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Rottnest island travel guide, things to see and do — tips

Rottnest Lighthouse

Island time with a picture perfect quokka.

Quokkas are ready made for your instagram photo moment. I am inviting you to meet the quokka.  A quirky character on par with the cheeky Kea parrot of New Zealand.  Both are cheeky opportunists yet have their wild side. The Kea is known to destroy car tyres and the quokka to bite the hand that fed them.   I still remember the nip, and it was my fault.  We should not feed wild animals.  Mr Quokka definitely sent that message home.   A trip to Rottnest is wildlife friendly with no cars, just quokka’s, bikes, public transport or walking.  An island geared to a slower pace of life, a little bit of magic just off the coast of Western Australia.

Getting there

The easiest way to get to Rottnest Island is the ferry. The ferries book up fast in popular seasons so be sure to book well in advance.  Rottnest Island ferry companies provide transfers to the island from Perth City, North Fremantle (Rous Head), Fremantle (Victoria Quay) and Hillarys Boat Harbour in Perth’s north. Rottnest ferries take approximately 25 minutes from Fremantle, 45 minutes from Hillarys Boat Harbour, or 90 minutes from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.

By Bus

Rottnest is a small island, but it’s a long way if you’re planning to walk.  With children on a day trip, I would advise catching the air conditioned Island Explorer Service bus. The bus makes continuous circuits of the entire island, so you can hop off at each point if you like to take a quick look. The buses run every 30 minutes. Tickets can be booked online, from the Visitor Centre or Main Bus Stop vending machines.

If you’re staying on the island, you can make use of the free Accommodation Shuttle Bus that runs between the main accommodation areas on the island.

Best time to visit

Spring & Autumn as the weather is cooler.

Summer heat can be daunting for visitors as there is not much shade.  Protection at all times is necessary. Winter is a great time to visit, layers to protect against the brisk offshore breezes or rain.  Rottnest Island has a mediterreanean style climate.  In winter you will have the place to yourself.

Weather on Rottnest check local conditions before travelling

Birds eye view Rottnest
Cape Vlamingh
Rottnest Island what to see and do

Top ten activities

1

Meeting the quokkas. Taking a selfie with a quokka is often the number one bucket list item for visitors taking a Rottnest Island day trip. The name is Aboriginal, the quokka is marsupial. While they are nocturnal, they are often viewed during the day hoping to steal food from tourists or resting in the shade under bushes. While quokkas are incredibly cute, it’s important to remember that all plants and animals on Rottnest Island are protected by law. Wildlife should not be disturbed, simply observe from a distance. Please remember Rottnest Island is an A-Class Reserve and quokkas are wild and should not be touched, fed human food or provided an artificial water supply.

Photo by @ines_fukuyama
Photo by @ddddd777
2

Beaches, more choice than you could throw a stick at. Rottnest is beaches, Western Australia’s glorious white sand in abundance. Rottnest has 63 white sand beaches and 20 secluded bays, each one more spectacular than the next. Pick one beach to swim and snorkel at rather than rushing to see them all. The most popular beaches for families are Ricey Beach, The Basin with toilets and shallow waters for snorkeling & swimming, Little Parakeet Bay, Little Salmon Bay and Geordie Bay. A short walk along the coastline takes you to Pinky Beach, one of the prettiest beaches on the island, with the distinctive Bathurst Lighthouse in the background.

Photo by @quokkas.world
Two Quokka
3

Tour a lighthouse. Of the two lighthouses on the island, only the Wadjemup Hill lighthouses is open to the public. Tours are conducted daily for a cash-only fee. If you keep walking up the beach and to the lighthouse, you’ll be rewarded by a gorgeous view, and a short walk back to the main settlement and ferry departure point. And then there is Bathurst Lighthouse, Pinkies Beach. The view of the Bathurst Lighthouse from Pinkies Beach reaches from horizon to horizon, especially at sunrise or sunset where the light ‘pinks’ the beach. A favourite photo location for visitors.

4

Heritage and history. The Aboriginal name for the island is Wadjemup, and it is a place of significance to Aboriginal communities. There are 17 sites on Rottnest Island listed under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972-1980. From 1838 Rottnest was used as a penal establishment for Aboriginal people, with the prison officially closing in 1904, but with prisoners used to build roads and other works on the island until 1931. Instagram photo moment against the backdrop of history, perhaps with a quokka lurking in the background it is an ideal place to photograph Rottnest reminders of the past.

