Rotto travel guide: the perfect day trip to Rottnest Island, Western Australia
With pristine white-sand beaches, tranquil swimming bays, vibrant reefs, and pumping surf, it’s no secret why Rottnest Island has become one of Western Australia’s most popular travel destinations. Coupled with the fact that it’s one of only a few places in the world where you can see quokkas, the adorable little marsupials that have gained internet fame for smiling in selfies alongside giddy tourists, and that the island is just 18km off the coast of Perth, “Rotto” is both an immensely popular weekend escape for locals and a major draw for international travellers venturing over to Australia’s rugged west coast.
Rotto is somewhere that absolutely everyone will tell you to visit in WA and, for that reason, I skipped over it on my first trip, figuring it was going to be crowded and a bit of a let down. On my most recent visit, I realised what an enormous mistake that was— if Rottnest Island seems to be over-hyped, it’s only because it is actually that amazing. Use this Rottnest Island travel guide to learn more about catching the ferry, getting around the island, staying overnight, how to take the perfect quokka selfie, and all the best places to visit during your trip!
Getting to Rottnest Island
Getting to Perth
Before making the journey over to Rottnest Island, you’ll first need to get to Perth, the capital of Western Australia. There are plenty of flights zipping across from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc, but you’ll have to plan ahead to get a good price on tickets. My Qantas flights from Melbourne were $650AUD in December, even reserved several months in advance, so keep an eye on specials and considering traveling during off-peak (i.e. avoiding school holidays).
Check out this 1-week itinerary for the perfect trip around South West Australia: PERTH TO MARGARET RIVER TRAVEL GUIDE: 1-WEEK WESTERN AUSTRALIA ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
Once in Perth, make sure to take at least a few days to explore the city and surrounds. WA is one of the most spectacular places in all of Australia and home to absolutely staggering natural beauty. Rottnest Island is only a small taste of what the state has to offer!
Ferry to Rottnest Island
Although it’s possible to fly to Rottnest Island or cruise over in your own boat, the vast majority of visitors will arrive via passenger ferry from either Perth or Fremantle on the mainland. I’d recommend departing from Fremantle, as this is a great area to stay just a few minutes out of Perth, is the cheapest ferry route, and also offers the shortest boat ride to Rotto— just 25min compared to 45min from Hillary’s Ferry Terminal in North Perth or 90min from Perth City.
There are 3 ferry companies that operate from Perth and/or Fremantle. SeaLink Rottnest and Rottnest Express are both very popular and offer identical pricing, so choose whichever time is most convenient. Rottnest Express and SeaLink Rottnest also offer a discount for mid-week travel (see below), so that’s a great way to save money if you’re flexible on dates.
In addition to the cost of the ferry, you’ll also need to pay a $19 Government Admission fee for Rottnest Island ($25 if staying overnight). This is paid directly to the ferry company when reserving your ticket, but isn’t included in the prices below.
- Departs from Perth City (Barrack Street Jetty) or Fremantle (B Shed)
- $51 standard fare (return) from Fremantle or $90 from Perth City
- $30 mid-week fare (return) from Fremantle
- Add bike hire for $30; pick up bike on Rotto
- Book online here
- Departs from Perth City (Barrack Street Jetty) or Fremantle (B Shed and Rous Port Harbour)
- $51 standard fare (return) from Fremantle or $90 from Perth City
- $30 mid-week fare (return) from both Fremantle locations
- Add bike hire for $30; bike travels on the ferry
- Book online here
Rottnest Fast Ferries
- Departs from Perth (Hillary’s Ferry Terminal)
- $68 standard fare (return)
- Add bike hire for $30; bike travels on the ferry
- Book online here
Getting around Rottnest Island
Island Explorer bus
There are no private vehicles allowed on Rottnest Island, which really leaves you with 2 main options for getting around. For $20, you can purchase a day pass on the Island Explorer bus, hopping on and off at any of the 14 bus stops scattered across Rottnest Island.
These bus stops are mainly concentrated around popular tourist beaches and the main accomodation areas (see the map below), which makes it easy to get around, but also does limit your ability to explore away from the crowds— and these can be notable in summer or during school holidays.
Biking around the island
The second option, and my personal recommendation, is to hire a bike and pedal around Rotto, discovering all the hidden gems that make this island so magical. Rottnest Island is only 11km long, so it’s incredibly manageable for any level of biker to explore at least a good portion of the island within a single day.
The roads are also relatively flat, but if you’re worried about some short hills or you just want to take it easy, plenty of companies offer e-bikes for hire. For those hoping to bike all the way to the West End and back in a single day, this is probably a good idea, just to maximise your time at the beach and minimise your time sweating on a bike seat. See my recommended itinerary below for more tips on biking Rottnest Island!
Hiring a bike on Rottnest Island
There are a few different ways to hire a bike for exploring Rottnest Island, including hiring on the mainland and bringing it over on the ferry, but the easiest choice is Pedal & Flipper in The Settlement, just a 5min walk from the ferry (walk to the left as you disembark).
There is an enormous fleet of bikes at Pedal & Flipper, but by reserving ahead you can skip the lengthy queue and get straight to exploring. Normal bikes are $30, e-bikes are $60, and you can reserve in advance through the Rottnest Island website or on the SeaLink website at the same time as you book your ferry ticket.
Grab a basket from Pedal & Flipper to conveniently carry your towel, water, and other personal belongings off the side of the bike. Even if you brought a backpack, it’s still nice to keep your wet stuff separate! They typically charge $5 for the baskets, but often the staff will just give you one for free if you’ve already reserved and paid for your bike online.
Where to stay on Rottnest Island
There are only a 3 main areas to stay on Rottnest Island, each with a small number of accomodation options available, including camping, cabins, suites, and private units.
The Thomson Bay Settlement
This is the main town on Rottnest Island and, in addition to the the ferry wharf, there are several restaurants, cafes, and a Visitor’s Centre in the area. Accomodation spans the length of Thomson Bay up to Pinky Bay and The Basin, and ranges from campgrounds and budget cabins to glamping and upscale hotels.
- Campground: $39/night for a 6-person campground, just off The Basin
- Karma Rottnest: variety of mid-value hotel rooms
- Hotel Rottnest: fully renovated upscale hotel re-opening late 2020
- Discovery Holiday Park: $274-489/night (min. 3 nights), glamping tents with stellar views
- Caroline Thomson Cabins: $76-153/night for a 6-bed cabin
- North Heritage Bungalows: $86-197/night for 4- or 6-bed cabins
- Heritage View Cottage: $280-571/night for a 6-bed cabin
- Heritage Cottage: $126-466/night for a 4-, 6-, or 8-bed cabin at the north end of Thomson Bay
- Standard Holiday Units: $126-330/night for 4- or 6-bed units
- Chalet: $126-241/night for a 4-bed chalet at the north end of Thomson Bay
Just a short walk from The Settlement, Kingstown Barracks is a quieter place to stay that still affords easy access to the ferry, bike hire, and cafes of The Settlement. Options here are best for either budget travellers or for large groups.
- Rottnest Hostel: $55/night for a dorm bed (year-round) or $83-122/night for a family room
- Governor’s Circle: large 9-, 13-, or 18-bed cabins for groups
- Kingstown Dormitories: range or 2-bed to 18-bed dorms for groups
This small area is the only other food hub on the island, with a cafe and general store walking distance from any accomodation. The Basin, one of the most popular beaches on Rotto, is also in close proximity, and there are a range of mid-budget and luxury options available, many with an ocean view.
- Island Couple’s Retreat: $214-424/night for a luxury 1-bedroom house, on Longreach Bay
- Ocean View Units: $214-570/night for 4-, 6-, or 8-bed unit with beach view (also scattered towards Thomson Bay)
- Premium View Units: $187-498/night for 4-, 6-, or 8-bed unit (also scattered towards Thomson Bay)
- Premium Units: $143-330/night for 4-, 6-, or 8-bed unit (also scattered towards Thomson Bay)
Where to eat on Rottnest Island
Cafes & restaurants
The greatest selection of food and drink is available in The Thomson Bay Settlement, which includes a bakery, general store, Subway, and several local cafes, restaurants, and bars.
You can also find food in Geordie Bay, which has a cafe/restaurant and a well-stocked general store, or stop at the Lexi’s coffee cart at the West End… and then that’s the end of your food options on Rottnest Island.
Based on the slim selection of food outside The Settlement, I’d recommend either packing snacks along or working Geordie Bay into your itinerary as a lunch stop while riding around the island. The general store here has inexpensive meat pies and cold drinks, as well as a wide selection of fruit, ice cream, chips, and other snacks.
There are a number of free water re-fill stations on Rottnest Island, mainly concentrated around The Settlement, Kingstown Barracks, The Basin, Vlamingh Lookout, and Geordie Bay.
There is nowhere to fill up water in the middle of the island or over at the West End, so plan accordingly and carry plenty of water with you while you’re biking.
What to pack for Rottnest Island
- Day pack or beach bag— be sure to grab a basket for your bike if you’re carrying a bag
- Beach towel
- Sunnies & hat
- Water bottle— re-fill at the free water stations on Rottnest Island and carry plenty of water on a long ride
- Ferry tickets— on your phone or printed
- Map of Rottnest Island— grab a free map from the ferry or the Visitor’s Centre on Rottnest Island
Everything you need to know about quokkas
Particularly as #QuokkaSelfie has gained popularity online and catapulted Rotto onto the international travel stage, spotting local quokkas is arguably the main tourist draw to Rottnest Island (that is, before you’ve realised how amazing the beaches are). But what even is a quokka?!
What is a quokka?
