Eighteen Kilometres off the Western Australian coast near Fremantle is an island. It’s name is Rottnest Island. In terms of size it’s not very significant – just 11 Km long and 4.5 Km wide. It has just one settlement and that has a permanent population of around 300 people. But for all its insignificance it receives about 500,000 visitors a year. On a busy day 15,000 can be on the island at one time. It’s most famous residents aren’t even people, they are Quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) a small marsupial animal in the same family as Kangaroos and Wallabies. They are so important to Western Australia that they are the face of the current tourism campaign in the media with the hope that possibility of taking a selfie with one of cute critters will bring legions of overseas tourists who will enrich the coffers of the state government now the mining boom is over. For young people finishing school Rottnest is a right of passage where the teenagers go for a booze fuelled week-long party to mark the transformation from school kid to adult. For other Perth residents a trip to the island is what summer is all about.
You get to the island via a ferry. Rottnest Express has ferry services leaving Barrack Street Jetty in Perth, the B-Shed Fremantle Harbour and Northport Rouse Head. As well as the ferry service they run a variety of package tours to the island and you can rent snorkeling equipment from them. Rottnest Fast Ferries sails out of Hillary’s Boat Harbour and they also run a variety of day tours and cruises.
The best thing about Rottnest is that there are no cars!!!! I’ll say that again. No cars!!!! Cycling is the main form of transport. Brilliant. You can either bring your own bike on the ferry at an extra charge or rent one from either Rottnest Express (if you travelled with them) or get one from Rottnest Island Bike Hire located behind the Hotel Rottnest on Bedford Avenue. The last time I visited the island I took my own bike and did an abbreviated circuit of the island.
Distances are not vast, but before you set off make sure you take plenty of food and water with you as there is none out- side Thomson Bay Settlement.
1. Starting at the Visitor Centre head south following the signs for Hotel Rottnest. After 200 metres take the left fork that runs along the beachfront in front of the hotel. Turn left into Forrest Avenue and this swings round into McCullum Avenue. At the end of McCullum turn left into Parker Point Road.
2. Follow the signs for Kingston Barracks and after 870 metres go past the turn off for Kingston Road and go over the railway crossing heading for Parker Point. After a little while you pass Henrietta Rocks where the wreck of the vessel Shark can be seen from the look out point. The wrecks of the Lady Elizabeth and the Raven also lie off this point. If you are lucky you may see a sea-lion or two.
3. After 4 Km you arrive at a junction, take the left turn and follow the Parker Point Loop. If you have brought a mask, snorkel and flippers with you a stop here is a must as there is a snorkel trail that takes you out on the coral. After 2 Km you are back at the junction, take the left turn and ride along the edge of Salmon Bay.
4. At the 9 Km point you reach the intersection of Parker Point Road and Digby Drive. If you have had enough turn right onto Digby Drive and follow it back to Thomson Bay Settlement, otherwise turn left and then 1 Km later take the right fork following the Geordie Bay sign.
5. Turn right into Bovell Way and follow the road back to the settlement on the northern side of the island. After 5 1⁄2 Km you reach Geordie Bay which is another good spot for swimming and snorkeling. Keep going along Bovell Way until it ends at the intersection with Geordie Bay Road where you turn right onto it and cycle along the edge of Herschell Lake. After 600 metres you reach a cross-road, turn right onto Digby Drive and cycle back through the settlement.
When you’ve returned to Thompson Bay you will in serious need of some refreshment. The Hotel Rottnest is in the old governor’s summer residence. The hotel used to be called the Quokka Arms and most of the locals still use that name. A great location for a quiet coldie on a hot summers day or for a gourmet meal. Another popular eatery is the Rottnest Bakery – a visit to the bakery is considered mandatory for every visitor to the island and it is famous for its fresh bread, pies, slices, and cakes. It is the perfect place to refuel after surfing, snorkeling, swimming or cycling. It is also the most likely place you will meet a quokka.