Last Updated on December 6, 2021
A car-free island with only 475 permanent residents and more quokkas than people? An island with 63 pristine beaches, 20 picture-perfect bays, coral reefs, essentially car-free and the majority of permanent residents are nicknamed “the happiest animal on earth”? Who would NOT want to visit Rottnest Island?!
Well, the problem with visiting Rottnest Island is that it is quite remote and quite expensive.
It took me a 6-hour flight from Australia’s East Coast, a tram ride from Perth to Fremantle, and a 30-minute ferry ride from Fremantle to get to Rottnest Island. This little detour from Brisbane cost me quite a bit of money. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Hanging out with the quokkas on Rottnest Island was one of the bucket list items on my Australia wish list. Beyond hoping to see quokkas, I didn’t have any expectations for Rottnest Island. But my island getaway ended up being one of the highlights of my entire Australia trip, and the only regret I have is that I didn’t spend the night there (because let’s be honest: it’s unlikely that I’ll ever make it back to Rottnest Island, considering how far it is from New York).
If you’re planning a trip to this little island off the coast of Perth, here is everything you need to know before your visit to Rottnest Island – including some things I wish I’d known before I went there, including the different Rottnest Island ferry options, where to eat and where to sleep, tours to take, what to bring, and more!
How to get to Rottnest Island (Rottnest Island Ferry Options)
Rottnest Island is 19 kilometers (roughly 12 miles) from Fremantle and 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Perth. There are three Rottnest Island ferry companies:
- SeaLink (Perth & Fremantle)
- Rottnest Express (Perth & Fremantle)
- Rottnest Fast Ferry (Perth Only)
There are several Rottnest Island ferry terminals in Fremantle and Perth (pay attention which one you buy your ticket for), and the duration of the trip depends on which ferry terminal you leave from:
- Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty (closest to the city center): 90 minutes
- Perth’s Hillarys Boat Harbour (25 mins north of the city center by taxi): 45 minutes
- From Fremantle: 25 minutes
Tip: Rottnest Island ferry tickets are usually cheaper when you book them advance online.
Here are the prices, ferry schedules and deals for each company, plus possible add-ons such as bike rentals and snorkeling gear (they can also be rented on the island, but may be sold out):
- Currently only operating from the B-Shed Terminal in Fremantle
- Same day return: AU$51 + AU$20 (Island Admission) = AU$71
- One way Fremantle – Rottnest: AU$32 + AU$20 (Island Admission) = AU$52
- Extended return: AU$51 + AU$26 (Island Admission) = AU$77
- Children: FREE! For every full paying adult fare, one child travels free of charge.
Special offer: Same Day Return (7am Departure from Fremantle): AU$49
- Bike Rental: AU$30.00
- Child Bike Rental: AU$20.00
- Snorkel Hire: AU$20.00
- BYO Bike: AU$15.00
Ferry Timetable: You can find the ferry timetable here.
- Fremantle: Northport Terminal & B-Shed Terminal
- Perth: Barrack Street
Ticket prices (when booked online):
- Fremantle – Rottnest Island: Same-day return from AU$33
- Perth – Rottnest Island: Same-day return from AU$78
- Fremantle – Rottnest Island: Overnight return from AU$53
- Perth – Rottnest Island: Overnight return from AU$78
- Bike Hire: AU$51
- Lunch at Riva (the in-house restaurant at Karma Heritage Hotel): AU$35
- 90-minute Rottnest Island Tour: AU$51
Ferry Timetable: You can find the ferry timetable here.
Rottnest Fast Ferry
- Hillarys Boat Harbour
The Rottnest Island Fast Ferry brings you from Hillary’s Boat Harbour (north of Perth) to Rottnest Island in only 45 minutes.
Ticket Prices (when booked online):
- Same day return: AU$34 + AU$20 (Island Admission) = AU$54
- Same day ferry & bike combo: AU$88 + AU$20 (Island Admission) = AU$108
Ferry Timetable: You can find the ferry timetable here.
Rottnest Island Admission Fee:
AU$20 (day rate) / AU$26 (overnight) – usually included in the Rottnest Island ferry ticket.
