Right On, Rotto!: Adventures on Rottnest Island
Saturday we finally made it out to Rottnest Island (or Rotto, as we locals like to call it). A small, manageable and awesome island that is home to 63 lovely beaches, cute little quokkas, and no cars! (Well, except the Bayseeker Bus, an ambulance and a few other necessary vehicles.)
The (very early) morning didn’t get off to a great start. We missed our intended train to Fremantle by seconds. We were there when the train arrived, but the ticket machines are so slow when you pay by EFTPOS, we were still waiting for our tickets to print when the train shut its doors and pulled away. I might have shouted a few inappropriate words (not so inappropriate here in Oz), but no one seemed to stare. We had no choice but to wait 15 minutes until the next train and hope we would still catch the ferry.
Thankfully, the train arrived earlier than we’d expected and we had plenty of time to board the Rottnest Express. Then it was a short (but quite choppy) 25 minute ferry ride to Rottnest. Arriving in Thomson Bay, we took care of the necessities. First we bought our Bayseeker Bus tickets ($13 each). Most people hire bicycles (a bit more pricey), which was evident by the long line we encountered when we went to hire snorkel gear ($20 each, plus a $25 deposit for each set). After that we grabbed a snack at the infamous Rottnest Bakery, some water (very expensive in the General Store – I would definitely recommend bringing this over from the mainland), and subs from Subway ($9 footlongs here!) for lunch as there are no places to buy food or anything else anywhere on the island except Thomson Bay and neighboring Geordie Bay.
Within an hour we had taken care of all the necessary business and were off on the Bayseeker to explore the island. We headed south and disembarked at our chosen first stop, Parker Point, for some snorkeling. The beach is almost nonexistent, and once you make it down the steps to the bottom you will likely find yourself hopping across rocks and stepping in the tide to get to it. There is, however, enough room to drop your stuff before you don your snorkel gear and hop in the water.
Unfortunately for us, there was a strong northerly wind that morning and the water was pretty choppy. We saw some fish, but found the snorkeling less than enjoyable. I also spotted a fist-sized jellyfish right in front of me at one point which freaked me out a bit. So we decided to head in and move along to the next spot, Little Salmon Bay, which was supposed to be the best beach for snorkeling.
We decided to skip the bus and walk to Little Salmon Bay since it was so close and the road wound past spectacular view after spectacular view. Little Salmon Bay turned out to be more like a cove, a bit smaller than we had anticipated after it had been so highly recommended. It was full of people (well, full in relative terms for Rotto, considering there are only so many people around), so again we dropped our bags and headed for the water. And again the waves took their toll on me, taking all the pleasure out of the experience, and I couldn’t see much as it was so I didn’t last too long. Oscar explored for a while longer and said it was OK. We soaked up a bit of sun on the beach while we waited for the bus, but decided we might have more luck on the northern coast of the island.
En route we made a pit stop at the Wadjemup Lighthouse. The bus dropped us at the bottom of the hill and we started making our way up. Almost immediately we spotted our first quokka on the side of the road. We were excited, but also felt it a little strange standing around staring at this little creature that didn’t seem to notice our presence in the slightest, continuing to just sit around and do pretty much nothing. A few photos satiated our excitement and we continued up to the lighthouse. The views around the island were pretty fantastic, taking in trees, ocean, salt lakes, and lots of rocky desert-like ground.
After a few minutes we made our way back down the hill (at $7, we decided we didn’t care to enter the lighthouse), spotting a couple more quokkas on the way. Then we were back on the bus to check out the northern half of the island.
I guess my one complaint about Rottnest would be there is so little information about any of the places. While I think it’s fun to just stop at random spots and explore, we really had no idea where to get off the bus. At so many stops, no one got off. I suppose if you are riding a bike around, you can better pick and choose where to go. However, we noticed that Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay were by far the most popular stops, most likely because they are the only two there is really much information on.
By pure chance we decided to get off at Stark Bay, and we were the only ones who did – but were we glad! Stark Bay was absolutely gorgeous. It was a little slice of paradise (only slightly marred by the numerous boats of the rich and probably-not-famous that were moored out in the water). But as for the beach, we had it all to ourselves. And it was the kind of beach with sand that feels so good when you dig your toes into it and crystal clear water that just begs to be swum in. So we took the opportunity to have a splash war, relax on the beach and work on our tans.
Finally we decided we should move on, and we hopped back on the bus to Little Armstrong Bay. We noted on our map that this and Parakeet Bay were also snorkel-able spots, so we decided to give it one last try. We made our way from the bus stop up the road to the cliff edge above Little Armstrong Bay, then scurried down the path to the small, cozy beach. I was thrilled to see beautiful, calm water waiting for us. Once again we donned our snorkel gear and jumped in. This time the experience was much better, and we saw tons of fish! Our fins seemed to attract these schools of large fish that liked to follow us around. Every time we turned around quickly we’d see tons of them dashing off! We also saw a variety of other fish with some pretty fun designs and patterns. I was happy to finally have a great snorkeling experience on the island.
After frolicking around Little Armstrong Bay, we were pretty exhausted. The hot sun, salt water, swimming and hiking, not to mention the early morning and rationed food and water, were taking thei toll on us. With a few stops left between us and Thomson Bay, we decided to skip Parakeet Bay and just get off at whatever the next stop was. A few minutes later we found ourselves off the bus and standing on a random road by some houses in Geordie Bay. Unsure what to do, we decided to just keep walking along the road to the next bus stop, which on the map appeared to be very close. I also wanted to check out some of the many salt lakes on the island, which were all grouped nearby.
We turned along the road and started walking. Just a few minutes later Oscar slammed his toe into the side of the road, losing part of his toenail and gaining himself a very nasty looking toe. After that all the pain and exhaustion started to set in, as our legs ached from walking and swimming, our bodies stung with sunburn, and Oscar had to hobble along with his disfigured toe. Luckily the salt lakes were a nice distraction, as big clumps of foamy bubbles stumbled across the road like little tumbleweeds, and we admired the beautiful landscape, which reminded me a bit of the salt flats in Bolivia, and spied on the somewhat random bird life. (What were mallard-looking ducks doing by these Australian salt lakes?)
Eventually, after a long walk, we found ourselves back in Thomson Bay, somehow having entirely missed the bus stop that was supposed to be in between. We dragged ourselves to the general store for a snack and a drink, returned our snorkel gear, and collapsed on a bench for a while.
We also spotted more quokkas (which we had seen more of walking back into town), including one enthusiastic quokka drinking out of a Red Bull can and eating out of a Red Rooster bag. Yuck. If only people could control their litter! A random peacock strutted across our path, then we chilled on the grass by the shore waiting for the last ferry to come in.
Pretty much everyone on the ferry looked more than a little exhausted. A day on Rottnest can take a lot out of you, but in a good way. That’s how you know it was a great time. We enjoyed a little excitement at how high the waves shot up on the side of the ferry (higher than our windows on the second level!) as we zipped back toward Fremantle, then promptly fell asleep at the table. Then it was a long train ride back to the city, where we could finally crash back at our apartment, exhausted and red, but happy!
Cost of our day trip to Rottnest:
Ferry (same day return on Rottnest Express): $60 (This is 20% off the usual price, check their website for deals and discounts.)
Food & water: $11.25 each ($9 for two rolls at the Bakery, $4.50 for a 2L bottle of water, $9 for a footlong sub at Subway)
Bayseeker Bus: $13/ticket
Snorkel Rental: $20/set
Transport to/from Fremantle (from the city): $7.40 r/t (each)
Total (each): $111.65 including all transport, food, snorkel gear