The ultimate guide to Rottnest Island in Western Australia


Rottnest Island, known to Aussies as “Rotto”, is located around 18 kilometers from the coast of Perth. You will find it hard to believe that this untouched paradise can exist so close to a major city. Most of the roads on Rottnest do not permit any public vehicles, so how does one get around? Well, you can either walk, take the island explorer bus, or, best yet, rent out a bicycle to explore the island and its full potential.

Rottnest Island only covers an area of 19 square kilometers with an elevation of just 46 meters, so a full loop can easily be performed in one day. However, with many snorkeling hot spots, you may want to spread out your exploration over a couple of days. This lovely island is also home to the Quokka, a rodent-like marsupial with selfie skills to rival Kim Kardashian.

Rottnest Island in Western Australia
Guide to Rottnest Island in Western Australia (Image source: Flickr)

You will find yourself hopping off your bike at every opportunity for a picture with the island’s famous inhabitants, adding an extra 3 hours to your journey! It is said that Rottnest actually gets its name from these friendly little things. Dutch explorers who saw the Quokkas mistook them for rats and named the island “Rotte Nest” (meaning “Rats Nest”). Here are all the information you have to know about this lovely island on your Australian itinerary:

Visitors to the island have a few options. You can take a ferry from Fremantle, Hillary’s boat harbor, and Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty on the Swan River. Fremantle is the best option as it is the closest to the island. However, you may want to factor in travel times to each ferry terminal. Rottnest Express operates ferries from Fremantle and the Swan River. Services from Hillarys Boat Harbour are operated by Rottnest Fast Ferries.

Here are the links to the timetables above as the times and stops they make change daily. As Rottnest is a marine reserve, all visitors have to pay an admission fee to enter the island. Either $18 for a day visit or $23.50 for an overnight stay. Ferry companies usually add this to the quoted prices above. If you are feeling tough, a unique way of getting to Rottnest is to take part in the annual February Rotto swim.

This is a 20-kilometer swim starting from Cottesloe Beach and finishing on Rottnest Island. If you are just after a quiet getaway, then this may actually be the best time to avoid Rottnest, as the race draws many spectators to the island. While we are at it, you may also want to stay clear during the “Schoolie” leavers week which normally falls in November. Unless, of course, you want to be surrounded by screeching adolescents.

Everyone can stay at Rottnest because there are everything from resorts, hotels, hostels, and even camping. You will have plenty of choices, and we have listed all of the island’s accommodation options below. This section is rather long and exhaustive, but great if you are looking to book or need information on EVERY SINGLE option. Booking ahead of time is always recommended on Rottnest, especially in the high season. Here are all the options you can choose:

There is a smattering of basic and more affordable accommodation choices in Rotto. You can book a hostel, the Caroline Thompson Cabins, Governers Circle Cottages, Kingstown Barracks (ideal for large school groups), and North Heritage Bungalows.

The Caroline Thompson Cabins can accommodate up to 6 people in one double and 2 bunk beds. All cabins have a communal kitchenette, sleeping and living area, and a separate shower room and toilet. Prices here start from $71 midweek in low season to $144 on a weekend during the holidays. Prices are per cabin per night. The cabins are basic, but they have everything you need. They are comfortable, have enough space for a weekend trip, and have decent kitchen equipment.

Caroline Thompson Cabins on Rottnest Island
Image source: TripAdvisor

For those who are in a large group and love to stay in a place with a bit of a back story, the Governors Circle Cottages were originally built for soldiers during WWII. There are 9, 13, and 18-bed options starting at $352 ($299*) per night for the 9-bed to $658 ($559*) for the 18-bed.

*School and community groups are eligible for a group discount price marked in the brackets.

Another school and groups option is the Barracks. They have a variety of room sizes from 2 beds priced at $79 ($67*) to 18 bed priced at $605 ($514*) and are fitted with communal bathroom facilities.

*School and community groups are eligible for a group discount price marked in the brackets.

The hostel on the island is located by the Kingstown barracks and offers dormitory beds for $52 and family rooms for $114, which sleeps 2 adults and 2 children.

These 1920s-built self-contained accommodations have basic furnishings and a fully equipped kitchen area. The sides of these buildings are canvas; therefore, we recommend them only for summer use. Prices range from $82 midweek low season for a 4-bed bungalow to $189 on a weekend during the holidays for a 6-bed bungalow. Prices are per night.

Just as with the basic options, there is also a variety of luxury accommodations in Rottnest. Luxury is not usually something we fork out for when we are on the road. However, we have included the information as it may be useful for your stay.

The Karma resort is a hotel and spa with comfortable basically styled rooms. The Premium Lakeside rooms have been recently renovated and feature chic and designer furnishings overlooking Governer’s Lake. Prices per night in this resort start at $264 per room per night.

