I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published June 23rd 2014
Heaven Isn't So Far Away
Separating the low-lying Swan Valley from the vast Wheatbelt region further inland, the Darling Ranges are a low-lying escarpment characterised by picturesque bushland, rugged hills and after the rain of late winter and spring, cascading streams and a brilliant array of native wildflowers. Several of Perth's most easterly suburbs are also located there and for this reason the area is also known as the Perth Hills.
The Swan River near Bell's Rapids
Whether you're a visitor to Western Australia or just a local wanting to escape the urban rat-race, this beautiful region offers a terrific choice of places to visit and things to do. The following paragraphs contain some great ideas for a visit to the Perth Hills.
Immerse yourself in nature
The Perth Hills region is heaven for nature-lovers, and some of Perth's most popular national parks are situated there. While most of these don't allow camping, all provide first-class picnic facilities for day-trippers as well as some fabulous bushwalks for those who are more energetic. They're also great spots to see native animals and birds in their natural environment and the beautiful wildflowers for which Western Australia is so famous.
One of the lovely picnic areas near Mundaring Weir
Probably the best-known of Western Australia's national parks, the John Forrest National Park is also the state's oldest, having been established in 1900. As well as many lovely picnic spots, it also has some awesome walking trails suitable for people of all ages and levels of fitness. If you're visiting after there's been plenty of rain, be sure to follow the trails to Hovea and National Parks Falls, as these seasonal waterfalls are spectacular when they're flowing strongly.
A view over the city from the Perth Hills
Another well-known national park in the Hills is the Beelu National Park, which serves as the headquarters for the Perth Hills Discovery Centre as well as the fabulous Nearer to Nature program. It also offers some great bushwalks, ranging from short wildflower rambles to longer walks that take in spectacular views of Mundaring Weir and Lake C.Y. O'Connor. For long-distance hiking enthusiasts, the legendary Bibbulmun Track also passes through the park. If you love the magic of bush camping, the Beelu National Park also has a small camping ground with first-class amenities, including a camp kitchen. To find out more and to make bookings, take a look here.
Situated approximately one hour north of Perth on the upper reaches of the Swan River, the Walyunga National Park is another beautiful area to explore. As well as offering several great walks that can be enjoyed at any time during the year, the park is also a popular spot to visit during the first weekend of August each year during the Avon Descent, Western Australia's foremost white-water race, as it provides some terrific views of all the action.
Walyunga National Park
To the south of Perth, just 50 kilometres from the CBD, the Serpentine National Park is another natural paradise, much loved by both picnickers and bushwalkers. The short walk to spectacular Serpentine Falls is especially nice, and during the warmer months the large natural waterhole below the falls is a popular swimming spot with both locals and visitors.
Serpentine Falls are still striking during the dryer months
Another pleasant activity to enjoy in the Perth Hills is a relaxing drive, taking in the area's beautiful scenery. In addition to the national parks mentioned above, there are many quaint little villages scattered here and there where you can picnic, visit galleries and markets, and purchase fresh produce, direct from the farm. One of my favourite drives is to take the Great Eastern Highway to Mundaring, and from there slowly drive along Mundaring Weir Road to Kalamunda, passing through native forests and picturesque small farms. This route also offers great views of Mundaring Weir.
A beautiful view from Mundaring Weir Road
Ambling along small back-roads from Mundaring to Chidlow is also very scenic, and a detour to nearby Lake Leschenaultia is highly recommended. Closer to Perth, the Zig Zag Scenic Drive in Gooseberry Hill is also a terrific, albeit short, drive that offers some amazing views over the city to the Indian Ocean, in the distance.
Walking trail near Lake Leschenaultia
An art-lovers Paradise Like many beautiful natural places, the Perth Hills are a magnet for artists, and many galleries and studios warmly welcome visitors. Kalamunda and Mundaring are especially well-known as creative hotspots.