Photo by @amyliz89
Old farmhouse
5

Stay in a heritage cottage.  For visitors interested in the history of Rottnest there are accommodation options in heritage cottages.  The 1800’s cottages are located in North Thomson Bay or Vincent Way, one of the oldest remaining heritage streets in Australia.   This is always a moment where you are in the footsteps of the former inhabitants, charm oozing out of the slightly crooked walls.

6

Spot a New Zealand Fur Seal From the new viewing platform at Cathedral Rocks, the resident New Zealand Fur Seals colony can be seen flipping and playing in the bay and basking on the rocks. Cathedral Rocks can be accessed by bike or by hopping off the Island Explorer bus.

Photo by @ctravelsworld
Photo by @rottnestislandwa
7

Instagram photo moment locations.  Rottnest is selfie central with the backdrop providing picture postcard frames for your photographs. Cape Vlamingh Blow Holes,  the west end of Rottnest are a guaranteed natural water fountain sight.  Little Salmon Bay is sheltered and with coral and fish life you have a great location for underwater photos.  Remember to wear reef shoes.A beach that is tailor made for instagram ready perfection is Parker Point with its soft, white sand and clear, turquoise waters—Parker Point.

8

Exploring Rottnest by bike is also very popular, particularly when you’re staying a bit longer than just one day. If you have your own bike, you can bring it on the ferry across to Rottnest. If you need to hire one, you can do so from either of the ferry services before boarding or from Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper.

Photo by @traveller084
Photo by @watercoloursocietywa
9

By Foot explore the Island’s trails. The main settlement is very walkable and even has two playground areas for kids. Walk from the main settlement to The Basin back again via Pinky Beach and the lighthouse.If you’re after a more challenging walk, try the Wadjemup Walk Trail, which is made up of five sections (50km in total). Rottnest Visitor Centre has provided detailed guides to walks. By Foot is the inspiration where to go and how long the walks are.  Remember to check the weather especially in summer.  Free Guided Walks of Rottnest are supported by volunteer guides.  Donations are always welcome to support Rottnest tourism.

10

Hire a boat, cruise the island, or join a fishing tour.  Reefs surrounding the Island provide a food larder for migrating fish.  From October to April cray fishing is popular.  There are cruises operating from Fremantle, Perth and Rottnest.  Check with the visitor information centre for details.

Old anchor and ferry to Perth on jetty in Rottnest Island
Aerial view of West End
Eating and Drinking

Bring large water bottles filled with ice cold water. While you can refill the bottles in the main settlement, the rest of the island is mostly free of drinkable water. If you are arriving for a day trip, bring plenty of snacks or picnic foods as the only areas to buy food are the main settlement and Geordie Bay. If you’re planning on biking around the island or doing the Island Express hop-on-and-off bus as soon as you arrive.  Don’t get caught without snacks on your Rottnest Island day trip.

Travel pack information
  • Support Australian Automobile Association. The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) is the peak organisation representing Australia’s motoring clubs and their eight million members.  The AAA advances the interests of all road users to ensure transport systems are safe, affordable and transparent.
  • Rottnest Island visitor information is superb.  Rottnest is 19km from Perth or Fremantle.  An easy ferry ride you will find yourself leaving the busy, vehicle driven lifestyle for an island where vehicles are prohibited.  
  • Dealing with snakes Dangerously venomous dugites and tiger snakes are common in the metropolitan area. Both species hunt small mammals, frogs and lizards, and are active during the day and at night in warm weather.
  • Rottnest Island getting around By Bus with its hop on and hop off service.  Remember private vehicles are banned on Rottnest Island. 
  • Bike hire, if you need to hire one, you can do so from either of the ferry services before boarding or from Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper
  • Rottnest Island visitor information is a great source of up to date tips about Island life.
  • Rottnest Island Voluntary Guides Association. To discover more out more about these tours and the Rottnest Island Voluntary Guides Association, visit the Rottnest Voluntary Guides Association website, or speak to the Guides based in the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre.
  • The Telegraph newsletter article The perfect holiday in Western Australia – our expert’s ultimate itinerary describes why Rottnest rightly deserves to be a favourite place for all Australians.

More accolades from the Australian Traveller for Rottnest Rottnest Island.

The journey is worth it

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