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If you’ve heard of Rottnest Island, you’ve no doubt heard of the quokka! This cute little type of wallaby is native to the island, and with an estimated 10,000-12,000 of them living on Rottnest, you’re guaranteed to spot one (or fifty)!
But there’s loads more things to do on Rottnest Island than get a quokka selfie. It’s actually the largest of a chain of limestone-based, sand-covered islands on the continental shelf opposite Perth. These were formed a whopping 7,000 years ago due to a rise in sea level.
Today, Rottnest Island is a stunning, car-free holiday haven with over 60 beaches! It also has salt lakes, woodlands, limestone coral reefs and numerous shipwrecks from early explorations. Since it’s only 19km from Perth, it’s easily reached on the 25-minute ferry ride from Fremantle.
I was lucky enough to spend four days on Rottnest Island during my time in Perth and was genuinely blown away by how stunning the scenery was. I couldn’t believe a place this exotic existed so close to a major city!
Rottnest Island is not only breathtakingly beautiful but packed with budget accommodation, including a campsite and heritage cottages. Whether you’re visiting Perth as a backpacker or a high-end traveller, a trip to Rottnest Island is definitely one of the best things to do in Perth.
To find out the top attractions and things to do on Rottnest Island, along with a snippet of its gruesome history, have a read of my guide below!
Rottnest Island Guide: Table of Contents
To skip to any of the sections below, just click on the heading.
1. How to Get to Rottnest Island: Ferry & Seaplane
You’ve got a few Rottnest Island ferry options, which all include the government admission fee to the island:
Rottnest Express: departs from Fremantle or Perth City;
Rottnest Fast Ferries: departs from Hillarys Boat Harbour and takes 40 minutes;
SeaLink Rottnest: departs from Fremantle and takes approximately 30 minutes.
You can also book a ferry package with bike hire or a bus tour included. Remember that the island is car free, so you’ll need either a bike or bus to get around! Here are a few options below.
Or, if you fancy taking the scenic route, you can even travel to Rottnest by a seaplane flight from Perth, which includes a full figure-of-eight over the island.
2. Rottnest Island Accommodation
For such a stunning island, I was very surprised to find that a big developer hadn’t turned it into a luxury resort! While premium accommodation is available, Rottnest also has quaint, old-fashioned cabins as well as a camping ground. It reminded me of a 1950s holiday camp!
You can even stay in dormitories at the old army barracks or in the 1920s-built North Heritage Bungalows, which can work out pretty cheap if there’s a group of you.
Rottnest Island Hotels & Villas
Best for Couples:
Karma Rottnest: This 3.5-star lodge near Garden Lake is only a five-minute walk from the shops and has a swimming pool, restaurant, cocktail bar and sports bar. Double and twin rooms start at around $250 per night.
Best for Groups or Families:
Rottnest Island Authority: If you prefer self-contained accommodation, these villas and cabins have free Wi-Fi and are right by Thompson Beach. With cabins that sleep six people starting at $139 per night, it could be a really cheap option for a group or family.
Rottnest Island Glamping
Discovery Rottnest: These high-end, beachfront “tents” take glamping to a whole new level! Each unit has a private bathroom, hairdryer, and the complex had a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and free Wi-Fi. Standard double tents start at $286 per night and superior family tents with balconies start at $378 per night.
For more Rottnest Island accommodation options, check out the official Rottnest Island website.
Camping on Rottnest Island
I spent four nights at the less glamorous Rottnest Island campground, which has 43 non-powered sites, bathrooms with wheelchair access, barbecues and a kitchen with hot plates, a kettle and drinking water.
The facilities are fairly basic but the short stroll along the sandy path to Pinky Beach is priceless – perfect for watching the sun come up behind Bathurst Lighthouse. It’s also only a ten-minute walk to the shops and eateries at the Thomson Bay Settlement.
TIPS FOR CAMPING AT ROTTNEST ISLAND
The camp kitchen does not have a fridge or storage cupboards – it is little more than a shelter – so you will need your own esky if you want to keep any food (do beware of the quokkas though – they’re good at opening things and can easily open a tent zip)!
The campsite is only a short walk from the ferry drop-off, so I would recommend carrying your own luggage rather than using the free luggage delivery option. The campsite was the final drop-off when I visited (despite being the place where people need their luggage to actually build their accommodation, preferably while it’s still light) and we sat on the grass for two hours waiting for it to arrive when we could have just carried it ourselves.
The campsite isn’t well marked, and since the facilities there are minimal we actually walked past it at first thinking it was just an open field! Keep your eyes peeled!
3. Thomson Bay Settlement: Shops & Restaurants on Rottnest Island
On arrival, the ferry will drop you off at the Thomson Bay Settlement on the eastern side of the island, where you’ll need to check in at the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre if you’re staying overnight.
Thomson Bay is Rottnest Island’s main hub where all the shops, restaurants and much of the accommodation is located.
Note that the retail and entertainment options are quite limited – the main attraction of Rottnest is the nature and wildlife. It’s definitely not a party island or shopping mecca!
Behind the visitor centre you’ll find Subway, Rottnest Bakery, Lane Café, Simmo’s Ice Cream and a general store.
