Perth might not be on every traveller’s list of places to visit in Australia, but it should be. And once you make it west to Perth, make sure to reserve at least a couple of days for a relaxing stay on Rottnest Island.
“Rotto”, as we locals call it, is less than an hour by ferry from Perth, and has long been a popular holiday destination for local families. Tourists tend to take a quick day trip over there but to enjoy Rottnest properly, you’ve really got to stay overnight. Once the last ferries leave at about four o’clock, taking all those day-trippers back to the mainland, Rottnest gets a peaceful glow that makes you feel like you’re far away on an exotic Pacific island instead of a short hop across the Indian Ocean back to a capital city.
But don’t get the wrong impression — Rottnest is not a fancy island resort. Most of the accommodation on Rottnest is in simple self-contained bungalows and units; during school holidays they are rented out by the week through a ballot system because the demand is so high. There’s also a campground, a great backpackers’ place at Kingstown Barracks, or the Rottnest Lodge if you’re happy to splurge on something a bit fancier.
Getting around on Rottnest is usually a matter of renting a bicycle and pedalling away — you can get around the whole island in a few hours and wherever you’re staying it’s just a short cycle to the shops and tourist area. No cars are allowed on Rottnest so you’ll see very few vehicles apart from the buses which circumnavigate the island. It is a water-lover’s paradise with great spots for snorkelling, diving and swimming, and there are so many little bays and beaches that even at the peak of summer you can probably find a beach just for yourself.
I’ve had stays on Rottnest devoted solely to days on the beach and evenings playing board games after a BBQ, but I’ve also enjoyed some more active holidays there. The Rottnest Island Authority, which administers the island (no private ownership is permitted), has a great relationship with the numerous volunteers who come over to the island to run small guided walking tours to some of its historical and natural sites. One of the most interesting tours takes you into the tunnels in the centre of the island, winding your way up to the guns built on the island during World War II. Many of the tours are free and every tour guide is passionate about Rotto.
You probably won’t leave Rottnest without encountering some of its wildlife. Most famously you’re bound to run into a quokka — it’s a small mammal found almost exclusively on Rottnest Island and you might think it’s either a small kangaroo or a giant rat. Interestingly, I only learned recently that quokkas are nocturnal — but there are plenty around during the day so they must suffer from insomnia! Some of the other common wildlife on Rottnest is less friendly, and you do genuinely need to be aware that there are some serious snakes to be found there. Stomp loudly if you’re walking off the path (vibrating ground should scare most snakes away) and wear sturdy shoes and long trousers on bushwalks.
During the year there are several special events at Rottnest, like Schoolies Week when hoards of teenagers celebrate the end of high school (not a recommended time to go if you’re not a new high school graduate!), or the Rottnest Channel Swim when fit (and slightly insane) people swim from Perth to the island. Look out for some of the smaller Rottnest festivals too and you can pick the best time to go. I might be biased, but I think pretty much any time’s a good time for a Rotto getaway!
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Photos by author unless otherwise credited.