Guide to Rottnest Island

Last Updated: 20 Nov 2015
Localista Team

Everybody’s favourite place to escape, the sandy, car-free isle of Rotto, has been winning the hearts of visitors for more than a century. experience its unspoilt beaches and relaxed pace for yourself.

Known to the local Noongar people as Wadjemup, Rottnest is believed to have separated from the mainland about 7000 years ago, and now lies a tantalising 19km off the Perth coastline – just a short ferry ride away.

The coral reefs surrounding Rottnest are fed by the warm Leeuwin current, meaning the waters are populated by a teeming array of colourful marine life – boasting a diversity second only to that found in Shark Bay in the state's far north.

Rottnest's popularity is as enormous as the island is small, yet you can always find a secluded stretch of white sand. There are 63 beaches and 20 bays crammed into an area just 11km long and 4.5km at its widest point. Most people are drawn to the sheltered swimming holes near Thomson Bay, where the ferries arrive and depart, or Geordie Bay, a secondary hub 2km away.

But there are more treasures to be found by those who are willing to pedal their bikes a little further afield – from historical monuments, inland salt lakes and secret fishing spots, to mysterious diving wrecks and coral playgrounds.
Visitors are guaranteed to fall in love with the island's famous and friendly quokkas. They inspired the name 'Rottnest', which translates to 'rat's nest' in Dutch.

Top 10

1.Take the Wadjemup Lighthouse tour and enjoy 360-degree views that
extend to the mainland.
2. Ride the island's Captain Hussey train to the historic Oliver Hill Battery and Gun Tunnel. 1.30pm daily.
3. See the sights by light plane, boat, foot, motorised segway or air-conditioned coach. If you're feeling adventurous, explore underwater with a snorkel.
4. Tee off at the refurbished Rottnest Island golf course.
5. Paddleboard in one of the many tranquil bays.
6. Snorkel at The Basin, only 10 minutes from the settlement, which has shallow, clear water ideal for underwater viewing.
7. Spot bottlenose dolphins, known for feeding and surfing the waters of Salmon Bay.
8. Catch the antics of a colony of New Zealand fur seals from a spot on the new Cathedral Rocks viewing platform.
9. Watch ospreys tend to their burgeoning nests at West End. Some of the stacks are more than 70 years old.
10. Have a rejuvenating experience at Karma Spa at Rottnest Lodge.

For more visit


Rottnest is a place where families and friends can stay in neighbouring cabins and share barbecues on the verandah after long days of swimming and snorkelling in the sun. Book self-catered accommodation through the Rottnest Island Authority, from modern units to north-facing heritage cottages at Geordie Bay, or a 50-bed hostel and a camping ground near The Basin. Serviced rooms are available at the Rottnest Hotel. Rottnest Lodge offers a pool, bars and a variety of comfy rooms.


Quokkas can be been seen foraging for food around Rottnest without a care in the world. These adorable marsupials are generally nocturnal, sleeping under bushes throughout the day. Tiny joeys can be seen from September to November. Avoid feeding them, as 'human food' can make them very sick.


If you are travelling light with a party of five or six, arrive by air taxi, charter plane, private boat or helicopter. Otherwise, take a ferry from Perth, Hillarys Boat Harbour or Fremantle.


Rottnest Fast Ferries are wheelchair-accessible, and the island has wide paths, ramps, and toilet facilities. The visitor centre has a complimentary buggy, adult tricycles, electric scooters and beach wheelchairs. The Rottnest Island Authority and Rottnest Lodge offer accommodation with wheelchair access.


On your bike

Rottnest is compact enough to be enjoyed by pedal power alone, and the lack of road traffic (most vehicles are banned) makes for a pleasant journey every time. If you don't want to bring your own bicycle, hire one at Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper in Thomson Bay. You'll find hundreds of bikes for every age and ability, with kiddie seats and tow carts, tandems – the lot. You can even opt for an electric bike if you're feeling lazy.