How much does it cost to visit Rottnest Island?
Let me start by saying that visiting Rottnest Island isn’t cheap. It can add up quickly, especially if you’re planning to eat on the island and if you’re planning to hire any additional equipment, such as bikes or snorkeling gear, or take the hop-on hop-off bus.
- AU$30 return ticket for the ferry (discount online price)
- AU$20 admission to the island
- AU$30 bike rental
- AU$20 snorkeling gear
- AU$1.42 transaction fee
Total: AU$100.42 for a day on Rottnest Island.
And that’s without any food or drinks.
Could I have done it cheaper?
Sure, I could’ve just paid for the ferry, but honestly, I loved being able to see the entire island by bike, at my own pace, and not having to rely on the bus timetable. Since the water around the island is so clear, I did not regret renting snorkeling gear, and I saw some beautiful marine life while snorkeling.
I chose not to eat on the island, but if you’re planning to have lunch or dinner, factor that into your budget as well.
Families: If you’re planning to visit Rottnest Island with your family, expect to pay at least AU$400 for the day – and more if you are planning to spend the night on the island (scroll down to get an idea for accommodation prices).
2 adults and 2 kids pay AU$198 (including admission to the island) from Fremantle / AU$309 from Perth for the Rottnest Express, if you want to add on a bike rental, that’s AU$30 per adult, AU$15 per child, AU$24 per bike trailer, and AU$3 per helmet. If you are looking to rent snorkeling gear, that’s another AU$20 per adult and AU$15 per child. And that’s without any food or snacks.
Tip: Families can save a lot of money by going on weekdays – with SeaLink’s “kids travel free” offer you can get two return Rottnest Island ferry tickets for AU$114. Expect to pay a higher price Friday through Sunday. It also pays off to compare special offers & deals of Rottnest Express and SeaLink Ferries.
How to get around on Rottnest Island
There are virtually no cars on Rottnest Island, so to get around, you’ll either have to take the hop-on hop-off bus, rent a bicycle, or walk.
Hop-on hop-off bus
There is a hop-on hop-off bus daily from 8.45am to 3pm at 30 – 45-minute intervals, depending on the season (it runs more frequently during high season / holidays). The bus stops at 19 locations around the island. This is the easiest way to explore the island if you don’t want to rent a bicycle, since you can just get on the bus and get off it whenever you see a beach that looks appealing to you. Just make sure to look up when the last bus stops at the beach you’re at in the afternoon, or you risk getting stuck. It’s also worth mapping out in advance what stops you’d like to get off at.
Map via SeaLinkRottnest.com.au
The bus is only AU$20 when booked advanced online, and kids from 4 – 12 years pay AU$15. A family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids) is AU$50, kids 3 and under are free.
Cycling on Rottnest Island
If you want to be more flexible (and explore Rottnest Island past 3pm, which I recommend!) cycling would be a better option than taking the bus. Cycling seems to be the most popular option for visitors to get around the island, and there are hundreds of bicycles available for rent near the ferry dock or as part of your ferry ticket package (see prices above).
If you didn’t book a ferry & bike combo, don’t worry: you can still find bicycles on the island. Pedal & Flipper is a massive bike hire facility with nearly 2,000 bikes, just a short walk from the ferry terminal. They also have kids bikes and bike trailers for hire. Bikes are AU$30 per 24-hr rental period. Find the full price list here.
If you want to bring your own bicycle to Rottnest Island, ferries charge AU$15 per bike. Biking is fairly easy on Rottnest Island, the roads are paved, but there are a few hills. Remember that it gets very hot during the summer months (December – February), so plan your route depending on how much time you want to spend on the bike. I loved doing the full loop, and being able to get to see the fur seals from the Cape Vlamingh viewing platform on the southwestern most point of the island, but if you care less about seeing the island and more about beach time, you’ll want to choose a shorter route.
