From The Straits Times    |

Perth is arguably one of the world’s most underrated and loveliest cities. Though it’s been nicknamed the “most isolated capital city globally”, due to its distance from the next nearest city—it’s a 28-hour drive from Adelaide—its remoteness adds to its charm and character. With fewer crowds and a more relaxed vibe, Perth is a city where corporate types rub shoulders with laidback surfers at the farmer’s market or a buzzy new spot in town; where vast swathes of nature, from parks to waterfront living, are mere minutes away from the Central Business District. And when city life begins to take its toll, one only needs to hop into the car, and take a short drive to disconnect and breathe at the heart of nature.

An aerial view of Perth’s buzzing Elizabeth Quay.
An aerial view of Perth’s buzzing Elizabeth Quay.
Soak up the view of the Swan River with a cocktail in hand at the Songbird Bar & Lounge in The Ritz-Carlton, Perth.
Soak up the view of the Swan River with a cocktail in hand at the Songbird Bar & Lounge in The Ritz-Carlton, Perth.

On my first night in the city, I stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Perth, which boasts a sweeping panorama of Swan River and the skyline, and is a stone’s throw away from the nightlife of Barrack Street, humming with locals and tourists. The hotel also houses an award-winning spa with bespoke treatments by skincare labels Biologique Recherche and LaGaia Unedited, an infinity pool, a rooftop bar, and dining establishments. When in Perth, one naturally has to take in at least one glorious sunset view. For a stunning meal to accompany the golden hour on a clear evening, consider Odyssea City Beach, a beachfront restaurant that puts the focus on the seasonality of local produce, a culinary ethos widely embraced by most dining establishments this side of the world. It is hard to beat for sophisticated yet unfussy Australian fare, with a sunset view to kill for.

Sunset at Busselton Jetty which stretches over Geographe Bay.
Sunset at Busselton Jetty which stretches over Geographe Bay.

Venturing out of the city on a three-hour drive towards the South West, home to 24 national parks, we stopped at Origins Market in West Busselton, an indoor bazaar for independent artisans. Here, you will discover that the locals are fuelled by passion for their craft—be it winemaking, honey farming or jewellery-making. Many of the small, family-owned businesses here produce their wares in limited quantities minus the high retail markup, selling everything from soap made with natural ingredients to handcrafted gin.

The Deluxe King Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Perth.
The Deluxe King Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Perth.
The chances of spotting a kangaroo on highways en route to the South West are high.
The chances of spotting a kangaroo on highways en route to the South West are high.

Life in the South West moves at an enviably slower pace. To truly appreciate the locals’ unhurried way of life, reserve a table at romantic brunch spot Meelup Farmhouse, which serves a European-inspired menu. Silkie chickens are part of the front-of-the-house crew, and the alfresco setting is a perfect venue to while the day away. For an alternative dining experience, board the Taste of the Bays Cruise at Dunsborough Bay for a seven-course sea-to-table dinner as your sail across the Geographe Bay’s breathtaking crystal-clear waters. For our dinner on the ocean, hosted by celebrated chef and Western Australian local Tony Howell, the dishes showcased sustainable, fresh-caught seafood, paired with fine wines from Margaret River. And those keen on satisfying their sense of thrill along with the dining experience were welcome to take a dip in the open waters before the sit-down dinner commenced.

For the next couple of nights, our home was in the heart of Margaret River, at one of Yallingup’s finest accommodations, Smiths Beach Resort. It is a self-contained retreat with its own restaurant, gourmet deli and wine store on the premises run by Kate Lamont, one of Western Australia’s most successful chefs and bestselling cookbook author.

Connecting footbridges allow you to get Instagram-worthy shots at Canal Rocks.
Connecting footbridges allow you to get Instagram-worthy shots at Canal Rocks.

Guests are spoiled with spectacular views from floor-to-ceiling windows in all the beach houses. From my one-bedroom ocean view villa located atop a small hill, which is large enough to accommodate a couple or a small family, the combination of salty sea breeze from the Indian Ocean and the sound of crashing waves exert a calming force.

 A look inside a luxury tent owned by Walk Talk Taste which organises gourmet tours and glamping in Margaret River.
A look inside a luxury tent owned by Walk Talk Taste which organises gourmet tours and glamping in Margaret River.

