Located a few miles away from Perth, it is a well-preserved jewel with a stunning coastline. A paradise at the doorstep of a city. We kept Rottnest Island for the end of our trip to Western Australia. We hesitated to go there as it’s an expensive day trip from Perth or Fremantle (we paid $130 each) compared to the $12 beautiful national parks we visited during the previous two weeks. Learn more from our Rottnest Island day trip experience in this article, including a map and an itinerary to help you plan your visit.
Is a Rottnest Island day trip worth it?
Locals all recommended not going to Rottnest Island for a day trip but staying overnight instead. During school holidays, it was mission impossible. Everything had been fully booked for a while. So we could only organise a Rottnest Island day trip. We loved our day trip, but I wished we could have stayed for one night.
Some will organise a Rottnest Island day trip just to see the cute quokkas.
Rottnest Island is one of the very rare places where it’s possible to see quokkas in the wild. With their friendly attitude and cute smiling face, they’ve become famous buddies for iconic selfies. So if you want to tick this off the bucket list, a Rottnest Island day trip will meet your expectations.
I didn’t travel to Rottnest Island for the quokkas, but I admit that meeting the cute animals was awesome. I included tips on where to see the quokkas later in this article. But bear in mind that Rottnest Island is a lot more than just a quokka sanctuary.
Rottnest Island wasn’t ten times better than the $12 national parks, but we had a fantastic day trip. If you are in Perth for a short time, it’s worth to pay it a visit. Although it’s more crowded than bigger national parks, there were fewer people than I expected considering its proximity to Perth City. That could be the only advantage of the pricey ferry tickets.
But if you’re on a tight budget and have time to explore the coast further down, don’t be too sad to skip it.
Our Rottnest Island Day Trip Itinerary from Perth / Fremantle
Ferry from Perth or Fremantle to Rottnest Island
If you have a car, I recommend catching the ferry to Rottnest Island from Fremantle as it’s the cheaper option.
There are two ferries that will take you to Rottnest Island:
- A fast ferry* that leaves from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty and stops at Fremantle. From Fremantle, it’s a 25-minutes trip to Rottnest Island.
- A big ferry* that leaves from Fremantle and takes about 35 minutes to reach Rottnest Island. That’s the one we took as it had the best timetables to maximise our time for our Rottnest Island day trip (early arrival, late departure).
We left Perth early in the morning to catch the earliest ferry to Rottnest Island from Fremantle. We came back with the latest one. Hence, we had almost 12 hours to visit Rottnest Island. And we used them to the fullest.
We hired a bike and a snorkelling kit with the ferry company. We got them straight away on the jetty after exiting the boat: it couldn’t have been quicker or easier!
Tip: I know it’s tempting to race to the beach but don’t forget to check the size of your mask and fins at the wharf when you still have the opportunity to swap!
Here’s the map we used for our Rottnest Island day trip itinerary to find the best circuit and snorkelling spots (click on the image to see it bigger):
Rottnest Island day trip itinerary: Cycling around the island
We explored the island by bike, all the way to West End. Rottnest Island is hilly but nothing too hard to make us turn back – although I could not remember the last time I cycled for a full day. It was nice to have time for long and short breaks!
Our Rottnest Island day trip itinerary by bike was about 30km long. We started with the south coast, all the west to West End with a detour to the lighthouse, and came back via the north coast.
The other option was to take the bus. Of course, it is less tiring, but it’s not adventurous at all! I loved the freedom I felt on my bike. With no cars allowed on the island, cycling was a real pleasure!
If you don’t like cycling, you can hop on hop off a bus that tours the island. As you have to wait for the bus to show up every time you stopped somewhere, it’s not a lot quicker. However, it’s a lot less tiring!
Rottnest Island day trip itinerary: the best beaches and snorkelling
We had already seen many incredible beaches and coastline all around the south coast of Western Australia, but Rottnest Island was again a great surprise. I found the southern beaches particularly beautiful, but West End was my favourite part as I love rocks and more dramatic landscapes. And it’s always a great pleasure to spot seals!
