Four days in Perth: High wires, hikes and bush tucker

Travel News from Stuff - 04-12-2023
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Hanging off the roof of Perth’s 60,000-seat Optus Stadium would not have been on my travel itinerary by choice. But sometimes it’s only when you take (calculated) risks that you get to experience the real highs.

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And this was one of them, on the first day of a four-day visit to the capital of Western Australia.

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The appropriately named Vertigo experience at the Ozone Tours Hub saw a group of travel journalists step out onto a roof platform to lean out over the stadium – talk about a bird’s-eye view.

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Supported by a safety harness and coerced into the exercise by three strong, tanned Aussies defusing our stress with loads of humour, not one person bailed.

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The view of this beautiful city from the top of the stadium is unmatched. We admire the sculptural Matagarup Bridge over the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River), and watch people ziplining (75kmh) on the bridge climb experience – there are screams.

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But this is also a place for contemplation, with the Ancient Gateway to a Modern City walking tour along the river. Our Nyoongar (there are several different spellings) guide Nick Abraham of Warrang-Bridil, a 100% owned-and-operated Aboriginal company, grew up on these shores.

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He shares stories of the Nyoongar people, their culture, wisdom, responsibilities and social structures. We hear about the importance of the river and the symbolism of the Matagarup Bridge, which references the Wagyl, a serpent of great importance to the Aboriginal culture.

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We later celebrate our bravery at the stadium with an exquisite seven-course dinner at Wildflower rooftop restaurant in the luxurious COMO The Treasury Hotel. The dishes are all planned to tie in with the season of Kambarang (spring).

Perth will spoil you for restaurants. There are many at the newly completed Elizabeth Quay (Goomup), another highlight on the Derbal Yerrigan. It’s a hip place to grab dinner – one evening we enjoy Cantonese food at the new Lantern on the Quay. We follow it with a stroll along the promenade circuit across the new suspension bridge, beautifully illuminated by night.

We are lucky enough to visit Kings Park when the . Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak is a fully immersive light and sound show projected onto the trees, with a strong message from the Nyoongar people about the importance of protecting our natural resources.

Kings Park, by night and day, affords wonderful views of the city and river. We have a morning tour with Wadjuk guide Justin Martin of Djurandi Dreaming, an Aboriginal artworks specialist. Justin not only introduces us to the plants, flowers and trees of special significance to the local people, he also gives us an Aboriginal art lesson sitting on the grass. An unexpected delight.

Art is to the fore everywhere in central Perth, where large sculptures enliven every precinct. And then there is the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where we have a First Nations Art guided tour.

Two of several highlights here are the open-air sculpture walk on the top of the building, and the immense, 34m-long outdoor contemporary Aboriginal artwork by Minang/Wardandi/Bibbulmun artist Christopher Pease.

We follow the visit with a stroll through Yagan Square, which is wrapped within the Horseshoe Bridge, stopping to admire the 9m statue of Nyoongar warrior Yagan, which embodies the local Aboriginal people and culture. From there, we retreat from the heat of a 34deg day to enjoy a pub lunch on the top-floor veranda of The Royal.

A visit to WA Museum Boola Bardip at the Perth Cultural Centre is another must-see in the city. An absolute treasure-trove of artefacts, including a fantastic geological mineral display, plus numerous significant cultural items, many very old, and others offering a fascinating slice of colonial life in the early 20th century.

We are enchanted by the skeleton of the blue whale. And because this is a cultural centre where past is present – even the architecture is a mix of new and heritage buildings – we get to see an Aboriginal cultural group perform local dances to music from a didgeridoo.

The group includes many family members and the little chap, who can’t be more than three or four, takes the spotlight.

While there is plenty to occupy our time in Perth, it’s the season of Kambarang, and the bush is calling. And for us, that’s an Off the Beaten Track WA hike in the John Forrest National Park in the Darling Ranges, just 30 minutes east of Perth.

Wildflowers are starting to pop their heads out as we wander along red earth tracks past centuries-old trees alongside a stream.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about native species, and our guide stops frequently to uncover nature’s hidden treasures. We arrive at a waterfall tumbling down giant boulders, a perfect picnic spot for a young family that stops to rest.

We hike first thing in the morning when it’s cooler. For the more adventurous, there is cycling along the Railway Reserves Heritage Trail. If you allow time, you can even walk the disused railway line to the historic Swan View rail tunnel, and be rewarded by great views back to the city.

But for our group, it’s time for bush tucker. We head further into the beautiful, green Swan Valley, home of myriad wineries, breweries, cafés and restaurants.

But first we stop at Mandoon Estate and wander to the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery to meet Dale Tilbrook, a Wardandi Bibbulmun woman who knows everything there is to know about bush tucker.

In a beautiful cool room in the old homestead, we sip Mandoon Estate’s own sparkling wine, while Dale introduces us to a variety of wild bush foods, such as quandong, native limes, sandalwood nuts and local coastal greens, their medicinal properties and surprising health benefits.

We visit – the winery has been renamed in tribute to their grandfather Nikola. We dine at Woodcutters on exquisitely prepared kangaroo meat and “humpty doo” barramundi with Shark Bay scallop, wattle seed wakame, macadamia and lemon aspen. There are wines to match.

A tour of the estate is most worthwhile – it’s a fascinating slice of wine-making history.

There’s another fun outing to be had in the valley – a gin and vodka tasting at . And what a setting. We sit under pergolas covered with grape vines and taste a range of award-winning vodka infusions and gin. And that includes a particularly strawberry-sweet pavlova vodka (it’s good).

By now we are feeling pretty chilled and ready to take on in the evening at the beautiful Supreme Court Gardens.

And the biggest take-out from our time in Perth? The Aboriginal people, their culture and the way they have lived in harmony with the land and the seasons for 65,000-plus years. We have much to learn.

Air New Zealand flies daily non-stop flights to Perth. See:

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