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Quokka on Rottnest Island
Photograph: Tourism WA

Your ultimate travel guide to Rottnest Island

From stunning beaches to the world's friendliest, cutest animal, Rottnest Island makes for a fantastic trip

Written by Kate Jones
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Just a zippy 30-minute ferry ride from Fremantle (or 90 minutes from the Perth CBD), Rottnest Island is one of Western Australia's greatest gems. Also known by its local Aboriginal name, Wadjemup, and ‘Rotto’ by locals, it’s an essential addition to any WA itinerary.

Out of towners may know Rottnest for its friendly population of quokkas, but the island is also home to the most incredible azure blue waters you’ll come across, and nowadays, it has a selection of top-notch eateries and luxe accommodation, as well as camping grounds, cafés and low-key restaurants for the budget-conscious. 

Whether you’re ready to splurge on a peaceful retreat or simply spend your days lounging at the beach and sipping on pints at the hotel, you can easily spend a day, weekend or entire week on Rottnest Island. 

Want to keep adventuring? Here are the best day hikes near Perth.

Travel to and around the island

Getting there
Photograph: Russell Ord

Getting there

There are three ferries that travel between Perth and Rottnest Island. The Rottnest Express leaves from Fremantle and the city (the latter includes a scenic route along the Swan River with commentary), SeaLink also departs from Fremantle and the city, and Rottnest Fast Ferries leaves from Hillarys Boat Harbour, for those staying north of the river. Each company offers tour and package options, plus bike and snorkel hire, although bikes can also be hired on the island.

Getting around
Photograph: Tourism Western Australia

Getting around

The 11km long and 4.5km wide island is car-free, which means most island-goers get around on a bike. You can bring your own bike on the ferry (just make sure you opt for this when booking your ferry tickets), or you can hire one from Pedal and Flipper. The bike rental shop is a short walk from the island’s ferry terminal, is open daily and has plenty of bikes and helmets for hire, including kids' bikes and electric bikes, plus snorkels, wetsuits and stand-up paddleboards. You can book your bike in advance. 

If cycling isn’t your thing or you’re after a more relaxed way to see the island, buy a day pass for the hop-on, hop-off bus called the Island Explorer. You can grab a day pass from the visitor centre on arrival or buy one online. The bus visits 19 beautiful beaches, and riders can journey around the island in air conditioned comfort.

Things to do

Go beach hopping
Photograph: Tourism Western Australia

Go beach hopping

The main attraction on Rottnest is the selection of breathtaking, world-class beaches, with their sugar-white sand and turquoise water. The island has more than 60 beaches and 20 bays, so you could easily spend a few days exploring the coastline. If you’re on the island for one day and don’t mind a day of cycling, head south of the Thomson Bay Settlement to Little Salmon Bay, stopping at Henrietta Rocks and Parker Point along the way. If you’re willing to cycle further (or you’re on the bus), curve around west from here to Mary Cove, a popular snorkel spot, and continue to the most westerly point of the island to discover Fish Hook Bay. From here you could continue north to completely cycle around the island. 

Another day trip option is to cycle north of the Settlement to Pinky Beach, before continuing on to the Basin, Longreach Bay, Fays Bay, Geordie Bay and Little Armstrong Bay. Remember to pack a snorkel and plenty of water – there are not many places to refill your water bottle outside of the Settlement. 

See the famous quokkas
Photograph: Tourism WA

See the famous quokkas

You’ll see these cute marsupials throughout the island. There's a reason they are dubbed the happiest animals in the world, and their smiling faces and friendly nature attract plenty of eager visitors to the island. Many quokkas hang out in the island’s small township, the
Thomson Bay Settlement, located just a two-minute walk from the ferry terminal. If you sit alfresco at a café, restaurant or the hotel, you’re sure to spot a wandering quokka. Just remember, you’re not allowed to touch or feed them, but they’re more than happy to have
their photos taken!

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Go on a cruise
Photograph: Rottnest Island Cruises

Go on a cruise

Rottnest Cruises runs a Luxe Island Seafood Cruise between October and March, a four-hour voyage with a seven-course progressive lunch, including western rock lobster freshly caught on the day. Drinks are included, and you can sip on premium Margaret River wines while basking on the decks of the 21-metre pleasure boat. As the name suggests, it’s a seriously luxe and memorable experience.

Another way to see the island is on an Adventure Boat Tour, spotting wildlife, hidden beaches and whales (between September and November). If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, book to go on the Thrill Boat Ride and feel the air whip through your hair as you speed around the island. 

