Are you wondering what to do on Rottnest Island? Is it worth your time to visit? The short answer is yes.
Not too far off the coast of Fremantle in Western Australia sits a small island known as home to the quokka, the happiest animal on earth. However, there are plenty of things to do on Rottnest Island on a day trip.
Rottnest Island is an idyllic beach destination, a bicycle lover’s dream, and a photographer’s paradise.
Rottnest Island or Quokka Island
When the Dutch settlers first arrived on the island in 1696, they discovered the quokka. Having never seen quokka before, Captain de Vlamingh thought the quokka were giant rats and named the island accordingly as rat’s nest, or “Rotte nest” in Dutch. The name stuck. Reserve your Sealink Rottnest ferry tickets here
What is a quokka?
Quokka is the smallest of the marsupials and is only found in a few spots in Western Australia. While similar to tiny kangaroos, they have thinner tails in proportion to their bodies. There is about 12,000 quokka living on Rottnest Island, Australia.
More about quokka
Quokka can carry several strains of salmonella, so be sure to wash your hands after you touch them.
- Quokkas are nocturnal. The bright sunlight is blinding to them.
- They have no natural predators on the island.
- On Rottnest Island, they breed in January and February, and gestation is 27 or 28 days (we had two guides during the day, each offering a different number).
- At birth, the joey is about the size of a jelly bean. It will crawl back into the pouch and grow there until about September when the joey comes out of the pouch.
- Quokkas are herbivores and eat succulent, leafy greens.
- Due to inbreeding, the quokka on the island are now too genetically distinct to breed successfully with the few remaining ones on the mainland.
- Don’t feed the quokka. Eating the wrong food is the number one cause of premature quokka death.
Sometimes we can’t resist joining in the fad of the day, and on Rottnest Island, that is quokka selfies.
If you follow us on social media (or you are one of our natural or hosted children), you may have told us we are “too old” to take selfies. But if Roger Federer and Hugh Jackman could do it, so could I. What do you think? Is it a success or a failure?
Other Rottnest Island animals
Aside from the cute quokka, we also saw a king skink, a poisonous dugite snake, small lizards, and plenty of birds, most often crows and seagulls. There is also a New Zealand fur seals colony at Cathedral Rocks on the island’s west end.
How to get to Rottnest Island
The ferry from Fremantle takes about 40 minutes to travel the 18km to the island. It is easy, reliable, and fun. While more than one company makes the crossing, we opted to sail on the Quokka 1, a catamaran from Sealink. Their newest ship Quokka 2, joined the fleet in mid-November 2019 and sails from Perth.
Each ferry holds 400 passengers, yet we never felt crowded. We opted to sit outside on the ride from Fremantle to Rottnest Island and inside on the way back.
Tips for taking a Rottnest Island ferry
- The limited outdoor seating goes quickly to the people who queue up early. We joined the queue about 30 minutes before sailing in both directions and had no problem getting outdoor seats.
- There are snacks and barista coffee onboard.
- Inside is air-conditioned, while outdoor seating offers some shade, but passengers are often in the sun.
- If you tend to get seasick, think about taking something for motion sickness, although our ride over was like glass.
- Book in advance, especially during peak season. Reserve your Sealink Rottnest ferry tickets here
What to do on Rottnest Island (besides quokka selfies)
The island isn’t that big, but too big to walk the perimeter in a day, yet we wanted to see things on all sides and in the centre.
Rottnest Island bus tour
We took the 1.75-hour Sealink’s Bayseeker bus tour around the island. The excellent commentary gave us insight into the island’s history and present-day status. We stopped frequently for short photo opportunities. It was a great introduction to the island and really left us wanting more.
On the plus side, we saw quite a bit of the island and had several photo stops. The downside was no time for options like walking to the top of the lighthouse or even having a coffee during the tour. ⇒Reserve your Bayseeker Tour here (includes optional ferry transfer)
- Of 13 major shipwrecks on the island, only this portion of the wreck of the Shark can be seen above the waterline.
- A portion of the Emergency or Army jetty collapsed last year. (It is used for freight.
- The airstrip is mostly used for seaplanes, skydiving, and by workers. Today most tourists arrive via ferry.
Free walking tours led by passionate island volunteers are available. We joined a quokka tour that took us into the bush near Garden Lake to learn how to spot quokka in their natural environment. You don’t need a tour to spot quokka on the main street (the road with all the cafes and shops) as they are everywhere.
Swimming, snorkelling, and other water activities
One look at the sea, and it’s easy to imagine that snorkelling and swimming are excellent. With 63 beaches and bays on the island, there is something for everyone.
From the main street in town, there are several nearby options for stunning white-sand beaches. Two of the best are the Basin and Pinky Beach. Also popular are fishing, surfing, and diving.
Bike hire is quite popular amongst the things to do in Rottnest. You can hire your bicycle from the mainland before you sail or once on the island. We like this option that includes the return ferry trip and bicycle hire. Reserve your ferry and bicycle hire here.
If you are not on a bike or on a bus, you are on foot. We had seven hours on Rottnest, five of them on foot.
(This is the main settlement area. Behind me are buildings dating back to 1840)
This may have been my choice when I was younger, but today, I prefer to land in a plane rather than jump from it. However, if this is your thing, ⇒ Reserve your skydive here.
Rottnest Island accommodation
Discovery Rottnest Island: While there are a few places to stay on the island, it was the eco-resort that caught my eye. Don’t let the word tent fool you, this is true “glamping” with comfortable beds, private bathrooms and showers, an outdoor pool, and even free wifi. We had a look into one, and they looked like the ideal choice for a place like Rottnest Island. ⇒ Reserve your Discovery Rottnest Island here
Where to eat on Rottnest Island?
While many people bring their own picnic, there are 17 places to eat and drink on the island, ranging from the General Store to sit-down restaurants. There are even gluten and dairy-free options on several menus like Dôme Restaurant and Subway; however, on Rottnest, I found extensive and delightful choices (both savoury and sweet) at The Lane.
More on Rottnest Island
- There are no private vehicles on the island.
- The island was once used as an Aboriginal prison.
- There are between 300-500 full-time residents on the island.
Charge up your camera and add a day to your Western Australia schedule for Rottnest Island. Book the first ferry across and the last one back (or spend the night), and plan to either take a Bayseeker tour or hire a bicycle to see it all.
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Have you taken a quokka selfie? Is Rottnest Island on your list of places to visit?
Disclaimer: We were guests of Sealink to aid in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.