Rottnest Island (Rotto) is a little piece of paradise. The beaches are unspoilt, and it is so relaxing to ride around by bike without the worry of cars. As the website says, ‘with a choice of over 63 secluded beaches and 20 bays, you will be spoilt for choice’.
Rottnest is an excellent place for a family holiday or day trip. We have been several times over the years both before children and with children and we really love it. Less than a half hour ferry ride from Fremantle or a little longer from Hillarys or Perth City, Rottnest is very close but seems a million miles away. There are no cars allowed on Rottnest other than service vehicles and a few little buses so most people cycle around the island which is quite small and there is no end of beautiful beaches. It is also home to the Quokka, a small cute marsupial, after which the island is named.
Rottnest is a great place to go with children, and there is plenty to do. The beaches are mostly very calm and shallow which is great for young kiddies. If you are going for the day, it is worth getting as early a ferry as possible as the last ferries go back in daylight. In summer ferries start at around 7 am, and the last ferry back is around 6 pm. Check details and availability on the individual ferry websites as the times depend on which location you are travelling to/from and the time of year. Ferries sometimes need to be booked in advance at busy times.
It is worth having a good look around the Rottnest Island website in advance of your trip as you can download maps of the island and get lots of information about all the different things to do. The website is fantastic and contains pretty much everything you need to know, including links to ferry services, tours, accommodation booking, special events, what’s on, attractions, bike hire, bus timetable, etc. Having said that, it is certainly possible to just turn up and go with the flow particularly at off-peak times.
Visitors Information Centre
When you arrive at Rottnest you disembark at Thomson Bay, the Main Settlement. The first thing you come across at the end of the jetty is the visitor’s centre which is worth a visit as you can pick up maps, bus timetables and information about what is on. They can also direct you to the bike hire shop, give general information about any particular events and they can also give you the details of any tours that are on around the island (some are free).
The visitors’ centre is also where you check in and pick up keys for your accommodation if staying on the island. You can also make accommodation bookings in person. There is a little café/kiosk to one side where you can get a snack, and there are also toilets at the back and some lockers.
A short walk from the ferry, behind the visitors’ information centre, is the main street and a short walk to the left of the visitor’s centre is the cycle hire shop (Pedal and Flipper) where you can hire a whole heap of things as well as bikes. It is also possible to hire bikes as part of your ferry package, or bring your own over for a handling fee.
If your children are confident on bikes you can spend a lovely day cycling around the island stopping at different bays. The island is a little hilly so for smaller children this can be more of a challenge. You can also hire adult trikes or a kiddie trailer, kiddie seats, etc. You can hire snorkel gear, stand up paddle boards, surf board racks, etc If any of your party has a disability there are also gophers, beach wheelchairs and disability buggies. See the website for more details http://www.rottnestisland.com/about/pedal-flipper
You can buy a day ticket for the Island Explorer bus which stops all around the island and allows you to get on and off as much as you like. If you are staying for a while you can also buy tickets for a few days or even an annual ticket.
There is a free shuttle bus that goes between Longreach/Georgie Bay – the airport – the barracks – the Main Settlement. There is a trailer at the back of the bus in case you have anything bulky like a pushchair, etc but you need to load and unload it yourself. The shuttle bus is new and air conditioned so very comfortable.
Things to Do
Apart from the island itself which is really the main attraction, there are a number of things to do during your visit.
There are a few shops:
- A pharmacy which also sells t-shirts, hats, sunnies, etc
- A wellness centre (where you can get a massage, hair cut, etc)
- Indianic Surf – a shop selling rather nice beach/summer clothes and swimwear for adults and children
- The Rottnest General Store – a supermarket selling a wide range of food and drinks including wine and beer. They also sell souvenirs, books, magazines, fishing equipment, etc. The store also offers free delivery to your accommodation if you are staying on the island at approximately 11am and 4pm each day
- BankWest ATM
And some places to eat:
- The Rottnest Bakery – selling bread, various cakes, snacks and other food to eat in or take away
- Quokka Joe’s – a good quality café which sells fresh juice and does lunch and breakfast, including gluten free options
- The Lane – a coffee bar also selling fresh juice and freshly made wraps
- Simmo’s Ice-creamery
Along the beach there are a few more options:
- Dome Café
- Aristos Seafood Restaurant and pizza bar
- Hotel Rottnest
And behind the main street:
- The Lodge which has a restaurant and a pub style venue
At Georgie Bay there is also:
- Another smaller version of the general store and bottle shop
- Geordie’s – a great café/restaurant which does coffee, fresh juice, breakfast, lunch and dinner some evenings
There are a few playgrounds on the island:
- Next to the bakery there is a large rope climbing frame
- There is a large playground right on the beach front next to Aristos restaurant which has shade sails
- Just beyond the Rottnest Hotel, near the beach, if you are walking away from the visitor’s centre (I have not been to this one but it is on the map)
- There is a shaded playground at Georgie Bay near the café and general store
- In summer there is a water park called Just 4 Fun Aqua Park which is on the right as you get off the ferry. It has a shallow area for little ones (under 7) and a deeper area for older children.