Learn about the island's cultural history
Photograph: Tourism Western Australia

Learn about the island's cultural history

Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) has been a significant place for the Whadjuk Noongar people since before the last ice age. However, the island has a notorious past, serving as a prison for Aboriginal people between 1838 and 1904 and a forced labour camp until 1931. You can learn more about the island’s history with Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences, which offers fascinating one- or two-hour tours.

Eat and drink

Fresh off the boat
Photograph: Timothy M Campbell

Fresh off the boat

For coffee and a bite to eat as you step off the ferry, walk to the island’s main hub (known as the Thomson Bay Settlement) and head to the Lane. The crew are super lovely and can make a mean cup of coffee. There also offer wraps, smoothies, acai bowls, salads and sweet treats to get you fuelled for the day ahead. Just remember to BYO reusable coffee cup, as they offer takeaway only. Next door to the Lane is Frankie’s on Rotto, a casual eatery serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is known for its sourdough pizza, so you know where to go if you have a hankering for carbs later in the day (after cycling around the island all day, you probably will!). Frankie’s also run a pop-up bar and eatery called the Top Bar, a low-key space adorned with fairy lights and a caravan that dishes out share-style meals, drinks and cocktails. The Top Bar is open only open in the warmer months, and you’ll be able to spot it just off the ferry terminal. 

Opening in September 2021, Isola Bar e Cibo is in a prime location on Thompson Bay, a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal. On the menu you’ll find antipasti (for example, bruschetta, crudo, burrata caprese), sliced cheeses and meats (paired wonderfully with an Aperol Spritz) and main dishes of pasta, seafood and melt-in-your-mouth meat. For drinks, there are plenty of wines, beers and cocktails, with Apertivo Afternoons held from 3-5.30pm from Wednesdays to Sundays. 

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To get your spice fix, book into Lontara at Samphire resort, also located on the water’s edge of Thomson Bay. The menu at this Southeast Asian fusion restaurant has flavours hailing from Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Vietnam and more, sprinkled with local seafood including Shark Bay scallops served on betel leaf with finger lime and chilli, and Abrolhos Island octopus with spicy sambal.  

Pub meals
Hotel Rottnest

Pub meals

For relaxed but high-quality pub meals, Hotel Rottnest and Pinky’s Beach Club are the island’s top spots. The hotel has favourites such as fish and chips, pizza, steaks and burgers, as well as prawn tacos, Rottnest crayfish and smaller bites like dips and olives to accompany your drinks. It’s a bustling spot, with regular DJs and live music, plenty of outdoor seating and sweeping views of Thompson Bay. Pinky’s isn’t in the main settlement, but rather on the shores of Pinky Beach, home of the photogenic Bathurst Lighthouse and about a 10-minute walk from the ferry. It lies within Discovery, an eco-resort, but everyone is welcome to dine there. Pinky’s menu ranges from lobster tacos and spicy squid to cheeseburgers and steak sandwiches. 

Where to stay

Samphire Rottnest is a resort right on the shores of Thomson Bay. A fairly new accommodation option on the island, it’s home to two swimming pools, a few cocktail bars and spacious rooms. It is full of luxe boho touches, with neutral décor, well-appointed large beds, balconies or terraces and in some rooms, freestanding baths. You can even organise in-room massages and facials for the ultimate resort experience. 

Want something a bit closer to nature? Discovery Rottnest Island is home to 83 glamping eco tents, all furnished and located in a prime spot by Pinky Beach. The tents range from the deluxe oceanside tents, fitted out with a king-size bed, walk-in robe, kitchenette, ensuite bathroom and unparalleled ocean views, to the standard tent, which is still glamping at its finest, with a queen bed, ensuite bathroom and ceiling fan. The tents are connected by a web of paths, all leading to the beach and Pinky’s Beach Club, where you can head for brekkie, lunch, aperitivo hour and dinner. 

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Cottages at Geordie Bay
Photograph: Rottnest Island Authroity

Cottages at Geordie Bay

The Rottnest Island Authority operates its own accommodation, and it’s hard to go past these beachside cottages at Geordie Bay. They are reminiscent of the Mediterranean, overlooking a panoramic, postcard-perfect bay, which is blue, calm and dotted with boats. The houses at Geordie’s Bay are painted a quaint yellow, are self-contained and equipped with all the necessities for a peaceful stay. There is also similar beachside accommodation at Thomson Bay, Bathurst, Longreach Bay and Fay's Bay run by the same group, plus campgrounds if you’d rather set up a tent or a swag for the night. When you book the campsite, your luggage even gets delivered straight to your site, which is handy when you’re on a bike! 

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