The Best Things To Do On Rottnest Island
Header image: DG Imagery (Buy his prints HERE).
Rottnest has been one of Western Australia’s most popular holiday destinations for decades thanks to its world class beaches, cute quokkas, beautiful bike rides, beachside bars and more.
Read on below for what to see/do and where to eat, drink and stay, and before visiting the island we strongly encourage you to do some reading on Rottnest Island’s cultural history, including its time as an Aboriginal-only prison camp.
SEE & DO
We know, we know it’s played out – but we bring it up first just as a reminder to treat the cute little buggers with respect! It can be tempting to try and bend them to your Instagram-worthy will, but don’t touch ’em, don’t feed ’em, and if the magic happens, it happens.
Rottnest Island is home to some incredible surf breaks and some much bigger ones than Perth thanks to hogging all the offshore swells. With that in mind most breaks are definitely for more experiences wave riders, with Strickland Bay, Stark Bay, Chicken Reef and Rotto Box being some of the more popular. Thanks to be it being an island, you can usually find somewhere around the place with the right wind conditions too.
Thanks to its Class A Reserve status, Rottnest Island is a recreational fishers paradise, with fish of all shapes and sizes to be caught all over the island. Of course, its integral to stay within legal limits, so make sure you read up on the Rottnest Fishing Guide and make sure you don’t bring any spearfishing or net-fishing equipment.
Snorkelling & Diving
While Rotto is a fisherman’s paradise, that doesn’t even come close to how incredible it is for those wanting explore under the sea! Given the marine sanctuary status around the waters off the island, the variety of fish, rays, dolphins, seals and more that frequent the waters is unparalleled in WA. You can snorkel off the beach in popular spots like The Basin or Little Salmon Bay, or go for more experienced dives amidst the stunning coral reefs. There are plenty of dive and snorkel operators on the island who will help you see the wonders of the sea.
Wildlife Spotting (On Land)
Not all the action is underwater though, with some fantastic bird spotting all over the island (including huge, 70-year-old osprey nests at Fish Hook Bay), whale watching from September to December, fur seals, bottlenose, bats (!) and of course, quokkas. Cruising through Rotto’s eery salt lakes on your bike while the sunsets is another view not to be missed, or you can jump on one of many free guided walking tours around the island.
Wadjemup Bidi Walk Trail
The Wadjemup Bidi (Wadjemup is the Noongar word for the island and Bidi means trail) is a recently constructed trail network that lets you explore the entire island on foot. There are five colour coded trails that link up at certain points and each trail has its own character. Exclusively for walkers, you can explore areas of the island that you can’t normally access on the bike paths or roads with some stunning locations and beaches all to yourself. That’s not to say that you don’t visit some of the popular spots on the island with the network covering all the big ticket places like Pinky’s and Salmon Bay. Read our full guide here.
Wadjemup & Bathurst Lighthouses
Part of the Wadjemup Walk Trail will get you to the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the centre of the island, while Basthurst is much closer to town, offering views over Pinky’s Beach. While visitors are not allowed to access the latter, you can take guided tours to the top of Wadjemup Lighthouse, and the views and history lessons are more than worth the $9 it’ll set you back.
Oliver Hill was once planned to have a strategic role in World War II, with huge guns installed to protect the mainland and a maze of tunnels dug out underneath it. The Island now operates tours through the tunnels, although at the time of writing (October 2020) they were closed for construction works. Once they do re-open, we recommend jumping on the train out to the tunnels for an history kick.
Go Cultural Aboriginal Tour
And when it comes to the history of Rottnest Island, it’s incredibly important to understand the island’s confronting relationship with the local Indigenous people of the area. The best way to do so is with the team at Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours who offer a standard tour and a premium, adults only tour, which last between one and two hours.
Rottnest Island Museum
Next stop after an Aboriginal Tour should be the Rotto Museum, offering a detailed historical account of Rottnest Island’s European settlement, Aboriginal prisoners, communication and recreations. History buffs hungry for more can also check out Lomas Cottage and the Pilot Boathouse.
Given there are no cars or taxis on Rottnest, the best way to get around is by bike and cruising the extensive network of paths and roads all over the island. If you can’t bring your own, head straight to Pedal & Flipper who’ll kit you out with a noble steed in no time.
Family Fun Park & Movies
As appealing as it sounds, your entire getaway doesn’t have to be spent basking by the beach, with Rotto’s Family Fun Park offering mini golf, trampolines, arcade games and more. There’s also a delightful deckchair cinema next door, playing mostly family films, including new releases and old favourites. Check the guide here.
It’s a bit of a hidden secret that Rottnest is home to a pretty stunning 9-hole golf course coming of the Karma Rottnest, but if you feel like a hit it’s definitely worth a stroll. If you didn’t bring your clubs over don’t even stress, they’ve got a great pro shop with plenty of equipment to hire as well.
Probably Rotto’s most popular beach thanks to its sheltered location, proximity to the townsite and great snorkelling, it gets super busy during peak periods. It’s definitely worth a stop to admire, but if you’re keen for some quiet time better to get on ya bike and do some exploring.
