If you’re planning a visit to Perth for more than a few days, a day on Rottnest Island should absolutely consume at least one of those days. This is a natural island paradise, and was rightly described as such by the first European explorers who stumbled across it. It is a little under 20km off the coast, a 30 minute or 1 hour ferry ride depending on your departure point – I would advise leaving from Perth (Barrack Street Jetty) to take in the sights as you head down the Swan River & out to sea.
Essentially, Rottnest encompasses the best of WA and its almost 13,000 KILOMETRES of coastline into a 19km² island. It is full of amazing white sand beaches, turquoise waters, perfect snorkelling & diving spots and some of Australia’s wonderful wildlife. Even fishing if you’re that way inclined.
Despite its small size, the island can host over 15,000 visitors during the peak periods in summer, although for most of the year it is far quieter than this. If you care to venture away from the main beaches you will find plenty of privacy – even an unofficial nude beach on the far western side. If you plan to see all the sights in one day, I would advise hiring a bike. They can be hired on the island for $30 per day.
NB: There is a bus that traverses the island, but I have NEVER seen it in my many visits to the island!! And I highly doubt the tickets would be cheap.
For those with more time up their sleeves, there is accommodation on the island, but the majority is booked out well in advance and quite expensive during peak summer season. A better (and more economical) idea is to take advantage of the campsite on the island for around AU$35 per night. Let’s be honest, no one needs premium accommodation when you have no intention of staying in your room all day! But ensure you book in advance during summer and peak periods.
Check out the official site for up to date accomodation pricing and availability.
Now, let’s get onto the fun stuff. The immaculate, white sand beaches. On Rottnest you will find as good as you will anywhere else in Australia – this is coming from an Australian who has seen them all! The whole island is surrounded by these beautiful beaches, so if you want a bit of privacy, feel free to grab some water & food and wander to one of the more isolated beaches to enjoy the quiet surrounds.
There is reef surrounding much of the island, giving rise to many great snorkeling & dive locations around the island. There are tour operators who can take you out by boat to check out the best spots, however, we had plenty of joy just off the beach. There are many shipwrecks around the island so go with the tour operator if you would like to check these out. The equipment is all available for hire on the island.
If you can find time to drag yourself away from the beach and water, you MUST check out the local quokkas. These guys can’t be found on the mainland and are VERY friendly and VERY photogenic. Petting them is illegal ($2,000 fine) but they do love a photo and are always happy to smile. Think of a cute cross between a kangaroo & a rat. Or better yet, check out #quokka on Instagram.
One of the highlights of our last few trips to the island has been to unwind with a beer at the end of a hard day of relaxing in the pub, while you watch the sunset and count down until you return to the mainland. I would almost pencil this in as a must do – unless you’ve already visited for lunch! Aside from the pub there are a few cafes and a bakery on the island, although they are all quite close to the dock. So don’t go wandering too far if you haven’t packed any food and water.
Good to know
As with all things tourism related in Australia, a visit to Rottnest Island is expensive. Try to take advantage of discounts offered by booking the ferry tickets in advance. The return trip on the ferry alone will set you back at least $80 per person, so allow for AU$150-200 per person for the day out, including meals and a few beers. However, if your schedule allows, go on a Tuesday. This will save you quite some money as there are specials from $59 including same day return ferry, hire bike and island admission fees ( or AU§39 for same day return ferry ticket only). For details see the RottnestExpress website.
Accommodation is also quite expensive, even pitching a tent on a patch of sand costs $30 per night! It is also notoriously difficult to book in peak season.
Rottnest Island is also the place of choice for high school graduates. So avoid the island during these times if you don’t fancy being surrounded by drunk teenagers.