Guests can choose to spend their mornings with a run along the beach or hike along the Canal Rocks coastline, both within walking distance to the resort. We took on the Cape to Cape Track, a meandering hiking route minutes away from the resort. The trek included climbing uphill over rocky scrambles and levelled pathways, but was a manageable one for both the outdoor enthusiast and the non-athletic, such as myself. We crossed paths with groups of friendly seniors who were also on the walking tour; they did not have any issues navigating the track, which says it all about its accessibility. But wearing the right footwear helps. While I did make it to the end unscathed, my patent leather loafers unfortunately, did not.

A guided hike through the native forests of Araluen.
A guided hike through the native forests of Araluen.

No visit to Yallingup would be truly complete without a cave visit. The name ‘Yallingup’ in the local Aboriginal Wardandi dialect means “place of caves” after all. According to the local legend, Ngilgi Cave was the resting place for a good spirit bearing the same name, following a victorious battle against an evil spirit named Wolgine. The Wardandi people believe the karst cave to be a passageway to the afterlife. Guided by a native custodian, we were first taken on a bushwalk where we were shown the diverse plant life that thrives above the cave which had cultural and medical significance for the Wardandi, both in the past and present.

Now, while traversing the narrow confines of Ngilgi Cave is not too challenging a feat, one should know that it’s not for the claustrophobic. But personally, what I found more panic-inducing was the air becoming thinner due to the dropping oxygen level as we descended deeper into the cave. The faint of heart would do better on Walk Talk Taste’s gourmet walking tours and luxurious gourmet glamping in Margaret River. We were introduced to the sumptuous tent dwellings located on a farm owned by founder Kellie Tannock, and dined under the stars on a beautiful spread prepared by Masterchef Australia alumni Samira Damirova.

Soar over Rottnest Island on a small aircraft operated by Swan River Seaplanes.
Soar over Rottnest Island on a small aircraft operated by Swan River Seaplanes.

If neglecting to explore the great outdoors in Western Australia is frowned upon, then missing out on its many wine establishments would be even more sacrilegious. We visited two cellar doors: Wills Domain and Swings & Roundabouts. At Wills Domain, we tasted a selection of their best-selling wines produced from grapes grown on 60 hectares of rolling vine-covered hills right on the doorstep. The establishment also houses a fine dining restaurant that offers tasting menus with wine pairing. Swings & Roundabout, on the other hand, is a more casual venue. It has an expansive lawn on the grounds where their vineyards are located, and visitors staying on to dine can opt for an outdoor table with functional swings for seats, and tuck into rustic fare like Italian wood-fired pizzas.

Our South West itinerary largely involved long drives, and the wildlife that was most commonly spotted on these drives are kangaroos. But to get up close with the adorable quokka, we headed over to Rottnest Island. This beach lover’s paradise is located just 19km from the Fremantle jetty and is accessible via a ferry. Here, holiday goers will find the perpetually-smiling marsupial roaming free. Visitors hoping to score a snapshot with the quokka were warned to approach them with caution and refrain from touching or feeding them as they are ultimately wild animals. From Rottnest Island, you can fly back to Perth’s city centre via Swan River Seaplanes. The flight operator offers daily flights from the airport just south of the island’s main jetty. Each small seaplane accommodates fewer than 20 passengers, and while the 20-minute flight can be turbulent, it offers breathtaking views.

The sitting room of a suite at COMO The Treasury, a hotel converted from former government offices.
The sitting room of a suite at COMO The Treasury, a hotel converted from former government offices.

Back in the city, I stayed at the swanky 48-room COMO The Treasury hotel, which occupies three historic buildings that once housed the General Post Office, Treasury, and Lands and Titles offices. In the heart of all the action, the hotel is just blocks away from Point Zero, the centre point and civic heart of the city, and the marker from which all distances to Perth are measured. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, booking a table at its Wildflower restaurant is necessary. Awarded the top honour of Three Chefs Hats by the Australian Good Food Guide, the restaurant has designed its menu around the six-season calendar of the Noongar people, using ingredients indigenous to Western Australia that reflect the chefs’ reverence for local culture, from foraged native flowers to the best seafood in season.

An underground passage in Ngilgi Cave, northeast of Yallingup
An underground passage in Ngilgi Cave, northeast of Yallingup.

While guidebooks often extol Perth’s natural attractions or its pleasant Mediterranean climate free of extreme temperatures, one feature that is rarely mentioned has been a godsend for me. On the long drives, there is no mobile reception on several stretches of the road. Free of email notifications and messages, I was at utter ease because for once, I was truly away from it all.

This article was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.