How to Plan a Day on Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island, located off the coast of Western Australia, about 19km from Fremantle, had caught my eye for years. Vibrant turquoise beaches that literally don’t look real, kilometres of car-free terrain and coastline to explore, and small marsupials called quokkas, found nowhere else on earth except for a few small coastal islands near WA…I was definitely intrigued.
Living on the east coast of Australia, and not travelling west too often, the allure of Rottnest remained a mystery to me. Until recently, that is. After a work trip over to Perth, I finally had the opportunity to explore this special place. It’s a small island, but there’s still a bit you need to know beforehand to help make the best of your time. I mention this because most guests only come for a day trip via ferry, so making the most of your time is important.
Note: You can stay overnight and accommodation is available on the island, but this post focuses on advice for day trippers.
Book ferry in advance
If you don’t have your own boat (unfortunately, I do not), then travel via ferry is your best bet to Rottnest. I travelled with Rottnest Express– they offer pick up in either Perth or Fremantle, and from there straight to the island. Heading out from Perth, the ferry offers a scenic commentary as it travels along the Swan River, to Fremantle, where more passengers are picked up, then it’s full speed to Rottnest.
The trip from Fremantle to Rottnest passes through open ocean, and can be rough (but is at least short, about 30-40 min). Bring seasickness pills if you think you might need them. The total time from Perth is about 2- 21/2 hours, slightly quicker coming home.
The ferries are modern, large, and well-prepared with a snack bar, restrooms, and indoor and outdoor seating. In popular travel times, the ferries can get booked out, so book in advance if you can. This also can be cheaper.
Arrange snorkel and bike hire
The main transport around the island is by cycle, or snorkel if by sea. You can bring your own bike on board, if pre-booked, or you can rent a bike and snorkel. Rottnest Express can book these for you, in advance, which saves time- you are given your bike as soon as you step off the ferry, and then you’re free to explore. Helmets are required, so do wear yours!
Plan your route
There are cycling paths all over the island, and several routes are available, ranging in distances. For more information on cycling maps, have a look here. I set off with the full intention of following a set route, but then was too excited and just madly cycled all over the place, eager to see everything. Either way works.
You’ll soon get a feel for the island, and it’s not hard to figure out where you are. However, the island is definitely hilly in parts, so be prepared for some uphills slogs, and bring a lot of water.
If you’re spending the day here, you’ll probably get hungry. Rottnest is extremely remote, and the only opportunity to purchase food is within the Settlement, the small village on the eastern side, next to the ferry jetty. If you don’t bring your own food with you, then stock up here. There’s a well-appointed grocery and general store, a Subway, a deli, bakery, ice-cream shop, and a few other small businesses. Considering you’re on an island, and WA can be expensive anyway, I didn’t find the prices too unreasonable.
I had brought along a sandwich, which I promptly smashed by putting it in the bottom of my backpack, so I can vouch for the island’s food. Also, definitely make time to enjoy an afternoon ice cream after cycling before your ferry home.
Rottnest’s Indigenous History
Known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people, Rottnest has a dark history as home to an Aboriginal prison in the 1800’s. Over 3,000 men and young boys were imprisoned there, and there were many reports of cruelty and horrible treatment of prisoners.
The site was later used as a reformatory for boys, and then an internment camp during WWI and WWII. I bring this up, as it is important to remember that this is a place of sadness for the Indigenous people of the area, and for many others who were forced here unwillingly. While in the Settlement, it is worth taking the time to visit the small museum, for a better understanding of the island’s past.
Respect the quokkas
Quokkas, known as the ‘happiest animals on earth’, thanks to their proclivity for smiling and affectionate interest in human activity, are small marsupials only found on Rottnest and on another nearby island. The good news is, quokka populations are thriving even as tourism increases to the island. Don’t touch or feed them, but they are very inquisitive and likely to approach you, and are really an incredible little creature to hang around with for a while.
Where to Snorkel
There’s amazing marine life all around the island- check out Salmon Bay, Little Salmon Bay, and Little Armstrong Bay. The winds on the island can be very strong sometimes. Therefore, best to stop by the information tent (just near the jetty), to get top tips from a local on the best places, based on the day’s conditions.
Other Ways to Explore
If cycling and snorkeling aren’t your thing, definitely still consider visiting Rottnest. You can organise a sightseeing bus tour (basically the only vehicle on the island), scenic cruises, and guided tours.
- The island is extremely exposed, with limited shelter, natural or otherwise. Plan for a full day in the sun, so bring along sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, and a sunshirt.
- The jetty is pedestrian-only, as is the main strip of the Settlement, so walk your bikes through these areas.
- Have fun, relax, and take lots of photos! It’s such a unique place to visit, and unlike anywhere else.
- A return adult ticket with Rottnest Express, from Perth is currently $81.00, or $99.00, including the mandatory island admission fee. This is correct as of Nov. 2017.
What to Bring
- Food, if you don’t want to stock up in the Settlement
- Large water bottle
- Bike and snorkel, if you have your own
- Sunshirt and swimsuit, hat
- Backpack, to carry gear while cycling
- Camera/Go Pro
The writer traveled to Rottnest as a guest of Rottnest Express, but all opinions are her own.