If your travel budget is as tight as Charlize Theron’s jumpsuit in Aeon Flux, but you still want to venture out and explore a unique chunk of Australia, cramming in city sights, wineries, islands and coast all within close proximity, then try exploring Perth by bike.
Perth is Australia’s number one bike-friendly city, with more bikes and bike-tracks than anywhere else in the country – many of them running right through the city, along the rivers, parks and the beaches, so why not seize the opportunity to pretend you’re in it for the exercise, even though in reality it’s just a convenient and cheap way to see Perth.
Perth is well set-up for backpackers, with affordable accommodation scattered right through the city and neighbouring trendy areas such as Northbridge, and also right near some of Perth’s stunning beaches. Some of the hostels hire out bikes fairly cheaply, including Ocean Beach Backpackers at Cottesloe Beach, where you can hire a bike for $10 per half day (with a deposit) and ride along the coast up to Scarborough, or down to Fremantle.
Cottesloe is a great beach to surf, fish, or people-watch, and the surrounding cafŽs and pubs convert Cottesloe from the spot to enjoy a lazy mid-morning breakfast place with a view, to the perfect location for Sunday afternoon drinks. The stretch of coast from here is breathtaking and the bike option is definitely a good way to absorb it all.
Our weekend ‘Perth by bike’ cram session began just outside of Perth city in Subiaco (Subi), where we took some time to soak up the local atmosphere on foot, before jumping on our bikes. Subi is the holy grail of Western Australian sport, the home of the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers Australian Rules Football teams. Pay a few bucks and you will get to see big men in little shorts chase each other around. Apart from the lack of glitter and feathers, this sport does not differ much to Sydney’s Mardi Gras.
After the game you can enjoy a chai latte with the players at one of Subi’s many cafes. You can be sure to find some great dining experiences in the cultural melting pot that is Subi – after all, Perth has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Australia.
You can easily jump on a train to Perth from Subiaco. Get off here and head towards the city, and you’ll find a number of bike hire kiosks along the Perth Esplanade that offer hire on an hourly basis, such as About Bike Hire (Causeway Car Park, Riverside Drive, Ph: 08 9221 2665).
Many of these bike hire venues provide free maps with suggested rides, a popular one being the riverside track that crosses the causeway bridges. Being nice and flat, it’s a good debut to the whole Perth by bike thing, and there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way, complete with wildlife spotting and city views.
If you’re as bad at reading maps as we are, ask someone for directions and you will soon arrive at Kings Park. (As an alternative, bikes can also be hired directly from the park.) This is one of those great parks where kids will be playing footy next to a couple who need to “get a room”.
For those who don’t appreciate these types of free live shows, Kings Park has 360 degree views over the city and the Swan River.
If you’re interested in checking out Perth Zoo, you can ride along the Swan River cycle path – with bike racks conveniently available at the entrance of the zoo. Perth Zoo is open from 9am-5pm every day of the year, and there are currently a number of special presentations on. Check out www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au for more information.
If you haven’t observed enough animal behaviour at the zoo, you can be sure to witness it among the pubs and nightclubs of Northbridge. The main strip of Northbridge is lively at night with cafes, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs in abundance, making it a favourite spot for a pub crawl. So, if you fail to pick up at one club, there’s plenty more options to choose from. Just go next door to try your luck again. By the end of the street you should have met at least one person with low enough standards for you to get a party pash.
After getting up with a regretful hangover, we decided on the hair of the dog method by taking a train to Fremantle to visit the Little Creatures Brewery (try the Pale Ale – a top beer).
Fremantle is the only other city within 2,000 kilometres of Perth. Fremantle Markets are worth a visit, as you wander down to the water. You can also combine bike hire with train travel, and even take your bike on trains and ferries. Bikes are allowed onto trains free of charge outside of peak hours (which are 7am-9am and 4.30pm-6.30pm on weekdays), and it’s also fine at any time when travelling in the opposite direction of peak travel passengers. Check with the train guards if youÕre not sure.
From Fremantle you can catch a ferry out to Rottnest Island (about 45 minutes). Rottnest Island is the home of the quokka and some fantastic snorkelling. If you’ve never heard of a quokka before, it’s the furry marsupial (related to the wallaby) which is native to the island. The name Rottnest comes from the Dutch for “rat’s nest”, because when the Dutch explorer Volkersen first observed the animal, he thought it looked like a giant rat. We think they’re extremely cute, and they’re also very friendly. There’s an estimated 10,000 quokkas inhabiting the island, and considering the island’s size you’ll be sure to spot a few on your travels.
The best way to make your way around the island is, of course, by bike. (Hardly any cars are used on the island, so bike and foot are the main forms of transport.) You can either take your bike on the ferry or hire one from Rottnest Island Bike Hire when you get there. We suggest riding around the island in a clockwise direction. The pristine waters of Rottnest are ideal for snorkelling, so stop off at every cove along the way for a dip and a snorkel. You can also hire this gear on the island.
There’s accommodation available on the island if you decide to spread out your stay a little longer (and the main pub has a huge beer garden that can make time disappear!). But another option if you still want to stay near the water is to take the ferry back to the city, and then hop on a train to Cottesloe – to check out the great beaches we mentioned earlier. If your timing’s right, you’ll be fortunate enough to witness one of the spectacular sunsets over the ocean that the west coast has to offer.
For the hardcore visitors who want a bit of a different experience, Pedal Oz offers a number of bike tours off the beaten track, including the Cycling the Vineyards tour. Full-day tours include visits to the Swan Valley vineyards, lots of wine sampling, gourmet lunch, and the option of visiting a chocolate factory, or extra wineries after lunch.
These run on Saturdays and Sundays and discounts are offered to concession card holders. You don’t have to be super fit for the tour, as it’s a comfortable ride for all ages. Check out www.pedaloz.com.au for details.
Well, if you’ve lasted the Perth by Bike tour, you’re ready for anything. But if you’ve got more time, you can switch to a lower gear and take more time exploring each area. But no matter how much time you can spare, you won’t regret going west!
May 31st, 2007