After history as a prison island, the official opening of Rottnest Island as a tourist destination was in 1911, it was classified as an A-class reserve in 1917, and Rottnest has gradually transformed itself into the relaxed holiday destination it is today.
The Rottnest Island Express recommend these 5 reasons Rottnest Island is a must see destination -
- Unique wildlife - including nearly 18,000 Quokkas
- Choice of Day Tours - bike, snorkel, adventure boat tours and more
- Fascinating history - a rich cultural heritage
- Breathtaking natural beauty - over 60 sandy beaches and 20 secluded bays
- Fun for the family - lots of activities for the family to enjoy
Rottnest accommodation options include beach side cottages, The Karma Resort, Hotel Rottnest, the Kingstown Barracks, or the campground where you can hire a cabin or bring your own tent. Something to suit all budgets. We chose a Premium view cottage which was right across from the beach and was very neat and comfortable. These come in a four, six or eight bed configuration with a small kitchen, BBQ, bathroom, and living room with tv. You can see our view, over the main beach, up there in the first picture.
Once we were booked in it was time to relax and start exploring. This was my first visit to Rottnest and it was everything that I expected and more. It was wonderfully relaxing, especially after the last ferry had returned to the mainland in the late afternoon, but I will suggest you visit mid week if you want this relaxed feel, not on weekends or school holidays, when it is very busy. We spent our first afternoon just strolling around the settlement, and relaxing at our cottage.
The next day we bought a ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus which takes you around the island. The Island is 11km in length and 4.5kms at its widest point. If you hire a bike you are free to explore at will, but the hop-on hop-off bus is also really convenient with stops dotted around the island at beaches and must-see spots, with regular pick-ups. Just hop off where-ever you like, explore, then hop back onto the next bus, and explore some more.
On a day ticket you can go around the island as many times as you like. The bus leaves from the center of the settlement where you can collect a timetable. Just make sure of the time of the last service of the day, as we were caught out and had to walk back to our cottage from the Lighthouse. I certainly deserved a glass of wine after that!
There are several walk trails and also a range of tours you can organise on the island.
In the foreground here you can see the wildflower - the Rottnest Island Daisy - Trachymene coerulea - just beautiful this time of year.
Below you can see some of those beautiful beaches and bays - just look at the colour of that water! As well as bikes (for all ages, plus mobility tricycles, and child trailers), you can hire dive and snorkeling equipment, body boards, paddle boards or surfboards from Rottnest Island Pedal and Flipper.
The waters around Rottnest provide a home for New Zealand Fur Seals and Australian Sea Lions. Out at the west end at Cathedral Rocks (one of the bus stops) you can see a population of New Zealand Fur Seals. A short walk further on at Cape Vlamingh you might see whales during their migration season. The lookout is a great place to take some time to just sit.
As you move about the Island you will see the Island's native mammal, the Quokka. Rottnest is free from predators and so Quokkas have become prolific on the island, whereas there are only a few small colonies left on the mainland. They are nocturnal but I think they have learned that humans mean food so you will see them any time of day, especially around the settlement. But please don't feed them or touch them, as human food is not good for quokkas and we can pass on diseases to them. If you click on the link you can see more about the quokka including a little video. Rottnest Island Quokkas
How cute are they?
When we were on our hop-on hop-off bus tour, we stopped off at the Wadjemup Lighthouse located roughly in the centre of the island at the highest point. Tours are run several times of day, please refer to your Rottnest Island Guide and Map (available from the information centre) for times. On the tour we learned some of the lighthouse's fascinating history and were also able to climb up the centre of the lighthouse to the viewing platform at the top which gave us fantastic 360 views over the island.
Construction of the Wadjemup Lighthouse began in 1842, built from Rottnest Island limestone by Aboriginal prisoners. The majority of the work was completed by 1849, but the light was not officially lit until 1851. The lighthouse is recognised as the first stone lighthouse constructed and lit in Western Australia. The height of the tower was 16 metres. Seven ships were wrecked on reefs around the Island between 1878 and 1891 and a new lighthouse was built, 30.4 metres tall at the base of the lantern house. It was officially opened in 1896. The lighthouse was electrified in 1936 and became automated in 1990. It still remains an important navigation aid for ships coming into Fremantle Port.