Other places to eat and drink in Thomson Bay include the Dome Café (great for breakfast with a view), Aristos Waterfront restaurant and Hotel Rottnest if you walk east along Colebatch Avenue, and Riva Restaurant and Governors Bar further back down Digby Drive.
Note that when I visited in September time it was pretty quiet and most places closed by 3pm, so we ended up eating at Hotel Rottnest or Aristos every night. There’s also a general store and a café up at Geordie Bay.
4. Rottnest Beaches
Rottnest is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; the sand is blindingly white, the sea is a patchwork of deep blue and turquoise, and rather than backing onto buildings or roads like some of the city beaches on the mainland, they have a natural backdrop of sand dunes and greenery.
Visit family-friendly Thomson Bay with a roped-off area for swimming, Pinky Beach next to the campsite, Geordie Bay up at the top end, or simply go with the flow and stop off at any of the 63 secluded beaches you come across on your explorations.
5. Rottnest Island Quokkas & Wildlife
You won’t have to look far to spot a Rottnest Island quokka! These cute, nocturnal marsupials even inspired the island’s name (meaning “Rat’s Nest” in Dutch) when a Dutch explorer in 1696 spotted them and thought they were very large rats!
As cute as quokkas are, do remember that they’re wild animals and a protected species. While it’s fun to get a selfie with them, remember they eat a plant-only diet, so feeding them can result in illness, death and aggressive behaviour. Touching and feeding them incurs a $150 on-the-spot fine and potential prosecution.
Also be aware that quokkas pretty clever; put down your bag and their little noses will be snuffling around in there in a jiffy. We almost had heart attacks one night when we were sitting inside our tent and the zip started opening. But nope, it wasn’t an axe murderer – a wet little nose appeared instead!
6. Rottnest Island Bus Tour
If you don’t fancy cycling the 22km circle around the car-free island, why not book the Rottnest Island bus tour to see the sights in comfort? This 4.5-hour tour includes air-conditioned travel, a light lunch and entry fees to the Oliver Hill Batteries and Tunnel Fortifications
7. Rottnest Island Bike Hire
Another popular way to explore is to hire a bike on Rottnest Island from Pedal and Flipper, located behind Hotel Rottnest. I cycled the 22km circle around the island, which was amazing!
You’ll get fresh air, exercise, and the freedom to stop off at the prettiest, most secluded beaches you can find. I’ll admit it’s quite hilly – I had to get off and walk more than once – but I hadn’t ridden a bike for a very long time, so if I can manage it I’m sure most people can!
8. Activities on Rottnest Island
There are plenty of things to do on Rottnest Island other than cycle and lie on the beaches. You can take a segway tour around the settlement and learn about the island’s history, take a glass bottom sea kayaking tour or join a snorkel and sail catamaran adventure, which includes use of stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.
For free or cheap activities, you can join a free guided walk to teach you about Rottnest Island’s history, enjoy museums and galleries, catch a movie at Rottnest Island picture hall or get involved with various sporting activities in and out of the water. From Thomson Bay I’d recommend walking to the Bathurst Lighthouse to enjoy the view over Pinky Beach.
I coincided my trip with Rottofest, Rottnest Island’s annual music and comedy festival. We chose to watch the music stage only – set up in the beautiful outdoor area at Hotel Rottnest – and enjoyed a whole day of back-to-back bands, stunning beachside views and a really lively end section once the sun went down. Highly recommended!
10. Sustainability Ethos
Rottnest Island is committed to maintaining a sustainable power, gas and water supply and minimising environmental impacts. Amongst other initiatives, it has upgraded its water utilities, installed wind turbines to supply 30% of its power and is constructing a 600kW solar farm.
11. Island History
Like many of Australia’s most beautiful locations, Rottnest Island has a grisly and not-so-beautiful past. Here’s an overview of the island’s history.
While Aboriginal artefacts dating prior to the island’s separation from the mainland have been discovered on Rottnest, the indigenous people did not have any means to get across the water, and did not traditionally live on the island.
It was, however, believed by the indigenous people to be a place of spirits and held a special significance to them.
The first Europeans to discover Rottnest Island were the Dutch in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until 1829 that the first settlers took up residence. This didn’t last long though: in 1839 it was announced that the island would become a penal establishment for Aboriginal prisoners.
The settlers were moved to the mainland, and for almost a century Rottnest was used to imprison around 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys, with 369 reported deaths (mostly from disease but including five hangings). You can pay your respects to those who perished at the Aboriginal cemetery at the Thompson Bay Settlement.
During the prison period, the Aboriginal prisoners constructed heritage buildings, lighthouses and, after the prison closed in 1904, the roads.
In 1911 Rottnest Island opened for its first holiday season, and, except during periods of closure for military use during World War I & II, has been used as place of recreation ever since.
12. Weather on Rottnest Island
It was definitely a few degrees colder on the island than in Perth when I visited in springtime! On our first few days the wind was absolutely bitter (we were seriously bracing ourselves at Rottofest until the sun moved onto us), and it was so strong during our bike ride that we were almost rolling backwards at times!
The final day, however, was warm enough to sunbathe on the beach. Just be aware that if you’re not yet into summer it might be chillier than expected!
For more ideas on things to do in Perth and nearby, check out the following blog posts. Happy exploring!