The cycling loops on Rottnest Island are:
- Mini Loop (4 kilometers / around 30 minutes – red on the map below)
- The 10k Loop to Wadjemup Lighthouse (2 – 3 hours incl photo stops – green on the map below)
- The Full Loop (22 kilometers / 4 – 5 hours including some stops – brown on the map below)
Map via Rottnestisland.com – click here to download it and save it on your phone
Explore Rottnest Island on Foot
It is possible to get around without any transportation, but prepared to walk, and be aware that you won’t see much of the island. There are enough beaches in walking distance of the ferry dock, however, so you’ll be able to beach hop and see a bit of the island still, and most importantly: see the quokkas!
In walking distance from the ferry dock are for example:
- Pinky Beach – 10 mins
- The Basin – 15 mins
- Longreach Bay – 25 mins
- Paterson Beach – 30 mins
- Henrietta Rocks – 35 mins
Take a Tour on Rottnest Island
Free walks with Rottnest voluntary guides
There are daily guided tours led by the Rottnest Voluntary Guides Association (RVGA). There are differently themed walks, for example a quokkas-focused walk or history walks – all of them start outside the Salt Store. Check here for the exact schedule of each tour.
The Wadjemup (Rottnest Island) Tour, run by Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences, is a 60 minute walking tour that showcases Wadjemup (the Aboriginal name for Rottnest Island) from an Aboriginal viewpoint. The tour includes a traditional Aboriginal sand ceremony, Noongar language and a traditional song.
There are a couple of Segway tours offered on Rottnest Island – a fun way to explore a bit more of the island without tiring yourself out on a bicycle. There are two options:
This tour includes Thomson Bay, the Heritage Common area, the North Thompson settlement, the basin, Bathurst Lighthouse and the pilot boathouse.
This tour runs twice a day: at 11am and at 2.30pm.
This tour focuses on the military heritage of Rottnest Island, but you’ll also get to take in the natural beauty of the island and its stunning coastline.
It runs every day at 9am and at 12.30pm.
Other Tours on Rottnest Islands
In addition to the above tours, a wide range of other tours are offered on Rottnest Island, including:
- Train Tours
- Bus Tours
- Snorkeling Tours
- Aquaplay Tours
- E-Bike Tours
- Aviation Tours
You can find a full list of available tours on Rottnest Island here.
How to see quokkas on Rottnest Island
When I booked my trip to Rottnest Island, I was worried if I’d see any quokkas at all, let alone get a quokka selfie – but it turned out that my worries were completely unfounded. Within minutes of getting off the ferry, I saw my first quokka! One of many, as it turned out. After cycling all over the island I found that the best place to hang out with quokkas was near the ferry terminal. There were lots of quokkas near the cabins and campgrounds north of the Ferry Terminal, near the Basin and Bathurst Point.
But you’ll also see quokkas in other parts of the island – look out for them in the areas that have trees, they tend to hang out there to get some shade from the relentless sun.
How to interact with the quokkas
I shouldn’t have to say this, but since there was a popular sadistic sport called “quokka soccer” until the early 2000s (day trippers would use quokkas as a soccer ball, kicking them and thus hurting them, even killing them), please remember that quokkas are living creatures and not there for your entertainment.
Even though this has been made illegal now and acts of animal cruelty can also result in fines up to $50,000 and five years imprisonment (tourists have been sent to jail for hurting quokkas), there are sadly still incidents of violence against quokkas.
Please be respectful when interacting with quokkas, don’t attempt to pick them up, and don’t try to make them pose for photos in a way that could hurt or irritate them. Let them come to you, rather than approaching them.
Don’t feed the quokkas human foods (especially processed foods like chips or cookies!) or alcohol.
Bird watching on Rottnest Island
If fluffy little furballs don’t tickle your fancy, but you’re drawn to birds, you’ll be able to get your “bird fix” on Rottnest Island. There are over 50 shorebird species, including red-capped robins, honeyeaters, Western gerygones, waders, Australian ravens, terns, spotted pardalotes and rock parrots. Pick up a copy of the handy “A birds eyes view of Rottnest Island” at the visitors center or print it out at home.
How much time to spend on Rottnest Island
Most people seem to visit Rottnest Island just for the day, and it’s a popular day trip during the summer for people who live in the Perth area.
