Rottnest: Western Australia’s paradise island

by Dave Allan-Petale

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were back home in Western Australia sweating in forty degree heat as we counted down the days till our wedding. Our friends and family had flown in to Perth from all points of the compass and the excitement was building to a fever pitch. To relieve a bit of the tension we went on a day trip to one of the most beautiful spots in WA, Rottnest Island.

Most people who travel to Australia only go to the east coast and tick off the big ticket items – Sydney Harbour, Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, Great Barrier Reef and so on. Unfortunately, Western Australia is often dismissed as being too far away so the many wonderful things ‘the big state’ has to offer don’t get a look in. But that’s a shame, because hand on heart, I think the west is the best and Rottnest Island is just a small taste of the natural beauty the state has to offer.

Rotto has hundreds of bays and beaches, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. This is one of my favourites - Little Parakeet Bay

Rottnest – or Rotto for short – has hundreds of bays and beaches, perfect for swimming and sun bathing. This is one of my favourites – Little Parakeet Bay

Rottnest, or ‘Rotto’ as we call it, is a favourite holiday spot for Perth people. I spent many happy summers staying in the self-contained cottages there, swimming, fishing, riding my bike absolutely everywhere. In fact, there are no cars allowed save for a few essential machines and if you want to get anywhere you have to pedal or walk. It gives the whole place a very relaxed feel.

But back to our recent trip. My brother (and best man) Jonathan, wife-to-be Carmen and our good friends from England Claire and Jim, stepped off the ferry at Thompson’s Bay, the main settlement, and headed straight for the bike hire shed. We got our wheels, stopped for a quick bite at the famous Rottnest Bakery (get a pie!) and cycled to a beach called ‘The Basin’. The Basin is a thin line of bone white sand leading to a lagoon of water sheltered by a half moon of reef – hence the name. We jumped in the clear water for a dip and used snorkel sets to follow schools of fish through the submerged coral. Very heaven.

Wish I was there...

Wish I was back there…

Next on the agenda was Little Parakeet Bay which is a short bike ride from The Basin. We locked our bikes up at the racks and walked over the smooth, hot sand down to the bay formed by windswept rocks. The blue Indian Ocean lapped at the edge of the pure white beach gleaming in the midday sun. It was getting hot so we all slapped on some sunscreen, waited for it to soak into our skin and then dove into the water.

We spotted this lizard slithering through the undergrowth - I think we disturbed his sunbathing!

We spotted this lizard slithering through the undergrowth – I think we disturbed his sun bathing!

I have a fair bit of family history with Rottnest Island. My great-grandfather George Monkhouse had a yacht that slipped its moorings during a storm and sank on the eastern side of the island – you can dive on the wreck if you want. During the Second World War the island was used as a fortress to protect the City of Perth and Port of Fremantle from attack and old George used to tow a targets for the big guns on Rottnest’s Oliver Hill to practice their shooting on.

We rode up the very steep roads to the top of the hill to have a look at these ancient weapons. You can go inside the turrets if you want, but the best thing about the climb is the view. You can see far out into the Indian Ocean on one side and then turn to see the mainland shimmering in the distance with the verdant island sloping away below.

Me and Carmen on Oliver Hill - the sea breeze blowing across the summit was a welcome relief from the heat!

Me and Carmen on Oliver Hill – the sea breeze blowing across the summit was a welcome relief from the heat!

So why do we call it Rottnest? Well, the story goes that the island was first discovered by the Dutch and when they landed they found it was teeming with colonies of small animals that they thought were giant rants. So they called it Rottnest, or ‘Rat’s Nest’. I think that’s a bit harsh on the little marsupials though.These days we call them quokkas and they are cute as a button – unlike rats!

Quokkas are harmless and found all over the island

Quokkas are harmless and found all over the island

Speaking of quokkas, we decided to end our day trip to Rottnest inside one – well, the only pub on the island, called The Quokka Arms. The pub’s outdoor terrace faces the ocean and jetty where the afternoon ferry ties up. We spent the last few hours in this paradise sipping ice cold beers and wine, eating prawns as big as your fist and watching the waves lap on the shore. A day well spent.

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What you need to know:

How to get there: Ferries leave regularly every day from the Port of Fremantle, Barrack St Jetty in Perth and Hillarys Boat Harbour. You can book tickets online or get them from the vendors at the point of departure. You can also fly to the island or take your own boat and pay for a mooring.

Costs: Ferry ticket prices depend on where you depart from and what you take – for example you can bring your own bike but you have to pay for it to be carried on the boat. Most services charge around $80 Australian and have discounts for students and children. Bikes cost $28 to hire for an adult multi-gear over 24 hours.

When to go: November to April is the best for good weather