Western Australia wasted no time while isolated from the world.
t opened a €270 million museum, a major beach district, a massive walkway over a Grand Canyon, a boardwalk along 50,000-year-old rock art, an exciting bridge climb over Perth’s Swan River and many new hotels.
It may have been closed for nearly 700 days, but my home state is emerging from this global catastrophe as an improved tourist destination.
From March 2020, WA introduced one of the world’s toughest Covid-19 lockdowns. For nearly two years, its residents were often barred from traveling to other Australian states, let alone overseas, unless hard-to-reach exceptions were granted. Western Australia was like a fortress, a nation within a nation.
On March 3 of this year, it finally reopened to interstate and international visitors who must be fully vaccinated, complete an online registration form and have a rapid antigen test for Covid-19 within 12 hours of arrival. This is welcome news, not only for Irish tourists interested in exploring WA, but also for those connected to the state’s vast Irish community.
Notably, of WA’s 2.7 million people, about 9 percent have Irish ancestry. That includes me. While most Irish-Australians were barred from visiting their overseas relatives for almost two years, I was fortunate to spend two visits to Ireland during Australia’s border closure.
Born and raised in Perth to parents from Cork and Mayo, I have lived in Ireland on and off for the last 10 years. My dual Irish-Australian citizenship, combined with my job as a travel journalist, earned me an exemption to leave Australia in July 2021. The four months in Mayo with my wife and young son came after a separate stay in Ireland between February and mid-June 2020.
When I first flew out of Dublin as the pandemic swept Europe, I landed in what resembled an alternate universe. After two weeks of hotel quarantine in Perth, one of the first people I met shook my hand. He was not wearing a mask and no one else was in this city of 2.2 million where all shops, bars and restaurants were open and 25,000 people attended football matches in mid-2020.
That’s because WA existed virtually outside of the pandemic until January 2022.
Previously, the state had had just a few dozen community Covid-19 cases – those unidentified and included in its mandatory hotel quarantine system for residents returning from overseas.
WA only received its first wave of Covid-19 cases in January this year. This outbreak was what prompted the Western Australian government’s decision to resume welcoming tourists. They realized that Omicron was so contagious it couldn’t be suppressed, so they belatedly followed the rest of Australia and opened up.
After nearly two years of sometimes stifling pandemic restrictions in Ireland, WA’s vast, open and unspoilt lands make it an attractive travel destination. Even the capital, Perth, is unusually quiet and spacious for a city with almost twice the population of Dublin.
Sitting on the Indian Ocean in WA’s deep southwest, Perth has more than 100km of pristine coastline.
One of the city’s favorite beaches just got even more enticing during the pandemic. The €65 million redevelopment in Scarborough, 15 minutes’ drive north of downtown Perth, added a scenic lookout point, an eight-lane beachfront pool, extensive parkland, a large recreation zone with modern sports facilities and plenty of restaurants and bars.
Many new hotels have also opened across WA. Down in the state’s original colonial settlement, the charming southern beach town of Albany, Australia’s first Hilton Garden Inn opened late last year. In the city of Fremantle, 30 minutes south of Perth, 170-year-old limestone cottages that once housed prison workers have been converted into the luxurious Warders Hotel.
A 25-minute ferry ride from Fremantle into the Indian Ocean brings tourists to WA’s famous Rottnest Island, which in 2020 welcomed its first luxury resort, the oceanfront Samphire Rottnest. In central Perth, meanwhile, a new Novotel has opened on Murray Street, along with the 5-star Adnate Art Series hotel in the West End and the luxurious Vibe Hotel in Subiaco, an affluent suburb full of trendy bars, cafes and boutiques.
The new Ritz-Carlton Perth is even more spacious. Home to 205 rooms and suites, this shimmering glass tower towers over the city’s stunning Elizabeth Quay Riverfront district. Directly behind this five-star hotel is the DoubleTree Hilton Waterfront, an 18-story property with panoramic views over the Swan River.
Follow this waterway 3km east of there and meander through the manicured parks that line its banks to reach the avant-garde Matagarup Bridge. It is designed to resemble a wagyl, the water serpent of Aboriginal mythology. It is around 400m long and connects the pretty suburb of East Perth with the state-of-the-art Optus Stadium. This 60,000-seat venue opened in 2018 and was soon voted “the most beautiful sports facility in the world” by the prestigious Prix Versailles architecture awards.
