Post 3 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
Although we had only two full days in Perth, it was an easy decision to spend one of those days on Rottnest Island – it just sounded that unmissable. I’d been desperate to visit this small island just off the Western Australian coast from the moment I’d read about it, down in no small part to it hosting a species of cute animals found almost nowhere else in the world: Quokkas.
When first discovered, these small marsupials were mistaken for large rats (inspiring the Dutchman who discovered the island to name it ‘Rotte Nest,’ or ‘Rat nest’ in English); however, they are more like small, chubby kangaroos with rounder faces. We were desperate to meet them. The island itself, boasting 65 white-sand beaches, a wealth of unique plant life and numerous historic monuments, sounded pretty good too.
We arrived at Hillarys harbour (in the suburbs north of Perth) at about 9.30am to buy Rottnest Fast Ferries tickets and bike hire for the 10am crossing (you can also travel to Rottnest from Perth or Fremantle with Rottnest Express). It cost us each $105 for the return trip, island entry and bike hire (plus a $50 bike deposit), which sounds expensive but was cheaper than buying each element separately.
We collected our bikes and helmets from the garage next door, had our names tagged onto them and wheeled them down to the ferry to be loaded on. The inside of the ferry felt nice and cosy, with large comfortable seats arranged in front of TV screens. These were playing Mr Bean episodes when we boarded, but during the journey played the ferry’s safety and promotional videos, as well as the local news.
The journey took about 45 minutes and we spent much of that time enduring the wind on the outside deck, searching for signs of the whale pod the captain had announced near the journey’s beginning. Steve said he saw a whale; I saw only some mysterious waves that I hoped were whales.
Arriving at Rottnest Settlement, we were met with warm sunshine, a gentle breeze and sparkling water, signalling a fantastic day ahead. We collected maps of the island from the information centre, then sandwiches and snacks at the bakery and general store, before setting off on our adventure.
Within a minute of cycling through holiday chalets, we found our first deserted beach. I couldn’t resist ditching my bike and running down the dunes to the white sand below, just to drink in the beauty and solitude. The clear turquoise waves lapped gently at the sand just metres from my feet, while the various spiny grasses, palm trees and other plants rustled in the breeze. But we had a lot of island to cover, so after a minute or so we decided to cycle on. Luckily this was just the first of many more secluded beaches, each more glorious than the last.
Our bike ride took us down sandy paths, up grassy hills, across dusty railway tracks, underneath canopies of twisted tree boughs, alongside spectacular ocean vistas and between giant sparkling lakes. I wanted to stop for photographs at every turn. Some of the hills were challengingly steep but totally worth it for the freefall down the other side. Although we’d seen so much already, we were starting to get a little concerned about what we hadn’t seen… the island’s small furry residents.
We stopped for lunch at Parker’s Point, where a few others had decided to do the same. We parked and locked our bikes, gathered our packed lunches, and that’s when we saw them – quokkas!
Several were gathered by a picnic bench, where an adoring crowd of tourists was petting and feeding them. I was amazed at how tame they were! It made them quite easy to photograph, especially when they approached us to search for food. Their fur was silky soft, and the way they hopped adorable. After this initial meeting we went on to meet them several other times, mostly with a crowd of other cyclists who had also been tempted off their bikes.
Picnic on the beach
Pulling ourselves away from these adorable fluff balls, we washed our hands and walked down some stairs to the beach below. It was much longer than beaches we’d seen previously, but still held only a few other people besides ourselves. We found some large smooth rocks to sit on and proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable picnics of my life: a tasty tortilla wrap containing chicken and avocado, and sweet chilli crisps and dip, accompanied by the sound of the sea, warm sunshine and the most beautiful view of white sand, jagged rocks, turquoise waves and clear sky. To our relief, the flies that had been bothering us during our cycle were now completely absent, which made the experience all the more relaxing.
After lunch we completed our circle of the island, arriving back at the settlement with an hour to spare. We used this to scout out the lighthouse at the top of the island, from which there were further fantastic views. Back in the settlement at the end of the day, we bought presents for our hosts from the shops before boarding the ferry back to Hillarys. We had about half an hour to look round the shops at Hillarys, in which we bought some much-needed After Sun, before we were picked up by our hosts. Dinner was piles of takeaway pizza, potato wedges and garlic bread – I felt that all the cycling had earned it!
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2014. All rights reserved.