When I stepped outside to be greeted by a grey, overcast morning, I was a little disheartened. But with a ferry to catch there was no time to waste on disappointment, and so I hoofed it down to the Fremantle wharf near the mouth of the Swan River. It was a busy sailing with workers, locals and tourists all in the mix. In just 25mins, the Rottnest Express whisked us out onto the Indian Ocean and across to one of Western Australia’s gems: Rottnest Island. When I first read about it, I discovered that it was home to a marsupial creature that I hadn’t heard of prior: a quokka, and out on the island, they were effectively a guaranteed sighting. I’d booked a deal with the ferry company to get a day’s bike rental with my ferry ticket, and this opened up the whole island to explore at my leisure. I was certainly going to make the most of it, and it didn’t take long for the island’s charms to grasp me firmly. What followed was the highlight of my short but sweet Western Australia explorations.
Arriving into Thomson Bay, there was a flurry of activity as supplies for the island and bikes for the tourists were unloaded. After saddling up, my first port of call was the IGA food mart to get some edibles for the day. It wasn’t until I came outside that I realised I had walked right past a quokka, and having spotted one, I suddenly realised there were many others. Whilst I tried to remain casual about the whole thing, there were several people kneeling and lying down trying to get selfies and close ups with the inquisitive creatures, and it was hard to resist joining in. I succumbed eventually, as they were more than eager to come up close, and it left me feeling excited for the day ahead.
I cycled along the Thomson Bay foreshore towards Kingston Barracks. I had tried to book a night here but unfortunately they were closed for the season, and the other accommodation on the island was outwith my budget. So I was eager to cover as much distance as I could before the evening ferry back to the mainland. The barracks themselves didn’t hold my attention for long, but nearby there were more quokka nibbling on the verge, and further round there was a peaceful and deserted little beach.
There were plenty of other cyclists, but it never felt busy or overcrowded, and there were several routes and directions to choose from. Following the coastline, I reached Henrietta rocks where a walkway lead down to a rock-strewn beach and a shipwreck lay sticking out of the water a little off shore. I read that it was a good place to snorkel, and I had planned on going in for a nosy, however there was not another soul in sight, and with my track record of sea swimming, I was nervous about going on in my own with no witnesses. I had an internal argument for many minutes before eventually moving onwards.
Skirting along the expansive Porpoise Bay, I took a detour out to Parker’s Point where I nabbed a picnic bench to have a snack. There was a cute little beach down the steps from here, and I was excited to find a mother and baby quokka asleep in the bushes nearby. After watching them in silence for a while, I sat back on the bench and opened up some of the food I’d bought. Suddenly, one of the quokka that had been asleep, shot out of the bushes at the sound of the wrapper and not only came right up to me, but started trying to climb up my leg to get to my food. Clearly they’ve been fed in the past, and had a clear association of food and humans, but whilst I stood my ground and gave her none, it was an incredible experience to have her sit right by my feet and watch me intently. Eventually she realised that I wasn’t giving in, and with the food finished she wandered off.
Still hungry, I opened another packet of food and out shot a mother and baby to play the same game with me. I was busy trying to join in the game of quokka selfies, and failing badly when a couple from New South Wales joined me. We chatted for a while as they ate, the quokkas again paying them a lot of attention, and as I readied myself to move on after a while, two large king skinks were spotted near the verge.
It had been hard to leave that spot, but there was so much of the island to see. By now, the cloud was well on its way to burning off and it was actually turning out to be a gloriously hot and sunny day. As the road continued to follow the coast, there was a consistently beautiful outlook to be had. Round a few bends was Little Salmon Bay and then a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach that curved round Salmon Bay. Considering how beautiful a beach it was, there was only 1 family on it, the kids splashing around in the shallows. Had I had the benefit of more time, I would have lazed on this beach for some time, but with time marching on, I too had to move on.
A little further along the road, I took a turn-off onto one of the inland roads, back-tracking a little to take the road to Oliver Hill. Despite the road winding up the hill to the remants of the World War II battery, I was dismayed to see a sign at the bottom saying you couldn’t cycle up. I’m still not sure why this was the case, but I ignored it for half the distance, then dumped my bike in the bushes before marching up the rest of the way, sweating in the heat of the day. After rounding the bend, the slight gain in altitude provided a sweeping view across the large expanse of Serpentine Lake which stretches out towards the island’s airport.
At the battery itself, it is possible to do a guided tour into the tunnels, but I wasn’t really fussed about this, so just wandered around the hilltop and a nearby path to soak up the view. From here, there was a view across to the Wadjemup lighthouse and back towards Thomson Bay. Inside one of the guns there was a pair of swifts flitting in and out to a nest. Outside the gunnery, a little train stop marks the end of a railway line that takes people to the battery from the Kingston barracks.
