Rot­tnest Is­land is a cap­sule ver­sion of Western Aus­tralia’s myr­iad of­fer­ings

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

How­ever you ar­rive, the is­land is car-free and there are 63 beaches, with op­por­tu­ni­ties for snorkelling, bird watch­ing, Seg­way tours, cy­cling or walk­ing on 45km of trails (there are in­for­ma­tion boards at her­itage sites and wayfind­ing in­for­ma­tion), ex­plor­ing World War II tun­nels be­neath the gun on Oliver Hill, or even sky­div­ing from heights of more than 4,000 me­tres.

NON-STOP FLIGHTS

The is­land, along with most of Western Aus­tralia, is hop­ing for a boost from the start of non-stop Qan­tas flights from Lon­don to Perth (re­viewed on­line at busi­nesstrav­eller.com). For those whose mem­o­ries of vis­it­ing from Europe are book­ended by the 30-hour jour­ney via some­where in the Mid­dle East or Asia, fol­lowed by a fur­ther stop in Syd­ney or Mel­bourne, now it’s pos­si­ble to reach Perth di­rect and non-stop from the UK in just 17 hours. The time dif­fer­ence isn’t so bad ei­ther, as Perth is only seven hours ahead of GMT. Jet lag is roughly what you’d ex­pect fly­ing to Bangkok, which means you’re quickly on your feet and ready to ex­plore be­yond the city – Rot­tnest is an ob­vi­ous first trip.

Rot­tnest’s idyl­lic ap­pear­ance be­lies its hor­rific re­cent his­tory. Be­hind the peace­ful beauty (it re­minded me of a drier ver­sion of Lind­is­farne in Northum­ber­land, Eng­land) is the dis­turb­ing fact that the is­land was used as a pe­nal colony for Abo­rig­ines un­til the early 20th cen­tury. A to­tal of some 2,700 men and boys were im­pris­oned, and 369 died. Given a his­tory like that, you’d think they’d just give up and re­brand the is­land with a new name.

Of course, it did have a name prior to Euro­pean set­tle­ment – Wad­jemup, which means “place of spir­its across the sea”. Wal­ter McGuire, of Go Cul­tural, of­fers tours of Rot­tnest along with main­land Abo­rig­i­nal vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ences. He ex­plained the Abo­rig­i­nal be­lief that when some­one dies the spirit trav­els to the ocean and re­sides where the sun sets, with Wad­jemup be­ing the last stop on the way. The west end of the is­land is re­ferred to as Koor­inup, the place where the spir­its of Noon­gar peo­ple come to rest af­ter death. The na­tive songs or dream­ings recog­nise not only sites such as these but also lo­ca­tions now un­der the sea be­tween the is­land and the main­land – fas­ci­nat­ing oral his­tory con­sid­er­ing the is­land was sep­a­rated from the rest of Aus­tralia around 7,000 years ago.

Rot­tnest has un­der­gone many changes in more re­cent years. The veg­e­ta­tion can sur­vive arid con­di­tions – feather spear­grass and prickle lily are most ev­i­dent – and, in ar­eas where pre­vi­ously the is­land had trees, which were cut down for build­ing or fire­wood for the is­land’s salt works, heath has taken over. Wood­land is be­ing re­planted, but only with the two tree species na­tive to the is­land: the Rot­tnest Is­land Pine and Rot­tnest Is­land Tea Tree, since other va­ri­eties put too much pres­sure on the lim­ited ground­wa­ter.

EAT­ING AND SLEEP­ING

Con­ser­va­tion is re­fresh­ingly top of the agenda, but since this is Western Aus­tralia there are also fan­tas­tic din­ing op­tions for a wide choice of bud­gets. For cor­po­rate events you can have a pic­nic on the beach with canapés, cham­pagne and some snorkelling, while more typ­i­cal op­tions in­clude a range of restau­rants such as the bar and bistro at the Ho­tel Rot­tnest on the beach­front of Thom­son Bay. The for­mer Gover­nor’s Res­i­dence of Charles Fitzger­ald (Perth was too hot for him in the sum­mer), it is castel­lated to give a cas­tle-like sil­hou­ette. With 18 rooms and a wide ve­randa, you can eas­ily while away an af­ter­noon over dishes such as Rot­tnest cray­fish salad – cray­fish is the lo­cal name for rock lob­ster. Sim­pler but equally de­li­cious fare in­cludes burg­ers and chicken sand­wiches.

The vast ma­jor­ity of vis­i­tors re­turn to the main­land at the end of each day but, with camp­ing, cab­ins and ho­tels on the is­land, op­tions for stay­ing on Rot­tnest it­self are in­creas­ing, in­clud­ing more high-end ac­com­mo­da­tion. It’s pos­si­ble to rent his­toric her­itage cot­tages or more modern apart­ments, to stay bud­get in the old bar­racks, or in the forth­com­ing Pinky’s Eco Re­treat Rot­tnest, which will have more than 80 “glamp­ing” tents (even Ho­tel Rot­tnest is plan­ning to add an­other 80 rooms). That said, Rot­tnest isn’t a bud­get des­ti­na­tion. I spoke with sev­eral Perth cit­i­zens who told me it was less ex­pen­sive for them, in terms of com­plete pack­age price, to fly from Perth to Bali for a long week­end than to travel to Rot­tnest and stay in a sim­i­lar stan­dard of ac­com­mo­da­tion. It’s the lat­est twist for this is­land that has had more than its fair share of his­tory.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: There are 63 beaches on the is­land; the Vin­cent Way, one of sev­eral trails on the is­land; quokkas are mar­su­pi­als re­lated to kan­ga­roos; cor­po­rate events can be ar­ranged, in­clud­ing canapés and drinks on the beach

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