Visiting Perth? Get Thee To Rottnest Island!

Perth is not what you’d call a city brimming with tourist attractions. It’s definitely not the kind of place where you construct a list of must-dos to check off during your trip.

That said, there was exactly ONE thing I wanted to do during my time in Perth: head out to Rottnest Island! It was easily the highlight of my 3 weeks in town.

Rottnest Island beach

Just 19 km (12 mi) west of Fremantle, Rotto’s a quick but pricey ferry ride from the mainland. It’s a super popular holiday spot for locals, who rent out cottages or pitch tents in the island campground. Nearly 3/4 of visitors only come for the day though, and we were no exception.

Rottnest Island beach

Rottnest is an island of beaches. The thing to do is hop on a(n absurdly overpriced and crappy) bike and cycle from beach to beach. Bikes and beaches? Obviously Anna and I were all over it!

Rottnest Island cycling

Apparently there are over 60 beaches on Rottnest Island, but at only 11 km long and 4.5 km wide, I find that hard to believe. It hardly matters how many there are, though, ‘cause the quality of Rotto’s beaches is just insane. They’re rocky, sand dune-y, and white – and if the sun’s shining, the water will be turquoise blue. If you go far enough from the ferry landing, you’re bound to find an empty beach to pounce on, especially if you’re there during winter like we were. And by winter, I mean 70F/20C and sunny – still warm enough to swim!

Rottnest Island - The Basin
Me all happy at The Basin

Beach at Rottnest Island

Beach at Rottnest Island

We spent the bulk of our beach time at the Basin which, because it’s the closest beach to the ferry, is the most popular beach on Rottnest Island. However, it’s also the most beautiful beach and was hardly crowded on an offseason Sunday, so I’m calling it an exception to the off-the-beaten-path rule. You can walk up to the headland on the north side for a sensational view of the beach, lighthouse, and mainland beyond.

Rottnest Island is also surrounded by hundreds of meters worth of reef, which makes it a fantastic place to snorkel. Some of the better beaches for snorkeling are Little Salmon Bay, Fish Hook Bay, Little Parakeet Bay, and Cathedral Rocks.

Rottnest Island cycling

Rottnest Island lake

Rottnest Island cycling

The delicate blend of woods and sand and the decidedly community vibe to it reminded me so much of Fire Island in New York and Block Island in Rhode Island. I loved cycling through open trees with views of sand dunes and salt lakes on either side of the car-free roads. There are dirt paths off the main loop road that you can take to up the adventure ante, but they’re better suited for a mountain bike. I speak from experience when I say that Cruisers tend to eat the sand. Either way, it’s pretty hard to get lost on the trails because they all eventually lead back to a main road.

Quokka on Rottnest Island

Fun fact: The name Rottnest means “rat’s nest”, courtesy of an explorer who landed on the island and mistook the native quokkas for rats. These little marsupials aren’t afraid of humans – in fact, you’ll find loads of them hanging out just inland from the ferry, near some of the cottages. What do you think: cute or not?

Frugal Facts

As of June 2015 —
A return ferry ticket via Rottnest Express is AU$77 from Fremantle and AU$97 from Perth, including the govt fee.

You can add on a bike rental to your ferry ticket for AU$30/day, or carry your own bike on the ferry for AU$15.

Ferry tickets are cheaper when booked online. Be sure to check to see if any package deals are being offered before you buy. They change periodically, but as of the time this post went live, Rottnest Express offers a 20% discount off tickets purchased at least 2 weeks in advance and 50% off if traveling on a Tuesday.

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

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  • I didn’t make it out west when I was there, but Rottnest Island looks AMAZING, even if the whole trip out there costs close to $100! (Sheesh, Australia.)

    Lindsay, I hope someone out there is hiring you to be a destination photographer, because DAMN. Love, love the pics!

    • lindsaypunk

      Ugh I know! Not sure I would have gone had I not been able to snag that 50% off deal. I read somewhere that Perth families are vacationing in Bali now instead of on Rottnest because the total price of the trip is about the same for either destination. So ridic!

      And awww, thank you Laryssa! Not as of now, but I need to figure out how to make that happen!

  • Beautiful photos! Rottnest Island is one of my favourite places in Australia – it’s absolutely stunning! I visited in February, so cycling in the 40 degree heat was a bit brutal, but definitely still worthwhile.

    • lindsaypunk

      Thank you, Ashley! :) Oh gosh, I can’t even imagine it in 40+ degree weather, though I hear that’s standard for Perth in summer. I imagine you’d run straight into the water immediately after hopping off the bike! :P