Hotel Rottnest is another premium option for those over 18 and features modern rooms, some of which look out over Thompson Bay. In the low season, courtyard view rooms start at $149, while bayside view rooms start at $199. In the summer months, prices are around $290 for the courtyard and $340 for the bayside per room per night.

Hotel Rottnest
(Image source: TripAdvisor)

The Rottnest Island Authority also takes bookings for a variety of other lodgings. There are the Timber Chalets, Standard Holiday Units, Heritage Cottages, Heritage View Cottages, Premium Accommodation, Premium View Accommodation, Ocean View Accommodation, and Island Couple’s Retreat, which is an ideal splurge for honeymooners; a beachfront one-bedroom suite with beach style interior design, modern amenities (TV, Bose) and fully equipped kitchen. The Island Couple’s Retreat suites range in price from $314-midweek low season to $397 during the weekend in the holidays per night.

Cycling around the island is by far the quickest way to see as much as you can in your time there. However, the bike rentals are not cheap. Prices for bike hire in Rottnest are usually around $30 per day, with the price dropping for the more days you hire. You can rent from the ferry operators, but we suggest hiring from one of the rental shops on the island to expand the business. For those of you who want to take your own bike, that is certainly an option and it costs $15 to be transported on the ferry.

There are three bike route options you can choose to take on Rottnest Island. Ride 1 is 4 kilometres long, ride 2 is 10 kilometres, and Ride 3 is 22 kilometres. We recommend the Ride 3 route if you want to see everything, but don’t overdo it. Keep in mind that you can always create your own route. If you are into biking, you can choose among many epic bike rides in Australia like these three on Rottnest.

Anyone who does not wish to explore Rotto by bike, there is a hop on/hop off bus service available. You can purchase a day pass ($20), 3-day pass ($40) or a 5-day pass ($60) so you can get on and off to any destination you want. If you are able-bodied, though, we strongly encourage you to take the bike. It can be tiring, but it is a different way to explore a unique place.

Rottnest island is mostly visited because of its beautiful nature, so don’t expect a lot of other attractions there. However, there are still enough things to do to fill your day.

The main thing you need to remember to bring is your snorkel and flippers, as you will not be short on places to snorkel on Rottnest. There is an abundance of snorkeling spots with warm and shallow waters full of marine life. There is no doubt that Perth has some stunning beaches, but the beaches of Rottnest and the surviving coral reefs are also stunning. Here is a list of some of the best snorkeling spots on Rottnest:

  • The Basin
  • Parakeet Bay
  • Parker Point
  • Little Salmon Bay
  • Little Armstrong Bay

Diving is also a popular pastime in Rottnest. However, most tours leave from the mainland. Tours can pick you up directly from Rottnest if you are already there. Just arrange it directly with the tour company.

It goes without saying that the beaches that are home to these snorkeling spots are also an attraction in themselves. You can spend an entire day either relaxing out of the water, sunbathing or you can even try paddle boarding ($70 per day to hire) and surfing ($40 per day to hire).

Little Armstrong Bay on Rottnest
Little Armstrong Bay beach (Image source: Flickr)

It isn’t all just about the marine life. Above the crystal clear waters, you can find many bird species, including nesting fairy terns and Ospreys. There are many spectacular Osprey nests along the coastline of Rottnest. How they withstand the rushing winds of the Indian Ocean is a wonder. Like the mainland, there are many species of reptiles, including the highly toxic Dugite. Just keep a safe distance, and you will be safe.

Of course, don’t forget the Quokka. These inquisitive creatures will be happy to pose for pictures and may even crack a smile! Very few predators on the island have meant that the Quokkas have not developed a tolerance to humans which allows you to get extremely close. You may even have to dodge a few stubborn ones who refuse to move off the roads. As tame as they are, just remember that Quokkas are still wild animals and as with all wildlife you should never feed or touch them.

This depends on how long you plan to stay in Rotto and what type of accommodation you want.

Day trips:

  • Lots of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Towel
  • Snorkelling Gear (you can also rent this on the island from $20 per day)
  • Swimwear
  • Comfy shoes (we recommend your hiking shoes or comfy trainers)
  • Cash/Credit Card for bike hire, food and shopping

Overnight/ Multiday Camp: (In addition to the above)

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Mat
  • Warm clothes for the evening or sleeping (it can get chilly on a night)
  • Change of clothes

There is a general store on the island, which is great for stocking up on essentials while you are there. The local bakery is also a must to try one of their delicious pies or desserts. If you are lucky enough to catch the smell of the bread baking, you will be hooked. If you prefer to eat out, there are cafes and restaurants on the island. Even a Dome and a Subway! If you are on a budget and camping in one of the self-contained accommodation options, you may want to pack your own dinner and tea for the first night. We hope this guide to Rottnest Island helped with the essentials, and we wish you to have the best time.

Check out more articles about Australia: