Visiting Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island Western Australia

Rottnest Island is located 18 kilometres offshore from the Port of Fremantle in Western Australia. The name Rottnest comes from 17th century Dutch navigators who discovered vast numbers of unusual native marsupials living on the Island. These marsupials had similarities with Rats in terms of size and colouring (hence; 'Rats Nest') although they eventually became known as Quokkas. Quokkas are still abundant on the island and are a delight to visitors.

Rottnest Island boasts a rich and diverse history and like many areas of Western Australia has some of the finest beaches, inlets and bays in the world. Pure soft sand rings the island and numerous picture postcard turquoise bays are a dominant feature.

The island was once used as a penal settlement for local Aboriginal people, as an internment camp during both World Wars and as a place for gathering and processing Salt. Military gun emplacements from WWII can still be found.

Today, the island is considered a unique icon in Western Australia and is a popular destination for locals and international visitors alike. A range of accommodation is available for longer stays in addition to day and overnight trips from either Perth or Fremantle.

Some 7000 years ago, Rottnest Island formed part of mainland Australia this was due to the water level being much lower than today. Local Aboriginal people call the island 'Wadjemup' meaning 'place across the water'. It was a Dutch explorer, William de Vlaming in 1696 who first named the island 'Rotte-Nest' meaning rats-nest in English.

The island for some time was used for fishing and salt gathering until a prison was constructed for Aboriginal people around 1830. In 1903, the prison was closed and a decision was taken to open the island to visitors for recreation purposes. The Colonial Governor at the time, Admiral Bedford declared Rottnest Island an 'A Class Reserve' in 1917 which allowed public access and ensured the island was protected forever as a public park and recreation ground.

With the outbreak of the Second World War Rottnest was briefly closed to the public and became a significant part of Western Australia's coastal defence plans with the installation of massive guns to aid in the defence of Fremantle Harbour and Perth.

The island features a number of unique buildings being some of the oldest examples of building construction in Western Australia in particular The Lodge now used as accommodation for visitors. Aside from service vehicles, cars are not permitted on Rottnest. Visitors can walk, hire bikes from the Bike Hire Shop or use the islands Bayseeker Bus Service to go from Bay to Bay via dedicated bitumen roads that criss cross the island. Timetables for the bus service are available at the islands Visitors Centre.

Highlights of Rottnest Island

Bike Riding.

With the absence of cars, Rottnest is a bike rider's paradise and are far and away the best way to get around and explore the island. Visitors either bring their own bikes over on the dedicated ferry services or alternatively, hire bikes from the Bike Hire Shop. Helmets, which are compulsory, can also be hired as necessary. A vast range of bikes are available to suit the novice, children or more experienced cyclists.

Site Seeing

The island is superb to explore at your own leisure; whether it be quiet coves and bays to architecture or flora and fauna. From delightful beaches to the magnificent Lighthouse there is always something of interest.


There are several tours available to visitors of Rottnest Island and many of these operate throughout the year. Tours can be via Coaches and/or Charter Boats or in the form of Walking Tours, Train Rides and Astrology and Kayak Tours. The Island boasts a wide range of water craft for hire ranging from glass bottom boats and Surf cats to self drive boats. Whatever the choice, the clean and clear waters around Rottnest provide an excellent location to fully explore this unique location.

Snorkelling and Scuba Diving.

The Western Australian coastline provides a vast and interesting mix of marine life particularly around Rottnest. This is in part due to the Leeuwin Current which flows from the tropical north of the State. Studies have indicated that 97 species of Tropical Fish inhabit the bays and lagoons of Rottnest which is significantly greater than the 11 species found in and around the mainland coast.

The secluded bays of Rottnest ensure that whatever the weather conditions, snorkellers and Scuba Divers are able to enjoy the extensive range of marine life on offer. Divers will be excited by the many underwater caves and caverns which are easily accessible from the beach.

Surfing Rottnest

Rottnest is home to a range of breaks some of which are considered the best surfing spots in Western Australia notably the local favourites Cathedral Rocks and Strickland's Bay. Detailed Surfing Maps are available at the Visitors Centre.

Fishing at Rottnest Island

Fishing is a very popular pastime at Rottnest whether from the beach or from a boat. All equipment can be hired or purchased on the island. Western Australia has strict regulations concerning bag limits and those wishing to fish should familiarise themselves with this.

Rottnest Annual Swim

In 1990, the Rottnest Channel Swim Association was formed with the aim of formally organising an annual swimming race from Cottesloe Beach on the mainland to Rottnest Island. Today, the Rottnest Channel Swim is the largest open water swimming event in the world attracting over 1,800 competitors in 2001. In the last 10 years, it is estimated that over 7,000 people of varying skill levels have made it across the Rottnest Channel.