Rottnest Island (colloquially known as Rotto) is a small 11km by 4.5km island just off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. Rottnest Island is a special part of the Perth area and is worth a visit for a few reasons: there are no motorized vehicles on the island save for a bus, only a hundred people or so live permanently on Rottnest, it’s surrounded by beautiful turquoise blue water and white sand beaches, and it’s home to over 12,000 small marsupials called quokkas. These adorable creatures are struggling to survive in other parts of Australia but are thriving on Rottnest.
Getting there & costs
While there is a small regional airport on Rottnest, you’ll likely be taking the half hour ferry ride to and from the island. There is currently only one ferry operator going to the island – Rottnest Express. They depart from Freemantle B-Shed, Barrack Street in the Perth CBD, and North Port. Expect to pay $60 round trip from Fremantle B Shed ($20 more from any other port) plus an $18 entry fee to Rottnest, which will be added to the $60 when you buy the ferry ticket. If you’re visiting Rottnest on a day trip, it makes sense to take the earliest ferry from Perth and the last from the island to make the most of the day. Click here for an up to date ferry schedule.
Explore Rottnest Island by bike
The most fun way to explore Rottnest is definitely by bike. You can either bring your own bike with you on the ferry ($10 extra per bike) on rent one there. Rottnest Express rents bikes from the ferry, or you can head to Pedal&Flippers in the Rottnest settlement and rent a bike there. At the time of our visit, both charged $30 per bike for the full day. We rented our bikes directly from Rottnest Express and were happy with them. While there are a few hills that make the three gear bikes a bit tough to handle, overall we enjoyed our cycling experience over walking as you’d never cover the entire island in a day, and busing since we wanted to get away from the crowds and control our pace throughout the day.
We headed across the island straight to the West End of Rottnest first thing. We came over on the first ferry for the day, so we felt like we were alone on the island as soon as we left the town. There was not one other person in sight for almost an hour. Even though there is only the occasional bus, the roads are all paved, which makes the riding really easy aside from the hills.
At Cape Vlamingh on the west end of the island there’s a short boardwalk to a viewpoint over the cliffs and another short walk to Cathedral Rocks lookout where you can see a seal colony. We saw a group of seals hanging out in the water just below the platform. During some months of the year you might also be able to spot humpback whales and dolphins just off the shore. It took us almost one hour to get to the west end from the ferry pier.
There are tons of bays and beaches on the way to Cape Vlamingh where you might want to stop for a swim or just enjoy the scenery. We stopped at Strickland Bay. The water had an incredible turquoise color and reminded us of beaches in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia.
As we continued our way back toward the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes in the center of the island, we finally spotted the main reason people visit the island: quokkas. These small marsupials look a bit like giant hamsters with rat like tails, while having a pouch like kangaroos. Thanks to tourists taking selfies with them and posting on social media, the island has become increasingly popular and the quokkas are becoming quite famous.
Most of the quokkas we saw throughout the day are very curious and some of them are used to people, so they don’t mind you taking a selfie with them. You aren’t allowed to feed them, give them water, or touch them (a $150 fine applies if caught), but that’s not necessary to get up close. The quokka has been dubbed the world’s happiest animal due to the large grin they appear to constantly be wearing.
Once we were quokka’d out, we made our way to Wadjemup lighthouse but didn’t go inside, as an additional entry fee of $9 pp is charged. From there we headed to the center of the island, to the salt lakes. One of them is called pink lake, but a slight pink color can only be seen at certain times of the year due to an algae bloom. Even though it wasn’t pink, the lake is pretty and worth a stop.
Our last stop for the day was Parakeet Bay, another beautiful little bay with white sand and turquoise water. We had the beach all to ourselves and as the weather was great, we went for a swim in the ocean for the first time since we got to Australia. Aside from the white sand beaches and swimming, there is also supposed to be good snorkeling around on warmer days.
We continued seeing many quokkas while we were cycling toward the ferry port again. In the center of the village and near the harbor were hundreds of them looking for food as it was coming closer to the evening. Quokkas are nocturnal and we saw the most in the late afternoon in town, however we found that looking beneath trees with clearings underneath them was a good way of spotting them while cycling around throughout the day.
If you’re planning to ride around Rottnest Island, the tourist map suggests it should take you between 3-5 hours. We ended up visiting West End, the seal viewing platform, Strickland Bay, Wadjemup lighthouse, the salt lakes, and Parakeet Bay, while stopping many times for quokkas or just to enjoy the scenery and it took up pretty much all of the eight hours we had on the island. An alternative to renting a bike on Rottnest is going around by local bus or on a bus tour (there are different organizers). Keep in mind that you’ll be forced to stick to a schedule and possibly be around a big group of people. There are also walking trails on the island. If you have only one day on Rottnest, getting a bike makes a lot of sense. You’ll be able to see a lot of the island and stop whenever and for how ever long you like. We stopped countless times for the quokkas, as we couldn’t get enough of them.
Even though a day trip to Rottnest from Perth is by no means cheap (locals say you might find cheaper deals to Bali than taking your family to Rottnest), it is more than worth the money. Try to visit on a warm day so you can take advantage of the beautiful beaches aside from spending time with the quokkas.