Three days on Rottnest Island seemed to be too long as most people only go for a day trip from Perth. When my friend, Hilary, invited me to join her on Rottnest for two nights and three whole days, I wondered how we’d spend our time. It turns out we could have stayed even longer. We had so much fun.
While we had fun, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Rottnest Island has a dark history. The traditional owners, the Whadjuk Noongar people named the island Wadjemup, meaning the land across the sea where the spirits are. Between 1838 and 1903, Rottnest Island was primarily a prison island where Aboriginal people from all over Western Australia were incarcerated for often what have been described as ‘insignificant’ crimes.
The SeaLink Ferry to Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
Our SeaLink Ferry glides off the Barrack Street Jetty on the dot of 8:30am. After a few days in Perth, I recognise many of the places we cruise past. The section of Kings Park I walked through yesterday is only a smidgin of the 400-hectare park, much of which is protected bushland. It seems to line the shore forever.
A cool breeze brushes over the calm water. Puffs of fluffy cloud break up the expanse of blue above us. The captain mentions the annual Rottnest Channel swim from Cottesloe. He wonders aloud why people go in for this “when we have boats”.
In Fremantle Port, a hoist moves back and forth on a container vessel raising and lowering containers. It dwarfs the little tinny motoring nearby.
Occasional rollers on the relatively calm crossing from Fremantle mean holding on securely and prompt a “wooo…wooo” as we dip and rise with the motion of the water.
Day one on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
The ferry pulls in at The Settlement. As check in is only at 2pm and our bags will be delivered to our self-contained accommodation at South Thompson, we set out to explore. There are four of us. Hilary, Roger, Becky (another friend) and I.
Shops and eateries cluster along a ‘main’ thoroughfare. People sit at tables outside the famous Rottnest Bakery eating fresh pastries with their coffee.
The General Store stocks everything we’d need should we want to self-cater, but for now I settle on fruit, yoghurt and muesli for breakfast.
Even with signs discouraging feeding or approaching these nocturnal animals, the quokkas are very tame. They hop under tables and between our feet scavenging for dropped food. The abundance of these rat-like marsupials is how Rottnest got its name back in 1696.
After Roger Federer got a selfie with a quokka when he visited in 2018, selfies with quokkas has become ‘a thing’ and a major objective for the day trippers who stream off ferries each morning. I do take an obligatory photo (not a selfie), but to be honest, they give me the heebie jeebies. Their fur looks mangy and few look healthy. I keep my distance.
Exploring by Bike
We pick up our hired bikes from Pedal and Flipper hire and take off to explore the island. Not having ridden a bike for many years, I’m a bit wobbly at first, but soon get the hang of it. Riding on a road with almost no traffic (there’s the occasional busload of tourists) is liberating. I pedal hard up the gentle slopes and freewheel down, enjoying the feeling freedom and of being a girl on a bike again.
The bush gives way to beaches of fine white sand. Clear blue water in different shades stretches to the horizon.
Having settled into our accommodation, Becky and I walk to the lighthouse near Pinkies, hoping to see the sunset. We soon realise that we’re on the wrong side of the island to see the sun drop into the ocean. But seeing the eastern sky gently fade from rich blue to paler pinks and greys has a calming effect. It’s not often I take time out to just be and enjoy.
The few people gathered on wooden steps leading from the beach to the lighthouse slowly disperse and I make my way to Frankies for a delicious fresh salad and tasty pasta.
Day Two on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
Pied oyster catchers poke their long red beaks into the soft sand searching for food. There’s a cold breeze as I walk along the beach for my morning walk. Little critters have left delicate trails crisscrossing the fine sand. A kangaroo or wallaby has been here too.
Across the water, I can see Perth’s city buildings and Fremantle. The water gently laps the beach. The many empty yellow buoys bob up and down in rows. I imagine how busy Rottnest must get when all the buoys are taken in summer or on weekends.
I walk to the lighthouse for a tour that I’ve read about. What a pity I didn’t read more carefully. The tour is at another lighthouse, not easily reached on foot.
On my way back I pass a group of four men sitting in the sun outside their ochre coloured cottage. They’re wearing faded black T-shirts stretched over their large stomachs. On the gate to their cottage, is a hand written sign on a sheet of brown cardboard. “Free Hugs” it reads. Sometimes, I’m game, but not today.
In our street of self-contained cottages, there are plenty of young families, their pre-school children riding bikes and scooters up and down the road. This is a great family friendly holiday destination for West Australians.
Volunteer guides run free tours of Rottnest Island. It’s probably the luck of the draw in terms of who you get as a guide. Ours could have been better. She seems to go ‘off script’ and goes way overtime.
For lunch, we pick up fresh salad rolls. I’m more comfortable on the bike today and take off with confidence. The sun beats down, the cool breeze welcome. My friends take a dip in Geordie Bay. The water is cold but refreshing.
Hop on Hop Off Bus
There’s a hop on hop off bus on Rottnest. It’s called the Rottnest Explorer and there are 19 stops. As we aren’t going to be able to cycle all to the far reaches of Rottnest, we spend our afternoon hopping from one drop off point to another.
We pass Henrietta Rocks, Porpoise Bay and Salmon Bay. We get off at Parker Point. There’s an osprey nest, a tangle of sticks on a rocky outcrop. Wadjemup Lighthouse, where you should be able to do a tour, a steep walk from the bus stop. It’s hot and I’m glad to have a full water bottle. Unfortunately, tours have been suspended for the time being.
For almost every leg of the bus trip, the bus is full. Towards the end of the afternoon, we get concerned that the last bus may not take us, as we join a rather long queue. We needn’t worry. No one is left behind.
Dinner tonight is a bit more fancy than last night. Isola Bar serves Italian meals with a view of the beach. A lovely setting and pleasant meal.
Day Three on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup)
Sealink and the accommodation work together. We have to have our bags packed and outside the cottage by 8am. Checkout is at 9am. It all seems a bit early but that’s the way it is.
Back on the Bike
We grab a coffee and salad roll from the bakery and set off for a long day on the bikes. At the turn off to Oliver Hill Battery there’s a decision to make. Do we, or don’t we? We do – we might never get the chance again.
The road stretches ahead of me like a ribbon rolling out ahead of me over rises and down again. It’s a real buzz putting all my energy into gathering speed on the downhill so that I can make it to the top of each rise.
Oliver Hill Battery
Oliver Hill is the second highest point on Rottnest Island. We pay the small fee to join a tour of the guns and tunnels. The tour is worth every cent. Our knowledgeable guide explains the working of the gun and how the tunnels were built. The guns served as a deterrent. They were never fired in conflict.
Standing on antistatic the antistatic flooring in the shell store, our guide points to the reinforced roof above us and the cordite stored nearby. The battery was decommissioned in 1955, but the guns remain.
From Oliver Hill, we ride to Geordies Bay past a pink lake and through a tunnel of trees. Flies have multiplied in the heat and we adopt the Australian Wave to keep them out of our eyes. Others wear fly nets over their heads.
There’s one last place on my list. The museum. Located in the Old Mill and Hay Store, the Wadjemup museum the museum provides an insight into the history of the island. I listen to stories of imprisonment, and read on a little card about the Indigenous sand and water ceremony.
Visitors are encouraged to take sand from the foreshore and throw it into the water. This tells the Waugal (rainbow serpent) that you are here and shows respect to the original inhabitants. My friends and I walk down to the beach and take a handful of fine sand in each hand. We wade knee deep into the water and throw the sand to show our respect.
Our time on Rottnest Island is nearly over. How better to spend the last half hour at the pub enjoying a cold beer before boarding the ferry back to Perth.
There’s more to Rottnest than Quokkas
Rottnest Island is so much more than quokkas. I could give the nocturnal marsupials a miss, and return for the clear blue water, walks along the beach, the bike riding and relaxation in a beautiful setting. I had so much fun and with my friends I created memories to look back on fondly.
- Learn more about the Aboriginal history of Wadjemup here
- Read more about the Sealink Ferry here
- There is a range of accommodation on Rottnest Island. We stayed here
- Find out more about the Rottnest Island Explorer Bus here
- Hire a bike from Pedal and Flipper Hire.
- Read more about the Oliver Hill Tour here
- Read more about Frankies here
- Read more about Isola Bar here