Five Reasons to Visit Perth

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© Jon Hicks / Corbis

Perth skyline with Swan River and James Mitchell Park at dusk

Closer to Jakarta and Bali than it is to Sydney, far-flung Perth is Australia'soverlooked city. The only metropolis in Western Australia (and home to nearly 75% of the state's population), solitary Perth has always done its own thing — even voting in 1933 to withdraw from the Australian Federation. Thankfully for Australia, that never happened, as nowadays Perth is a sparkling boomtown defying the global recession by way of its wealth of nearby mineral mines. A couple decades ago, Perth was a sleepy hamlet where restaurants closed up on the weekends. But in the 21st Century, the city is a sophisticated kaleidoscope of nationalities, with a third of its 1.7 million inhabitants born overseas. Perth's mellow Mediterranean climate and outdoors-loving culture keeps everyone focused on swimming, sailing, or sunbathing instead of wasting time cooped up in an office. Our five picks for perky, playful Perth:

1. The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Founded in 1895, this museum houses over 17,000 works, including one of the best collections of Australian Aboriginal art in the world. Join the museum's twice-weekly Indigenous Art tours where docents reveal the spiritual "dreaming" stories concealed within Aboriginal dot paintings, as well as modern and politically charged installations. Don't miss the harrowing Maralinga sculpture about the British atomic bomb tests on Aboriginal lands in the early 1950s. Tel: (61-8) 9492 6622;

2. Cottesloe Beach
Backed by a hillside of cascading lawns and fronted by waves warmed by the Tropics-fed Leeuwin Current, "Cott Beach" is pretty much your ideal Australian stretch of sand. A favorite of Heath Ledger (Perth's most famous son), it's where his friends and family splashed in the water in his memory after his memorial service. Grab a game of beach cricket, or simply sip on a local Swan beer at the beach's Edwardian-style Indiana teahouse while taking in a sunset view high above the Indian Ocean. Tel: (61-8) 9385 5005;

3. Greenhouse Restaurant
This trendy eatery in downtown Perth is the prototype for the restaurant of the future:It's completely constructed of recycled materials, including steel and plastic. Liquor bottles dangle above the bar via large fishhooks, and true to its name, the building's exterior is covered with potted herbs used in the dishes. Don't worry — you won't be munching on hippie fare but inventive tapas plates of rock oysters, mussel croquettes, and spiced lamb shoulder, all locally sourced. A DJ spins for the fashionable crowd on the rooftop bar. Tel: (61-8) 9481 8333;

4. Indigenous Heritage Tours
Twelve miles from downtown Perth at the mouth of the Swan River lies Fremantle, an intact 1800s port town with a New Orleans vibe. Amid the mohawked students hanging out in verandah bars and artisan boutiques is a much older history stretching back 40,000 years ago to the very first Australians. Indigenous Heritage Tours walk you through the historic town, led by Aboriginal guides who show you how tolive off of edible wattleseed plants as they recount Dreamtime legends of how the Swan River was carved out by the Rainbow Serpent. Tel: (61-8) 9431 7878;

5. Margaret River
Don't leave Perth without heading a couple hours' south to the famed Margaret River wine region. From its humble beginnings in the late 1960s, over 100 boutique wineries are now nestled here amid towering native eucalyptus forests. The region produces just three percent of Australia's wines, but supplies nearly twenty percent of its premium wine market. Explore the rugged coastline andhistoric lighthouses, and then cozy up to a fire at the 22-room, five-star Cape Lodge. Set on 40 acres with its own vineyards of Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, the lodge's gourmet lakeside restaurant serves tasty dishes like the local freshwater lobster known as marron. Tel: (61-8) 9755 6311;