Twenty reasons to visit Fremantle

MAL CHENU
Last updated 12:19 02/10/2013
Fremantle Landscape

BIZARRE FEST: The Street Arts Festival is a West Australia staple.

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From sailing and fishing to arts festivals and boutique pale ales, this is the best on offer in Fremantle.

1. STREET ARTS FESTIVAL

This annual Easter knees-up has become a WA staple and is a great time to visit Fremantle. Renowned performers from all over the world descend on the port city to juggle, sing, dance, tumble and entertain the masses.

And the masses turn up too, with more than 110,000 visitors chucking coins in hats over four days at the mostly free shows. This is busker ground zero and imaginative (and often bizarre) acts keep the crowds laughing and bring a collective smile to the whole town. See fremantle.wa.gov.au.

2. LITTLE CREATURES

The legendary micro-brewery at the Fishing Boat Harbour specialises in hoppy pale ales. This is a pub that chills out during the day and rocks at night.

A sunny afternoon relaxing in the beer garden with one of their "home made" ales and pizzas can't be beat. They tap an experimental keg every Thursday at 4pm and brewery tours run every day at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.

Little Creatures is more a tourist hangout than a pub, as evidenced by the variety of accents you'll hear at the bar. See littlecreatures.com.au

3. FISHING BOAT HARBOUR

Little Creatures is just one of the lures of the iconic working harbour. With plenty of restaurants from fish and chips (Cicerello's is a staple) to fine seafood dining, cafes and bars along the boardwalk, the harbour is always pumping.

Festivals dominate the calendar, including the Sardine Festival in January, Chilli Festival in March, Blues and Roots Festival in April and the Blessing of the Fleet in October.

And don't miss the Maritime Museum Shipwreck Gallery, housing artefacts from the litany of victims of WA's treacherous coastline. See fremantlefishingboatharbour.com.

4. SAILING

The spiritual home of the successful 1983 America's Cup challenge and the venue for the defence of the Auld Mug, Fremantle's consistent high winds make it a great spot to get a brackish taste of ocean sailing.

The afternoon sea breeze (known as the Fremantle Doctor to everyone not from WA, for some reason) ensures a hardy workout for boats and crews.

A more genteel excursion is available on the Swan River where all manner of craft crisscross the shallow expanses.

5. OKEY DOKEY

The slogan on West Coast Jet's 16-seater jet boat is "Wetta iz betta" and you are warned that "You may get wet".

Adhering to the business principle that it's better to under-promise and over-deliver, the powerful craft thumps through the waves and wakes of approaching fishing vessels in a thrill-ride that shakes your teeth and deluges you in sheets of briny Indian Ocean.

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Okey Dokey is a hoot. Don't miss it. And when they ask you if you want to put your stuff in dry storage, say yes. See westcoastjet.com.au.

6. MUSIC SCENE

The John Butler Trio, San Cisco, Eskimo Joe and The Waifs are a just few Freo musos to have made a national impact. Freo has always been a magnet for avant-garde musicians and artists and the lamp posts are coated with posters advertising upcoming gigs.

Buskers are everywhere and there are plenty of music clubs and live venues to choose from - check out Fly by Night club and Kulcha. They have their own symphony orchestra and the Hidden Treasures winter music festival in July pulls big numbers.

7. DIDGERIDOO BREATH

Just wander in to get a lesson in the ancient instrument from some of the coolest barefoot dudes imaginable. There's always a backpacker or two trying their hand at the exotic art of circular breathing (just A$30/NZD$34 for a one-hour lesson) and it's amazing how a bit of expert tuition can get you going.

They claim the "planet's largest selection of didgeridoos" plus other unusual world musical instruments and a range of didge-related paraphernalia. See didgeridoobreath.com.

8. LUNCH AT FREMANTLE ARTS CENTRE

Wander the fascinating alternative gallery and then dine at Canvas cafe and hear local and touring artists make beautiful music in a lovely courtyard surrounded by huge plane trees.

Performances are held from October to March and there is no better place to wile away a couple of hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The attitude is very relaxed and you can bring your own picnic lunch if you like. The free concerts are very popular so go early. See fac.org.au.

9. THE WEST END

Affordable rents and an artisan attitude have created this brazenly funky precinct. You'll find something no one else in Sydney is wearing among the unique outfits, jewellery and accessories at Love in Tokyo and the other groovy boutiques.

There's fine art with a difference at Merenda and Japingka galleries and colourful Indian fabrics and curios at Kartique. Take a break at the "very Freo" New Edition bookshop, incorporating the Grumpy Sailor Cafe and a fashion designer in the rear.

10. FREMANTLE URBAN ADVENTURE WALK

Two Feet and a Heartbeat operate a walking tour of the city and the engaging guides add plenty of anecdotes, especially the macabre tales of life in - and escapes from - the Fremantle Prison.

