Hollywood's Travel Guide to Western Australia
Where to eat, sleep and selfie with quokkas, à la Chris Hemsworth.
When it comes to Australia, the places that first come to mind are Sydney, Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef, Byron Bay if Chris Hemsworth is also being discussed. Although it takes up a significant part of the country, there’s something about Western Australia that feels like the Wild West in all the best ways, a bit unexplored and mysterious. In actuality, however, Hollywood boldfacers are no stranger to its beauty and charms. Or flavors.
It’s a massive state — one-third of the entire country, with more than 12,400 miles of coastline akin to almost 15 Californias worth of coast — but if you go, there are a few places that should make the cut, approved by the likes of Hemsworth and his pal Matt Damon, who went on an adventure in the state this spring. Star chef and TV personality Curtis Stone also visited recently to source inspiration and ingredients such as marron, saltbush and wattleseed to bring back to Maude, his Beverly Hills fine-dining restaurant.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Perth — birthplace of the late Heath Ledger — was ever forgotten, it just wasn’t a place that was on the radar of many people outside of Oz. But the capital of Western Australia has stolen some of the country’s spotlight in recent years, thanks in part to development of its dining and hotel offerings. The first new-build Ritz-Carlton in Australia opens late this year in a most picturesque place on the Swan River, and a handful of other openings include QT Perth, a lush design bolthole with just the perfect amount of quirk and a rooftop bar; the five-star InterContinental Perth City Centre; the intimate Alex Hotel; and the bright, contemporary Quay Perth Hotel with bay windows overlooking the esplanade, where food markets and concerts happen from November to April.
For such a small city — the population hovers around 2 million — there seem to be more than the expected allotment of beautiful restaurants that could easily stand up in L.A., and the tiny bar scene (a phenomenon that began just over a decade ago, granting licenses for small concepts holding up to 100 people) is hot. Favorite meal destinations include Mary Street Bakery, now a local institution and a place to forget dietary restrictions in favor of a donut bursting with passionfruit custard; Shadow Wine Bar, stuffed with beautiful people, delightful tapas and Aussie vino; the vibrant Italian-meets-Western Australia Santini Grill; and Petition Kitchen, a cozy, rustic setting for shared plates that take cues from local produce and products.
Rooftop bars and restaurants include Wildflower at the boutique hotel COMO the Treasury, with unparalleled views and inventive locally sourced cocktails and bites (informed by Aboriginal Australians' six seasons); and Bob’s Bar up the newsprint-lined stairs above Print Hall, former home of Perth’s newspaper presses.
This November, a famed local foodie event (now named Western Australia Gourmet Escape and comprising 10 days of activations, tastings and flavorful surprises by international chefs) is expanding north into Perth and its wine region of Swan Valley. A comedy festival, plays, opera and live music performances have often made the vibrant city the first stop on the continent for international performers, including Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
The city’s history and coolest nooks and crannies are best understood with a Two Feet & a Heartbeat walking tour, themed around coffee, culture, cocktails, crime or even fromage, and customizable and privatized, too. By foot is the only way to find most of the vibrant street art, and small bars such as Helvetica and Varnish. For more walking, or picnicking, there’s Kings Park — larger than Central Park and filled with botanic gardens, bushland and trails.
Follow the lead of Margot Robbie, Adrien Grenier, Hugh Jackman, Roger Federer and Chris Hemsworth and hop the ferry to Rotto — short for Rottnest, in the Aussie way — for a quokka selfie. The miniature marsupials are quite prolific on the bikeable island off Perth’s coast, a half-hour ferry ride.
This spring, Hemsworth was one of the first guests at the new eco-friendly Discovery Rottnest Island resort’s beachfront glamping tents, just in front of the famed Pinky Beach, a popular site for picnics and swimming in the summer season. Another cute island stop is Penguin Island, closed June to September for breeding season, but otherwise open to visitors who swoon over the colony of around 1,200 super-petite penguins who live and play on the sandy beaches.
While its most famous export may be the band Tame Impala, Freemantle is like an indie beach suburb of Perth, with the added attraction of lovely heritage architecture, much of it built by convicts a couple hundred years ago. Surf shops mingle with bookstores on the walkable mural-dotted streets southwest of Perth, best explored initially with a walking tour by Fremantle Tours, since many of the local highlights and fascinating anecdotes are all but hidden to travelers.
You won’t find chains of any sort in Freo, as the locals call it. Standout dinner spots include Bread In Common, in a restored 1898 pharmaceutical warehouse, and elegant-yet-cool Strange Company, with frequent live music on the historic market, where Elijah Wood sat and played on one of the busking pianos last month.
To stay in town means the Hougoumont boutique hotel, a mashup of a historic building and shipping containers. This neighborhood is home to lots of action, with hip new restaurants opening alongside boutique independent distillers and bars, such as the high-end restaurant, beer garden, cocktail lounge and secret wine bar going into what was the first Jewish synagogue in Australia, built in the early 1900s and now being repurposed, original stained glass and all.
