One of the highlights of our recent trip to Western Australia was our Rottnest Island day trip. We had travelled to Perth for a friend’s wedding, and our time there was limited, but we were staying close to the world’s most remote major city and there was no way we could not visit Rottnest Island.
Rottnest is one of the most popular day trips from Perth, 20km away across the Indian Ocean, so there are plenty of options for Rottnest Island day trips, and you can catch a Rottnest Island ferry from either Perth or neighbouring Fremantle. The island is an aquatic paradise, and there are over sixty Rottnest beaches to visit, including some of the best beaches in Australia. It’s also well-known as home to around half the world’s quokka population – and many visitors try to take a quokka selfie with wonderfully this cute marsupial
As our Little Man was with us, we opted to take things easy and see and savour a small part of the island, rather than rush around trying to do too much.
The Rottnest Island Ferry
Getting to Rottnest Island is pretty straightforward, and with a bit of planning ahead, you can get some excellent Rottnest ferry deals. There are also other factors to consider when booking your Rottnest tickets, including your preferred departure and return arrival point
There are three Rottnest ferry operators, and departure points and Rottnest ferry times vary throughout the year. The Rottnest ferry timetable runs throughout the year with most services per day during the summer peak season on Rottnest Island, with reduced frequency in winter. You can make your Rottnest Island bookings on any of the websites.
Rottnest Island ferry prices vary, and if like us you’re pushed for time you can sometimes get excellent Rottnest specials, especially if you’re just planning a Rottnest day trip.
If you’re looking to go directly from Perth to Rottnest Island, Rottnest Express operate services from Barrack Street Jetty at Elizabeth Quay in Perth, which includes a cruise along the Swan River with commentary, and North Fremantle and Fremantle Victoria Quay.
Rottnest Fast Ferries also run services from Hillarys Boat Harbour in the northern suburbs of Perth, which take 45 minutes to reach the island.
As we were staying in Fremantle it made sense for us to catch our ferry to Rottnest from Fremantle, and the timetable and offers dovetailed nicely with the limited time we had available, meaning we were able to get a day trip to Rottnest Island for a family of three for $88 (US$ 68). The Fremantle to Rottnest Island crossing is the shortest of the three main options, taking 30 minutes.
There is a Rottnest Island admission fee, charged by the Rottnest Island Authority to help maintain the island’s environment. This fee is included in the price of all Rottnest Island ferry tickets.
All three ferry companies offer a variety of Rottnest packages, with combinations including ferry tickets and bike hire, or ferry tickets and bus passes, as well as special Rottnest Island day trip deals.
Things to do on Rottnest Island
If you’re wondering what to do on Rottnest Island, you could start with exploring some of the sixty-plus Rottnest beaches. We were particularly enticed by images of The Basin Rottnest Island, one of the most stunning beaches we have ever seen – and we have both seen a serious number of beaches. This is where Little Man also wanted to go, so we were all happy with that.
We also explored Pinky Bay, the next beach along to the east of The Basin. We climbed the short wooden staircase to Bathurst Lighthouse, which you see in our main picture. It gives a great view along the coast, but Little Man was more interested in climbing up and down the steps. Having seen Thomsons Bay beach after disembarking the ferry, we’ve seen three Rottnest Island beaches, leaving us another sixty or so to go.
After stepping off the boat, one of the first Rottnest Island attractions we saw was the Just 4 Fun Aqua Park, an inflatable water park just to the right of the ferry wharf. Little Man would have loved to go, and the knee-deep section would have been ideal for him, but we just didn’t have enough time to stop there as well.
One of the most popular Rottnest Island activities is swimming in the incredible pristine water at the beaches. Our main destination, The Basin beach, is also one of the best Rottnest Island snorkelling spots. The water at The Basin is a beautiful turquoise colour, and after paddling out a few metres from the sand, you step off the reef, dropping down a metre or so and have this astounding aquatic paradise below you to explore.
The Rottnest Island quokka
The colony of cute quokkas is one of the most popular attractions on Rottnest Island
The Rottnest quokka is by far the most popular of the Rottnest island wildlife, and according to the Island website is the happiest animal on earth. We knew that our animal-loving Little Man would adore these little creatures, so built our Rottnest Island day trip itinerary around getting him some quality quokka time.
The quokka is a small marsupial with brown fur and a tail not dissimilar to that of a rat. The island got its name from Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh mistook them for rats and called it ‘Rotte nest’, meaning ‘rats’ nest’.
It didn’t take us long to find our first quokkas, foraging among the trees off the side of the road to The Basin beach. Little Man loved them straight away, and seemed content to let them come close and squeal with laughter, not minding not being allowed to touch them at all.
Little Man greeting a friendly quokka
The quokka’s diet is herbivorous, and they have no fear of humans, approach people willingly and, as soon as you look away, they rummage through your bags to find whatever food they can. Little Man was happy to share his sandwich with one particularly inquisitive little fellow who spent a long time under his stroller, but we had to explain that our food is harmful to them, and that even though he wanted to feed them, we couldn’t.
