Lovely little Rottnest Island is just 18kms from the centre of Perth. It is one of my favourite day trips in the world and loved by locals as much as tourists. There are no cars on Rottnest Island and it has 20 bays, 63 beaches and 45 kilometres of cycling paths. Artefacts pre-dating 6,500 years have been found on Rottnest Island so it appears that the Aboriginals were also big fans!
I don’t live in Perth but my oldest dearest friend does – and her husband grew up there. She and her 14 and 10-year-old sons (frequent Rottnest visitors) came with me on my Rottnest Island Day Trip and filled me in on how to have the best possible day on this stunning island!
There are two options for a Rottnest day trip. Join an organised tour or organise the trip yourself. Once you are on Rottnest Island you can choose to join a tour or to explore the island on your own. The best option for you depends on your circumstances.
If you are short on time or there are a few of you then an organised tour can be a great idea. Personally, I would rather explore independently but I think that is because I am both impatient and I want to stop whenever I feel like it for a photo!!!
Rottnest Island Day Trip: Organised Tour Options
⇒ It is very easy to travel to and around Rottnest Island independently but it does involve multiple bookings of ferry tickets and bike hire, figuring out ferry schedules and where and when to eat etc. If you would prefer to have all of the administration taken care off for you but want to explore the island on a bike on your own the day trip to Rottnest from Fremantle or Perth does all of this and will pick you up and drop you back at your hotel.
⇒ If you want fully guided of Rottnest Island tours including a bus trip around the island then the Rottnest Island All-Inclusive Tour is the tour for you. This is a great option if you’re travelling with kids, older people or anyone who is not keen to explore via a bicycle.
⇒ If you would like to explore Rottnest Island from the water than this Rottnest by Sea day tour is perfect. Your boat leaves Fremantle and then it explores Rottnest Island by pulling into different bays and beaches across the day.
⇒ For those who are keen to snorkel and dive the waters of Rottnest Island this Snorkel and Sail Catamaran Adventure is perfect.
Rottnest Island Day Trip: Travelling Independently
How to get to Rottnest Island
There are quite a few options for how to get to Rottnest Island and it can be a little confusing. Three different Rottnest ferry companies service Rottnest Island – Rottnest Express, Sealink and Rottnest Fast Ferries – and there are multiple ferry stops in Freemantle, Perth and Hillarys.
The best ferry for you will depend on where you are staying. If you are staying in North Perth then Hillary’s Boat Harbour is a good place to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island. However, there are only a few ferries for a Rottnest Island day trip from Hillayr’s each day and they take 45 minutes.
The fastest route for a Rottnest Island one day trip is from Fremantle at either B-shed or North Fremantle. This route takes 35 minutes. B-shed has a nice coffee place as well as somewhere for snacks – but I was told that the Rottnest Island bakery was much better and to save room in my stomach!
It is possible to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island from Perth City Centre. The downsides are that the Rottnest Island day trip from Perth is the most expensive option and will take 90 minutes as this ferry also stops in Fremantle before going to Rottnest. The upside is that you will cruise along the Swan River which many people choose to do as a separate activity.
All of the ferry companies offer a range of deals when buying ferry tickets. These include combining ferry tickets with bike hire, the Rottnest Island bus, a helicopter ride, skydiving, whale watching cruises in season (Aug-Nov), equipment hire and tours.
The Rottnest ferry arrives into and leaves from Thomson Bay and the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre is just a short walk away. Grab a map and ask the friendly staff about everything from hiring a bike to booking a tour. The Visitor Centre is open 7 days a week from 730am and only closes 30 minutes after the last ferry has left.
Things to do on Rottnest Island
1. Hire a Bike
Rottnest Island has 45kms of cycling paths and to me, this is the best way to explore the island. I would recommend pre-booking your bike hire. It is possible to prebook both your bike hire and ferry tickets together or hire an e-bike. Or you can pre-book your bike hire with Pedal and Flipper and just pick it up when you arrive (Pedal and Flipper is about a 5-minute walk from where the ferry drops you on Rottnest Island).
There are multiple options in terms of cycling paths depending on how long you are happy to ride. We covered about half of the Rottnest Island cycling path (details below) but if I had of had more time I definitely would have headed down to Cape Vlamingh (this is a 22km or 3-5 hour trip). I found the most deserted parts of Rottnest Island to be the most beautiful.
Set off from Thomson Bay and your first stop will be the Basin. The Basin is just stunning with blue-green waters. a great spot for snorkelling and photos.
Cycle along to Georgie Bay and Parakeet Bay. Then it depends on how much time you have – and how much time you want to spend cycling rather than lying on the beach or eating! For the shorter loop turn left at Parakeet Bay and head down to the stunning Salmon Bay. The southern coastline was my favourite as the colours were jaw-dropping. Head down to Little Salmon Bay and Parker Point and then back to Thomson Bay via Porpoise Bay.
The longer route involves going straight ahead at Parakeet Bay and then turning left at Strickland Bay. And if you want to be beyond thorough don’t turn left at Stricklan Bay and continue all the way to Cape Vlamingh. Whilst there aren’t loads of hills on Rottnest there are still a few so do take into account your cycling fitness!
