Perth's recreational island, Rottnest Island has been attracting a steady stream of visitors from the mainland since it was first declared an A Class Reserve in 1917. Being just 25 minutes from Fremantle by ferry (slightly longer from Hillarys), many come for the day; others stay longer utilising one of a variety of accommodation alternatives available.
Although Rottnest Island has undergone many changes over the years, its unique relaxed atmosphere has not been compromised by recent developments which have increased the visitor capacity of the island and enhanced its facilities. Everything about the island is geared towards taking it easy. Other than the Island Board's vehicles, there are no cars on Rottnest. Apart from a bus tour, the only way to get around the island is to walk or ride a bicycle, all of which are conducive towards everyone moving at a very leisurely pace.
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The island's small sheltered bays and coves, the white beaches and turquoise waters of the island's attractive coastline, all seem to beckon the visitor to stay a while and take in the sights, rather than rush off to see something else. The island's semi-tame quaint marsupial residents, the Quokka, also get in on the act, popping out of the bushes as walkers approach their hideouts in the low scrub. Eager to stay and eat whatever scraps are given them, the Quokkas are also very happy to pose endlessly for photographs.
There is no lack of things to do on Rottnest. You can hire a bike and explore the island, or if you are feeling a little less energetic, a bus tour will show you around. Most of the bays have clean sandy beaches with calm water for swimming. Not far off shore are limestone rocks with caverns and and other interesting places to explore either with scuba diving gear or a snorkel. Dinghies and canoes are available for hire, or there is a glass bottomed boat, leaving from the main jetty, giving glimpses of shipwrecks, reefs and a startling array of fish.
Apart from walking and cycling, there are numerous land-based activities to participate in - the island has a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, a mini golf circuit and trampolines. And for those who prefer to unwind with a glass of beer in hand, the island's hotel, known affectionately as the Quokka Arms, will gladly oblige. So good is the combination of a beer, good company and the view across crystal clear waters of Thomson Bay, some people have been known to never make it beyond the hotel on a day trip to Rotto.
The traditional way to get to Rottnest Island is by ferry. Traditionally, ferries leave from the jetty at the foot of Barrack Street near the centre of Perth, take a leasurely 60-minute cruise down the Swan River to Fremantle, where more passengers are picked up before the 25 minute trip from the mainland to the island. A 40-45 minute minute service operates from the northern beachside suburb of Hillarys.
By air: 4 & 6 seater aircraft are used by the Rottnest island air taxi service. Prices given here are for the "whole aircraft", so you can divide the cost amongst the number of passengers. One way for a 4-seater aircraft (same day return) is $180.00, so if three fly, it cost $60.00 each, or if only two fly, the cost is $90.00 each. Flight times are any time during daylight hours, booking times in advance is essential. The actual airborne part of the flight direct from Jandakot to Rottnest is 12 minutes.
NB: Prices quoted were accurate at time of publication but are subject to change without notice.
A variety of accommodation is available to visitors wishing to extend their visit to Rottnest beyond a single day. The Rottnest Quokka Arms Hotel and the more resort-style Rottnest Lodge provide fully serviced accommodation; backpacker accommodation is available at Kingstown Barracks; the Allison Camping Grounds allows pitching your own tent; a variety of bungalows and cabins are available throughout the settlement.
Rottnest Island is one of Australia's smallest inhabited islands - it's 11 kilometres long and 4.5 kilometres at its widest point. The island is twenty kilometres off the coast of Perth. The island's Salt Lakes are a natural phenomena unique to Rottnest. The lakes are grouped in the north east section of the island and are named Government House Lake, Serpentine Lake, Herschell Lake, Garden Lake and Lake Baghdad. Because of natural seepage, there are many pools of fresh water and it is estimated that here, you'll find half the total wildlife on the island.
The rollers of the Indian Ocean foam over the reef at Cape Vlamingh, at the island's west end. There is no solid land mass between this point and Madagascar, 6,436 kilometres away. Rottnest has some of the finest beaches in WA and many sheltered bays. These are perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Popular spots are The Basin, Longreach Bay, Little Parakeet Bay and Geordie Bay. Snorkel trails have been written for 14 bays around the island and this information can be obtained from the Environment Office on the island.
Known to the Aboriginal people as Wadjemup, which is thought to mean "place across the water," Rottnest Island was observed by various Dutch sailors from 1610, including Frederick de Houtman in 1619, and the three ships Waekende Boey, Elburg and Emeloort in 1658, but it wasn't until 1696 when Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh landed here and named it "Rotte-nest" meaning rats nest, a reference to the cute wallably-like animals on the islands called Quokkas. Other explorers who stopped at the island included members of the French expedition of Nicholas Baudin in the Naturaliste and the Geographe in 1801 (when he planted a flag and left a bottle with a letter) and 1803, Phillip Parker King in 1822, and Captain James Stirling in 1827. They commonly reported that much of the island was heavily wooded, which is not the case today.
In 1830, shortly after the establishment of the British Swan River Colony at nearby Fremantle, Robert Thomson settled on the island with his wife and seven children. Thomson developed pasture land west of Herschel Lake as well as salt harvesting and refining from the several salt lakes which was then exported to the mainland settlement.
Salt was an important commodity before the advent of refrigeration. Eight years after Robert Thomson arrived, ten Aboriginal prisoners were sent to Rottnest Island. Except for the period 1849 to 1855, Rottnest was used as an Aboriginal prison until 1931. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 369 Aboriginal graves on the island. A total of some 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys, from all parts of the state, were imprisoned during that time.
During World war I, Rottnest was used as an internment camp, then a place for salt gathering before the military installations on the island today were built during during World War II, when Rottnest became an internment camp again. The installations can be seen by taking a train to tour the gun emplacements and tunnels on Oliver Hill. In 1880 - 1901 the island housed a Boys Reform School. Boys were housed there for petty crimes such as stealing cakes or giving cheek to the Police.
From 1838 - 1903 there was also an Aboriginal Prison on the Island. The Quad housed 180 prisoners at one time, all aboriginal. Over the 65 years it was opened, the quad housed 3600 prisoners, and 10% of those prisoners died. Hotel Rottnest, affectionately called the "Quokka Arms" was the summer residence of Western Australian governors from 1864 to 1912. Built between 1858 and 1864, it became a hotel in 1953 and has been extensively renovated in recent years.
The Australian Army officially occupied the southeast corner of the island between 30 June 1936 and 14 December 1984, after which the Western Australian Government was handed the keys. The group of old Army brick-buildings that were Kingstown Barracks are now used for backpacker accommodation. The Barracks were part of what the Army intended to be a sizeable settlement called Bickley Point, however the project was never implemented. Like all Australian Army camps, Kingston Barracks had a parade ground. Soldiers in the past were never allowed to casually walk across them - they had to briskly walk along the perimeter, unless they were participating in a formal parade.
The original design only accommodated about 76 soldiers, then alterations were made to double the number to 150. However during World War II there were over a couple of thousand military personnel under canvas at other places on the island. The remants of artillery batteries are a half kilometre walk away from the Barracks on Bickley Point. Walking tracks give access to abandoned railway lines and a number of gun emplacements.