Courtney Allan

Domestic Travel

Is Rottnest Island home to the cutest animals on earth?

Is Rottnest Island home to the cutest animals on earth?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The main reason we’ll be back, however, is that spending just one day with quokkas is not nearly enough.

Written by David McGonigal. Republished with permission of