Day Trip to Rottnest Island: Itinerary, Tips, Quokka Selfies

Taking a day trip to Rottnest Island is a must-do while in Perth. My day biking around the island, enjoying the white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and cute lil quokkas that call it home was one of my top ten days of my entire three years in Australia.

I’m not exaggerating. It really is that beautiful there and the animals really are that stinkin’ cute.

Even if they do kind of look like rats.

Only from the back though.

Here’s how to get to Rottnest Island, what to do while you’re there, a Rottnest Island packing list, and of course, tips for the best photos.

Day Trip to Rottnest Island: Itinerary, Tips, Quokka Selfies

rottnest island

This post is a part of my Outback Road Trip series. 

Here are the best things to do if you find yourself in Perth wanting to take a day trip to Rottnest Island.

I ranked these activities from most important to do if you can lol, but given how the ferry schedules run, you should have more than enough time to enjoy all of them.

Book your trip to Rottnest Island here. 

Take a quokka selfie

rottnest island

First things first, we all know why you’ve actually come to Rottnest Island. It’s to get a Quokka selfie, fr fr.

These cute little marsupials are about the size of a cat and are native to the southwest corner of Western Australia. However, due to habit loss and predators on the mainland, they now only really exist in the wild on the island. Quokkas are known for their friendly and curious nature. When their mouths are open, it looks like they are smiling.

rottnest island

Getting a good picture with them can be tough, since they are wild animals and all. But I have some top tips on getting the perfect Quokka selfie.

You can check that out here.

Experience some snorkeling

fremantle market

There are many beaches and bays around the island that are perfect for snorkeling, and many of them are easily accessible from the shore. This means that don’t need to be an experienced swimmer to enjoy snorkeling on a Rottnest Island day trip. Plus, the waters surrounding Rottnest Island are exceptionally clear, with excellent visibility for snorkeling.

It’s a great thing you can see so well because there are so many colorful fish, crabs, starfish, and other sea creatures to check out on the reefs.

Go for a bike ride

The island is a lot bigger than you think it is! To see most of it, you are going to need a set of wheels. Since they don’t allow private cars on Rotto, you’ll need a bike. There are many scenic routes and viewpoints to discover along the way! Cycling is also a fun and enjoyable way to experience the island’s natural beauty and fresh sea breeze.

You can also discover secluded beaches, hidden coves, and scenic lookout points that are off the beaten path.

You can bring your own bike (BYOB) or rent one there. I recommend booking your bike along with your ferry ticket before your day trip to Rottnest Island just in case there is a shortage of any kind. It also means you don’t have to wait in such a long line to get your bike when you arrive, as you’ve already paid. The bikes come with helmets.

Enjoy a coastal walk

There are heaps of coastal walks to enjoy on a day trip to Rottnest Island. Of course, if you don’t feel like walking or are short on time, just hop on a bike instead.

Wadjemup Bidi

The Wadjemup Bidi is a series of walking trails that cover over 45km of the island’s coastline. The trails are divided into five sections, each offering a unique perspective of the island’s natural beauty and Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Thomson Bay to Pinky Beach

This scenic walk takes you from the main settlement of Thomson Bay to the beautiful Pinky Beach. Along the way, you’ll pass by some of the island’s most iconic landmarks, including the Bathurst Lighthouse and the Henrietta Rocks.

Cape Vlamingh to West End

This challenging walk takes you along the rugged and rocky coastline of the island’s west end. You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the island’s unique flora and fauna.

Parker Point to Little Armstrong Bay

This easy and family-friendly walk takes you along the island’s northwestern coastline, offering stunning views of the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. Along the way, you’ll pass by several secluded bays and coves that are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

Cathedral Rocks to Stark Bay

This moderate walk takes you along the island’s southern coastline, offering panoramic views of the ocean and the rugged coastline. You’ll pass by several iconic landmarks, including the Cathedral Rocks and the Bathurst Point Lighthouse.

Have a picnic

I was so chuffed with my little shop I did the night before my day trip to Rottnest Island. I had a chocolate muffin and chocolate milk for breakfast, a sandwich, crackers, apple, and tea for lunch.

It was like Christmas Eve the night before because I was so keen to wake up and eat all of these goodies.

Here’s the thing: food on Rottnest Island is expensive. Yes, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. Many of them are right on the water and have fantastic views. There is even a grocery store near the ferry terminal that you could stop in to buy some snacks.

I went in there to buy some chocolate because I started my period that day and paid about $10 for a tiny bar. The island markups are so real. They are not worth it …. even if there WAS a quokka inside the store with me also trying to buy some snacks. He was quickly removed.

Anyway, save yourself hella money and just pop to the grocery store in Perth (or Fremantle or wherever it is that you are staying) before you get on the ferry.

Have a picnic literally anywhere on the island and enjoy the views. Just don’t share your food with wild animals.

Tips for a day trip to Rottnest Island

rottnest island day trip

Just a few rapid fire options for you: 

  • Bring a packed lunch
  • Book your bike hire ahead of time (or bring your own)
  • Don’t feed or touch the wild animals
  • Bring a change of clothes for after snorkeling

History of Rottnest Island

rottnest island day trip

If you plan to take a day trip to Rottnest Island, it’s important to be aware of its historical context.

The island has a long and varied history. The has been home to the Noongar people for thousands of years. They called the island Wadjemup and used it for fishing, hunting, and spiritual ceremonies. It was a special place for them. Then in 1696, the first Europeans arrived and that changed everything. Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh named the island Rotte Nest, meaning “rat’s nest” in Dutch, after mistaking the quokkas for rats.

But the name wasn’t the only thing his arrival changed.

By 1829, the British had also arrived and established a penal colony in Western Australia. Rottnest Island was used as a prison for Aboriginal men. Most of these men were there for minor offenses or for simply being “idle and disorderly.” These were basically just made-up crimes that were used as a means to control and oppress the Aboriginal people. These men were forced to work in difficult and dangerous conditions, like quarrying limestone, and were subjected to harsh punishments for even minor infractions.

rottnest island day trip

Many prisoners died on the island due to disease, malnutrition, and mistreatment. Sadly, their bodies were often buried in unmarked graves. It is estimated that around 370 Aboriginal men are buried on the island, although the exact number is unknown.

In recent years, there has been growing awareness and acknowledgment of the mistreatment of Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island. The local government is working to improve its relationship with the local Noongar people, including through the creation of the Rottnest Island Aboriginal Corporation, which aims to promote Indigenous tourism and cultural activities. The island is also working to identify and mark the graves of Aboriginal prisoners who died on the island, and to provide support and compensation to the descendants of the prisoners.

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