2. Swim and Sunbathe
Rottnest Island has 63 beaches and 20 bays! And pretty much all of them are ready for swimmers and sunbathers! The beaches in the North tend to be a bit more sheltered whereas some of those in the south are beautiful but quite rugged. Pinky’s Beach and the Basin are two of the most popular beaches. They are both lovely and nice and close to Thomson Bay!
I highly recommend the beautiful Little Salmon Bay. It is a bit farther away from Thomson Bay so not as busy and it is also a great spot for snorkelling. Geordie Bay and Parakeet Bay are also spectacular.
Do note that swimming and snorkelling are not allowed at Cathedral Rocks or and the West End and look out for danger signs.
3. Get a Quokka Selfie
The Quokka looks like a little kangaroo and is native to Rottnest Island. The first recorded European visitor to Rottnest Island, William de Vlamingn, gave the island its name Rotte Nest (meaning rat’s nest) after he mistook the quokkas for rats. It is no wonder that Quokkas are known as the world’s happiest animals – they live on Rottnest Island!
The quokkas roam free across Rottnest Island but seem to like spending a lot of time around the bakery and then the Rottnest Hotel from late afternoon. Rottnest Island is highly encouraging of the Quokka selfie phenomenon, even providing full details of how to get the best Quokka selfie!
However, the Quokkas are wild animals so don’t touch them and don’t feed them (all very Gremlins like!!). It is best to sit and wait and let them come to you. They are friendly little fellows and there are loads of them (between 10,000 and 12,000) so as long as you have a bit of time you are unlikely to be unsuccessful when it comes to acquiring a Quokka selfie!
Rottnest Island is home to over 135 species of tropical fish! The most popular spots for snorkelling are Parakeet Bay, Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay, The Basin and Little Armstrong Bay. Collect your snorkelling brochure from Rottnest Island’s Visitors Centre and find out about guided snorkelling tours. Hire your snorkelling equipment at Pedal and Flipper.
5. See the Wildlife (other than the Quokkas!)
The Quokkas are, of course, the poster boys for Rottnest Island. But Rottnest is also home to quite a few other kinds of wildlife. If you’re into watching birds head west to the West End Boardwalk near Cathedral Rocks. Nearby Fish Hook Bay is home to many Osprey nests.
There are around 35,000 Humpback and Southern Right whales around Rottnest Island. The best time to see them is between September and December. This is when they are gaining strength and playing with their newborns. The whales can often be seen from the island, particularly around the West End Boardwalk.
The seals of Rottnest Island are mostly clustered around the Cathedral Rocks at the west end of the island. From the viewing platform, it is possible to get quite close to the New Zealand fur seals colony.
6. Walk the Wadjemup Bibi
Wadjemupu Bibi is 45kms of walking trails that take you inland and out to the bays and beaches of Rottnest Island and are a great way to explore the island in-depth. There are five different parts of the trails which vary in length from 5.9km to 10kms.
7. Ramp up the Adrenaline
Rottnest Island is a perfect play to try something you have never done before! Aquaplay is a water adventure playground which offers sea-bike tours, pedal-board and stand-up paddleboard hire, water bikes and giant inflatables. Combine a 20-minute flight with Western Australia’s only island skydive experience with Skydive Geronimo!
8. See how many modes of Transport you can use on Rottnest Island
For a small island, Rottnest has a lot of different options for getting around! Not only is there a hop on hop off bus which covers the island, Rottnest even has its own railway. If you’re keen to cycle but worried about the hills grab an e-bike. Or for something different explore the island via a segway.
See Rottnest Island from above on a helicopter ride, joy flight or seaplane. Or see it from the water on a Rottnest Cruise or via a glass-bottom sea-kayak. There is a mode of transport for everyone and every mood on Rottnest Island!
Can you stay on Rottnest Island?
Yes, you can. There is a range of Rottnest accommodation options available – from camping to a youth hostel to dorms. Thank goodness there are now some more upmarket options available – the best of which is the fabulous Discovery Glamping Resort which opened in March 2019.
Discovery Glamping Resort features 83 glamping tents across categories from a standard (56 square metres) to deluxe (98 square metres). Deluxe tends feature walk-in wardrobes and double vanities and some have uninterrupted views of the Indian ocean. All of the tents have en suites and a furnished deck. The tents are made from sustainable materials and were designed to keep cool so there is no air conditioning.
Discovery Resort Rottnest Island is adjacent to popular Pink beach and it has a beach club and guests only pool.
Karma Rottnest is a range of apartments and villas. They are nice but not that modern or stylish.
And Hotel Rottnest will be re-opening with upgraded rooms and facilities in 2020.
Where to Eat on Rottnest Island
The majority of places to eat on Rottnest Island are clustered around the main village which is at the ferry station. There are lots of food options across a range of prices. The most famous spot is the Rottnest Bakery. This iconic bakery is beloved by locals. I was told not to eat anything at B-shed as I needed to hold off for something at the Rottnest Bakery!. The ingredients are sourced locally, the bread is baked on premise daily and Rottnest Bakery is best known for its organic meat pies and jam and cream doughnuts. And all the quokkas that hang out there!
