You may or may not have not heard about it, but sitting just off the coast of Perth, Western Australia, is a small island with picturesque sights, pristine beaches, salty warm breeze and the cutest animal in the world: quokka – yes, it’s official! 😉 It’s called Rottnest Island.
If you don’t live in Australia, there’s a very slight possibility you’d go there for a weekend getaway… But it’s so worth reading and learning about it! Just in case you find yourself planning a trip to Western Australia sometime in the future. So read along to find out all about the quokkas, fun things to do around the island and how to get there!
WHY THE NAME ‘ROTTNEST ISLAND’?
In 1696 Willem de Vlamingh, a Dutch explorer, mistook the island’s unexpected marsupial population for common rats and named it Rottnest – literally translating to “rats’ nest” in Dutch.
Today taking a photo with a quokka is one of the main attractions of the Rottnest Island!
QUICK INFO ABOUT THE ISLAND
Rottnest is located 18 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia and covers 19 square kilometres – it is only 11 km long and 4,5 km wide. It’s known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people, and otherwise lovingly called Rotto by Australians.
The island has a permanent population of around 300 people and around 500,000 annual visitors (up to 15,000 visitors at a time during peak periods!). As you can see, Rottnest is a very popular destination, especially among the Perth locals escaping the rush of the big city.
Rottnest Island enjoys the same Mediterranean-style climate as Perth. It is generally a few degrees cooler in the summer and enjoys warmer winters with less rainfall, compared to the mainland.
The best time to visit Rottnest Island is in autumn (April to May) or spring (October and November). Spring months are recommended as the weather is perfect and the seas calm enough for a swim or water sports.
THINGS TO DO
Kick back on soft sand beaches, take a swim or snorkel, see abundant marine life, take a selfie with quokkas, explore many bike and walking trails… There’s something to do for single travellers, couples and families.
1. TAKE A SELFIE WITH A QUOKKA
I had to put this as the first thing to do, of course. Because when I saw a photo of this cute, happy animal for the first time years back, I knew instantly I had to see it in person one day!
Quokkas are native to Rottnest Island and you can’t find them NOWHERE else on Earth. They are related to wallabies and have no fear of humans, so will often come right up to you. It is illegal to touch or feed quokkas, so keep a distance and be considerate when taking photos, especially selfies.
They are easy to spot, as they simply bound and hop along the ground, although they can climb trees if they need to.
Quokkas use the front paws to search for and pick up food and this is the best moment to take a photo of them. Because it is when they’re eating it looks like they’re smiling!
But please remember not to give them any of your food, as eating ‘human food’ can be very detrimental to the quokkas’ health, causing them to be dehydrated and malnourished. Also, you can get a fine.
A quick quokka fun fact:
they need very little water and can go months without drinking from a direct water source.
There are around 10,000-12,000 quokkas on Rottnest Island and this habitat is essential for the survival of the species.
They are listed as Vulnerable and highly protected.
And as the tourism on the Rottnest Island has gone up 15% in the recent years, it also brought in funds towards research and preservation of the quokkas. So as you can see, simply by posting a selfie with this cute animal, you can raise the awareness and help out!
And even some famous people have posted a #quokkaselfie:
Adopt a Quokka
If you’d like to have a lovely souvenir from Rottnest Island and do your bit for the future of quokka species, you can adopt one! All you have to do is buy a quokka soft toy, which comes with an Adoption Certificate. 1.00 AUD from every sale will go towards quokka conservation efforts. They are available for purchase at the Visitor Centre.
2. JUMP ON A BIKE
The island is essentially a car-free zone, so the best way to see the island is on a bicycle! You can explore over 22 kilometres of suggested cycle trails. You would need between 3-5 hours to ride around the entire island, but there are shorter routes available as well. Bicycles can be hired through the ferry company or once you’re on the island.
A day hire of an adult bike cost AUD 30.00 / children’s AUD 20.00.
Snorkel Hire: AUD 20.00.
If cycling around the island doesn’t appeal to you, you can also enjoy the sights from an air-conditioned coach on the Island Explorer. The tour takes you to many of the secluded bays and secret hideaways on a hop-on/hop-off basis. Day passes can be purchased from the Rottnest Island Visitors Centre.
Another option here is to explore the island by bike and bus. When you get tired riding a bike you can leave it at a bus stop and take the bus ride back to the settlement. This is a good option for families or beginner cyclists.
3. HEAD TO THE BEACH
There’s nothing better than kicking your shoes off, feeling the soft sand underneath your feet and jumping into a clear blue water. And on Rottnest Island with its 63 beaches and 20 bays (!), you will be spoilt for choice. It’s easy to spend entire days beach-hopping and exploring the unique bays.
You can go swimming, snorkelling, diving, standup paddleboarding, fishing, surfing, boating, kayaking or sailing!
Here’s the map of Rottnest Island with the most important places marked:
If you can’t wait to get straight into the water after you arrive, head to the Thomson Bay. Based in the main settlement, it is very popular with families and has a roped-off area for swimming. Other beautiful spots include The Basin, Little Parakeet Bay, Longreach Bay, Geordie Bay and wonderfully long Rocky Bay Beach.
