Long gone are the days when Rottnest Island — ‘Rotto’ to the locals — was a secret staycation spot just for Perthites.
Today this island paradise, located 19 kilometres off the Western Australian mainland, attracts celebrities and visitors from around the world. It’s a year-round favourite for day trips and weekend getaways, and there are daily transfers and tour packages available from the Perth CBD, Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour.
The island may be small but there’s plenty to see and do, so plan your day wisely.
Here are ten of the best things to do on Rottnest Island.
The island’s traditional owners — the Whadjuk Noongar people — believe that spirits pass over Rottnest on their journey to the afterlife. The island has had a chequered history since European settlement, and served as an Aboriginal prison for almost a century. For a detailed look back at Rotto over the years, visit the Rottnest Island Museum. It’s open from 10am to 3pm. There are also free guided walks that provide an engaging history lesson. The Pioneers and Prisoners tour departs at 10am daily from the Salt Store and is well worth doing.
Seeing Rottnest from the air is next level, literally. And seeing it while free-falling at 200 kilometres-per-hour is even better. Skydive Geronimo offers tandem skydives from altitudes up to 15,000 feet. Be amazed at the spectacular colours of the Indian Ocean, before landing safely on a beautiful beach.
It’s not inconceivable that the humble quokka should be credited with Rottnest’s recent rise to worldwide stardom. The Instagram craze has seen selfie-stick-toting visitors on hands and knees attempting to capture themselves with what Western Australia has dubbed ‘the world’s happiest animal’. Even the island’s name is linked to the quokka. When Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh set foot on the island in 1696, he found it teeming with what he thought were giants rats. He christened the island Rottnest (‘rat’s nest’ in Dutch), but of course, those rats were actually cute little quokkas.
Follow these rules for capturing a quokka-selfie and remember that a $150 on-the-spot fine applies for feeding any of the island’s wildlife. You have been warned!
Just off the coast of Rottnest Island is a well-travelled whale thoroughfare nicknamed the ‘Humpback Highway’. Book a seat on the Rottnest Express Adventure Boat Tour for a roller-coaster ride at sea in search of whales (seasonal from September to November), dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, sea birds, and tons of fun. This ocean tour is definitely for thrill-seekers who don’t mind a bit of salt air and sea spray.
Calling all sweet tooths! Each morning the bakers at the Rottnest Bakery get up bright and early to make around 20 kilograms of jam and custard-filled sugared donuts (sometimes Nutella ones too!). Don’t wait until after lunch though. These crowd favs sell out quickly. If a slice of cake is more your thing, there are plenty of those as well — all made on-site by the pastry chef.
Walk off those extra calories with a guided hike to Bathurst Lighthouse (one of two lighthouses on the island). This tour departs from the Salt Store each day at 11am and tells the tales of the island’s colourful maritime past. All the guided walking tours on Rottnest are hosted by passionate and knowledgeable volunteers. They love clocking up their daily steps, while showing off the island’s best spots.
One of the favoured ways to get around to the 63 beaches and 20 bays that hug Rottnest’s coastline is by bicycle, and bike hire is available from Pedal and Flipper. There are plenty of hills to tackle, and quite a few kilometres to traverse. If you’re not a seasoned cyclist or in reasonable shape, consider taking a powered tour with Paul’s Eco E-Bike. Not only will you get to see the island’s nicest beaches, but you’ll save your legs the slog.
From coral to fish to shipwrecks, there’s plenty to see in the waters around Rottnest Island — home to about 400 fish species (including 135 types of tropical fish) and at least 20 different corals. Certified scuba divers can rent gear from Pedal and Flipper, while the rest of us can hire a snorkel set and conduct our own research of marine life at prime spots such as Little Salmon Bay, Parker Point, and Porpoise Bay. If you’re lucky, you may even get to swim with a green sea turtle.
End your day on Rotto by relaxing with a beverage overlooking the ocean. Pinky’s Beach Club offers an extensive wine list of Australian and international drops, along with French champagne. You may not want to leave!
When one day on Rottnest is not enough (and trust me, it never is), spend the night in a luxury tent at Discovery Rottnest Island. Located near Pinky’s Beach, this upscale campsite offers 83 ‘glamping’ eco-tents. They’re ideal for nature lovers who also love their creature comforts. A night or two here makes the perfect island getaway.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do on Rottnest Island? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Rottnest Island Authority. Additional images: Bigstock
Jennifer Morton is a freelance writer and photographer. The Canadian expat has lived all over Canada, New Zealand and Australia. She also spent six months working on a cruise ship in Europe. When Jennifer is not writing about travel, you may find her lounging on the beach, fishing with her son, sipping coffee at a cafe, reading a book or zooming in on a beautiful scene. She’s also likely to be boarding a plane — or jumping out of one.