Rottnest Island is situated in the Indian Ocean 18 kilometres off the West Australian Coast. It was named ‘t Eylandt ‘t Rottenest (Rats Nest Island) by the Dutch explorer William de Vlamingh after he spent six days exploring the island in December 1696. The rats to which he was referring are of course the Quokkas.
The island is colloquially known as “Rotto” to locals, but to the local Noongar aboriginal people the island is referred to as Wadjemup meaning “place across the water where the spirits are.”
The ferry services to Rotto leave from a number of destinations around the Perth Metro. The transit time to the island is shortest from B-shed, Fremantle than from the more distant ferry terminals at Perth City and Hillarys Boat Harbour.
The proximity of Fremantle Train Station to Fremantle, B-shed allows easy transport of bikes to the island. The small additional fee for bike transport on a ferry is cheaper than hiring a bike on the island. After a journey time of forty minutes it’s like stepping onto a different country and back in time, disembarking onto vehicle free Rottnest.
There are two ferry companies to Rottnest Island, Rottnest Express and Sealink. Sealink is generally cheaper but it is worth checking out any deals that Rottnest Express might be running.
There is a variety of accomodation on Rottnest spanning a wide price range, but to secure one of the heritage cottages advance booking is mandatory. The Barracks budget accomodation however, is often available for a last minute trip, this private but spartan family room is an excellent price. The Caroline Thompson Cabins are another excellent budget choice, somewhat nearer to the main settlement.
Rottnest Island Accommodation:- https://rottnestisland.com/accommodation
There are two ways to get around the island. The first is by bus, but for those fit enough, the second option of cycling around the island is a must. From the mainland the island looks flat, but once exploring by bike it is clear that the island contains many challenging hills!
Meet the Locals.
The most famous Rottnest Island Wildlife is of course the Quokka. The population at Rottnest is estimated to vary between 8,000 and 12,000 individuals. They are short,squat, grizzled wallabies with a short bare tail, indeed their latin name Setonix brachyurus translates as bristle-footed short-tail.
Quokka showing the short bare tail.
Quokkas are found throughout Rottnest Island, although like the majority of marsupials they are crepuscular, especially during the warmer months. For daytrippers to the island wanting to see Quokkas, there are Quokkas habituated to people hanging around the bakery, shopping mall or even the pub for food scraps. However for those hoping for a more authentic experience, Quokkas can often be found sheltering from the heat of the day in the Tea Tree Woodland, next to Government House Lake.
Quokka Sheltering in Tea Tree Woodland during the day.
Quokkas are both browsers and grazers and will consume leaves, sedges, succulents, seeds, roots and tree/shrub buds. The quality of food on Rottnest Island is very poor by the end of a long hot Perth Summer, accordingly the condition of many animals deteriorates at this time.
Juvenile Quokka relishing a fallen Fig Tree Leaf.
On Rottnest Island Quokkas have a restricted breeding season, with almost all young being born in February and March. This is due to the low quality of available food during the dry Summer and Autumn months. It is 26 weeks until the joey leaves the pouch, meaning that from October onwards is the best time to view the ultra cute joey Quokkas, alongside mum.
Mother and Juvenile Quokka.
Rottnest Island is not the only place where Quokkas are found, they are found throughout the wetter Southwest corner of Western Australia in scattered populations, unfortunately these mainland Quokkas have introduced predators such as dogs, cats and foxes to contend with, and so are shyer and much more difficult to view. See here for an encounter with a mainland Quokka on Western Australia’s South Coast:- Where to see Mammals – Western Australia.
More Rottnest Island Wildlife can be found at Cathedral Rocks at the West end of the island. At the point the road terminates there is a 300m coastal path to a seal viewing platform, overlooking the Long-nosed (New Zealand) Fur Seal Colony. The colony is a recent establishment, because Long-nosed fur Seals have only re-appeared in Southwest WA in the last 30 years, after being almost wiped out from hunting last century. The Rottnest colony consists of between 10 and 80 seals at any given time.
Sleepy Long-nosed Fur Seal.
Every time I have visited the colony there have been seals, sometimes in the distance hauled onto Cathedral Rocks, sometimes in water around Cathedral Rocks a little too far away to be properly observed, but nearly always there are Seals in the water immediately below the viewing platform allowing close views.
These seals really are close and are easily observed resting in the shallows after a hard night out on the continental shelf feeding on squid and fish. It is interesting to see them thermoregulating by putting a flipper out of the cool ocean water and at times it looks like they are dancing!
Thermoregulating Long-nosed Fur Seal.
Cycling around the island during the warmer months, Rottnest Island Dugites are often encountered crossing roads and tracks. This subspecies of Dugite is smaller and darker then the Mainland Dugite.
It is a member of the dangerously venomous brown snake family and this Rottnest Island Wildlife should be afforded the appropriate respect, although as with all snakes, when left alone they are non-aggresive. These beautiful animals are poetry in motion, and awesome to watch as they move around.
Rottnest Island Dugite.
The most common reptile seen on Rottnest are the islands King’s Skinks, although these sizable lizards may seem intimidating they are harmless, feeding on plant matter, small lizards, insects and birds eggs. The coastal limestone landscape of Rottnest provides plenty of crevices and burrows for shelter, while the coastal dune vegetation is a diet staple. Although they can be encountered across the island they are most conspicuous on the island’s “West End” during the warmer months.
On warm Summer nights exploration of the island roads reveals the nocturnal reptiles. The most commonly encountered are the Southwestern Spiny-tailed Geckos, although their grey colouration affords them excellent camoflague against the tarmac, that is until they move once under white light.
Southwestern Spiny-tailed Gecko.
See here for other amazing Reptiles of Southwest Australia:- South West Reptiles – Western Australia – Devils and Dragons.
Rottnest Island is a fabulous holiday island destination conveniently close to Perth, famous for it’s amazing beaches, historical lighthouses and endearing marsupial mascot. Many people just day trip to the island, but an overnight or multi-day stay increases the chances of encounters with the abundant Rottnest Island Wildlife. #NatureNeverFailsToImpress!