In this picture above you can see another important aspect of the lighthouse history. Rottnest played an important role in Australia's coastal defence during the two World Wars. The building you can see in the foreground were quarters for personnel from the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service who worked as signalers at the nearby Signal Station. From Signal Ridge the 9.2 inch guns located at Oliver Hill can still be seen to the south east, and you walk to these gun emplacements.
Bathurst Lighthouse on the north corner of the island, which you can see below, was completed in 1900. It is an easy walk from the settlement, and then onto Geordie Bay where I recommend you stop for a coffee at the cafe - it is much more relaxing than the settlement cafes.
Rottnest Island was surveyed in 1830 and a town site, to be known as Kingstown, was proposed. Originally it was thought that a thriving community and farming would be established on Rottnest, but history will show otherwise.
Today you can explore a number of buildings which remain from its colonial past and the longest continually occupied street in Western Australia, mainly built by Aboriginal prisoners. The first Superintendent's house was built in 1841. You can pick up a map and guide from the Information Centre, or as we did, join a free one hour tour. Refer to your Rottnest guide for times. These tours are conducted by volunteers who are very much a part of Rottnest today.
You can find out about guided walks by clicking here - Island tours
One thing I found very interesting on the tour was that windows in the same house could all be different - 4 panes of glass, 6 panes, 8 panes etc. The reason for this was that the windows were made by convict labour in Fremantle Prison on the mainland. They had brought their skills with them from England where they had been taught by different craftsmen, hence different styles.
If you are wondering about the ochre coloured paint on the buildings -
The original limestone buildings of Rottnest Island were whitewashed and this created an extreme glare. To remove the glare, buildings were progressively painted with an ochre colour that was created by putting rusty nails in the white wash paint. From Rottnest Island history
One of the most disturbing part of Rottnest history for me, is its time as an Aboriginal prison. They were incarcerated here far from their home on the mainland, forced to mix with different tribes, were tied in chains, and lived under appalling, crowded and unsanitary conditions with limited food. On Sundays they were let loose to hunt for food on the Island.
On the tour and also during our visit to the museum, we learnt more about this history. Between 1838 and 1932 about 3700 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned on Rottnest. One in 10 died from influenza or measles and 10 were executed. In 1856 a fire destroyed the original prison which was replaced by what is referred to as the Quod, built 1863-64. The Aboriginal finally prison closed in 1932. Over time the building has undergone extensive alterations and the cells now house accommodation. I know I wouldn't be able to stay there.
Between 1881 and 1901 there was a Boys Reformatory next to the Quad. An example of sentence was a boy of 13 imprisoned for 3 months for stealing cakes.
During the World Wars Rottnest was used as an internment camp.
You can learn a little more about the history here - Rottnest Island History
The Quod today -
There are two churches on the Island were you can find peace. The Chapel built in 1860 by Aboriginal labour, and the more recent Holy Trinity Catholic Church opened in 1975.
You can see both churches below. Compare the simple lines of the Chapel at the top with its more ornate modern counterpart. The Chapel was originally built as a school but quickly became a focal point for the Island's community.
One thing I did love about the new church is that you are given permission to play the bells between 3 and 4.30pm each day. I went and did this twice. They have book of music and you play on a simple keyboard. I don't know how it sounded to those listening across the settlement, but I enjoyed it. Unfortunately key # 8 - C - didn't work, which didn't help.
And of course there are plenty of dining options whatever your budget, ranging from the bakery to beautiful meals at the hotel. Seafood is a specialty but how good do those cakes look that you can see below? There is also a well stocked supermarket and we also brought over an esky (cool box) with a few goodies.
Travelling with children? There are beach activities, family fun park and mini golf, cinema, snorkel and bike hire, Aqua fun park, school holiday activities, miles of beautiful white sand and clear blue water. And a 9 hole golf course for adults.
And wildflowers during the spring. We missed the main wildflower season but we did see this new wildflower to add to my catalogue - the Rottnest Island Daisy - Trachymene coerulea. If you scroll back up you can see them in the foreground of the picture with the bike with the ocean in the background. Beautiful
I hope you have enjoyed my little look at Rottnest today. There is lots more I could tell you. If you would like further information please click on any of the links below. I hope you have a chance to visit one day. Do you have a favourite beach destination?
Rottnest Island Express departs from Pier 2, Barrack St Jetty, Perth - B Shed, Victoria Quay, Fremantle - and Northport, Rouse Head, North Fremantle. You can park your car at Northport.
Rottnest Island tourism links -
Rottnest Island Authority
Holiday in Australia - Rottnest
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