You’ve surely heard of quokka selfies by now? Right!? If not, let me introduce you to the cutest animal in the world (it’s official, Internet says so). The small, round marsupial with the endearing smile and lives on the prettiest island off the West Australian coast, near Perth.
A Girls Love Travel Day Trip
As a Perth local, I’ve been plenty of times to Rottnest Island, which is also known as Wadjemup in the local Noongar language. So when Girls Love Travel founder, Haley Woods visited Perth recently, getting a quokka selfie was high on the list!
In case you weren’t aware, Girls Love Travel is a Facebook group that Haley Woods founded in 2015. The group brings together women from all over the world to talk about, share tips and generally gush about how much we love travel. It’s currently in the top 10 Facebook groups for most engagement and has just reached it’s 1 millionth member – yes, there’s 1 million of us in the Girls Love Travel group! A few Perth GLT members even had a Thanksgiving dinner party for Haley. I went a bit all out, being my first ever Thanksgiving celebration, making a sweet potato with marshmallows dish, a corn pudding and two pavlovas that went down well!
Day Trip To Rotto
Rotto is what us locals call it, and together with Debbi, a fellow Girls Love Travel member, we made our way over on the superfast Rottnest Express ferry from Fremantle’s Victoria Quay. The ferry only took 30 minutes to reach the island, 20km off the Perth coast.
The Prettiest Beaches
While we were excited for quokkas, Rottnest Island is so much more! It’s home to 63 stunning beaches, nearly all having the clearest turquoise water and whitest sand you’ve ever seen! Many of which you can have all to yourself!
Some beaches, like The Basin, will nearly always have others there due to it’s proximity to the main settlement, but it’s totally worth a visit to this unique beach formed by a reef.
We stopped off at Parakeet Bay, a beautiful little spot that offers protection from the westerly winds, sitting behind a large sand dune. The waters are so clear, here and at many other beaches, so bring your snorkel gear to explore underwater!
You can also find some amazing diving spots. The tropical Leeuwin current brings warm water from up north, so you’ll find lots of tropical fish and coral around the island.
On the western side of Rottnest Island, at Cathedral Rocks, you’ll find a New Zealand Fur Seal colony! There’s a viewing platform there where you can watch them frolic in the water or laze on the rocks. If you spot them doing this weird thing where they’re floating in the water holding their tail with their flipper in the air, it’s just a way for them to keep cool. We had no idea at the time and were very confused, Google to the rescue!
You’ll also find ospreys, a huge bird of prey with a 1.5m wingspan, soaring through the skies over Rottnest. At West End – Fish Hook Bay, you’ll find an osprey stack (nest) thought to be over 70 years old!
Over 35,000 humpback whales pass through the waters each year as they migrate to warmer waters up north to breed. From September to December, you might see the whales with newly born calves in the waters around Rottnest. The shallows are used like a nursery to build up strength before the trip back to colder waters.
There are a number of reptiles on the island, including the royally named King Skink, a dark, thick lizard that likes to slowly go his way over rocks and through the scrub – we saw two! There are also dugite snakes, a dark brown, slim snek that will often be seen in summer sunning themselves on the road. These danger-noodles are venomous but are not aggressive and prefer to get out of your way. Do as the locals do and walk loudly through scrub or rocks to let the slinky know you’re coming.
You’ll also find frogs, bats, dolphins, rays and a whole heap of birds (a perfect place for twitchers). Keep an eye out for Rainbow Bee-Eaters, Rock Parrots, Red-Capped Robins and even Peacocks! (Obv not a native species.)
But I know what you really want to see!
The island, was given the name of Rottnest by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1696. He thought they were weird rats and so named the island Rottenest, or Rat’s Nest in Dutch.
Quokkas used to proliferate the whole of south-west Western Australia, but due to development and invasive species, the mainland population has dwindled dramatically to just a few small pockets. But on Rottnest, with it’s lack of predators, the quokkas have found a little paradise. It’s been estimated that around 10,000-12,000 quokkas live on the island!