The first ferries to Rotto leave at 7.30am, and the last ferries back leave around 6.30pm (there are some later departures during Holidays and high season). If you book yourself on the first ferry and the last ferry back, that’s plenty of time to explore the little island.
Tip: If you want to maximize your time on the island, book the last ferry back soon in advance – that one often sells out!
If it’s a bit of a trek to get there though, as it was for me, I’d recommend doing an overnight trip. It’s not cheap to spend the night on the island (unless you luck out and score a hostel bed, or have camping equipment), but it’s such a unique and remote place that for me, it would’ve definitely been worth it spending more time there. I would’ve loved to spend more time on some of the beaches I stopped at, to spend more time with the quokkas, and maybe do an early morning hike.
When to visit Rottnest Island
December through March are the hottest months, i.e. the best time to visit if you want to enjoy the beaches and snorkel. If you’re just here for the quokkas and maybe a bike ride around the island, you are obviously not limited to the summer months.
If you want to avoid crowds, don’t visit during school holidays and weekends. Weekdays are less crowded.
Tip: If you want to save money, visit Monday through Thursday. Not only is the ferry cheaper on weekdays, but also accommodation on Rottnest Island.
Tips & What To Bring To Rottnest Island
Bring Cash – there’s an Cashcard ATM on the island (right by the ferry terminal), but I’d carry some cash in case the ATM is out of service
Bring food & booze – There are only a couple of small supermarkets on the island (IGA Xpress near the ferry terminal and the Geordie Bay General Store on the northern side of the island)
Water – make sure to have enough water on you, especially if you are cycling around the island. Most of the shops and restaurants are located close to the ferry dock, but once you get further away from that area, there aren’t a lot of places where you can stock up on supplies. There are a few water refill stations on the island: in Thomson Bay settlement, at The Basin, at the Army Jetty, Kingstown Barracks, Geordie Bay and Vlamingh Lookout. Tip: Since the stations all near the settlement, you’ll have to carry enough water for the day if you’re planning to venture to further away beaches and the southwestern part of the island.
Sun Protection – There’s not much shade on most of the island, so make sure to bring adequate sun protection on your trip to Rotto. That goes from high SPF sunscreen (and lip balm – learned that the hard way!) to sunhats, umbrellas, sunglasses and sun protective clothing – especially for kids. UV radiation is intense down there.
Bring a first aid kit – there is no pharmacy on Rottnest Island. Make sure to have bandaids, basic medication such as ibuprofen, and insect repellent (especially if you spend the night.)
Check the weather – It can make a big difference to visit the island on a sunny day – especially if you want to get good photos. On a cloudy day, the water doesn’t look as clear and blue, and if it rains, it may not be worth spending the money on the trip. I checked the weather before reserving the ticket and booked the Rottnest Island ferry for a sunny day with little wind.
Where to eat on Rottnest Island
There are a few restaurants on Rottnest Island, two convenience stores, a bakery, a couple of cafes, and six or seven restaurants.
Since almost all of the restaurants are located near the ferry dock, I recommend picking up some snacks before you head to the further away beaches, since you won’t find any food at the majority of them. If you take the hop-on hop-off bus, you can grab a bite after your island exploration when you’ve circled back to the small settlement near the ferry dock.
Tip: If you know that you’ll hop on a bike or the bus as soon as you get on the island, you can also buy some snacks and bring them to the island with you – that’s what I did, and I was definitely glad that I had a few things to hold me over until I got a full meal later in the day.
Restaurants on Rottnest Island:
- Frankie’s On Rotto – Classic breakfast dishes; pizza, pasta and salads for lunch and dinner. Open Saturdays – Mondays open 8am – 8pm; Tuesdays – Fridays open 11.30am – 8pm
- Lontara – Upscale South-East Asian inspired dishes. Open for lunch and dinner Fridays – Tuesdays (lunch 12pm – 3pm; dinner 6pm – late)
- Riva (part of Karma Rottnest) – Mediterranean-inspired restaurant for gourmet lunch and dining. Open Tuesdays – Sundays 7.30am – 3pm. Open for dinner only Fridays and Saturdays (until 8.30pm) – reservation recommended.
