A short trip from Perth, Rottnest Island offers a capsule version of the charms, and history, of Western Australia
Empty beaches, unique flora and fauna and single-track roads from which motorised vehicles are banned are just a few of the attractions of Rottnest Island. This limestone-based sandy island just off the coast of Western Australia is a mere 15km from Perth, and has an area of only 19sq km. Yet, the island attracts 750,000 visitors each year, and even the least adventurous will find it a pleasant day trip. We’d only been there for 30 minutes when we saw our first bottlenose dolphin, rolling over just beyond the reef in one of the island’s 20 bays. There are also fur seals galore, a nest for the eastern osprey at Salmon Point and, just offshore, passing humpback whales followed by small boats full of sightseers.
Nevertheless, for a leisure destination billed as “Western Australia’s very own island paradise”, the name “Rottnest” could be more enticing. The title comes from Dutch sea captain Willem de Vlamingh, who in 1696 charted the uninhabited island while on a mission for the VOC (Dutch East India Company). De Vlamingh mistook the cat-sized mammal population – now known as quokkas, the Aboriginal name – to be rats, and so termed it “’t Eylandt ’t Rottenest” (Rats’ Nest Island). Today these tame, protected marsupials are deemed cuddly, and it seems just about every visitor has to get a selfie with one of the 8,000 or so population, as a quick search on the internet or Instagram will confirm. Luckily, there’s much more to do on the island than this activity.
The most popular way of visiting is by the Rottnest Express fast ferry, as this covers the 19km from the port of Fremantle in just 25 minutes. But you could also arrive in style by taking a trip out to Rottnest by helicopter, allowing you an aerial tour of Perth first. Viewed from above, the island almost looks porous with its large lagoons and low-lying profile – the highest point is only 45 metres above sea level, though the surrounding corals of the Indian Ocean were dangerous enough to warrant a lighthouse.
It’s a leisure destination billed as ‘Western Australia’s very own island paradise’
The island has a distinctive landscape with large lagoons