Travel guide to Rottnest Island in Western Australia
SPOILER: Western Australia's Rottnest Island (affectionately called "Rotto" by locals) may be the most stupid-beautiful island I've ever visited. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was so fascinated and taken by Rottnest. However, what I discovered was that it took some of the best attributes from my favorite islands, and put it on a much smaller island that I could explore and experience all in one day. Crystal-clear waters, check. Offbeat beaches, check. Calm bays for paddleboarding, check. Reefs teeming with sea life for snorkeling, check. Lighthouse(s), check. Epic sunsets, check. And the list goest on.
While I recently shared some of my photos from my day exploring Western Australia's Rottnest Island (hosted by Tourism Australia and Tourism Western Australia), today I'm coming to you with a guide to Rottnest Island for exploring it on your own. While you can do it in a day, I'd recommend spending the night if you can, to fully appreciate it and take it in. Oh, and did I mention the sunsets?
Guide to Rottnest Island
Rotto today is a far cry from when Dutch sea-captain Willem de Vlamingh discovered it a few centuries ago. This couldn't be any more evident that by the name he gave it, Rottnest, which is translated "rat's nest." This was due to the high population of what he thought were giant rats, but were rather the adorable (<<the one time it's appropriate for me to say) marsupials known as quokkas, which actually went viral worldwide last year. The question isn't whether you'll see a quokka, but rather how long after arriving until you see one. To put it into perspective, the population of quokkas on Rottnest Island is several times more than the resident population.
However, beyond its quokka population, Rottnest Island has some unique characteristics, such as being a sandy, low-lying island, but one that's formed on limestone. Interestingly enough for visitors to Western Australia, Rottnest Island is an A-class nature reserve, which is the highest classification of protection that public land can receive. For no bigger than Rottnest Island is, just seven square miles, it has a lot of ecosystems, including salt lakes, brackish swamps, woodlands, heath, settled areas, and of course a coastal ecosystem. Rottnest Island's history includes World War II influence, when it was positioned as an important defensive position for Perth (and particularly nearby Fremantle Port), evidenced by features like Oliver Hill Battery, which travelers to Rotto can visit today.
Getting to an A-class nature reserve island with coral reefs and off-the-beaten-path beaches seems like it'd be hard to get to, right? But would you believe me if I told you that you could be exploring Rottnest in as little as 30 minutes after departing from Western Australia's capital city of Perth? And that, by boat? That's right, you'll catch the ferry on Rottnest Express from the charming Perth port city of Fremantle (which you'd be doing yourself an injustice if you don't explore), and then it's just a quick 25-minute ferry ride from Perth to Rottnest Island. If you buy your tickets in advance online, you can often find much cheaper fares than buying the day of your departure.
As soon as you disembark on Rottnest Island, I recommend making a beeline for Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper to rent a bicycle, lock, and some snorkel gear. This will be your mode of transportation around Rottnest Island. A few highlights I recommend on bicycle include Oliver Hill Battery (which I previously mentioned above), Wadjemup Lighthouse, and Bathurst Lighthouse. It's hard to go wrong with any of Rottnest Island's beaches, though if you visit Bathurst Lighthouse, I'd recommend Pinky Beach, which is just beyond it.
Similarly, there's great snorkeling all around the island, though a lot of it centers around Little Armstrong Bay to the west of Bathurst Lighthouse and Little Salmon Bay to the south. Parker Point, adjacent to Little Salmon Bay, is typically considered one of the best snorkeling spots off Rottnest Island, where you can follow a guided snorkeling trail and swim alongside coral. Talk with some of the locals working on the island, who can advise about where you should snorkel, as snorkeling conditions can vary depending on the tide and weather.
Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper is also where you'll rent stand-up paddleboards. Within minutes of renting a board you can be out on the crystal-clear water around Rottnest Island, weaving in and out of parked yachts in some of the bays.
However, one of the most surprising water activities I did on Rottnest Island was the adventure boat tour with Rottnest Express. And I want to emphasis the word adventure. It's kind of like high-speed surfing in a boat, or perhaps comparable to Disney's Splash Mountain, but without the vertical drops and in the midst of a first-class nature reserve in Western Australia. On the day I visited Rottnest Island, it was a particularly windy day, with entire waves coming over the boat and drenching those sitting as far back as several rows (but don't worry, ponchos were provided). Best boat ride ever? This isn't your uncle's pontoon boat.
What was perhaps most unique, beyond catching some serious waves and speed, was access to experiences around the island that I otherwise wouldn't have had, such as seeing a colony of fur seals. The most unique wildlife experience, however, was coming upon a osprey nest, where we actually saw a couple osprey chicks attempting some of their first flights, which our guide said he had never seen like that before. September through November can also afford the opportunity to see the whale migration.
Generally speaking, Rottnest Island is a great island for families, too. Rotto includes an aqua park (think water trampolines, obstacle courses, and beach toys), an archery tag course, and mini golf. Not to mention the children are quite taken with quokkas.
Eat & Drink
Most of Rottnest Island's restaurants are within a short walk of one another, just off from where the ferry dock is. The Rottnest Island General Store is worth a visit, if for no other reason than it feels appropriate on a former colonial settlement island like Rotto. Even still, it's a great place for grabbing snacks for bicycling the island. While Rottnest Island has some franchise restaurants, I'd recommend visiting some of the beachfront restaurants and bars, such as Aristos Waterfront Rottnest for seafood and one of the best views on the island. Elsewhere, there's Hotel Rottnest that has a casual beach club atmosphere about it on the patio overlooking the beach. Before hopping back on the ferry to Perth, stop into Rottnest Bakery for a coffee (flat white, obviously, since this is Australia) and a meat pie.
You can do Rottnest Island in a day (at least if you get on the first ferry there and the last ferry back), however, I'd recommend spending the night there. First of all, it will give you more time to do everything, especially if like me, you want to do every single cool adventure (did I mention that it has numerous surf breaks and that you can also skydive onto the beach?). Not to mention that staying after the day-trippers leaves affords an even more low-key atmosphere. Oh, and the sunsets! Did I mention the sunsets?
For no bigger than Rottnest Island is, its accommodations have quite the variety. First and foremost there's Hotel Rottnest, a historic hotel where the governor of Western Australia would frequently stay during the summers. The Rottnest Island hotel features 18 spacious, contemporary rooms and several bayside rooms overlooking Thomson Bay. One of the upsides of the Hotel Rottnest is that you can stay, dine, and drink while barely lifting a finger. Elsewhere, there's Rottnest Lodge, which is less hotel-style rooms and more apartment-style rooms. For more basic, rustic accommodations, Rottnest Island has a number of different chalets and bungalows. Lastly, if you're really feeling adventurous, Rottnest Island has its own campground, featuring 43 camping sites, BBQ grills, and complimentary luggage assistance. Rotto is your proverbial oyster.