- There is a deckchair style Cinema some nights, held in the cinema hall in the main settlement
- Mini golf/family fun park – Shady mini golf course, trampolines and arcade games.
- Mini train ride up to the army guns on Oliver Hill (there was an army presence at Rottnest island during the war)
- Lighthouse tours
- There are various tours of the island both on foot and by bus – some you pay for, some are free
- Rottnest Museum – entry is a gold coin donation
- Various boat trips for whale watching, island tours, etc
- Scenic flights by helicopter
- Massage, fitness sessions, etc
- Rottnest Island Country Club – this has conference facilities, a bowling green and golf course
- There are a couple of tennis courts on the island and you can also hire racquets
- Wildlife on Rottnest Island: there are lots of birds, lizards, snakes and of course Quokkas to look out for. Underwater there are heaps of fish, crays, rays, crabs, etc and also the odd shark or sea lion. You can also see whales during the whale season.
- The snorkelling at Rottnest Island is great all around the island. A snorkeling trail can be followed at Parker Point and there are also plaques on location at Kingstown Reef.
- The fishing at Rottnest Island is excellent although you have to make sure you stick to areas which are not sanctuary zones and you need a licence which can be obtained from the Department of Fisheries. There are also heaps of crayfish if you have cray pots or know how to dive for them. As with the mainland, you need to observe bag limits and have the relevant licence where applicable. Spear guns are not allowed in the marine park.
- The Salt Store – a mini one room museum
- Lomas Cottage
- Pilot Boathouse
- There are usually special activities put on for children during school holidays some are free and some at a cost
- Some of the walking tours are free – see tourist information for details or the board outside the Salt Store or the visitors centre
Getting to Rotto
Most people get to Rottnest Island by boat. Some use their own private boats, but most get the ferry. You can also fly by air taxi or helicopter.
We usually go by ferry which for a family of 4 from Freo (on top of ferry cost is a government fee – which goes towards the upkeep and conservation of the island). There are often discounts available and you can get a discount of about 25% if you have the Entertainment Book. On this trip we had a 30% discount from the Perth Royal Show so we paid the normal fees plus luggage, bikes and parking at the ferry terminal which are extra costs to the trip over.
It is often possible to turn up and buy a ticket on the day you travel but at busy times it is worth booking in advance as ferries can get full. If you book more than 8 days in advance of your travel date you will be mailed a set of personalised luggage labels (2 free luggage labels per person). If you book less than 7 days in advance you have to pay for labels but they are quite cheap. For day trips luggage labels are not usually necessary as you would usually pack light if cycling around the island. There are also lockers at the visitors information centre on the island.
Luggage that you ‘check in’ with the ferry company is delivered to your accommodation for no extra cost which is fantastic. However, it is left outside your accommodation and not inside.
Because there are no cars on Rottnest most people either hire bikes from the ferry companies or from the bike shop on the island which has a huge range of bikes. If you prefer you can take your own for additional costs per bike on the Ferry.
You can park at the terminals at Hillarys and Fremantle and we tend to go from Freo’s Northport terminal as you can park very close to the ferry. However, it is important to check the ferry times as they differ depending on the terminal you are going from and Northport has limited departure times. So, if you are going for the day you may prefer to use another terminal so that you can go earlier and stay later. You pay for parking at Fremantle’s terminals so it is important to factor this into the cost of your trip. If you go from the main Freo terminal you can get to the ferry by public transport so you don’t need to park at all. The terminals also have cafes so you can get a drink or a snack.