These fuzzy marsupials, bearing a striking resemblance to baby wallabies, are native only to Rotto and a couple other islands off the coast of southwest WA. By far the largest population lives on Rottnest Island, though, and despite low global numbers, you can expect to see dozens of quokkas hopping about during your trip.
Apart from being unique to WA, the quokka’s main claim to fame is just that it’s insanely cute— widely referred to as “the world’s most cheerful animal”, quokkas wear perpetual grins and will happily approach tourists for a sniff/lick.
Where to spot quokkas?
Quokkas are seriously everywhere on Rotto, but you can find particularly large concentrations around The Settlement and through the centre of the island. They are herbivores, so they tend to hang out around bushes and along the side of the road, foraging for food or relaxing in the shade. This is another reason why biking is the absolute best way to experience Rotto— you can stop for as many quokka selfies as you like!
The greatest number of quokkas seem to be active in the early morning and evening (especially when it’s hot during the afternoon), but you’ll still have no trouble finding them alongside any shady stretches of road or along Thomson Bay on a summer arvo.
Are quokkas scared of humans?
Many generations of quokkas have grown up seeing tourists on Rottnest Island and, thankfully, realised that people are no threat— they are now completely comfortable with humans and aren’t easily startled by bikes.
Quokkas are so trusting that they will happily let you touch or pat them, but just because you can touch them, doesn’t mean you should. Please respect that the quokkas on Rotto are wild animals, so picking them up, feeding them, or shoving a selfie stick in their face is absolutely unacceptable. And it’s totally possible to get a great photo without doing any of these things!
How to take the perfect quokka selfie
The best way to get a quokka selfie is to actually let the quokka do most of the work. You’ll undoubtedly see tourists shoving their selfie stick in the animals’ faces or forcibly positioning quokkas for the perfect shot, but it’s both inappropriate and unnecessary to treat quokkas like a photo prop. They are animals, so show them some respect!
When you spot a quokka, approach within a few metres, kneel or sit on the ground, and then let the quokka come the rest of the way to you, IF HE WANTS TO. More often than not, the quokka will eagerly hop over to your camera for a sniff, making it super easy to get a great photo. If he doesn’t come over, though, don’t nudge him or lure him with food— there are plenty of other quokkas on the island willing to pose for a photo, so just respect this quokka’s space and move on.
*Where to go on Rottnest Island
Rotto is very compact and it’s possible to cycle a 22km loop around the entire island in just 3-5hrs, but this isn’t necessarily the itinerary I’d recommend. There are so many beautiful beaches to explore, cool snorkelling spots to check out, and adorable quokkas to meet that it would be a shame to spend your entire day on the island stuck to a bike seat! If you really want to see the full island, stay overnight or hire an e-bike.
If you’re only on Rottnest Island for one action-packed day, my suggested itinerary would be to take the short loop from The Settlement up to the lighthouse, Pinky Beach, The Basin, then around to Geordie Bay for lunch (following most of the blue Ride 1 shown on the map below). From here, ride down to lake Herschel and across the middle of the island via Pink Lake to Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay, and Salmon Point before returning to the ferry (the brown Ride 2 shown on the map below). This is only about 13km of riding, but easily fills an entire day, even if you catch the first ferry of the morning over and the last ferry back.
1 | Pinky Beach
This beautiful, sheltered beach on the northeastern point of Rotto is great for families, snorkelling, or just going for a relaxed swim in the calm waters. En route, stop off to see sprawling views from the Bathurst Lighthouse.
2 | The Basin
One of the most popular beaches on Rottnest Island and previously rated as Australia’s Best Beach, The Basin and its impossibly blue water is an amazing place for a swim or snorkel. This is only a few minutes beyond Pinky Beach towards Geordie Bay, so it makes a great pre-lunch stop.
3 | Pink Lake
Cycling through the middle of Rotto, there are a number of beautiful lakes, none more enchanting than the aptly-named Pink Lake. The vibrant water of this shallow salt lake is the result of a specific type of algae that flourishes under hot conditions, and as the closest pink lake to Perth City, this is a can’t-miss.
4 | Parker Point
At the southern tip of Rotto, Parker Point is an amazing spot for snorkelling and swimming. Like everywhere on the island, the sand is blindingly white and the water is unbelievably clear, but unlike everywhere on the island, you’ll typically have it entirely to yourself— even on a busy summer day where we were fighting to get towel space at The Basin, Parker Point was blissfully secluded.
5 | Salmon Point
One of the best places to snorkel on the island is Salmon Point, not far from Parker Point at the south end of Rotto. Depending on the time of the last ferry, this may be your final snorkel of the day, so make it a good one!
6 | Little Salmon Bay
And finally, yet another gorgeous spot to relax on the sand and enjoy calm waters as the sun sets, Little Salmon Bay is a sheltered cove between Salmon Point and Parker Point. This is the perfect place to wind down after a long day of biking and exploring, before making the journey back to the ferry and over to the mainland for more adventures.
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