Rottnest Island is reputed for snorkelling. Although it was a beautiful day with 25° to 30°, the water wasn’t hot at all. I’m now very used to the temperatures in Queensland, and I look ridiculous when I have to enter cold water. My love for underwater life still made me do it. Was it worth it? Well, I’m not sure about that.
The visibility was fantastic, despite the wind. The underwater world is pretty, but there was nothing exceptional for us who have been to the Great Barrier Reef and are lucky to have the beautiful Flinders Reef not too far from home. Are we too spoilt with our travels? Now, I need ‘amazing’ to enter a cold water like this…!
For those who unconditionally love snorkelling and those who haven’t done it a lot, make sure you have your snorkelling gear to have a look down there.
I recommend taking your time when you’re on Rottnest Island. With only a day trip to explore the island, you may feel like you should move quickly from one spot to another. But if you’re patient enough to wait for people to leave, you can easily enjoy the place by yourself. Little Salmon Bay was packed when we arrived at 12 pm. 45 minutes later, after the bus left, there was only us and another couple. The experience is very different when the place got quiet.
Rottnest Island day trip itinerary: visit of the lighthouse
I love lighthouses. They often offer the best views of a dramatic coastline. During our road trip around the south of Western Australia, I missed two opportunities to visit a lighthouse. So I got very excited when we saw the sign “lighthouse open” as we were cycling. It gave me the motivation to push harder on my pedals and climb the hill in one go where many others gave up and pushed their bike.
We arrived just in time for the 2 o’clock tour. They run tours every half an hour until 2.30 pm, so we were very lucky!
It was interesting to learn a bit more about the history of the island and the lighthouse from a local volunteer. And the views from up there will blow you away. Almost literally, considering the strength of the wind!
How to find quokkas on your day trip to Rottnest Island
It is very cliche but I will admit that Quokkas were a big highlight of this island trip.
Unfortunately, these small Australian marsupials became very rare. The imported foxes killed most of them on the mainland, where they also struggle with the bushfires. For all visitors’ pleasure, it’s a different story on Rottnest Island.
We hadn’t been cycling for more than five minutes before we spotted a few quokkas.
On Rottnest Island, quokkas are not shy at all. If you kneel down to take a closer pic or a selfie, you may actually struggle because they are curious and come too close! Rottnest Island has been named after them as the explorer thought they were big rats (rat nest…). But with their adorable happy faces, they are a lot cuter than big rats! Quokkas are supposed to be nocturnal. Although we did see more and more of them as the sun was going down, we still could spot many during the day.
We saw many quokkas at our first stop on the south coast of the island (Henrietta Rocks). The place with the highest number of quokkas during our day visit was the road leading to the lighthouse. And when we reached back the ferry area at night, quokkas were everywhere!
To sum up: don’t plan your Rottnest Island day trip itinerary according to the quokkas, we saw them almost everywhere and at any time of the day.
If you can stay overnight
We only had time for a day trip to Rottnest Island. Plus, accommodations were fully booked as we were travelling during the school holidays. But if you have time to spend one night there, it’s worth it. You’ll get to see more quokkas and you will have more time to explore at all the beautiful bays.
Accommodations can get expensive but you can find good deals if you are travelling as a group or a family.
Camping is the cheapest option to stay on Rottnest Island, but it’s not easy to organise. You can read the guidelines here. For a short trip, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re travelling on a budget, cabins or a dormitory* could be a good alternative.
Are you planning a day trip to Rottnest Island? Or have you been there already? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Where is Rottnest Island?
Rottnest Island is near Perth, in Western Australia. It’s 20km away from the continent.
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Eloise lives in Brisbane (Australia), but you won’t find her often in the city. When she is not disconnected underwater or in a national park, she loves sharing her travel tips and inspiring her readers to take care of our beautiful planet. She considers every weekend as a two-day holiday break. Her approach: you don’t always need to go far to travel. Still, she also enjoys exploring the world and discovering new cultures. Eloise is originally from France and, before moving to Brisbane, she lived in Sydney, Istanbul and England.