Their cute brown eyes, teeny-tiny mouth that often looks like it’s smiling and lack of fear for humans has given the quokka the title of world’s happiest animal. How could you disagree with that coot lil face!
You’ll see plenty of them all over the island but you’ll see more around in the late afternoon. The quokka is technically a nocturnal animal but has quickly figured out that humans tend to drop food during the day, especially around the bakery!
If you look under the bushes during the day, you might see the cutest sight of a sleeping quokka, quietly dreaming about dropped chips under bakery tables.
There are a few rules and tips when it comes to getting your quokka selfie.
- Don’t touch the quokkas! (But if they touch you and hold onto your finger like a long lost friend, then that’s ok.)
- Don’t feed them human food. If you have to, grab a leaf off some bush they’re eating.
- Don’t chase quokkas. No one wants to be chased!
- Get down low to get your quokka selfie, their smile is smiliest from a low angle.
From April to December, you might even be lucky enough to see the baby quokkas! They’ll live in mum’s pouch for a few months and will often poke their head out for a squizz or nibble, maybe have a little jump around before heading back to the safety of mum’s pouch.
Haley, Debbi & I managed to get lots of quokka photos and had plenty of furry friends to choose from.
Rottnest History & Culture
The traditional owners of Rottnest Island are the Whadjuk Noongar people. Wadjemup, in Noongar means ‘place across the water where the spirits are’. The Island is considered to be a place of transition between the physical and spiritual world and the spirit of the deceased is believed to travel to Wadjemup during its journey towards the afterlife. When the spirit is ready to leave the physical world it moves to the west end of the Island, where the whale takes the spirit on to its final resting place known as Kooranup, located on the horizon in the deep ocean west of the Island.
The Swan River Colony was settled by the English in 1829 and over the decades there would be continued confrontation and violence between the settlers and the Indigenous people who saw their land being taken. In 1838, the settlers began using Rottnest Island as a prison to house Indigenous men who had been taken into custody. This dark era continued for 66 years and Indigenous prisoners were forced to construct a large number of buildings on the island.
Go Cultural Tours conducts regular tours of the island from an Indigenous perspective or visit the Rottnest Island Museum to learn more.
During the two wars, Rottnest took on a military role. In WWI an internment camp was in use on the island. During WWII, Rottnest was identified as a critical defence post of Perth and Fremantle. The Kingston Barracks were built (it’s now the island hostel) and gun placements were installed around the island, parts of which you can still see today.
What Else Is There To Do on Rottnest?
While the quokkas and beaches are a big draw card for Rottnest, you can also golf, go fishing (excellent fishing spots!) or even skydive!
Food & Drinks
There are a number of restaurants, cafes and casual eating spots in the main settlement part of the island. Thompsons Restaurant overlooks the water and has a great selection of meals (their chips are amazing!), Dome Cafe is good for a relaxing coffee and has an excellent breakfast selection. Head to the Rottnest Bakery for their award-winning meat pies or a quokka custard tart. Hotel Rottnest is your spot for drinks in their beer garden, and also do a great lunch. There is also a supermarket, bottleshop and Subway in the main settlement.
Day Trip or Overnight?
There are plenty of accommodation spots on the island, although they do fill up quickly during any school holidays . You’ll find premium villas over in Longreach Bay, heritage cottages near the main settlement, hotel accommodation at Hotel Rottnest or Karma Rottnest, down to basic cabins, the Rottnest Hostel or make use of the campgrounds.
How To Get Around Rottnest
You can hire bikes (electric bikes are also available) or catch the hop-on/hop-off bus, which stops at all the popular spots around the island. Apart from buses and maintenance vehicles, Rottnest is a car-free island so there are no taxis or car hire.
So if you’re visiting Perth, be sure to pop over to Rottnest for an amazing adventure and you might even make a new friend or two!
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