetables here. The Perth rail system conveniently connects the CBD to Fremantle as well. Between these two transit networks, you can cover most of this itinerary. To head further out like we suggest in day 3, you will need to rent a car.
Where to stay in Perth
There are many convenient options in Perth CBD and just outside of it. To make the most of your trip and leverage the free buses as much as possible, I recommend staying in the CBD.
Day 1 – Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
Day 1 in Perth and we’re going to meet the famously happy (and extremely cute) residents of Rottnest Island, the quokkas.
We made our way to the Perth Underground Station first thing in the morning to take the Fremantle line to Fremantle Station. This involves travelling through two zones. At the time of writing this will cost $4.90 each way. Check the current fare prices here.
From there, it’s a short walk to B Shed Terminal the Rottnest Express ferry departs from to Rottnest Island. Make sure to check the timetable and book your ticket in advance here.
SeaLink also offers a ferry service from Fremantle if times work better for you (timetable here), and Rottnest Express does offer one morning departure and afternoon return to Barrack St Jetty in Perth CBD which will save you taking the train (timetable here).
For organised tours with hotel pickup options, check out this one departing from Hillarys Boat Harbour.
Once you are on Rottnest Island you can get around on foot, or to really see the island, you can rent a bicycle or purchase a pass for the shuttle bus. The island isn’t big, but if you aren’t a strong cyclist, I’d take the bus, plus they are air-conditioned and for just $3/day they are well worth it!
After arriving at the main settlement in Thomson Bay, we checked out the food options and perused the museum before heading for the bus. Rottnest Island is home to some pretty spectacular beaches with gorgeous white sands so do take some time to explore.
For us, after about 25 minutes of taking in the sights along the South side of the island from the comfort of the shuttle, we reached Cape Vlamingh, the westernmost point of Rottnest Island. It’s also where you’ll find the Cathedral Rocks seal viewing platform and sapphire blue Fish Hook Bay. Take a stroll down the West End boardwalk and get a taste of the 118km/h winds that the island stands up to. Hold onto your hat, see if you can spot some seals and put your feet in the water – or more if the coral beckons.
Once you are ready, get back on the bus and check out the northern side of the island. Get off at any of the bus stops that take your fancy, and if you didn’t bring any lunch, head to one of the restaurants at the eastern end of the island.
We decided to splurge and see Rottnest Island from a different perspective – from the sky. Our little 4-seater plane took off from the Rottnest Island Aerodrome, and before we knew it we were soaring over the island we had just explored, getting a bird’s eye view of the landmarks and a new perspective on just how beautiful this little piece of paradise is.
25 minutes later and we were back on the runway and making friends with some of the native marsupials, quokkas! If you haven’t met any of these happy little creatures already, look for them by the paths and roads in shady spots after lunch. They are actually nocturnal, but you can usually find them during the day if you keep an eye out!
If you do see a quokka, just remember they are wild animals. Don’t try to touch them and don’t feed them. They will likely let you get plenty close enough to take a good photo but feeding them can be very detrimental to their health so just don’t do it.
After an hour of watching quokkas and enjoying the beach, it was time for our ferry back to Fremantle. Take a 10-minute train ride to Cottesloe Station and then walk over to one of Australia’s iconic beaches, Cottesloe Beach.
We made a quick pit stop at Ocean View Fish and Chips on Marine Parade to get some food before finding a good spot on the beach to watch the sun setting over the ocean while digging into our beach dinner.
Is there a better way to end a day spent exploring the beauty of God’s creation than watching a breathtaking sunset unfold?!
Day 2 – Perth Central
On our second day in Perth, it’s time to explore the heart of the city and all it has to offer. Grab one of the free buses or go for a walk. First stop: Queens Gardens.
Take one of the free CAT buses down to Queens Gardens for a relaxing morning stroll in these neatly manicured gardens with their tranquil ponds. For cricket enthusiasts, the Queens Gardens are located adjacent to the WACA cricket grounds and museum.