The best view of this stadium is from the Matagarup Bridge. Since late last year, visitors have been able to scale this bridge or zipline from its crest to the riverbank. Securely attached to a harness, they climb more than 150 steps to reach an open-air, glass-bottomed observation deck 240 feet (72 m) above the water. The bravest can zoom down to the shores below at speeds of up to 75 km/h.
Those with an aversion to heights, meanwhile, will also want to skip Perth’s newest attraction, Vertigo. This semi-circular, accessible path extends from the roof of Optus Stadium and allows participants with harnesses to take a knee-trembling walk.
If you can keep your eyes peeled, you might spot far more relaxed people whizzing down the river on new water bike tours. Like a pedal-powered catamaran, these bikes are now available for hire in South Perth or Matilda Bay. Just as calming as these river cruises is exploring the fresh WA Museum Boola Bardip.
This is the largest new museum in Australia with almost 6,000m² of exhibition space. It opened in late 2020 as a redesigned version of the 120-year-old WA Museum, which remains intact, with a huge, modern extension built over and around it.
This facility is freely accessible and tells the ancient and modern history of this state. Through artifacts, artwork and interactive displays, it explains the impact of colonization and how Aboriginal people have shaped WA for more than 60,000 years.
The Wagyl is believed to have carved the vast canyons that span the state’s hair-raising new Kalbarri Skywalk. Kalbarri is six hours north of Perth and is riddled with deep red earth gorges. The Skywalk consists of two paths that hang more than 100m above these canyons and can be traversed without safety equipment.
In 2020, a less frightening but equally spectacular walkway opened 800 km north of there. Near the town of Karratha, this elevated trail offers visitors an intimate view of Murujuga, the world’s largest collection of ancient rock art. Scattered here, on the Burrup Peninsula and neighboring islands, are more than a million Aboriginal rock carvings, some dating back 50,000 years.
In comparison to this enormous timeline etched into the soil of WA, the pandemic appears only as a footnote.
However, during this global event, this state of affairs has changed significantly. Spending much of the past decade in Ireland and Thailand has only deepened my appreciation for WA. When I return I enjoy the endless manicured parks, the warm and dry climate, the safe and quiet streets, and the abundance of gorgeous beaches that are almost empty.
Whether you’re a museum lover, an adventure junkie, a beach babe, a hound in luxury hotels, or fascinated by native cultures, WA now offers many new reasons to fly south.
Three restaurants with a view
1. Boat Shed Restaurant
Beautiful and perfect for swimming, Perth’s Swan River reflects the evening lights of the Perth skyline. The best vantage point is the Boatshed restaurant on the riverfront in south Perth.
2. Maleeya’s Thai Cafe
Dishes can be enjoyed here with a view of the forested Porongurup National Park. These peaks peer through the windows of this humble venue, 350km south of Perth.
3. Sunset at Broome
Tourists ride camels at the Sunset Bar and Grill along Western Australia’s famous 22km long Cable Beach. The popular holiday resort is 2,000 km north of Perth.
The flight from Dublin to Perth takes just over 20 hours, including a stopover in Dubai or Doha. That is, if you are traveling with either Emirates (emirates.ie) or Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com), which are currently the two airlines dominating this route.
The flight route from Perth to the Middle East takes around 11 hours, making it perfect for a late night sleep, so keep that in mind when choosing your departure time.
For more information on what to see and do in Western Australia, visit the official website westernaustralia.com.
Under current regulations, all eligible international travelers must be fully vaccinated to enter Western Australia. They must also take a rapid antigen test, which will be provided at the airport, within 12 hours of arrival and register any positive result (more information at wa.gov.au).
Travelers are also required to fill out the G2G Passport online, a mandatory Registration and Declaration Form (g2gpass.com.au). Current regulations also require people to wear a face covering indoors (other than at home).
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/after-almost-700-days-western-australia-has-reopened-so-whats-it-like-to-visit-now-41531527.html Western Australia has reopened after almost 700 days – so what’s it like to visit now?