Some three hours south of Perth, this surf-meets-wine mecca can be reached by private jet or private car. Perth Luxury Tours, a specialist operator with a fleet of Mercedes has driven everyone from Beyoncé to Mariah Carey and Bruno Mars past electric green fields where kangaroos hop amongst cattle and sheep. It’s one of the youngest regions for wine production in Australia, but known as being one of the most premium (for context, it comprises 3 percent of Australia’s average wine production, but 20 to 30 percent of all its premium wine). That means some 110 cellar doors as well as lots of bucolic land on which to enjoy the wine.
Vasse Felix is the oldest, dating to the late '60s, and as dreamy as they come, with a selection of incredible cabernet sauvignons, best tasted at the long marble table in the cellar, and chilled chardonnays for sipping on the upper restaurant’s sunny balcony alongside local barramundi or kangaroo. For summertime open-air cinema, the call is LVMH-owned Cape Mentelle winery.
It’s also possible to take a helicopter down for the day from Perth, and Leeuwin Estate has its own airstrip — along with a popular concert series — where planes can land for private wine-soaked lunches. Breweries and distilleries are also opening at a significant pace, with pro surfer Taj Burrows even designing his own beer using seawater at Caves Road Collective. Margaret River Distilling Company’s Giniversity offers immersive experiences distilling or blending one’s own gin using botanicals native to the region.
Experiences in nature balance out the booze. There is the famed Cape to Cape walk, ideally arranged by Walk Into Luxury with a local guide and gourmet picnics, or a didgeridoo-studded Koomal Dreaming cultural experience into the stalactite-studded caves that populate the coastline and have been an important part of the local Aboriginal culture for centuries. Surfing, as Hemsworth knows, is a favorite pursuit in Margaret River, also the site of an annual World Surf League contest (Last month, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater headed to Rottnest for his requisite quokka selfie after the Margaret River Pro).
The place to stay is indisputably Cape Lodge, where Sting, Toni Collette, The Rolling Stones, Michael Buble and Katy Perry have been guests — the first for an extended visit while performing at Leeuwin Estate, during which time he fell for chef Tony Howell’s cuisine. The serene, spacious boutique hotel also has a romantic restaurant overlooking a reflective lake where breakfast is as irresistible as degustation dinners of delectables such as confit duck leg and marron.
Elsewhere, Lamont’s Smiths Beach is excellent all day long, post-surf or pre-sunset. The restaurant Yarri — which would be right at home in Venice — has a creative menu informed by the six seasons and what’s fresh from the land and sea, while Morries offers fantastic tapas and occasional jazz nights. The picturesque, certified-organic olive oil destination Olio Bello has not only a great open-air cafe, but chic glamping tents complete with fireplaces and hammocks.
Culinary-minded travelers should make the additional trip to Manjimup, the fruit bowl of Western Australia, a bit south and inland from Margaret River (Lady Gaga has written music just south of there). It’s essentially the Perigord truffle capital of Australia, producing and exporting about a third of Australia’s fragrant crop to Europe and other truffle-obsessed parts of the world. Interested parties can go hunting for them with the resident kelpies at The Truffle & Wine Co.
It’s also inspiration for the annual Truffle Kerfuffle, at which MasterChef scouts for new talent and notable chefs give talks, demos and put on special lunches and dinners, such as the Aboriginal native ingredient–centric chef Paul Iskov — famed for his multisensory, roving pop-up Fervor dinners around Western Australia, hosted on a farm this June. (The season is June through around August, but it’s not rare in this part of Australia to see black truffle elements on menus year-round, and in the Aussie summer there’s a cherry festival.)
The Kimberley + Ningaloo Reef
Earthy, raw and real, The Kimberley is hard to reach, no doubt. But once there, it’s enchanting. Jackman was one of those who last year ventured into the remote region to swim at Cable Beach, learn how a boomerang is made, hang out with Aboriginal elders and students in a coastal community, taste bush superfoods, spot humpback whales and take an astronomy tour with a local stargazing expert.
A trip to Broome in 2017 saw the actor on a private charter vessel fishing for Spanish mackerel and jumping off rocks at a waterfall. The A-list destination is El Questro, a literal million-acre ranch featured in Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia (along with famous Aussies Nicole Kidman and Jackman); the exclusive El Questro Homestead is an intimate and luxurious base for wild exploration via four-wheel drive, heli, boat and horseback. Nearby scientists recently found the largest-ever dinosaur footprint, six-and-a-half feet in diameter.
Further down the coast, Ningaloo Reef is where the likes of Pippa Middleton, Hemsworth and Matt Damon have traveled, staying at the uber-luxe outback-meets–beach safari camp Sal Salis where one of many main attractions is swimming with whale sharks. The distant destination is the closest one can get to the surreally stunning UNESCO World Heritage–listed fringing reef, with hundreds of fish and coral species, rays and turtles. Catch humpback whales in action from July to November.
Updated on July 24 at 7:54 a.m.