There is quite a range of accommodation on the island. From camping at the campsite, dormitories, various standards of self-contained accommodation and hotel accommodation at the Rottnest Hotel and The Lodge. The majority of the accommodation is around the main settlement but there are also options at Longreach/Geordie Bay and also Kingstown Barracks. Details of the accommodation types can be found on the website and bookings can be made online or over the phone. Bookings must be paid for in full at the time of booking. http://www.rottnestisland.com/accommodation/accommodation-types
Accommodation bookings for school holidays periods used to be by way of a public ballot but now bookings open approximately 18 months in advance and it is a case of first in best dressed. During peak times it is essential to book accommodation in advance and Easter and Summer school holidays often sell out very soon after booking opens so at times you will need to book 18 months in advance! This is also the case with Leavers weekend which usually happens around the end of November. Most people avoid visiting the island during Leavers weekend as it is very busy and full of mostly school leavers!
However, outside school holidays and Leavers week you can often get accommodation at short notice. If you want a particular villa or an ocean view room you may need to book further in advance.
To book the Hotel or The Lodge, you need to contact them directly or book directly through their websites.
Our current favourite place to stay is at Longreach as it is very beautiful and you can stay right on the beach. It is a short bike ride or bus trip away from the main settlement so is a little quieter.
- If you are going for the day go as early as you can and stay as late as possible to make the most of your visit. Try to go on a day that is warm but not ridiculously hot, especially if you are planning to cycle around the island
- Make sure you factor in all costs when budgeting for your holiday (ferry, parking, luggage, bike hire or transport cost if taking your own bikes/bus ticket, accommodation, eating out, food, any attractions, etc) as it can all add up
- Stay at least one or 2 nights if you can seeing as the ferry costs a fair bit and is not much cheaper for a day return. There is plenty to do and it is a very relaxing place to stay
- If staying overnight, try to book accommodation over-looking the ocean as I think it makes a big difference
- Check in is at 2pm but check out is at 9am at the accommodation we stayed at in Longreach. Our luggage had to be ready to be collected by 8am
- Get your groceries delivered by the general store if you are staying, it is great to get to your accommodation to find your food already in the fridge including beer and wine.
- Quokkas are very easy to see, particularly if you go to the main shopping area near the bakery or eat in a restaurant. You will find them hopping around your feet in no time! However, feeding and touching quokkas is discouraged.
- When eating outside watch out for seagulls. They will not think twice about stealing any unattended food! This goes for eating at restaurants and on your balcony too. I also had a lizard once eat some fruit I forgot I had left in a bag outside my accommodation.
- There is also the resident peacock which can often be seen wandering around the main settlement area
- If you do not want to go far, The Basin is a great place to visit. It is a short bike ride from the main settlement and is great for snorkelling and has shade, an outdoor shower and toilets. Without even going in the water we saw lizards, a very colourful crab hiding in a rock cave and a sea lion sunning itself at the end of the beach.
- Carry plenty of water and snacks as there may not be water available if you go outside the main settlement
- Bring your own shade if moving away from the main settlement as there often isn’t any on the beaches and it can get very hot
- If you are planning to ride around the island by bike, make sure your kiddies are comfortable going up and down hills. Unfortunately, one of ours was not and this made for extremely slow progress!
- If you are not sure about riding around by bike then the bus is a great option and very easy.
- Watch out for snakes. Snakes on Rottnest Island are dugites and are extremely venomous. However, they will usually stay away from people as they are shy. They would only usually bite if trodden on or harassed. I have only ever seen one there once but only because someone pointed it out to me and it was just slowly gliding past.
- Bring a bike lock just to make sure your bike doesn’t get ‘borrowed’ while you are away from it!
- Relax and enjoy, it is a truly beautiful island and we love it
- Cullen Winery, Margaret River - February 18, 2018
- Brewhouse Margaret River - March 30, 2016
- Bold Park Aquatic Centre, City Beach - December 2, 2015
- The Margaret River Chocolate Factory & Cafe, Margaret River - April 28, 2015
- Margaret River Farmers’ Market, Margaret River - April 8, 2015
- Bootleg Brewery, Margaret River Region - April 3, 2015
- Cowaramup Brewing Company, Margaret River Region - April 3, 2015
- Colonial Brewery, Margaret River - April 1, 2015
- Geordie’s Cafe and Art Gallery Rottnest - February 10, 2015
- Longreach Bay, Rottnest Island - February 5, 2015