Finding an immense native park studded with trees that live for 2000 years, a suspended bridge and dense wildflower carpets in the heart of a capital city is as unexpected as it is engaging.
A line of smooth, pale tree trunks stretching their leafy fingers into Perth's blue sky marks the first of many breathtaking moments you'll have in Kings Park. No matter how often I go, the largest inner city park in the world dazzles me every time - I can't help but stare. From horizon-bending views to a 750-year-old boab that travelled 3200km to be there, free walking tours, Indigenous insights and stretches of native bush only five minutes from the city centre, it's an oasis that delivers me sweet escapism from everyday life, all forgotten as I wander through its wildflowers.
It's telling that as a tourist attraction, Kings Park lures locals like me as successfully as it does its six million annual visitors. Drawn to that beguiling main entrance of tall, lemon-scented gums along Fraser Avenue, people spread picnic rugs on the grass around the State War Memorial, or stroll to the lookouts. There, you can gaze down at the city's urban heart, its rows of skyscrapers edging the Swan River. This is one of few places you can spy the waterway blending into the Canning River, which snakes towards the blue haze of the Darling Range that forms the Perth Hills. That's breathtaking moment number two.
Ready for a few more? In a "mine's bigger than yours" play-off, Perth's huge natural asset trumps that of New York City's. At 400 hectares, Kings Park is 60 hectares larger than Central Park and for locals, equally as iconic.
Statistically, it's no slouch either. The Western Australian Botanic Garden, which sits neatly within Kings Park, harbours 3000 species of Western Australia's native flora. Two-thirds of the rest of the park is untamed scrub, ribboned with sandy or paved trails. As a walker, you get a keen sense of being out bush, alone with nature, when actually you're in the heart of the city. The trill of some 80 bird species makes it easy to forget the encircling metropolis.
It also has more wartime memorials, statues of historic figures and honour avenues remembering fallen soldiers than any other park in Australia.
On the practical front, Kings Park is a cinch: most public buses leaving from the city centre along St Georges Terrace will take you up the hill for free (just ask the driver). For those with a car, free parking is clustered throughout the park. Once there, free walking tours run by passionate Kings Park Volunteer Guides mean you don't have to spend a cent to enjoy this green zone. The free walks run for between one and three hours and depart daily at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. You can target what you're interested in: survivalist plants, exotic trees, bushland trails, historic and cultural monuments, or the diversity of plant species existing within WA's coastal and desert zones. Entry to the park is also free and while lazy picnics are the best, there are also cafés and a restaurant to keep you sated.
One of the park's most treasured attractions is a giant tree that can live for 2000 years. Kings Park's huge boab, weighing in at 36 tonnes and trucked south from the Kimberley to save it from major roadworks, has an otherworldly aura that is curiously magnetic. Wide and rounded like a bottle, sprouting green tufts and tangled branches from its top, it’s almost comical in appearance.
The tree acts as a signpost to the plants and flowerbeds of the Botanic Garden, each representing the environment of different parts of the vast state. During wildflower season, and the park's all-September-long, free, annual Kings Park Festival, this section is particularly arresting. Pastel carpets of papery everlastings, fringe tufts of velvety kangaroo paw blooms, purple sprays of Geraldton wax and scarlet grevilleas, plus thousands more textural and intricate wildflower species. If you can't make it at festival time, the wildflowers generally last throughout October.
From there, stroll along the paved, 620m Lotterywest Federation Walkway, and you'll soon arrive at the suspended treetop bridge. The curving piece of architecture made from WA iron and glass hovers at 52m above the forest floor. Beyond is the moody and romantic Marri woodland, and a calming series of pools that flow from the Pioneer Women's Memorial. This spot hosts some of the city’s biggest music concerts, the natural setting offering a mature and atmospheric destination to see the likes of Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Tim Minchin and, this November, Lorde. Meanwhile, on the park's western side, open-air Moonlight Cinema draws crowds to May Drive Parkland over summer.
That such a space has been retained in the heart of a capital city can be attributed to the efforts of John Septimus Roe, the first surveyor-general of the Swan River colony. After European settlement in 1829, he protected the wooded area, noting its value, but by 1835 its use as a timber mill was more attractive to Perth's early inhabitants. Logging continued for 36 years until a large tract was successfully preserved. By 1890, the parkland was extended and soon after, it officially opened. The name, Kings Park, was bestowed in 1901 to mark King Edward VII's ascension to the throne.
For thousands of years prior, local Aboriginal people had used the area for ceremonies, dreaming, cultural activities and hunting grounds. The self-led Boodja Gnarning Walk is dotted with interpretive signage telling of the ways trees and land were used by the Nyoongar people, as well as men’s and women's roles. Visiting the Aboriginal Art Gallery, below the Kaarta Gar-up lookout on Fraser Avenue, is another way to gain valuable insights.
While you might plan to explore for an hour or two, expect Kings Park's charms to hold you there for far longer.