Perth's island escape offers a car free urban getaway.
Growing up in Perth, the crystalline secluded bays on our back doorstep at Rottnest Island, served as an instant holiday.
As a local witnessing Perth grow rapidly to a now dynamic city, recognized internationally for music, arts, food and wine, there's just one thing that hasn't changed; our access to a pristine natural playground only minutes from town. Whether you plan to snorkel, surf or bush walk, you can explore Rottnest Island in a day, but my tip is to take a few days or more.
By Plane or Helicopter
If done right, getting to Rottnest can be an adventure in itself. Rottnest Express, Sealink Rottnest Island and Rottnest Fast Ferries are the common and economical way to reach the island, with ferries leaving Fremantle, Perth City and Hillary's. But for the more adventurist visitors, there's a lot of other ways to get there. The Rottnest Air Taxi and Swan River Seaplanes for example, fly up to 9 passengers from Jandakot and Perth and takes a brief 12 or 20minutes instead of 30 or 60 minute ferry ride, perfect for scoping out which bays and snorkel spots you want to explore once you land. You can also opt to extend time in the air, enjoying the birds eye view of coral formations on the way over. Occasionally, what looks like a private helicopter lands on Rottnest, but any lavish adventurer can arrive this way via Corsaire Aviation, who offer a tantilising Rottnest Island Lunch Experience.
For those that have only one day to explore Rottnest, or prefer travelling by sea, a catamaran covers both transport and things to do, which could include whale watching depending on the season. Charter 1 serve breakfast and lunch on board and in between there's free reign of snorkels, kayaks and stand up paddle boards to explore the turquoise bays with. Tours from Rottnest Island include their famous 'Sail & Snorkel' tour, where you sail to the island’s top snorkel spots, cool down and hold on to their huge cargo net on route. Dive right in and discover an underwater paradise on a guided snorkel. Seasonal fruit platter, full snorkel gear and water toys provided. Whilst their 'Evening Sunset Sail' tour proves popular with those wanting a shorter, more deluxe experience. Watch the sky come alive at sunset with Bathurst Lighthouse and the magnificent Indian Ocean providing stunning backdrops. This relaxing sunset sail comes with a complimentary glass of bubbles and shared antipasto whilst onboard. Guests are also welcome to BYO too!
Exploring Rottnest's secret swimming spots
You can't go wrong choosing any one of the 20 beautiful bays on the Island, but with an additional 63 secluded beaches, it's worth narrowing the options based on whether you want to snorkel, surf or paddle board:
The warm Leeuwin Current that runs through Rottnest means you'll find green turtles and 135 species of tropical fish compared to 11 on the metropolitan coast, from migratory tuna and marlin, to multi coloured moon wrasse. Fishhook Bay is uncrowded because accessing it requires rock scrambling or a boat, but it's renowned as one of the best snorkelling spots on Rottnest. If you prefer to stay near the main settlement, The Basin is 10 minutes away and it's protected shallow reefs and gentle swell, makes it a perfect beginners snorkelling location.
Rottnest's treacherous limestone reefs have also made it home to 13 shipwrecks, some of which can be explored snorkelling offshore, most conveniently from The Uribes, where you'll find a well preserved wreck on the east end of Thompson Bay. If the water's choppy, venture instead to The Shark wreck from Henrietta Rocks which tellingly protrudes above the water's surface just 50 meters offshore, but this one's best explored by confident swimmers.
Little Salmon Bay is another popular spot, home to the Island's Snorkel Trail, containing a series of information panels attached to the seabed below the surface. Parakeet Bay, Parker Point and Little Armstrong are also popular snorkeling spots for families.
For swimming or stand up paddle boarding
Hire a bicycle and paddleboard from The Peddle & Flipper, pack snacks from the general store and head west to the Champagne Pools at Marjarie Bay. Dotted with boats during the summer, choose from many secluded nooks to post up for a picnic. Little Parakeet Bay and Pinky's are two more relaxed swimming spots with showers available to wash the salt off before venturing back into town, but it's worth staying for the sunset Pinky's lighthouse or Pinky's Beach Club.
The majority of surfing at Rottnest happens on the west part of the island, with Strickland Bay being the most consistent wave that's a lot of fun when the swell is smaller, but better suited to experienced surfers when it picks up. Peddle & Flipper also rent bodyboards and bike racks to easily access spots like Salmon Bay's locally termed 'chicken's,' a left hand wave that's also popular for boarding.
Dive deep in to local history
The newly renovated Wadjemup Museum is an essential gateway to the island. Discover a range of exhibits that tell the rich complex history of the island. With a theatrette, 40,000-year-old artefacts, audio experiences, and an interactive touchscreen for kids; the museum is a place to pause and reflect on everything that has come before you. Wadjemup Museum promotes reconciliation and cross-cultural education through innovative Aboriginal curation and content acknowledging the imprisonment of over 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys on the island from 1838 to 1931. Learn more and heighten your appreciation for Wadjemup, on a walking tour with the award winning Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences.
Oliver Hill Gun & Tunnel
Oliver Hill is located close to the centre of Rottnest Island and features military remnants from World War II. Explore this nationally significant defence heritage site. Meet guides along the way and explore at your leisure one of the restored World War II 9.2 inch guns and a maze of underground tunnels. Discover why they were installed on Rottnest and how they operated. Tours depart daily on the hour from 10am-2pm, tickets for the tour can be booked at the Visitor Centre or at Oliver Hill.
Where to spot Quokkas and Humpback Whales
Whale and Dolphin Watching
One of the most peaceful things about Rottnest is that there are no cars, so the transport of choice on the island is a bicycle. For those cycling around the island, there's a few pit stops worth making to see seals and whales as they migrate. Just an 18-minute cycle from the main settlement to Little Salmon Bay, is a prime spot to see one of 35,000 migrating humpback whales between September and December, as well as bottlenose dolphins all year round. 25-minutes west is Cathedral Rocks, populated by New Zealand fur seals whose presence are beautiful to watch from the shore.
Spot Quokkas along Wadjemup Bidi
Still known today as Wadjemup by the local Noongar people, Dutch settlers imparted the name 'Rotte Nest' meaning 'rat's nest,' as they mistook the islands endearing marsupials for rats. A quokka's furry smile and lack of fear around humans have made them a viral candidate for animal selfies, which - since the rise of social media - has become one of Rottnest's most sought after souvenirs, just remember to keep a sensible distance when taking your happy snap!
Almost exclusively found on Rottnest Island, only ten percent of quokkas exist in the main settlement and the rest inhabit untouched areas, so an afternoon bushwalking along Wadjemup Bidi trail is the best way to spot one in its natural habitat. With five themed trails that wind through lake systems and rugged coastline, the pink lake along the Gabbi Karniny Bidi is another photogenic muse for budding and enthusiastic photographers alike.
Local watering holes
No trip to Rottnest is complete without a jam donut, vanilla slice or a meat pie from the bakery. Most Perth locals can recall at least one childhood memory sitting under the pines of The Rottnest Bakery with wet salty hair, pie in hand. Geordies Café and Art Gallery and Frankie's on Rotto are musts for clued in coffee enthusiasts and breakfast lovers. For lovers of fine food, Isola Bar e Cibo and Lontara provide unique menu items and well-known chefs in residency. The newest addition to the Frankie’s on Rotto family, The Mezz on Rotto is a Summer pop-up venue dishing up refreshing cocktails, cold beer and a delicious BBQ tapas-style menu to help you cap off a day exploring the sights and serenity of Rottnest in style. Finally, for a sparkling golden ale and undisrupted sunset views, Hotel Rottnest is the perfect Sunday session to end a trip to the island.