TIP A 'bike and bus' pass allows you to leave your bike at a numbered bus stop while you jump on the Island Explorer bus back to the settlement.

TIP After your ride, head to the Rottnest Island Bakery for a pie or a jam-and-cream doughnut. Across the road is Simmo's and the Laneway Cafe, a great spot for coffee and breakfast

Stretch Your Legs

For walkers, sections of the brand new Wadjemup Walk Trail are ready to tread. Choose from the lakes walk (4km one way), which explores the 12 inland salt lakes and migratory birdlife (allow two to four hours); the Salmon Bay Walk (6.1km one way), which includes a climb up to Wadjemup Lighthouse for panoramic views over the Indian Ocean (allow one to three hours); and the Bickley Bay Walk (9.4km one way), which focuses on the history of the old military installations on the island (allow two to four hours).

Cast a Line

You're unlikely to leave Rottnest without catching a fish, and it's not hard to find a place on the shore, sheltered from the wind. Many fishing spots are just a short bike ride from the settlement. Head further out to Radar Reef or Ricey Beachy, or just a few kilometres off the West End where the continental shelf drops to great depths, and you'll find bigger fish among the reefs.

Get your snorkel on

More than 135 species of tropical fish call the waters of Rottnest home.
The Basin and Salmon Bay are great for beginners, and Parakeet Bay has little coves. An underwater trail can be followed at Parker Point, and there are also some markers at Kingstown Reef. Keep your eyes peeled – green turtles often stop by, as do stingrays.

Whale of a Time

In April, tens of thousands of humpback and southern right whales pass by the sheltered waters of Rottnest Island, heading north. From September, on their return trip, they bring their calves down to rest and play in the waters off the island.


Mathilde Bernard, Green Army conservation volunteer
"My favourite place to walk is between Pink Lake and Lake Sirius. I like to watch the reflections embrace the crystal shadows."

Rottnest Island Picture Hall.


  • Make a splash over summer at Just 4 Fun Aqua Park in Thomson Bay, with slides, seesaws, beach bungee trampolines, rock-climbing and an obstacle course, plus a kids' knee-deep park for the little ones.
  • Enjoy a leisurely 18 holes of mini golf at the Family Fun Park & Mini Golf in Thomson Bay, or hit up the classic pinball machines and arcade games (blasts from the past include Pac-Man, Space Invaders and air hockey).
  • Enjoy a home-made choc bomb or popcorn while watching a blockbuster at the Rottnest Island Picture Hall.


The Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim
One of Western Australia's iconic events, and the biggest day of the year on the island, this 19.7km open-water swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island
is a 'team' event, with all swimmers surrounded by a support
network of paddlers, boat skippers and crew. Feb.

Rottnest Open House
This offers a rare opportunity to get inside some of the heritage-listed limestone cottages, originally belonging to early European settlers
in Thomson Bay. Jul.

Rottnest After Dark
Each year, the Rottnest Island Authority presents live performances. In Scooplight Theatre's Capturing the Enemy, the stories of prisoners of war, once interred on the island, are brought to life at the Salt Store. Jul-Aug.

Come for a weekend of belly-busting laughs and toe-tapping beats
at this annual comedy and music festival. Sep.

Rottnest Carnivale
The fundraising event, complete with pirates and mermaids, includes plenty of free family activities, food and entertainment. Part proceeds go towards Telethon. Oct.


Michael Gleeson, accommodation supervisor
"I always recommend The Basin to visitors. That's where I go with my family for a swim when they come over. It's safe and it's beautiful. There's nowhere nicer I can think of… anywhere!"

Eric Wheatley, volunteer guide
"Go on a guided walk, go riding, walking… have a look at all the history – and, of course, the quokkas! Rottnest is so special – it is wonderful being
able to share it."

TIP Only came for the day, but packed for a week? No worries –
there are coin-operated lockers available so you can explore the
island unencumbered.

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