Breathtaking and isolated, Perth -- situated on the western edge of the Nullarbor Plain at the Indian Ocean, over 1,200 miles from Adelaide, the nearest major Australian city -- is booming. The city's combination of rapid cosmopolitan growth and rugged, remote landscape offers visitors an exotic, distant escape without all that pesky roughing it.
Orient yourself with a picnic in Kings Park, established in 1872 on Mount Eliza, where spectacular vistas showcase the city's futuristic skyline, distant hills, the sluice of the Swan River, and the mad residential sprawl of the South Shore. At night the entire scene shimmers and glows as Perth flicks on its lights and its unexpectedly sophisticated charm. But it's daytime when Perth reveals her strongest asset: beaches. Sun, sand, and surf are core to the city's character.
In the main metropolitan area, beach-oriented activities abound as Trigg and Scarborough strands offer up kite-surfing, diving, snorkeling, body-boarding, skim-boarding, and fishing. Elsewhere, Swanbourne is notorious for nudists, attracting sunbathers of all persuasions, while Floreat delivers a cruisier atmosphere.
Soak up some culture with your tan at Cottesloe, which is also home to the internationally renowned Sculpture by the Sea, an annual exhibition installed right on the sand, taking place for three weeks in March. Its success has prompted similar seaside exhibitions at Sydney's Bondi Beach and Denmark's Aarhus, the latter under the patronage of Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark.
Small to medium waves on city beaches suit surfers from novice to confident, while Rottnest Island (12 miles offshore, accessible by ferry) is home to world-class waves for expert surfers. Bring a bicycle and make it a day trip.
Margaret River is a pleasant three-hour drive south of Perth, providing a haven for surfers and an amazing romantic getaway. Tour and taste at wineries such as Amberley and Xanadu (named for the Coleridge poem, not the Olivia Newton-John movie), and don't miss the sweet spectacle to be found at the Margaret River Chocolate Company.
The waves are the true highlight at Margaret River, though some beaches are only accessible by four-wheel drive (ask a local and bring a GPS). "It's more isolated," says 34-year-old lesbian firefighter Claire Finucane on the charm of western Australia surfing, "but then that's the beauty of Margaret River -- it's more rugged country." As the state longboard surfing champion for nine years running and three-time national champion, Finucane should know.
After you brush off the sand, head back to civilization and hit the city for a spot of shopping. On King Street in the city center you'll find an array of designer boutiques vying for your attention, including Zekka, which stocks cutting-edge designers and houses a chic caf? adorned with illustrations by local gay artist Andrew Nicholls.
Take a break at north Perth's gay-owned Milk'd caf?. This social hub for the local queer population features intriguing work by internationally renowned Perth street artist Stormie Mills, who also shows at Mount Lawley's gay-friendly cocktail lounge Luxe Bar. Gallery and caf? Soto Espresso also showcases some of Perth's more intriguing artists, photographers, and graphic designers, with show openings carrying on well into the evening.
For a dollop of nighttime escapism, the Court Hotel offers up ample entertainment. Connections Nightclub, the only after-hours venue, is queer-popular till dawn.
If you want to get away from getting away, day trips are easy. The decidedly bohemian port city Fremantle lies just a 20-minute drive south of Perth and is home to a heady mix of Old World heritage and new wave arts, best encapsulated in such places as Fremantle Arts Centre, a late-19th-century psychiatric asylum converted into a contemporary multi-exhibition gallery space.
Head to the lush tree-covered foothills of Kalamunda on the first Saturday of the month, when market day rolls into town. Over 60 artisan, craft, and food stalls (those with a sweet tooth must seek out Little Miss Cupcake) line the close-cropped laneways of Kalamunda's open-air mall. Just across the road is Le Paris Brest, an award-winning fine-dining experience featuring a mouthwatering array of gourmet Aussie delicacies like hazelnut butter mousse in choux pastry and the state's best gourmet sausage rolls and pies.
Walk it all off with the Sapphic Trampers, a lesbian group that holds monthly walks through the fragrant flora of the Bibbulmun Track. As you zigzag down the Zig Zag, a former railway transformed into a hillside drive, Perth offers up her best side once more -- rugged beauty, cosmopolitan charm, and relaxation at the end of the world.
WHERE TO STAY:
Burswood Entertainment Complex
Great Eastern Highway
This fully integrated entertainment precinct contains a 24-hour casino, 405 luxury rooms, award-winning bars and restaurants, a cocktail lounge, a nightclub, a day spa, and a 20,000-seat indoor stadium where the likes of Kylie Minogue and Justin Timberlake have rocked the house.
334 Murray St.
In the heart of the city, a heartbeat from both King Street and Northbridge, Perth's entertainment hub, the Hotel Ibis Perth offers 192 luxury rooms, a restaurant and bar, gay-friendly customer service, and a dash of sophistication.
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Getting to Australia