A trip to Perth in Western Australia is not complete without a day trip to Rottnest Island. Rotto, as the locals call Rottnest, is known for the Quokka, its beaches, its eco-friendly environment and its car-free paradise. Here is how to plan a day trip from Perth, with the most fun things and activities to do in Rottnest Island.
How to get to Rottnest Island
There are two main ways to get to Rottnest Island. Either from Fremantle, Perth southbound or northbound, from Hillarys Boat Harbor. You can take your bike or hire one when you book your ticket on both ferries or when you arrive. You can also stay overnight; the hotels on the island are limited. There are more rental holiday houses, apartments, and campsites.
Check out accommodations in Rottnest Island
You can stay in Fremantle and leave on the ferry to Rottnest.
I recommend these accommodations in Fremantle
- The Rottnest Express ferry leaves from Fremantle (south of Perth). It takes about 25 minutes by train to get there. The 45 minutes Rottnest island ferry operates twice daily at 7.15 am or 9.30 am and returns at 4.25 pm. The return ticket costs 72,00 dollars, including the government admission fee to the island. This extra day ticket will save you money if you stay overnight.
- The Rottnest Fast Ferries leave from Hillarys Boat Harbour, north of Perth. The ferry company operates a free pick-up three times a day. It takes approx 45 minutes to cross over to Rottnest Island. There are three departures during the day. This is ideal if you love to spend time outdoors and visit the beautiful and tranquil northern Beaches of Perth. The return ticket is 68,00 dollars, but it doesn’t include the island fee. A complimentary hotel pick is, however, offered from Perth.
How to plan your Rottnest Island Day Trip
When is the best time to visit Rottnest Island? Between November through March is a good time for visiting. I recommend going on a weekday trip and avoiding weekends when local families with kids and holidaymakers flock. Rottnest and Perth have excellent weather year-round, like most regions in South Western Australia. However, avoid windy weather, as the heat and wind make your trip unbearable. A good sunny day with low or moderate wind is perfect for experiencing the many attractions in Rottnest Island.
Bonus Tip: Check the wind forecast before booking your Rottnest ferry Rottnest wind forecast.
Best ways to explore the island
Start your Rottnest Tour at the Rottnest Island Visitor Centre; get a Map of the Island and book your tours there.
- By bike. Being Rottnest, a car-free paradise, biking is the best way to get around. Beware of the wind conditions.
- By foot. Next to the many walking trails in town, you can walk to the general stores and fashion shops, the museum, the Rottnest Hotel and the bike hire shop. The main areas, like the Basin and Geordie Bay, also have small shops.
- By Bus. A free shuttle bus takes you around to the main points of Rottnest, like Kingstown Barracks and Geordie Bay. The shuttle bus only covers a few areas of Rottnest, though.
- By Coach If you want to see it all by bus, go on a Discovery Bus Tour. Book online or on the spot at the visitor centre.
- By Boat, There are many boat tours that you can do besides. The 1-hour cruise around the island is something I’d recommend on a calm day with no wind to see dolphins and wildlife.
Browse through all Tours and Activities to do on Rottnest
Things to do in Rottnest Island on a Day Trip
From beach to beach by bike
The first thing to do is hire a bike, cycle around 25 km of coastline, and stop at over 60 beaches and 23 bays. If you need to rent a bike, there is a bike hire service, with reasonable rates, just behind the Rottnest Hotel.
They can also provide the equipment for cycling and a great bike map with all attractions for your discovery tour of the island. Pedal and Flipper is open daily from 8.30-5.30. Prices vary from 16 to 30 dollars per person for a half or full-day hire.
Make sure you check out Salmon Bay on the southbound. Gordie Bay and Parakeet Bay on the northbound of the island are top places for relaxing, almost at the end of your bike ride tour.
Tips: Pack plenty of water and food, as there are no shops along your way. And make sure you get back in time to catch the last ferry, which is at 4.30 pm. Plan enough time, a few hours if not the entire day, to see all beaches and bays. Distances are okay and doable for a round-day trip to the island.
Go on a Free Guided Heritage Trails Tour
The heritage trail tour is an exciting thing to do on a day trip. They show you around Rottnest Island and tell you about its rich heritage. The island’s history goes back to the aboriginal occupation 65000 years ago to the colonial settlement in 1829. Free guided walking tours start from the visitor centre. Make sure you do this as the first thing; usually, they start early in the morning.
Take a Rottnest Island Bus Tour
Going on Island Discovery Bus Tour is the best way to see it if you don’t fancy biking uphills. This excellent 90 minutes bus tour circumnavigates the whole island with informative commentary. The time gives you an excellent overview of all areas so that you know what you want to explore later by yourself.
You will have time to visit the Wadjemup Lighthouse, learn about the heritage and take one of the many walking trails to the island’s western end. You can read more about the history of the Wadjemup Lighthouse here.
Visit the Rottnest West End
The West End with Cape Vlamingh is the most beautiful sland area, with a rugged coastline, stunning colour contrasts and breathtaking ocean views. If you are going with the discovery coach tour, the West End will be one of the stops.
Soak in the beauty of Rottnest
On a day tour, you tend to be in touch-and-go mode. To get the feel of Rottnest, you need to switch from a fast pace to a slow pace, stop along your way at any bay and take in the beautiful environment. You will be mesmerised by the intense colours of the ocean. Rottnest Island beaches are amazing, and I’d dare say you will see some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia.
Take a swim at the beach.
The island has many pretty beaches, with The Basin being the busiest and most popular beach. The good thing about it is that you can swim at almost every beach on the island. Some beaches towards the western end are more for expert surfers, some are for a family with kids, like the Basin, and some are just as isolated as you can only dream of. Pinky Beach is a top beach for swimming, and Eagle beach is in the West End.
Pit-stop at the Pink Lake
If you are cycling around the island, a pit stop at Pink Lake is quite apparent. It’s one of the most visited attractions on Rottnest. Its water turns pink after a rainy day and will look like an ordinary saltwater lake if you are not there in the right season. The photo below is from my last visit; the water wasn’t pink. But I could see and hear the native birdlife and take in the vegetation around the lake.
Meet Rottnest’s quirky locals – the Quokkas
Rottnest is known for the quirky Quokka, a little marsupial of the size of a domestic cat. Rottnest was named after this native animal by the Dutch captain, who thought Quokkas were giant rats. They are everywhere on the island and will also show up around restaurants, looking for food.
Bonus Tip: Don’t feed them; they get sick if you provide them with fruits or human food. Take pictures of a cute Quokka, but feeding is a no-go.
Quokkas are the most significant natural attraction among the abundant wildlife on the island. But you can also see many birds and other animals like dolphins and marine life. There is dolphin watching tours and more wildlife encounters tours on the island.
Take a break from your Rottnest Bike Tour
After a long day out biking and touring the island, there is no better way to chill out than sitting down and enjoying a snack and a drink with an ocean view. At the Rottnest hotel, you can sit outside in the beautiful garden. You can also stroll through peaceful Thomson Bay near the boat jetty. There are also chalets and accommodations to stay on Rottnest Island.
Activities and guided tours on Rottnest Island
You can also go on a snorkelling cruise, a surfing tour, or a reef and wreck tour; segway tours are also something you can do if you don’t like walking or cycling. It’s easy and fast to get around and experience much of the island. A Dolphin watching tour is also great if you like to see wildlife. There are many activities and fun guided things to do on Rottnest Island. See our picks here below:
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First published in 2015 – last updated in Jan 2023
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