It may be a cliché, but in the case of Rottnest Island, we can get away with it: there really is no destination like it. It’s the kind of place where peacocks strut through the pub, billowing their plumes before swiping a hot chip off your plate. Where adorable quokkas – a mammal native to Rottnest – grin for the camera (you’ve probably seen a ‘quokka selfie’ from the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie). Where retro cabins, patchy reception and car-less streets allow you to unplug and embrace the natural paradise all around. Rottnest Island – “Rotto” to many and Wadjemup to the Indigenous Whadjuk Noongar people – is a 30-minute ferry ride from Fremantle with Rottnest Express. But with more natural wonders than you could shake a selfie stick at, it’s worth far more than a day-trip.
The best way to experience the island is by pedal. At 11km long and no more than 4.5km at its widest point, Rottnest is home to 63 beaches and 20 bays – perfect for cycling from shore to shore at your leisure. Or you could lap the entire island in a few hours, taking in everything from rocky coves to secluded lagoons to a pink lake (and, yes, it really is pale pink, thanks to the betacarotene in the algae). If you’re not planning to BYOB (bring your own bike), you can hire one when you book your ferry with Rottnest Express.
But while the coastline is gorgeous to look at, the view from below is perhaps even more mesmerising, thanks to 35 species of tropical fish and 20 varieties of coral. Pre-book a snorkel with your ferry pass, so you’re ready to hit the water – perhaps starting at the Basin, so-called for its protected bowl of turquoise shallows. Another hotspot is Little Salmon Bay, where tropical fish teem among vibrant purple coral.
If you prefer to steer clear of the crowds, the remote Ricey Beach is a hidden gem, while Porpoise Bay is the spot for close encounters with sea lions, dolphins and a real-life shipwreck. You can also book a glass-bottomed kayak tour. With riotous waves soaring to twice the height of the mainland, surfing is a popular activity. Strickland Bay and Stark Bay are popular for consistent breaks, while The Rotto Box is world-class – although not suitable for novices. More peaceful is fishing off the jetty, where an abundance of whiting, herring, salmon and flathead are ready to be reeled in. Just make sure to check the marine protection zones first.
While there are no private cars (and definitely no Ubers), there is a guided bus tour if your calves aren’t up to intensive cycling. A 90-minute ride in blissful air-con will take you from the Wadjemup Lighthouse, the island’s highest vantage point, to the West End, where a seemingly endless expanse of the Indian Ocean meets dramatics
cliffs. Plus, you’ll learn loads about Rottnest’s wildlife and history along the way.
You can delve deeper into Wadjemup from an Indigenous perspective with an immersive walking tour from Go Cultural, led by Noongar guide Walter McGuire. Other walking tours explore everything from shipwrecks and World War 2 tunnels to rare native wildlife.
No trip to Rotto is complete without a jam doughnut from the bakery (it’s a classic) and a sundowner and crayfish slider at Hotel Rottnest. With DJs and local live acts taking to the stage, visiting peacocks and quokkas, and sweeping views of the sun setting into Thomson Bay, it’s the perfect place to reflect on the day’s activities – and plan more for the day to come.
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