Encircled by some of the prettiest beaches in Western Australia and imbued with a relaxed, family-friendly vibe, it's hard to believe that Rottnest Island is only eighteen kilometres away from busy Fremantle on the mainland. However, the accessibility of 'Rotto', as it's affectionately called by locals, is one of its greatest drawcards and throughout the year the island is a popular destination for both day-trippers and longer-term visitors.
Archaeological evidence reveals that Rottnest Island was occupied by Noongar people for many thousands of years until rising sea waters separated the land-mass from the mainland about seven thousand years ago. While the first European explorers who landed were a group of thirteen Dutch sailors in 1658 from the Waeckende Boey , it wasn't until several years after the establishment of the Swan River Colony, in 1837, that Robert Thomson and his family settled there. Over the following years, the island has served a variety of functions including a penal settlement for Aboriginal prisoners, a military base and a holiday resort.
These days, Rottnest Island is not only one of Western Australia's most popular attractions for interstate and overseas visitors, but also a much-loved retreat for locals who come in droves, especially during the warmer weather.
One of 'Rotto's greatest attractions is its lack of motorised traffic. Apart from a handful of service vehicles, the only ways to get around are by bike or on foot. This creates a slower, more peaceful ambiance which is very conducive to relaxation, as well as providing a much safer environment for young children and the local wildlife.
Throughout the year, Rottnest Island offers so much to see and do for people of all ages. The following are some activities which many visitors enjoy during their visit:
Rottnest Island's beaches are exquisitely beautiful and range from small, secluded bays to open surf beaches. For young families, some of the most popular can be found within the settlement area. The beach at Thomson bay is an easy walk from the island's main shopping area, and its sheltered turquoise waters and golden sands are the perfect spot to laze away a hot summer day. There are also plenty of picnic facilities located close by.
Situated midway between Thomson Bay and Longreach Bay, The Basin is quite possibly 'Rotto's' most popular beach. Relatively small in size and surrounded by picturesque sandstone formations, The Basin is a lovely sheltered spot which is great for an early morning dip and for very young children.
For those desiring to explore further afield, the Bay Seeker bus service is a terrific way to explore some of Rottnest's other beaches. Following a circular route around the island, buses regularly pass designated stops to drop off and pick up passengers.
Other Water-based Activities
Other fun things to do in the water include snorkelling, diving, surfing and sea kayaking. If you don't have your own, equipment can be hired at various locations on the island. During cooler weather when it's too cold to get wet, there is still plenty to keep you occupied, with various cruises taking in the island's beautiful coastline, numerous shipwrecks and marine life. A semi-submersible boat, the Underwater Explorer gives visitors a good view of the reef from above the water, and also runs snorkelling cruises, while Charter 1 operates whale watching eco adventures from the island.
During the warmer months, the Just 4 Fun Aqua Park in the heart of the settlement is a paradise for children with its big inflatable trampolines, waterslides and other fun stuff.
With practically no vehicles on the roads, Rottnest Island is a cyclist's paradise and a network of roads and cycle paths traverse most area. Visitors have the option of either bringing their own bikes or hiring one from Rottnest Island Bike Hire. As well as conventional bikes, it's also possible to hire tandem bikes, trailers for your infants, surfboard racks and much more for a few hours, a whole day or more.
A Nature Lover's Paradise
Mother Nature is at her most beautiful at 'Rotto', and it's easy to spend hours ambling along isolated beaches, the salt lakes of the interior or making friends with the native quokkas, small marsupials which are mostly found on the island. Close to the settlement area, a dedicated band of volunteers lead regular guided walks, focusing on specific topics such as its history, the quokkas or local shipwrecks. Further information can be found at the Rottnest Island Visitors' Centre. Be sure to bring your art supplies or camera when you come, as the island's natural beauty will take your breath away and ignite your creativity.
A variety of tours are available around the island, including the popular Rottnest Island Discovery Tour, which is great for a quick overview of its highlights, and the Wadjemup Lighthouse Tour which provides a fascinating insight into this 'Rotto' icon.
Oliver Hill Battery
Situated on one of the island's low hills, the Oliver Hill Battery, an icon of Australia's home defence during World War II, is a destination which will fascinate the whole family. With construction beginning in 1936, the site was crucial during the war as a part of the Fremantle Coastal Defence Fortress. Several large guns (which can still be seen today) were stationed on Oliver Hill with the purpose of engaging hostile ships approaching the Fremantle harbour.
These days, Oliver Hill is a peaceful spot where you can wander independently or take a tour into the tunnels below, escorted by one of the knowledgeable volunteer guides.
Museum and Gallery
For history buffs, a small museum can be found in a historic building behind the Rottnest Island General Store. Those interested in art and photography may find the Salt Store Gallery and Exhibition Centre, also in the main settlement area, of interest.
Fun Family Activities
A few nights a week family movies are shown at the Picture Hall in the heart of the settlement. Check out the notice board outside the hall to find out what's on, and at what time. Close by, there is also the Family Fun Park, with classic pinball and space invader machines, and a Mini Putt-Putt golf course. In addition, during school holidays extra children's activities are organised, so be sure to ask at the visitors' centre about what's happening.
While many people visit Rottnest Island for a day-trip, a longer visit is also strongly recommended. For those desiring to experience the magic of 'Rotto' for a few days or more there is a wide range of accommodation available which will suit every type of budget. These include luxurious resort-style accommodation, traditional pub rooms at the Quokka Arms Hotel, self-contained chalets and budget cabins. Backpackers will also find comfortable hostel accommodation, while camping on Rottnest is heaps of fun, especially during spring and autumn when the weather isn't too extreme. For larger groups, the budget, dormitory-style accommodation at Governor's Circle could be ideal.
In a nut-shell, Rottnest Island is the perfect holiday destination at any time of the year. While in summer it's a beach-lover's paradise, winter is also exquisitely beautiful and is a good time to visit as it's not so crowded. Regardless whether you're wanting a lively family holiday, a romantic getaway or a solitary sojourn, close to nature, a visit to Rottnest Island will invariably leave you feeling relaxed, invigorated and ready to face the world again. For more information about 'Rotto', including how to get there, where to stay and what to do, check out the Experience Rottnest Island website.
Where: Off the coast of Perth, Western Australia
When: Any time of the year
Cost: It varies, depending on how you get there and where you stay.
Web:http://www.rottnestisland.com/home Phone: 08 9432 9111