Follow the snorkel and reef trails and see the amazing marine life. With just over 135 species of vibrant tropical fish and 20 species of coral, heading below the surface is a truly worthwhile experience.
The Basin, with its shallow clear waters, is only 10 minutes from the main settlement and makes for a great underwater snorkelling playground. You can put on your snorkelling gear as well at Henrietta Rocks, Parker Point, Little Armstrong and Little Salmon Bay. Or try more secluded Ricey Beach, City Of York Bay and Catherine Beach.
Admiring the views
If you prefer to just relax, there are plenty of amazing spots to just sit and enjoy your surroundings. For example, located at the westernmost tip of the island West End, provides spectacular coastal views. On the way there you can stop at the Cape Vlamingh and admire the sights from a viewing platform. There’s one at the Cathedral Rocks next to Eagle Bay as well, where you can spot the pelicans and seals, if you’re lucky!
Please be advised that swimming and snorkelling is not permitted at Cathedral Rocks and the West End and all ‘Danger’ signs should be acknowledged and obeyed. Visitors should not climb down cliffs at any time, including when trying to reach snorkelling spots. Taking marine souvenirs such as shells and stones is also not permitted.
Seasoned divers can get close to a vast graveyard of over 13 shipwrecks lying just off the coast, waiting to be explored. All the wrecks have informational plaques alongside them. But you don’t need to go underwater to find out their location, as there are some onshore plaques pointing in their direction as well.
(Here’s the Wikipedia page with the map and info about them, if you’re interested!)
Rottnest Island is also renowned for surfing, with some of the best breaks in the world. Strickland Bay, Salmon Bay and Stark Bay are particularly popular among surfers, bodyboarders and stand-up paddleboarders. Actually, Strickland Bay has been ranked in the top 50 breaks in the world!
Surfing season is at its best from May to October and boards are available for hire from Rottnest Island Peddle & Flipper.
4. EXPLORE ROTTNEST ISLAND ON FOOT
You can take a walk along the Wadjemup Bidi – a series of trails that will take you across spectacular coastal headlands and past inland lakes.
“Bidi” means “trail” or “track” in Noongar, the language of the Whadjuk Noongar people who are the Traditional Owners of Rottnest Island (Wadjemup).
The 5 sections vary in length and style: the shortest one-way trail is 5.9 km long, whereas the longest is 10 km. All of them add up to 45 kilometres of walk trails! You can find more information about the trails on the official Rottnest Island website here.
5. OTHER ATTRACTIONS, ACTIVITIES AND TOURS
If you’re spending more than one day on Rottnest, there’s a lot you can go to have fun!
Enjoy a game of tennis, basketball, lawn bowls or a round of golf.
Join a tour, there’s a lot of them to choose from! For example, a walking, segway, sea bike or a glass-bottom sea kayaking tour.
Go cultural and visit the Rottnest Island Museum, Lomas Cottage, Wadjemup Lighthouse (pictured here) or Pilot Boathouse.
You can also jump on a train ride from the Settlement Railway Station to Oliver Hill on the Captain Hussey train, to view the WWII guns and investigate the maze of underground tunnels beneath. Or even see the island from a seaplane. There are so many options!
Families will surely enjoy a visit to the Fun Park for a game of mini putt-putt, trampolines, pinball machines and even the classic Pacman. At the Just 4 Fun Aqua Park in Thomson Bay, you can find inflatable floating rides, as well as rock climbing walls and an obstacle course.
Adults can treat themselves to a massage or a beauty treatment at a spa.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, you can even see the island from above! Skydive Geronimo is Western Australia’s only island skydive experience. You will jump out of the plane from 15,000 feet, land on the beach, and enjoy a complimentary drink to celebrate afterwards.
And from August to December you can also go whale watching! For the best chance at spotting them, you can join Rottnest Fast Ferries on one of their seasonal two-hour cruises. You may be able to spot them from the coast as well, especially the West End Boardwalk.
HOW TO GET TO ROTTNEST ISLAND
The best way to reach Rottnest is a ferry ride from Perth and you have a choice of the three ferry operators.
It takes approximately 25 minutes to get from Fremantle to Rottnest. The adult same-day return ticket from Fremantle costs AUD 70.00, concession AUD 65.00 (including AUD 19.00 island admission fee). Kids and families discount available.
Leaving from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty it will take 90 minutes to get to Rottnest Island. The adult tickets are AUD 109.00, concession 104.00. Kids and families discount available.
Rottnest Fast Ferries depart from Hillarys Boat Harbour in the northern suburbs of Perth. It takes 45 minutes to get to the Island. Same day return adult ticket costs AUD 87.50, concession AUD 77.50 (including AUD 19.00 island admission fee). Kids and families discount available.
Rottnest Island is a such a gorgeous spot to visit and offers a lot to see and do! (Quokkas, especially the quokkas 😉 ) I hope you find them lovely, because I certainly do! And I also I hope you’ll be able to visit Rottnest one day and snap a selfie with these cute creatures.