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The charming little island of Rottnest lies nineteen kilometres offshore from Fremantle, a distance which can be covered in only half an hour by the fast ferries plying the route. The island is eleven kilometres in length and a little over three kilometres across at its widest point. It is famous for its quokkas.

Rottnest islands

Rottnest is suitable for a day trip or for an extended visit. There is accommodation on the island, but it is a popular destination, so booking is advisable. It is especially favoured as a location for seeing in the New Year.

Ferries run to Rottnest from both Perth and Fremantle. There is also a service from Hillarys, on the coast just north of Scarborough. From Fremantle the crossing takes 30 minutes. From Hillarys it takes 45 minutes. From Perth, you get the beautiful journey down the Swan River to Fremantle first which takes an hour and, since passengers then have to be picked up in Fremantle, the whole voyage takes approximately two hours.

Although Rottnest was sighted by earlier Dutch navigators making their way to the East Indies, it was Willem de Vlamingh who named it in 1696. He landed and found the island inhabited by what he believed to be huge rats. Therefore, he called it Rottenest, meaning Rat's Nest. The ‘rats' are, in fact, a very small type of kangaroo now given the aboriginal name quokka.

Although this is not quite the only place where they are found, it is one of the very few, and the only place where visitors are likely to meet them. Originally they inhabited much of the coastal area of Western Australia, but the introduction by Europeans of various species of animal has doomed them. In particular, domestic animals such as cats and dogs have hunted quokkas almost out of existence on the mainland. Here, though, cats and dogs are not permitted, and quokkas abound.

Rottnest islands

There are an estimated 10,000 quokkas here and they can be found everywhere, although there are certain places which are particularly good viewing spots. They are not particularly shy, having no enemies here, but they are basically nocturnal, so often sleeping during the day, unless they know that there are visitors around, with the possibility of food. In fact, it is prohibited to feed the quokkas, since anything with which humans are likely to supply them will not be good for their digestive system. Note that biscuits, in particular, are not the natural diet of quokkas, despite their being very adept at noticing that you have some hidden in your bag.

A feature of Rottnest is that private vehicles are not permitted on the island, with minor exceptions made for police, doctor and a few others. There is a bus service and there are bicycles and feet. Recently, the railway line has also been restored.

The history of Rottnest is interesting. Aboriginal artefacts have been found dating back 30,000 years, but when Europeans arrived there were no aborigines here. It appears that until about 6,500 years ago, Rottnest was joined to the mainland, but then a change in sea level resulted in its being cut off.

Since the arrival of Europeans, the island has been put to various uses, one of them being a prison for aboriginal offenders. However, the first six to be brought here escaped in a stolen boat, one of them drowning on the journey to the mainland, but the other five succeeding in reaching their destination. Later, the island was used as a holiday retreat for the Governor of Western Australia.

Then, as the war approached, its strategic importance was realised and it was gradually taken over by the armed forces. That is when the railway was constructed, and the remains of the gun turrets and lengthy underground passages and storage areas can be seen at Oliver Hill. The youth hostel is in what was originally the Kingstown Army Barracks here.

Because of the island's awkward position just off the shore on a main shipping route, it has found itself in the passage of several vessels since the coming of Europeans and there are various wrecks around Rottnest, many of them enjoyed by divers.

There is a lighthouse on the island, at Wadjemup Hill. This was the second lighthouse to be built here. The first had been constructed in 1851 and was partially demolished when the current lighthouse was built in 1896. It is 38.7 metres high, the fourth tallest lighthouse in Australia, and it has a beam which rotates to provide flashes eight times a minute, visible at a range of 26 kilometres.

On the island, you can hire a bicycle to get around. Alternatively, you can walk to many of the places, although it will be difficult to reach the farthest points of the island by this means. There is also a bus service.

Rottnest Map


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