Kings Park and Botanic Gardens might have a better view, but Queens Gardens is the perfect spot for a morning stroll to start your day in the city.
Perth Mint is about a 10-minute walk back towards the city centre, or you can take one of the free CAT buses part of the way.
Entry to the Perth Mint and grounds is free, however, the one-hour guided tour is worth doing to gain a deeper insight into the rich history of Australia’s oldest operating mint. The one-hour tour will take you through this heritage-listed building where you will see a live gold pouring and the largest gold coin in the world weighing in at 1,012kg.
Book your one-hour guided tour:
Art Gallery of Western Australia
The Art Gallery of Western Australia is part of the Perth Cultural Centre about a 20-minute walk from Perth Mint and like most places in Perth CBD you can also shorten the trip by taking one of the free CAT buses.
You might want to grab some lunch from one of the nearby cafes before you head in and take in some of the urban art installations located around the Cultural Centre precinct. If art isn’t your thing, the Western Australian Museum is also just across the road. You might also want to consider the nearby Nostalgia Box and Yagan Square.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia is free to enter and brings together collections of art dating back to the 1800s from both local and international artists that tell a story that is uniquely Western Australia.
We spent about 4 hours browsing the galleries.
Elizabeth Quay and the Bell Tower
Once you’ve had enough culture for one afternoon, grab the free blue CAT bus and head down to the Bell Tower at Elizabeth Quay.
The Swan River banks are lined with parks and gardens, and Elizabeth Quay is no exception. The majestic Bell Tower and intriguing Elizabeth Quay Bridge are just two of the architectural sights forming part of the iconic Perth riverfront parklands.
You might want to grab some dinner at one of the many restaurants lining the foreshore and watch the sunset before turning in for the night.
If you aren’t ready to call it quits just yet, take some time to meander through the Hay St Mall. Chances are, you’ve probably already walked through at least part of it already. Look out for what are arguably the two most well-known arcades in Western Australia, Piccadilly Arcade and London Court Arcade.
Piccadilly Arcade is home to the historic Piccadilly Theatre and features an Art Deco style.
In contrast, London Court Arcade has a mock Tudor / Elizabethan façade that almost feels like you are passing through part of a castle, kind of. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the Scottish Royal Mile and other similar historic streets and arcades in the UK, only smaller, and much newer.
Both arcades were constructed by a wealthy businessman in the 1930s, and both are classified by the National Trust of Australia and are also on the WA State Heritage Register.
Day 3 – Rental Car Day Trip
If you are only visiting Perth for a few days and don’t have plans to do some more substantial road tripping in WA, like our Darwin to Perth road trip, then today is the day to rent a car.
Most rental car companies have depots near the city centre. Avis/Budget and Hertz are the most convenient to the CBD. Thrifty and Red Spot/Enterprise are also close by. Europcar is a little further out.
For today’s road trip, you don’t need a 4WD or anything fancy, just whatever vehicle is comfortable for you, but do be sure to book in advance to get the best pricing and widest choice. It will also save you a lot of time on the day!
Once you have your car, whip out your GPS/phone, and we’re off.
I usually take a MagSafe car vent mount with me on our trips to easily mount my iPhone for directions and charging. I’ve currently got this one which I love.
Kings Park and Botanic Gardens
Perth truly is a city of parks and gardens, and Kings Park might just be up there as one of the best in the country.
You can get to the gardens on the free CAT busses if driving isn’t your thing. The blue route gets you the closest, but red and green also go nearby. However, you will have a decent walk into the gardens on any route besides blue.
Kings Park is home to memorials to fallen soldiers and moving tributes to those who served in the World Wars, including the peaceful Court of Contemplation, Flame of Remembrance and the State War Memorial which overlooks the Swan River and Perth CBD.
Kings Park is a huge 400-hectare park home to over 3000 species of flora unique to Western Australia. Much of the park is conservation land, but even so, don’t expect to cover it all today.