We based ourselves around The Basin beach for much of the afternoon, where one person after another would prostrate themselves on the floor next to one in an attempt to shoot a quokka selfie on their phones, like tennis star Roger Federer did on a recent visit.
It’s worth remembering that not all Rottnest animals are as friendly as the quokka. The dugite snake also lives on Rottnest, and is apparently partial to quokka from time to time. The dugite isn’t aggressive, but should you see one, keep away, ensure your kids don’t approach, and it should slither away.
Is it worth doing a tour on my Rottnest Island day trip?
The ferry companies all offer Rottnest Island day tours or Rottnest Island half day tours, and other Rottnest Island packages. If you’re on a day trip to Rottnest, it may be worth considering one of these to help you see as much as possible in your time there.
The Grand Island Package offered by Rottnest Fast Ferries is a good example of what you can see. This Rottnest Island tour lasts four hours, taking in a tour of the Oliver Hill tunnels and gun emplacements, Cathedral Rocks, Wadjemup Lighthouse and Cape Vlamingh, the westernmost point of the island.
Sealink also offer a Rottnest Bayseeker Package which takes you around some of the best Rottnest beaches – and some of these are absolutely outstanding, with some of the clearest, cleanest water we’ve ever seen.
You can also catch the Rottnest Island train, which runs from Settlement Railway Station in Thomsons Bay to the Oliver Hill military site. Three trips run daily on the heritage 64-seat Captain Hussey train, so you need to book these in advance if you can. It’s a slow train, travelling just a few kilometres in half an hour, rattling and clanking along, and it’s very popular with nostalgic railway enthusiasts. It’ll be one of the first things we do when we take Little Man back. You can book your return ride on the Rottnest train for $20, or add the Oliver Hill tunnel tour to your ticket for an extra $9.
Rottnest Island accommodation
If we had had a few more days available, we would have loved to stay for a Rottnest Island holiday. We intended our day trip as a taster, and we decided emphatically that we’d love to come back. As we researched all Rottnest accommodation ourselves, here are the options available should you decide on a Rottnest Island stay.
Most Rottnest Island accommodation is concentrated around Thomson Bay on the east coast of the island, and on the north coast as far west as Geordie Bay – beyond this there is no Rottnest accommodation on the western side of the island. It’s in Thomsons Bay that you’ll find both Rottnest Island hotels.
Hotel Rottnest enjoys a fantastic location on the Thomsons Bay waterfront, and it was originally the Governor of Western Australia’s summer residence. It has four Bayside rooms overlooking the Indian Ocean and some lovely spacious Courtyard rooms, with prices varying from $190 to $450 per night, depending on the season.
The other Rottnest Island hotel is Karma Rottnest, also widely known as Rottnest Lodge. This has more rooms than Hotel Rottnest, with hotel style apartments, suites, deluxe and standard rooms all available.
There are plenty of other places to stay in Rottnest Island, all on the eastern part of the island. These include a range of beautiful old cottages, some wooden cabins and, if you fancy some Rottnest Island camping, an enchanting campground in the trees between The Basin beach and Pinky Bay – it’s only a few minutes’ walk from either. Some of the cabins have canvas walls, so are better suited to a summer Rottnest Island stay rather than a chilly winter one.
Otherwise the Rottnest Island Hostel is a good budget option if you’re planning to stay on Rottnest, with a mixture of dorm beds and family rooms available. This is housed in the old Kingstown Barracks, 1 km to the south of Thomsons Bay.
Getting around Rottnest Island
There are no cars on Rottnest Island, so you have three main options – the Rottnest Island hop on hop off bus, cycling around the island or walking. We did the latter, as we chose to stick to one corner of the island for the few hours we were there.
You can pick up a Rottnest Island map from Rottnest visitor centre, at the end of the ferry wharf at Thomsons Bay. The island is only 11km long from end to end, but there’s so much to see on Rottnest in such a relatively small space. You can also organise your Rottnest bike hire here, or buy your tickets for the Rottnest Island bus. A Rottnest Island daily bus pass costs $20 per adult, and $15 per child aged 5 and over – under 4s like our Little Man travel free. The Rottnest Island Explorer bus takes an hour to circumnavigate the island, starting and finishing in Thomsons Bay. Bear in mind that the last bus leaves Thomson Bay at 3pm, and that if you’re catching one of the later ferries from Fremantle or Perth, you won’t get there in time to catch this bus.
If you plan to do a Rottnest Island bike tour, there are several bike options available, including multi-geared bikes, tandems, and bikes fitted with baby seat or child trailer.
Food and drink on Rottnest Island
We made up a picnic at a fantastic Italian deli in Fremantle, so didn’t get the chance to sample any of the Rottnest Island restaurants. We looked at the menus for the Hotel Bar & Bistro in Hotel Rottnest and Riva in Rottnest Lodge, and both served plenty of dishes with a Mediterranean twist and an extensive selection of pizzas. Frankie’s on Rotto also serves a tempting choice of pasta and pizza.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.