- Isola – Italian restaurant. Open Wednesday through Sunday 11.30am till late
- Pinky’s Beach Club – Focus on Seafood Dishes. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7.30am till late
- Hotel Rottnest easonal menu with pizzas, salad, burgers, snacks and seafood. Open Mondays through Thursdays from noon till 8pm; Fridays through Sunday 11.30am till 8.30pm
- Gov’s Sports Bar (part of Karma Rottnest) Pub fare like nachos, pizza, chicken wings, sandwiches, pasta, burgers and fries. Open daily from 12pm to midnight.
- Subway – If you have a craving for a fast food chain, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s a Subway on Rottnest Island, offering the exact same sandwiches it offers all over the world. Open daily from 8am – 5pm.
Cafes on Rottnest Island
- Geordie’s Café & Art Gallery – Wide range of breakfast dishes, burgers, salads, fish & chips. Open Monday / Tuesday from 7.30am – 3pm; Wednesday – Saturday 7.30am – 7.30pm; Sunday 7.30am – 3pm
- Dome Café – Breakfast dishes, cakes, pizzas, snacks, salads and burgers. Open daily from 7.30am – 3pm; Fridays and Saturdays also open for dinner from 5pm – 8pm
- Lane Café Rottnest – Right by the ferry pier. Great coffee, smoothies, egg and bacon rolls, lobster burgers and cray dogs, Mexican breakfast and vegan bowls, chia pudding, sweet pastries, vegan cookies. Open daily from 6.30am – 4pm
- Lexi’s On Rotto –Lexi’s on Rotto is a small coffee stand near the Cape Vlamingh Viewing Platform and Westend Lookout on the southwestern tip of the island. They have an espresso machine and a decent tea selection, soft drinks as well as snacks like chaos and vegan protein balls, muffins and ice cream. Open daily from 10am – 2.50pm
- Kalli’s On Rotto – Vintage caravan located at the Wadjemup Lighthouse serving similar snack foods and barista coffee as Lexi’s (above). Open from 10am – 3pm (currently only open on weekends – check GoogleMaps for up-to-date opening times)
Grocery stores / baked goods / Ice Cream on Rottnest Island
- Rottnest General Store (Open daily from 8am – 7pm)
- Geordie Bay General Store (Open daily from 8am – 6pm)
- Rottnest Bakery – Rottnest Bakery is located on Maley Street, just down the street from the ferry dock. They have fantastic pies, as well as cakes, donuts, croissants, coffee and more. Open daily from 8am – 4pm.
- Simmos Rottnest – Ice cream shop with over 60 different flavors. They also have iced coffee drinks. Open Friday – Sunday 11am – 5pm; Monday – Thursday 11am – 4.30pm
Where to stay on Rottnest Island
Accommodation is limited on Rottnest Island, and during school holidays, hotels, hostels and campgrounds book out months in advance. If you’re planning an overnight trip to Rottnest Island, my advice is to book your accommodation as soon as you know the date of your trip.
Tip: If you want to save some money, try to find an off-peak deal that includes ferry and accommodation mid-week! Prices go up on weekends, public holidays and during school holidays.
Accommodation options on Rottnest Island
- There are 43 non-powered sites which accommodate up to 6 people and 2 tents.
Units start at AUD39 per night.
Kingstown Barracks Youth Hostel
- Hostel beds start at AUD57 (note that they have mixed dormitories only)
- Family rooms (with one queen bed and one set of bunks, plus a fridge in the room) start at AUD108 per night.
Authority Cottages have 250 cottages and villas for rent on Rottnest Island, the most budget option on the island. They usually sell out months in advance, so check availability for your dates early.
Karma Rottnest Lodge – Upscale hotel with a swimming pool, 2 bars and an à la carte restaurant; close to the golf course. From AUD275 per room per night
Samphire Rottnest – Beautifully designed hotel with 80 spacious guest rooms, all of which have a private balcony. From AUD545 per night
Discovery Eco-Village – Glamping tent village with standard and superior tents (which have a kitchenette). There is an outdoor pool, a restaurant and a bar. Standard Tents from AUD492; Superior Tents from AUD552 per night