Parakeet Bay & Little Parakeet
A more traditional beach in the sense it has long, white sandy beaches, it’s a popular swimming spot thanks to being relatively safe, shallow and protected from swells and winds. Sneak over to Little Parakeet for something a bit more secluded.
Little Salmon is a little snorkeller’s paradise, with a fun 700m trail, crystal clear turquoise water, pristine reefs and heaps of fish to spot. Get down early if you can to avoid the bus crowds. Our friend Life Of Py has a great little wrap of the place here.
Geordie Bay is to north of the landing dock and where a large bulk of the accomodation resides in front of. It’s not a particularly beautiful beach, but is great for a quick swim and where to take the kids in summer when the Just 4 Fun Aqua Park is up and running.
If you’re lucky enough to own a boat, mooring up at Parker Point for the day can be a pretty special experience. It too has a snorkelling trail, but it’s also just a lovely beach for sunbathing and swimming, with more to explore on its headlands if you’re game.
Find Your Own!
So we’ve purposely been pretty vague with the Rottnest Island beaches above. There’s actually over 60 secluded beaches and 20 bays to explore throughout the island, each with their own set of conditions to make for a perfect day by the sea. We encourage you to jump on your bike (or the excellent Island Explorer Bus Service) and find your own little slice of paradise – we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
EAT & DRINK
The epicentre of Rottnest Island’s food and drink offerings, Hotel Rottnest is the place to go for epic views of Thomson Bay, a huge, seasonal menu loaded with top shelf seafood along with modern Australian pub fare, and even a bit of sneaky dancing later in the evening. As you can imagine it gets pretty rowdy on the weekends, but is big enough to find a nook to hook into a couple of beers sheltered from the arvo seabreeze.
Basically the first joint you spot after dismounting the ferry, Thomsons is a no-fuss seafood joint with excellent prices relative to the rest of the island. They’re currently running a limited menu, but it’ll be back in full swing over summer and makes for a scenic spot to start your weekend.
Kalli’s / Maeve’s / Lexi’s
If you’re chasing a caffeine hit or sneaky chocolate recharge while trekking around the island, seek out Kelli’s vintage caravan at the foot of Wadjemup Lighthouse. Keep an eye out for Maeve’s Coffee Van too, which can be found buzzing around the island during the day (keep up to date via their Facebook Page), or Lexi’s on the island’s West End.
Rottnest General Store
If you forgot to pack anything – and we mean anything – a quick trip to the General Store will sort you out. They also offer free delivery to anywhere on the island if you really need to stock up and can’t carry everything!
No trip to Rotto is one without a stop in at the beloved bakery – be wary though as most visitors have the same idea, particularly as soon as they get off the ferry. Luckily it’s huge and filled with staff and delicious baked goods that are always worth the wait (which is never really that long anyway).
Pinky’s Beach Club
For a real beachside, island life dining and drink experience, pop into one of the newest additions to the island – Pinky’s Beach Club. Just like sister (or brother?) venue Thomsons, the menu is fairly seafood focused, although a little more expensive. You can always skip the meal and go for a poolside cocktail instead 😉
Gov’s Sports Bar
If the Hotel Rottnest vibe is a bit ~too much~ for you (you know what we mean), then may we humbly suggest the might Gov’s Sports Bar across the ditch. You will find no pretence here, just a healthy selection of tap beers, some honest pub grub, pool tables and plenty of sports on the various TVs around the joint.
Geordie’s Cafe & Art Gallery
For a top shelf all-rounder it’s hard to go past Geordie’s, serving up delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner all day with some great options for the kids too. Like everywhere, it gets busy so if you’re popping in for dinner make sure you book ahead.
If you’re all seafooded out or in the need of a carbo load to go with a day of bike riding, Frankie’s has you sorted with an epic pizza and pasta menu for lunch or dinner. It’s really family friendly too, with a playground just opposite to help tucker out the kids before you sink a few beverages back at the chalet. Watch out for the swooping seagulls out on the deck, and they also deliver if you don’t feel like leaving home base.
The Lane Cafe
For a health food hit you can’t go past The Lane Cafe, serving up not only some of the best coffee on the island but a delicious array of healthy, gourmet snacks with plenty of vegan and gluten free options to boot. For a naughty treat though it’s hard to go past the Lobster Burger.
For a slightly more fine dining experience, Riva inside Karma Rottnest offers a slightly more gourmet affair, ranging from wood-fired pizza to huge three course feasts. At the time of writing Riva is closed, but head to their website to find out when they’re back open.
By the time you read this there’s a good chance Rottnest Island’s latest luxury accomodation offering Samphire will be open. Within it you will find Lontara, a South East Asian restaurant from the mind of chef Will Meyrick.
Discovery Rottnest Island
Featuring 83 eco-tents, Discovery Rottnest Island is set in one of the most picturesque locations on the Island – Pinky Beach. The standard tent option includes a private ensuite and outdoor deck, with the superior tents including even more space and a kitchenette, and the deluxe tent features a walk-in robe and double-vanity ensuite.
From: $270 per night
Various Accomodation Options
With accommodation ranging from premium to superior ocean views and heritage cottages to comfortable, reasonably priced cabins and the hostel, Rotto has something to suit all tastes and budgets.
For more information and to book head here!