Reunited with my bike, I cycled to the shore of Serpentine Lake before back-tracking to the coastal road I’d left before. At the next turn-off I headed towards the lighthouse. A pretty white-washed lighthouse, I parked my bike up and wandered up to the base to discover it was possible to pay a small fee to be taken up by a local guide. On such a beautiful day, I thought it would be worth it just for the view alone. The small group had to squeeze into the increasingly narrow space as we climbed the circular steps up towards the light itself, and a door led out onto a terrace where despite a bit of wind, there was a 360o view over the island. I was enjoying the view immensely until I looked down to see someone walking off with my bike, and then I couldn’t get back down the lighthouse fast enough. I was immensely relieved to discover that my bike was still there and I had confused my bike for a similar looking one.
The view from the lighthouse had made me realise how much ground I still had to cover, so I was quick to get back to the main coast road and pedal the distance to the Neck and onwards to the West End. There were a few more people around now, but even with the regular passing of other cyclists, it still didn’t feel overcrowded. There was so much choice of bays and beaches, that everyone seemed to be finding their own wee spot of paradise. At West End however, it was a little busier. On the bus route from Thomson Bay, there were people milling around waiting for the next one.
This was supposed to be a good location to see seals, but unfortunately there were none to spot whilst I was there. After taking a look down at the cliffs and bays that lined the coast here, I sat myself down at a seating area to have a late lunch whilst staring out to sea. Incredibly, I saw two passing humpback whales, which although quite far out from the coast, were still very recognisable, and after all my luck whale watching in Queensland, I couldn’t believe that I was seeing them again on the opposite side of the country.
It was quite a beautiful spot to hang out, but it was the busiest part of the island aside from the wharf, so eventually I pushed onwards. The peninsula had a few side-tracks that I took, winding my way back towards the Neck. I found a viewing spot overlooking Mable Cove and Eagle Bay which I had to myself, and then back at the Neck, I took my time passing the white sand of Rocky Bay. The beach here was long and expansive, covering a large section of the northern aspect of the peninsula and neck.
Once back on the main section of Rottnest Island, I took the road that headed round the northern coastline, and this brought me first to Stark Bay which was the far end of the same beachfront as Rocky Bay. As much as I was enjoying the sunshine, I was exceptionally hot and sweaty, something that makes suncream application a rather messy affair. Further along the northern coast, was a little turn-off to City of York Bay, and as I’d been at all of the beaches so far, I was tempted to go for a swim and hang around for a bit. There was simply too much choice, and not enough hours in the day.
After spotting another quokka mother and joey at the side of the road, the beautiful Catherine Bay was next and after this, I took a detour down to Parakeet Bay which was both stunning and absolutely deserted. A hot and sweaty mess, I decided that this would be the perfect spot for a swim, and took my shoes off to wade into the water. Luckily I did this before getting changed, because as it was September, the water was frigid and my hopes for a cooling dip were dashed. I paddled for a while then wandered across the sand looking at the quokka and seabird tracks that swept across the beach. The sand was a beautiful white colour and the beach was backed by a small dune, making it the perfect rest stop even without the swim.
After a while, I rejoined the northern coastal road, passing part of the large Lake Baghdad. The Wadjemup lighthouse stood proud on the hill at the far side, and before I knew it, I reached the settlement of Geordie Bay, a cute little place with holiday homes overlooking yet another gorgeous beach. There was a small store and cafe here, and I took the opportunity to grab refreshments before it closed. Beyond here was a loop leading around the Geordie Bay to Longreach Bay and an area known as the Basin where there were yet more quokkas.
Shadows were beginning to stretch across the ground as the sun lowered, and as sunset approached, I picked my way through the holiday park to Bathurst Lighthouse which overlooked Pinky Bay. This turned out to be a popular spot to watch the sunset, with people appearing on the beach and by the lighthouse, many with picnics and wine to watch the approach of dusk. It was yet another beautiful sunset, and I watched the sky change colours before returning to my bike in the growing darkness. Suddenly there were quokkas everywhere, and whilst the light was no longer amenable to photographing them, there was no shortage of them to look at as I meandered back to the wharf at Thomson Bay.
Everywhere was closed up for the night with the exception of the Rottnest Hotel. Being a Friday night, it was packed, and I had to forego getting a meal due to the long wait time, instead settling for a cider in the beer garden. It was amusing to watch the quokkas and their joeys move through the sea of feet in the beer garden, and I was immensely sad, though tired, when it was time to pedal back to the wharf to catch the ferry back to Fremantle in the darkness. I’d definitely covered as much of it as I could in one day, thanks to the bike hire, but with the World’s cutest marsupial and a plethora of beaches and bays, Rottnest Island definitely deserves far more time.