Rottnest: A Journey Around Perth’s Secluded Island Escape

Perth's island escape offers a car free urban getaway.

Rottnest Island, Perth

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 centre.

As a local witnessing Perth grow rapidly to a now dynamic city, recognised 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.

Rottnest Island, Perth
Photo: Rottnest Island Authority

Swimming Spots (Fish Hook Bay | The Basin | Thomson Bay | Marjarie Bay | Little Parakeet Bay | Pinkey’s Bay | Strickland Bay | Salmon Bay)

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 Basin, Rottnest Island

For Snorkelling 

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. Fish Hook 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.

Snorkelling at Rottnest Island, Perth

For Swimming or Stand Up Paddle Boarding 

Hire a bicycle and paddle board 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.

Rottnest Island, Perth

For Surfing

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.

Rottnest Island
Rottnest Township, Rottnest Island, Perth

Where to Spot Quokkas and Humpback Whales (Little Salmon Bay | Cathedral Rocks | Wadjemup Bidi Walking Trail)

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 – although if cycling isn’t your favourite passtime the island bus can shuttle you to the highlights. Whichever you choose, there’re a few pit stops worth making to see seals and whales as they migrate, and the islands cheery population of quokkas.

Whale and Dolphin Watching 

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.

Humpback Whale, Perth, Western Australia
New Zealand Fur Seal, Rottnest Island, Perth
Photo: Rottnest Island Authority

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.

Quokka on Rottnest Island

Local Watering Holes (Geordies Cafe and Art Gallery | Hotel Rottnest)

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.

Hotel Rottnest, Rottnest Island, Perth

Best Spots to Watch the Sunset (Lane Cafe | Bathurst Lighthouse | Geordie Bay)

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.

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