The tour goes off the main drags and includes a couple of kooky galleries and the oldest building in Western Australia, The Roundhouse. The tour lasts two hours and costs A$40 ($45) or just A$20 ($22.7) on "Tight Arse Tuesdays". twofeet.com.au. Eleven self-guided walking trail maps are available at fremantlewa.com.au.

11. URBAN GALLERY

Renowned Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (aka Vhils) has chiselled into the wall of the Norfolk Hotel a quite brilliant "sculpture" portrait of Australia's first female senator, Dorothy Tangney. Vhils' unusual technique fits the Freo street art model snugly.

An eclectic graffiti policy means an arts committee decides whether "installations" have artistic merit. Other pieces not to be missed include the huge numbat on the Old Spice Building, the zebra on South Terrace and the boxing kangaroo on the side of the National Hotel.

12. FINE DINING

The fresh seafood, nearby market gardens, European influences and eclectic tastes of Fremantle have spawned a diverse range of excellent restaurants.

For a spicy fusion experience, go to Barque on George Street and try the ginger vegetables. Also on George Street and a good place for both breakfast and dinner is The Wine Store, while the newly opened Bib & Tucker on Leighton Beach Boulevard is getting rave reviews.

The European-styled and vegan-friendly Harvest in a little cottage in Harvest Road has been offering a top-end avant-garde menu for years.

13. ALTERNATIVE DINING

The true-to-name Raw Kitchen on South Terrace (lunch only) will arrange your uncooked selections in a way you've never seen before. Try Ootong & Lincoln cafe on South Terrace for breakfast or a burger or rub shoulders with local nonnas and stock your Italian pantry at Galati & Sons deli in Wray Street.

If you like your salads with tempeh, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes, Manna Wholefoods cafe is the place for you. They even have their own naturopath.

14. COOL BARS

Melbourne-esque small bars are popping up in Freo and more are planned. Whisper Wine Bar in Essex Street is one such new addition and has a cosy and friendly vibe.

Who's Your Mumma on Wray Ave is run by the Harvest Restaurant people and is more upmarket than its name might suggest. Mrs Brown in Queen Victoria Street is a retro gem and you can bring in your hamburger from Flipside next door. For themed music nights, head to Mojo Bar in Queen Victoria Street.

15. CAFE CULTURE

The "cappuccino strip" has long been touted as the go-to place for your morning java but in truth it's getting a bit old, although there are still a few lovely venues.

For a more modern and Freo-funky experience check out the Middle Eastern-themed Attic in Bannister Street, Moore & Moore cafe (and art gallery) in Henry Street, Hush Espresso in Market Street and Chalky's Espresso Bar in High Street, which also has offers a huge range of teas, juices and meals. But really, it's almost impossible to get a bad cuppa in Freo.

16. EASY CYCLING

Bicycle tracks are everywhere and there is brisk trade in recycled bikes too. Take a casual pedal past the cranes of the working harbour, get your morning coffee at Tasty Express @ B Shed cafe and then head down to the beach or along the 10-kilometre Fremantle Heritage Trail.

If you fancy a decent hit out, you can cycle for 55 kilometres right along the sunset coast on dedicated cycle paths north from Fremantle to Burns Beach. Free bike hire from the Fremantle Visitor Centre in Kings Square.

17. SUNSET PICNIC AT MONUMENT HILL

Monument Hill is an ideal place to take in one of WA's spectacular ochre sunsets and is perfect for an evening picnic, if the sea breeze is not howling. Named for the war memorial at the top of the peaceful grassy hill, the views of the harbour, the city and the ocean are amazing and are best viewed over the rim of a glass of something special from Margaret River.

18. FREMANTLE PRISON

The heritage-listed gaol has a long, brutal and fascinating history. Built in the 1850s and decommissioned in 1991, it is now one of Fremantle's chief tourist attractions and there are five different tours to choose from, starting at A$19 ($21.5) for adults.

On the Tunnels Tour (A$60/NZD$68) you descend a 20-metre ladder and walk through the underground labyrinth before paddling a replica convict punt through the submerged passageways. See fremantleprison.com.au.

19. HIGHWAY TO HELL TOUR

AC/DC front man Bon Scott lived in Fremantle as a youngster and this kitschy limo tour visits his haunts and pays tribute to the rock icon.

Starting at the bronze statue of Bon near Fishing Boat Harbour the two-hour tour takes in a Bon mural under the Stirling Traffic Bridge and ends at his gravesite at Fremantle Cemetery.

One for the true black, rusted on Acca Dacca fans. Tours by booking only, A$200 ($227) for four or fewer, A$300 ($340.6) for six. See sunsetcoastlimos.com.

20. MINI SYDNEY VIBE

The comparison may not be immediately apparent but there are plenty of similarities - a working harbour, sailboats aplenty, heritage buildings, a progressive bike-loving mayor, superb coffee and excellent restaurants with water views.

On a sunny weekend Freo is Newtown meets The Rocks with a seaside holiday town vibe. Fremantle's community spirit is a force of nature - whether it be an important planning decision or simply saving a tree.

The writer was a guest of the Esplanade Hotel Fremantle by Rydges.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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