I recommend this approach:
Park in the Wadjuk Carpark and go see the State War Memorial, Flame of Remembrance and Court of Contemplation. Take in the city skyline views while you are there. This is where you can get that iconic photo of Perth and the Swan River.
Next, walk to the giant 750-year-old boab tree known as ‘Gija Jumulu’.
Then, follow the Lotterywest Federation Walkway to the Glass Arched Bridge before heading back to the car park.
I’d aim to be back at the car no later than 12:00 pm, especially if you are making the trip in Winter because there is some pretty cool stuff coming up and you need plenty of time to do the drive. If you are ready to go sooner. Head off sooner.
You need that car for this part!
Drive to Cervantes
Head 200 km north from Kings Park to the coastal town of Cervantes. The drive will take you a little over 2 hours if traffic is good and there are several places you can stop in for a bite to eat along the way.
Cervantes is a quaint little town with glowing white beaches and sapphire water; it’s worth a visit for the beach, but nearby are two of Australia’s natural history marvels: Lake Thetis and The Pinnacles Desert.
Lake Thetis – Stromatolites
Lake Thetis is a salt lake located about 1.2 km down the dirt on Hansen Bay Road. The road can be heavily corrugated so be prepared to take it slow, but you will get there, and you don’t need a 4WD.
What makes Lake Thetis so special is the presence of live marine stromatolites. Besides being one of only a few places (one of the others is also in Western Australia – Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay – which you can visit on our Darwin to Perth Road Trip Itinerary) that these fascinating microbial communities exist in the world, the Lake Thetis Stromatolites have an unusual columnar structure. Then to top it off, their perhaps even rarer thrombolite cousins are also present!
The stromatolites and thrombolites living at Lake Thetis are estimated to be about 3,500 years old, thriving in water that is 1.5x saltier than the ocean which deters most other marine life.
Once you have arrived at the car park there is a 300m boardwalk into the lake to get a close look at these marvellous microbial dwellings. If you feel sprightly, there is also a 1.5km walking track around the lake. The best views are from the boardwalk so I wouldn’t worry about walking all the way around unless you want to, and you don’t have time either.
Just a note on these, in case it isn’t obvious, don’t touch or try to touch the stromatolites or thrombolites. They are very delicate!
Hansen Bay Lookout
While you are on Hansen Bay Road, head down just a little further, maybe 400m, to Hansen Bay Lookout. It’s a short climb up a dune to the lookout where you can get a 360-degree view back towards Lake Thetis, out to Hansen Bay, and towards your next stop, The Pinnacles Desert.
The Pinnacles Desert Nambung National Park
Admittedly, not everyone will find structures built by microbes quite as fascinating as I do, but by the time you’ve seen The Pinnacles Desert at Nambung National Park, I think you’ll be feeling well and truly like you’ve been to another planet.
It’s about a 20-minute drive from Hansen Bay Lookout to the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre, and you can drive through the desert in your car. There are parking spaces available at several locations within the 4km desert circuit where you can get out and take a closer look at the remarkable yellow pinnacle rocks that are protruding from the yellow desert sand.
The vehicle entry fee is $15 at the time of writing which must be paid at the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre between the hours of 9:30 am and 4:30 pm. Alternatively, you can do the free 1.5km Desert View Trail walk which will take about 45 minutes to return and remains accessible after the Discovery Centre closes at 4:30 pm.
The Pinnacles is an otherworldly experience, especially at times when the sun is lower, like at sunset. These aeolian calcarenite formations are formed from sand, calcium, wind and rain and turn a surreal yellow when the sun hits them. I highly recommend being here during or close to sunset.
Pretty cool place for a sunset.
Drive back to Perth.
You can explore more of Fremantle, head south of Perth to explore the Southwest coast, or continue up the West Coast and make your way to Broome or even around to Darwin by following our Darwin-Perth road trip itinerary in reverse.