Perth's island escape offers a car free urban getaway.
Growing up in Perth, the crystalline secluded bays on our back doorstep at Rottnest Island, served as an instant holiday that always felt much further than a 40-minute ferry from the city center.
As a local witnessing Perth grow rapidly to a now dynamic city, recognized internationally for music, arts, food and wine, there's just one thing that hasn't changed; our access to a pristine natural playground only minutes from town. Whether you plan to snorkel, surf or bush walk, you can explore Rottnest Island in a day, but my tip is to take a few days or more.
By Plane or Helicopter
If done right, getting to Rottnest can be an adventure in itself. The Rottnest Express is the common and economical way to reach the island at $67 return, but there's a lot of other ways to get there. The Rottnest Air Taxi for example, flies up to 6 passengers from Jandakot and takes a brief 12 instead of 40 minutes on the ferry, surprisingly it's not too much more expensive. You can also opt to extend time in the air, enjoying the birds eye view of coral formations on the way over. Occasionally, what looks like a private helicopter lands on Rottnest, but any lavish adventurer can arrive this way via Rotorvation Helicopters, who offer tours and general transfers.
For those that have only one day to explore Rottnest, or prefer travelling by sea, a catamaran covers both transport and things to do, which could include whale watching depending on the season. Charter 1 serve breakfast and lunch on board and in between there's free reign of snorkels, kayaks and stand up paddle boards to explore the turquoise bays with. Best enjoyed in larger groups, this fun alternative to exploring the island by foot includes a drinks fridge, a built in BBQ and a cargo net to lap up for seven hours.
Exploring Rottnest's secret swimming spots
You can't go wrong choosing any one of the 20 beautiful bays on the Island, but with an additional 63 secluded beaches, it's worth narrowing the options based on whether you want to snorkel, surf or paddle board:
The warm Leeuwin Current that runs through Rottnest means you'll find green turtles and 135 species of tropical fish compared to 11 on the metropolitan coast, from migratory tuna and marlin, to multi coloured moon wrasse. Fishhook Bay is uncrowded because accessing it requires rock scrambling or a boat, but it's renowned as one of the best snorkelling spots on Rottnest. If you prefer to stay near the main settlement, The Basin is 10 minutes away and is protected shallow reefs and gentle swell, making it a perfect beginners snorkelling location.
Rottnest's treacherous limestone reefs have also made it home to 13 shipwrecks, some of which can be explored snorkelling offshore, most conveniently from The Uribes where you'll find a well preserved wreck on the east end of Thompson Bay. If the water's choppy, venture instead to The Shark wreck from Henrietta Rocks which tellingly protrudes above the water's surface just 50 meters offshore, but this one's best explored by confident swimmers.
For swimming or stand up paddle boarding
Hire a bicycle and paddleboard from The Peddle & Flipper, pack snacks from the general store and head west to the Champagne Pools at Marjarie Bay. Dotted with boats during the summer, choose from many secluded nooks to post up for a picnic. Little Parakeet Bay and Pinky's are two more relaxed swimming spots with showers available to wash the salt off before venturing back into town, but it's worth staying for the sunset Pinky's lighthouse.
The majority of surfing at Rottnest happens on the west part of the island, with Strickland Bay being the most consistent wave that's a lot of fun when the swell is smaller, but better suited to experienced surfers when it picks up. The Peddle & Flipper also rent surfboards and bike racks to easily access spots like Salmon Bay's locally termed 'chicken's,' a left hand wave that's also popular for body boarding.
Where to spot Quokkas and Humpback Whales
Whale and Dolphin Watching
One of the most peaceful things about Rottnest is that there are no cars, so the transport of choice on the island is a bicycle. For those cycling around the island, there's a few pit stops worth making to see seals and whales as they migrate. Just an 18-minute cycle from the main settlement to Little Salmon Bay, is a prime spot to see one of 35,000 migrating humpback whales between September and December, as well as bottlenose dolphins all year round. 25-minutes west is Cathedral Rocks, populated by New Zealand fur seals whose presence are beautiful to watch from the shore.
Spot Quokkas along Wadjemup Bidi
Still known today as Wadjemup by the local Noongar people, Dutch settlers imparted the name 'Rotte Nest' meaning 'rat's nest,' as they mistook the islands endearing marsupials for rats. A quokka's furry smile and lack of fear around humans have made them a viral candidate for animal selfies, which - since the rise of social media - has become one of Rottnest's most sought after souvenirs.
Almost exclusively found on Rottnest Island, only ten percent of quokkas exist in the main settlement and the rest inhabit untouched areas, so an afternoon bushwalking through Wadjemup Bidi is the best way to spot one in its natural backdrop. With five themed trails that wind through lake systems and rugged coastline, the pink lake along the Gabbi Karniny Bidi is another photogenic muse for budding and enthusiastic photographers alike.
Local watering holes
No trip to Rottnest is complete without a jam donut or a meat pie from the bakery. Most Perth locals can recall at least one childhood memory sitting under the pines of The Rottnest Bakery with wet salty hair, pie in hand. Geordies Café and Art Gallery is also a must for clued in coffee enthusiasts and breakfast lovers. Finally, for a sparkling golden ale and undisrupted sunset views, Hotel Rottnest is the perfect Sunday session to end a trip to the island.
Best spots to watch the sunset
For dinner with a view, detour past the refurbished Lane Cafe and the general store at Thomson Bay, to pick up takeaway fish and chips and drinks, before cycling 15 minutes north to Bathurst Lighthouse for sunset. For double the impact at sunset, the lake at Geordie Bay mirrors the skies purple and orange hues, making it another popular spot to post up at dusk.