Rottnest Island – or Wadjemup – conjures up images of quokka selfies and swimming in sparkling waters before relaxing on pristine beaches. But what if it’s too cold to swim? Here’s what to do on Rottnest Island in winter.
About Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island is the traditional land of the Whadjuk Noongar people. It is situated 19km off the coast of Western Australia, and is a popular day trip from Perth. It is around 11km long and 4.5km at the widest point.
It has recently gained worldwide popularity as the “quokka selfie” has trended on Instagram.
The quokka has shaped the island from the very first time they were seen by Europeans. They were described by those first explorers as a type of large rat. The name of the island comes from the Dutch word for rat – Rotte – so Rottnest literally means rat’s nest.
Quokkas are actually a marsupial, often called the “happiest animal in the world” because they always seem to have a big grin on their face. They live all over Rottnest Island, but particularly seem to congregate where all the people are at the Thompson Bay Settlement.
There are some limited lunch options and a small supermarket available on Rottnest Island, but I do recommend packing snacks and water to bring with you.
Is is possible to stay overnight on Rottnest Island, but most people visit with just a day trip. The trip over takes about 90 minutes from Perth and 30 minutes from Fremantle by ferry.
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Getting to Rottnest Island
The most popular – and cost effective – way to get to Rottnest Island is by ferry. There are a variety of options leaving from both Perth and Fremantle. I went over with Rottnest Express, leaving from the Barrack Street Wharf right in the centre of Perth. There is another ferry that leaves from the Hillary’s Boathouse area, and also from Fremantle.
A much quicker – and arguably more fun – way to get to Rottnest Island is by seaplane. Leaving from right in the centre of Perth on the Swan River, you not only get transfers to Rottnest Island, but you get awesome views of the city, Fremantle, the coastline and Rottnest Island from the air. Sounds pretty good to me!
Almost all the transport options also offer a variety of packages too. You could book a ferry and bike package like we did, ferry and Segway tour, or ferry and bus tour of the island. You can even book a ferry and skydiving package.
Note: everyone who visits Rottnest Island pays a $20 entry fee to the island itself. Usually that fee is included with your transport. Just make sure you are aware either way in case you have to pay.
Things to do on Rottnest Island
We visited Rottnest Island in July, smack back in the middle of winter. We were in Perth for six days, and rain was forecast for every single one of them. We picked the day was was looking least likely to rain for our trip to Rottnest, hoping that we wouldn’t sped the whole day getting wet.
The day ended up being beautiful. It was around 19 degrees with a slight breeze. Warm enough to be comfortable outside, but it certainly wasn’t warm enough for me to consider getting in the water. So instead we had to find some alternative things to do on Rottnest Island during our visit.
Hire a Bike
If the weather is looking okay, hiring a bike is a great was to get around the island. There are only a handful of cars on the island, so the roads are very safe. The only traffic I can remember was the tour bus going past us.
By hiring as part of our ferry package, we were handed a bike as soon as we disembarked on Rottnest. This meant no waiting around, filling in forms or paying, it was already sorted. The bikes were all fairly standard and adjustable, and came with the required helmet and a lock.
We spent around three hours cycling around Rottnest Island. We did take our time, stopping for views, photos and lunch and occasionally just for a rest. We went as far as the Wadjemup Lighthouse along the coast then looped back on the inland road.
This gave us plenty of time to have some lunch then look around the Thompson Bay Area before boarding the ferry at 3pm for the return trip.
Book a Bus Tour
If the weather is looking a little iffy, a bus tour might be a better way to see the island. While we didn’t do this on our trip, we did see that it was a popular choice. The main bus stop is an easy three minute walk from the ferry terminal.
Explore the Wadjemup Lighthouse
If you have puffed and panted as you have ridden up the hill to the lighthouse, which sits at the highest point of the island, and have admired the 360 degree views, you should do a tour of the lighthouse. The tours tell you about the lighthouse itself – one of the tallest in Australia – and the history of the area. They run every thirty minutes from 10am to 2:30pm, but only ten people are allowed per group since you will be climbing up the tiny stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
Take a Free Guided Walk
We had just sat down and laid out our picnic lunch at Parker Point when a local volunteer approached us. He was about to do a short walking tour around the area. We didn’t join, after all there was food to eat, but I thought this was a great idea!
Later I discovered that there are a range of free walking tours available on the island, such as “Meet the Quokkas” and “Pioneers & Prisoners”. Mostly they leave from right outside the visitor centre, but there is also the one at Parker Point and another at the far west end of the island.
The tours all take around 45 minutes and the times they start vary. I recommend checking the details at the Visitor Information Centre as soon as you arrive to find out what is on during your visit.
Visit the Wadjemup Museum
This museum is really small, but there is some really great information regarding the history of Rottnest Island. Learn about both the Indigenous and European history, and some of the sad and traumatic events that occurred when the two cultures collided
Ride the Captain Hussey Historical Train
Rottnest Island has its own little tourist train that runs short 30 minute trips with commentary about the island. This winter it was only running during the July school holidays, which we missed by a few days, and then there was some work done on the track. The tours will recommence from September 2022. The most popular train ride is one combined with a tunnel tour where you learn about some of the historical fortifications on the island. Book your tickets in advance here.
Go Swimming Anyway
If you are much better with cold water than me (and let’s face it, you probably are since I’m such a wuss) you can jump in the water for a swim despite the cooler weather.
We saw quite a few people swimming during our visit. Most were snorkelling in full wetsuits, but there were a few people just swimming in the shallows when we cycled past Little Salmon Bay
And of Course…Take a Quokka Selfie
…or two or three!
I expected there to be quokkas all over the island, and to be fair, there probably are, but we didn’t see a single one during our bike ride. I was starting to worry that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to get that quokka selfie after all.
I needn’t have worried, because when I got back to Thompsons Bay, they were everywhere! Just find somewhere to sit, and a quokka will likely come up to you in no time. It is so easy to take your quokka selfie, but remember these are wild animals. Don’t touch them or feed them.
I found out the hard way that they can give a good bite if they choose to. Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to touch or feed them, but one had got inside the gates of the place we were eating, then jumped up on the table we were sitting at and tried to get at my food! Instead my fingers ended up being the target. This is exactly why they shouldn’t be fed – they now associate people with food!
Travelling further in Australia? Take a look at these posts next
8 Essential Things to do in Perth on Your First Visit
23 Free Things to do in Melbourne
Things to do in Adelaide
A Night at Field of Light, Uluru
Day Trip from Hobart to Richmond, Tasmania
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