The Zig Zag Cultural Centre in Kalamunda is a dynamic community arts centre which houses a visitors centre, gallery, meeting facilities and cafe. If you're a fan of local art, the visitors centre also serves as a retail outlet for artisans working in a wide range of media. While you're there, ask the friendly volunteers what else is happening on Kalamunda's vibrant art scene.
Alternatively, if the performing arts are more your thing, be sure to check out the Kalamunda Performing Arts Centre at 48 Canning Road, or call them on 08 9257 2558. Beautiful Stirk Park also serves as a venue for a wide variety of cultural performances throughout the year including Jazz in the Park, from February to April, and the annual Carols by Candlelight program in December.
Situated in the heart of the Perth Hills and surrounded by national parks, Mundaring is another popular creative hub. The Mundaring Arts Centre at 7190 Great Eastern Highway is a non-profit community arts organisation that's dedicated to promoting and supporting the arts in the shire. As well as housing the Shire of Mundaring Art Collection and hosting regular exhibitions, the centre also provides studio space for workshops and a gift-shop purveying exquisite local art and handicrafts. To find out more about this unique creative haven, go to the Mundaring Art Centre website.
Other top spots for art-lovers in the Shire of Mundaring include the Mundaring Community Sculpture Park on Jacoby Street (an outdoor gallery displaying unique and quirky works by some of the shire's talented artists) and the Mundaring Weir Gallery, situated in the old community hall on Mundaring Weir Road (opposite the historic Mundaring Weir Hotel), which sells a delightful selection of locally-made art and craft.
Mundaring Weir Gallery
The Perth Hills are a favourite haunt for market lovers. Kalamunda Markets are a local legend with a farmer's market held every Sunday, and an artisan's market once a month. Mundaring Markets, held on the second Sunday of each month, are also well worth a visit as you can purchase fresh produce and gorgeous handcrafted wares direct from the local growers and artists.
Other popular Markets in the Perth Hills include those at Chidlow (on the first Sunday of the month at Chidlow Hall), Roleystone (held quarterly, but worth the wait), Byford Country Markets (from 4pm until 9pm on the third Saturday of each month, except December) and Serpentine Country Markets (9am until 1pm on the first Sunday of each month, except January).
Retreat from the world
Although the Perth Hills are just an hour's drive from down-town Perth, when you're there you feel as though you're millions of miles away. Therefore they're the perfect spot to take a sabbatical from your regular duties and simply relax, get pampered and immerse yourself in nature. If you think you deserve a nurturing and uplifting getaway not too far away from the city, these magical retreats, hidden away in the Hills, may be just what the doctor ordered.
Eden Light Retreat in Roleystone is known as one of Western Australia's foremost retreat venues and offers specially-formulated programs of varying lengths to detox, de-stress, manage weight, quit smoking and much more. These programs have been carefully designed with the goal of rejuvenating guests, and include private accommodation, daily massages, yoga and personal training sessions and locally-produced organic / biodynamic fruit and vegetables.
Throughout the year there are all sorts of exciting special events held in various locations around the Hills, and whether you're single, a young family or a retired couple there's sure to be something that's right up your alley. While there are way too many events to mention in a short article such as this, a few that jump to mind are the annual Kalamunda Show (all the magic of a country show, less than an hour from Perth's CBD), Karragullen Horticultural Expo, Darlington Arts Festival, Bickley Harvest Festival, Targa West Rally, Mundaring Truffle Festival and the Kalamunda Zig Zag Festival.
Where to stay If you want to escape the city for the weekend, there is a wide variety of accommodation around the Perth Hills. Traditional hotel (and motel) accommodation is available at Mundaring (both in town and out at the Weir), Kalamunda, Sawyer's Valley, Chidlow, Helena Valley and Roleystone. As mentioned previously, for those who're needing a bit of nurturing, retreat accommodation is also available, while traditional bed and breakfasts and farm stays are also a natural choice for a Hills getaway. Take a look at the Perth Hills Accommodation website for a list of all the options that are available.