Rottnest Island is an island about 20 km off the coast of Perth with a permanent population of around 300 people. It receives around 500,000 visitors a year, and up to 15,000 visitors at a time during peak periods and is best known for its adorable quokkas.
Almost all activities on Rottnest Island are under the administration of the Western Australian Government. It is invariably known as Rotto to the locals.
First settled by the Australian Aboriginal people long ago, the island was likely uninhabited prior to European exploration for several thousand years owing to rising sea levels. It is known in local Noongar Aboriginal mythology as Wadjemup. The island was named by Dutch explorers in 1658 (it translates as "Rats' Nest Island", in reference to the local marsupial quokkas mistaken for large 'rats').
The island was used as an internment camp for Aboriginals during the 19th century and later used as an internment camp for Italian and German civilians in World War I. Many Aboriginal elements of the island's history were ignored in the early mid-20th century, but Aboriginal remains and places of suffering are now being acknowledged.
During World War II several large artillery guns were built on the island's tallest hill. These are no longer functional, but you can take a tour to the guns and through the bunkers surrounding them. Other installations were also created during the war. There were posts around the island, the surviving structures and evidence of the military activity after the war was near or at the barracks on the south east end of the island.
The island is sparsely covered with scrub and occasional stands of woodland.
The eastern end of the island is dominated by several large salt lakes. The bays and beaches are part of the attraction of Rottnest, and feature excellent reefs and caves for swimming, snorkeling and diving.
Flora and fauna
Quokkas are small marsupials which gave the island its name – early settlers mistook them for giant rats and called the island "Rats Nest". There are also many birds on the island.
The climate in Rottnest Island is essentially the same as that in Perth, it may be a little cooler due to its more southern location, and because it is an island.
Rottnest Island plays host to school leavers for a week towards the end of November. You probably won't get accommodation over this period anyway, but it is a time to avoid if you don't wish to share the island with a post-school party crowd.
You can access Rottnest Island by a ferry, 30 min from Fremantle, or a longer trip from Barrack Street Jetty in Perth. The SeaLink ferries and Rottnest Ferries depart Freemantle approximately every hour during summer but departure times are staggered so that a ferry from one or other is usually available every half hour.
- Rottnest Express. Makes the crossing 5-6 times daily.
- SeaLink Rottnest island, ☏ 1300 786 552 (local rate), firstname.lastname@example.org. From $29.
By ferry from Hillary's Boat Harbour, to the northwest of downtown Perth.
Fees and permits
Landing fees are included in the price of the ferry.
Rottnest is a car-free island.
Rent a bike from the ferry terminal in Thomson Bay and cycle around the island - this is a very comfortable and individual way. Bike rental is around $30 per day. You can rent on the island, or directly from the ferry company.
Distances and times from the Settlement at Thomson Bay
- The Basin - 5 minutes
- Geordie Bay - 10 minutes
- Wadjemup Lighthouse - 20 minutes
- West end/Cape Vlamingh - 50 minutes to an hour depending on prevailing winds
A full loop of the island is around 25 km, so it is an ideal cycling distance.
Cars are not permitted, but there is a regular bus shuttle available for traveling around the island. A day ticket allows you to stop everywhere you want. If you have enough time, make a complete trip around the island first in the morning, and then decide where you really want to stay for a few hours.
The bus service is known as the Bayseeker Service and bus stops are well signed and usually runs between 8:30AM and 3:30PM - always check when you arrive for any variations to the service.
- Historic buildings including old churches and houses, and a cemetery.
- Wartime remnants, such as old barracks and cannons.
- Superb coastal views along the numerous bays and beaches.
- Wildlife, that is, the thousands of quokkas which populate the island (especially at night).
- The pink salt lakes on the island.
- 1 Lighthouse.
- Swim at any one of the islands beaches. The further you go from Settlement, the fewer people there will be to share your beach with.
- Go for a cycle around the island (but take water with you).
- Snorkel, as Rottnest is the best location in the Perth metropolitan area for this.
There is an annual swim out to the island.
- 1 Dome Rottnest, ☏ . Alfresco seating overlooking Thomson Bay, serving fine coffees and a diverse food menu.
- 2 Governor’s Sports Bar, ☏ . Sports bar with TAB, Fox Sports and big screen TVs throughout the bar. Great pub style food and a great place to kick back and relax.
- 3 Geordie's, Geordie Bay Square, ☏ . Daily 7AM-9PM in the summer season. Offering 5 Senses coffee, fresh made juices, smoothies, cakes and salads as well as an extensive dine in and takeaway menu. They will also have local and Rottnest themed artworks on display and for sale.
- Quokka Joe’s, Thomson Bay Settlement Mall, ☏ . Specialising in healthy gourmet snacks and nutritious meals. Gluten free, vegetarian, sugar free and other dietary requirements can be catered for.
- 4 Rottnest Bakery, ☏ . Cream buns, vanilla slices, jam donuts, pies, sausage rolls and fresh bread. All baked daily on the premises. Cold drinks, coffee and gelati are also available.
- 5 Simmo's Icecream (in Thomson Bay Mall), ☏ . Over 100 flavours are made using fresh local Western Australian produce followed by a few secret ingredients and Simmo's imagination.
- 6 The Lane, ☏ . A takeaway coffee house tucked against the Lane in Somerville Mall. There's a wooden deck area in front, where you can sit with your coffee and watch quokkas and tourists in the mall.
Long the only pub on the island, the Quokka Arms is close to the main jetty.
- Pinky's Beach Club. The newest addition to the island, Pinky's Beach Club offers a more upmarket vibe.
Apart from these, the convenience stores dotted along the island do sell a range of alcohol from wines to spirits.
Bookings for nearly all the accommodation on the island are arranged through the West Australian Government however they are so popular that beds are only available by ballot about 9 months in advance. The result is that most overseas and interstate visitors will have to be satisfied with a day visit.
- 1 Bathurst Lighthouse Keepers Cottage, Bathurst Point. Self–catering accommodation.
- 2 Hotel Rottnest, Thompson Bay, 1 Bedford Ave. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM.
- 3 Samphire Rottnest, Corner Parker Point Rd and McCallum Ave. Opened in late 2020, this is the newest (and generally most expensive) accommodation on the island. Samphire bookings are not conducted through the normal government process for Rottnest Island and thus are available at short notice $300+ per night.
- The campground, Just north of the settlement (walk or cycle just out of the main settlement).
- 4 Pinky's Resort (north of the campground). Eco-tent with a pool.
Rottnest Island is very safe. However, it has become notorious for its "schoolies week" events in November which can get out of hand. (There is a massive police presence on the island during this time, as opposed to the usual 3 officers). Travelling during schoolies week is inadvisable as the peace of the island is briefly shattered.
There are dugites, a venomous snake on the island, these are only found out in the scrubland and are easily avoidable if you watch where you are treading.
- Your next place has to be back to the mainland via Perth