Essential Guide to Rottnest Island (including Quokkas!)

Currently Rottnest Island is a place to holiday, snorkel in the blue waters and go boating. It’s also the home of the largest population of quokkas which have become extremely popular on the internet for being the “happiest” animals. That was reason enough to visit the island for me!

The island’s aboriginal name Wadjemup which means “place across the water where the spirits are". The aboriginals believed that Rottnest Island was a place where their ancestors went to rest and was not a place for living people. The ending “up” means “water” in aboriginal. After learning this little fact, I began to notice many locations that have “up” at the end of the places name.

History of Rottnest Island

Before Rottnest Island became what we know it as today, it went through a long history. Researchers have found aboriginal items that date to tens of thousands of years ago while Rottnest was part of the mainland. After sea levels rose, the Aboriginal communities retreated back to the mainland.

After the Europeans arrived and the Aboriginal people became marginalized, the island was turned into a prison. Between 1838 and 1931, aboriginal prisoners were transported to Rottnest Island for committing crimes such as trespassing or stealing livestock. The prisoners built most of the buildings and roads you can see on the island today. The history is extremely sad and if you want to read more about it you can read the ABC article on conditions of the Aboriginal prison on Rottnest Island.

After 1931, World War I was on the horizon and Rottnest Island was used as an internment camp. In World War II it was used as a fortress and as a gunnery that was manned at all hours of the day in case of an attack. There is still a functioning railroad from that time period.

Getting to Rottnest Island

The best way to get to Rottnest Island is by ferry. You can either take the “slow” ferry or the fast ferry.

I took the Rottnest Express (the slow ferry) from B-Shed in Fremantle which is just a 25 minute ride. If you have a car rented for Western Australia, it’s just a 30 minute drive to Fremantle from Perth. Plus Fremantle is the cutest little town with lots to do if you decide to stay the night before or after. I recommend this over taking the ferry from Perth as it’s about an hour longer each way.

Rottnest Express also has deals going on so I would sign up for their emails if you’re planning on visiting soon. We ended up receiving an email about “Telethon Tuesdays” which cut our ferry ride expenses in half - just $39 return instead of $60 return to Fremantle or $80 return to Perth!

Everyone has to pay an admission fee for Rottnest Island which is currently $18.00

You can fly to Rottnest Island which will give you a great view of the Western Coast and the island from the sky, but is pricier than the ferry. Each flight has a fee of $52.50 just to land the plane, not including the airfare.

Getting around Rottnest Island

There are no cars on the island so the best modes of transportation are biking or the bus. If you want to see the whole island it would be hard to walk it in a day. The ferry companies provide bike hires when you purchase your ticket or you can rent a bike on the island. Most people hire bikes to get to further spots. It’s a great way to discover the island on your own terms and enjoy the habitat.

We decided not to rent a bike, but instead purchase a ticket for the Discovery Bus. We decided since we were so pressed for time, we could get around the whole island quicker on an organized bus tour. We were able to see the whole island and drive to the furthest point which gave a nice idea for the island as a whole. Our tour guide gave us a great overview of the island, the history and natural habitat. However, the drawbacks are that you don’t have control where and when to stop. There were a couple beautiful beaches that I would have loved to stop and enjoy, but since the tour was an hour they had a different agenda.

There is also a free shuttle bus that takes you from the main area, Thomson Bay Settlement to several spots around the island. If you have more time and just want to see a couple different areas, this is the way to go.

Things to do

Whether you’re going for a day or for a multiple day trip, there's things to capture anyone's attention on Rottnest Island. Staying overnight on the island is an option with several vacation homes and lodges for your holiday needs.

Activities on the island range from relaxing sunbathing to high-adrenaline skydiving! You can come to island to surf, swim, fish, golf etc. It’s a great place for snorkeling and getting close to marine life. If staying above water is more appealing, there’s a movie theatre, archery field and several museums you can attend.

The island has different walking tours for whatever interest you may have and all the ones that I saw were free! There are walking tour about the history, about military guns, about the habitat and of course about the quokkas.


What the heck are quokkas anyway??

Quokkas are small marsupials like wallaby’s or kangaroos. This means that when quokkas are born they stay in their mama’s pouches until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. When they are born they are just the size of a jelly-bean!

They are also semi-nocturnal so they are more active during the night time rather than during the day. Since most of the plants on the island are salt tolerant, the quokkas are also salt tolerant in their diet.

Interestingly enough, we all know quokkas as protected and cute animals, but in aboriginal “quokka” actually means “food” or “meat”! Sadly, most quokka’s have been wiped out on the mainland making Rottnest Island a safe-haven for these little animals.

On the island, we were told you cannot find quokkas anywhere else in the world, but we actually saw one on the mainland during our road trip!

I almost didn’t believe my eyes but there was a whole walk that had signs about quokkas, the type of homes they built and how they got around the forest area. So, my friends, there are quokkas on the mainland, but numbers aren’t very high and if you want to see one, Rottnest Island is your best bet.

So getting down to why you really wanted to read this blog…Is it hard to get a selfie?

No, not really, depending on where you are!

In the main Thompson Bay Settlement, the quokkas are used to people. The best place to see quokkas are around The Lane Cafe. They usually wait around for scraps of food that people may have dropped on the ground. You will most likely end up in this area at some point in the day as this is where all the food and shops are.

Most of the time the quokkas just want to eat and they will sit and eat happily while you take a thousand and three photos with them. If you go outside the settlement the quokkas are less trusting and can be quite skittish.

My suggestion is to always stay a meter, or three feet, from wild animals as you never know what they could be thinking. If the animal comes closer than that to you than that’s fine, but for your safety and the animals I would keep some distance.

Don’t feed the quokkas even though it's tempting as you can get a hefty fine if you are caught. But also, you don’t want them to become any more dependent on human food than they already might be.

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