When you’re ready for a glass of wine or a terrific meal head to Hotel Rottnest. It has a fantastic location virtually on the water and is frequented by many Quokkas! The menu is modern Australian pub cuisine with lots of seafood, pizzas and salads. I went with fish and chips and they were outstanding – as was the Western Australian wine!
What to Pack for Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island is VERY relaxed and casual! Dress for comfort and protection from the sun and easy access to your swimsuit!
I recommend taking a day pack with bathers, sunscreen, a towel, cap or sun hat and a water bottle. There are a few water fountains across the island but not loads so make sure your water bottle is full when you leave the visitor’s centre area.
When to visit Rottnest Island
Like Perth, the weather on Rottnest Island is pretty good all year round. Summers tend to be dry and Rottnest tends to be a couple of degrees cooler than Perth. Winters are mild and rainy. Summers hit 30 degrees and above and winter is seldom cooler than 9 degrees celsius. However, like Perth, it can get windy so do check ferry schedules the day before you head to Rottnest Island.
Rottnest will be busiest during Perth’s school holiday periods. However, I visited early January, one of the busiest times, and it still didn’t feel full and there were loads of beaches that were quite empty.
⇒ Lovely Melbourne is where I was born and I highly recommend a visit! Check out my posts on Melbourne’s Best Brunches and some great weekends away from Melbourne in Daylesford and the Mornington Peninsula.
Things to know before you go to Rottnest Island
⇒ Book your ferry ticket at least a day in advance both ways. Tickets do sell out and queues can get long!
⇒ Prebook your bike hire. It is possible to prebook both your bike hire and ferry tickets together or hire an e-bike. Or you can pre-book your bike hire with Pedal and Flipper and just pick it up when you arrive (Pedal and Flipper is about a 5-minute walk from where the ferry drops you on Rottnest Island).
⇒ The waves between Fremantle and Rottnest can get high and it can be a bumpy trip. If you’re nervous about being on a boat and/or prone to seasickness have a bag with you and sit inside and focus on the horizon. Even on a mild day, this can be a bumpy ride.
⇒ Rottnest Island does have a hop on hop off bus. This bus covers the entire island and stops at all the key beaches and sights. Buses run approx every 30 minutes.
How to get to Perth and get around
Perth is located on the southwest coast of Western Australia on the Swan River. Do remember that Australia is big and a flight from Sydney to Perth takes five hours (although it is usually much faster on the way back due to winds). Perth is an international airport and most major airlines fly to Perth after a stopover in Asia.
⇒ If there was ever a time to fly business class it is when you fly to Australia! Check out my reviews on the business class offerings from Qatar Airways, Air France, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airways.
There was considerable publicity of late when Qantas announced a direct flight from London to Perth taking 16 1/2 hours. I personally have not taken this flight yet but Australian friends have and all have been very positive about the flight and particularly that they felt their jet lag was much better than normal.
If you’re only staying in Perth for a couple of days there is really no need to hire a car. Perth has free CAT buses within the city centre. There is a train line that runs through Perth and the suburbs including popular Fremantle. And there is Uber!
If you are staying longer than a couple of days then I would highly recommend hiring a car. Perth is a very easy city to drive around and there is generally loads of parking. If you are from a big city you may find the frequency of Perth public transport a little frustrating. Also, this is a sprawling city so the locals will be driving most places!
Boutique Hotels in Perth
Perth has some fantastic boutique hotels! Indeed, it is hard to choose amongst all of the great options – and they also tend to be very good value for accommodation of this standard.
My favourite is Como the Treasury. The Victorian era building and former barracks were restored to reveal high ceilings, cornices and balconies that were then styled with a modern touch. This is a very special hotel with a unique feel. It has 48 guest rooms, one of the hottest restaurants in Perth (Wildflower, a glassed-in building on the rooftop featuring a traditional Aboriginal style seasonal menu), a Como Shambhala spa and connected bars which allow you to take your glass of wine all through the hotel! And it is located literally in the heart of the city.
I love the QT hotels which are across Australia and New Zealand! Yes, they are a chain but they are a small chain. QT Hotels tend to have great inner-city locations, eclectic and stylish designs and great bars and restaurants. Perth’s QT hotel is more of the same with a fab rooftop bar and a great Italian restaurant, Santini Grill.
The Alex Hotel is located in quirky Northbridge, one of Perth’s inner-city suburbs and home to some of its most interesting and edgy restaurants and bars. Check out The Shadow Wine Bar and use one of their bikes to head down to Cottesloe beach.
The Hougoumont is in lovely little Fremantle, one of Perth’s most happening areas and the kick off point for several Rottnest Island ferries. This hotel was actually built using shipping container construction methods! This stylish and quirky hotel offers wine and cheese tastings every evening as well as tea and toast in the morning – from the fantastic Bread in Common bakery in Fremantle.
⇒ If you’re planning to visit Brisbane check out my post on Brisbane Boutique Hotels
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I covered all of the costs associated with this post. The post does contain affiliate links. This means if you click through on some of the links and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. This will not affect the price that you pay. I just wanted to make sure that you knew this.
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