Explore the stunning beachfront home of the cutest Australian wildlife the quokka.
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Discover the stunning beachfront home of the cutest Australian wildlife the quokka. With 63 beaches, 50 kilometres of roads to and 65,000 years of history to explore you’ll love Rottnest Island’s unique natural attractions.
Off the coast of Perth, the island is a uniquely wonderful place to escape to for the day, the weekend or the week (Photo: Victor Maschek/Shutterstock)
It’s a beautiful island populated by perhaps Australia’s most endearing animal. So what was Dutch Captain De Vlamingh thinking in 1696 when he spent six days here and, thinking the hopping, marsupial quokkas were rats named the island Rotte Nest. He probably would have thought platypus were furry ducks.
The home of the endearing quokkas
Today we know the island as Rottnest, the national park, historical site and quokka home some 18 km off Fremantle. So it’s even more western than West Australia.
An early Dutch visitor to the island mistook the marsupials for large rats when he arrived in 1696
For generations of Perth residents “Rotto” has been the family holiday home. Now it’s been revitalised and attracts visitors from all over Australian and all around the world.
How to travel
Whether you catch the Rottnest Express from Fremantle (inevitably trimmed to “Freo”) or cruising down the Swan River from Perth, it takes less than half an hour up to 90 minutes to arrive at the dock at Thomson Bay, Rottnest’s main settlement. It’s likely that less than five minutes after disembarking you’ll meet your first quokka.
Quokkas are the size of a hare or domestic cat
The home of the quokka
Quokkas are small marsupials, a relative of kangaroos and wallabies. But they are small, cute and apparently totally lacking in fear – and seem to have the ability to smile.
Did you know quokkas can also climb trees?
Walk along Sommerville Drive, the settlement’s main street, and you’ll encounter them everywhere. There are signs on the shop doors indicating that quokkas aren’t allowed inside. Now there’s a sign of admirable animal intelligence.
There is plenty to explore and love on the island maybe even a quokka under the bush!
Early Dutch explorers seemed to have little skill as naturalists. In 1658 Volersen thought quokkas resembled Asian civet cats but with brown hair. De Vlamingh who named the island said it was a kind of rat as big as a common cat.
The island was previously named “Rattennest” (Dutch for “Rat’s Nest”), which was later adapted to Rottnest
Fortunately, quokkas have taken one of their Aboriginal names but, sadly, that name is from an area of WA where they are no longer found.
Quokkas are vulnerable due to declining populations and loss of habitat from logging and development
Visit the island for a day
If you are a day visitor and so not staying in one of the many casual resorts around the island then consider arranging your own transport. Cars aren’t permitted and buses are infrequent but the island is pretty flat and well suited to bicycling. You can even include bike hire with your ferry ticket.
A stairway to paradise (Photo: Rottnestisland.com)
A scan of a map of the island will convince all but the very keen that it’s too far to cycle around the island in a day. You can do it but it won’t allow enough time to explore. Cape Vlamingh and the seal viewing platform at Cathedral Rocks are about 10km from the settlement.
Witness the beauty of its abundant wildlife up close (Photo: Rottnest Express)
One option to get around this is to book a 90 minute Adventure Boat Tour and see the whole island – and its offshore whales and seals – from the water. A bonus is you’ll get to experience an exciting burn in a very fast vessel.
Explore by bike
If you are exploring by bike then it’s a matter of which way to go first? My suggestion is to take an anti-clockwise course and don’t forget swimmers and towel. So after leaving town then the golf course behind you’ll be at The Basin, the first of many secluded sandy coves that will prove irresistible after a hot ride.
Cars aren't allowed on the island so opt to get a bike rental (Photo: Rottnestisland.com)
The ideal is to bring a picnic lunch to the island and ride till you find the perfect beach to declare your own and stop there for a swim and lunch. Alternatively, the settlement has cafes, restaurants, bars and a bakery – or a general store if you wish to make your own.
See beautiful WA wildflowers at Kings Park
Discover fascinating history
On our ride we cut back across the middle of the island, through the picturesque lagoons and via the central Wadjemup Lighthouse.
Stop to climb the Wadjemup lighthouse (Photo: AMSA/Facebook)
There’s a lot of history on Rottnest (from salt farm to prison to military base to nature reserve) and the best way to make sense of it is to have a look through the museum then take the free daily one-hour walking History Tour around the settlement. The quaint old colonial buildings take on new meaning afterwards.
There is also an island explorer bus to help tour around the area (Photo: Rottnestisland.com)
Best of all, the guided walk took us past the Pioneer Cemetery to the Lakes Walk where we encountered a family of shelducks. But this was wild quokka territory where there was a quokka under every bush and groups sitting out in the open.
Get up close and personal with a quokka
We only had to sit for a few minutes before the quokkas came over to say hello. Soon we had quokkas sitting in our laps and exploring our backpacks for the food (that we all knew they weren’t allowed to eat). It was a wonderful moment with nature.
Did you know quokkas can survive for long periods without food or water by living off the fat stored in their tails?
As we left on the last ferry for the day we swore that we’d come back to Rottnest to stay and experience the tranquillity that must descend when the daytrippers depart. Of the half million who visit Rottnest Island each year only a third stay overnight.
We also swore to be more diligent in applying sunscreen – there’s not much shade when you’re out on a bike all day.
Quokkas could be the happiest animal on the planet – too cute!
The main reason we’ll be back, however, is that spending just one day with quokkas is not nearly enough.
Have you ever seen a Quokka in the wild? Join the conversation below.