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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day trip to Rotto (Rottnest Island)

Whilst in WA, I noticed how the Aussies like to shorten everything and often add 'o' to place names rather than say the last four of five letters, which has much in common with Dublin slang (Dubs like to use it particularly for men's names - Damo, Robbo etc). However, when people were referring to Rotto, I didn't realise they were talking about Rottnest for awhile, even though it was top of my list of things to do whilst in Perth.

So, one beautiful summers' day in January I took the Rottnest express from Freo (Fremantle) Shed B across to the island. It's a roughly 40 minute trip and if you're prone to sea-sickness bring a bag!  It's a choppy enough ride across but I managed to keep it together. I paid approx $40 return and I'd advise getting the boat about 8.30 to make a good day of it.

Rottnest has a somewhat chequered history, despite it's unfettered beauty - its' bays and rocky outcrops are final resting places for many a shipwreck and her sailors. It also housed  German and Austrian prisoners during the WW1 but exclusively Italian enemies during the Second World War and conditions were said to be tough on the island, being as it is so exposed to the elements. It was a look-out point in the Indian Ocean for the Allies. Since, it has become a favoured holiday destination for Aussies and other tourists alike, which is unsurprising given that it has over 60 beaches and 20 secluded bays in it's small 11km landmass. It is a haven for watersports lovers with different beaches being suitable for snorkelling, surfing or watching whales, dolphins, fur seals and the varied bird life of the island.
One of the reefs off the coast of Rottnest, near Porpoise Bay
It is also home to an elusive marsupial, the Quokka, an animal usually about 11/12 inches tall. The island gets its' name from this animal, as when Dutch sailors landed there, they thought these animals were large rats (their tails are similar) and called it Rott Nest - rat's nest. This is what I went in search of.  Not natural predators, they have died out in many places and are virtually non-existent outside Western Australia. It is actually a crime to remove these creatures from Rottnest but I just wanted to have a look.

When I got there I chose to rent a bike ($21) and also purchased an all day Island Explorer (bus) ticket as it was almost 40C and I wasn't sure how long I'd ride under the hot sun. No cars are allowed on the island and although it was the height of summer and busy with tourists, once I left the main settlement area of Thompson Bay there were times when I was alone on the road with just the ocean to my left and various scrub and patches of woodland to my right. A faint breeze whistled in my ears and it felt like I was hundreds of miles from any city, not less than 20km off the coast of Perth.

I stopped at most of the beaches and secluded coastal spots on the South side of the island, and the only one that seemed to be packed was Salmon Bay - I arrived just as the bus did, expelling at least 25 beach-goers of all ages with hats, deck chairs, beachballs and picnics. It's obviously a safe and popular swim spot. I moved on and found some quieter spots to take in the view and snapped a few shots - every photo of this place is picturesque, no matter how basic your camera.

After about 80 minutes I decided to lock the bike up at a bus-stop (you can leave the bikes at bus-stops and hop on the bus, which is very handy) and I boarded the bus to see the rest of the island. The Island Explorer runs on a very regular timetable (every half hour if I remember correctly) and if you're there for only a day you can easily spend some time at 4 or 5 different spots across the island.

After passing some salt lakes but without spying any of the deadly snakes, dugites - part of the brown snake family, and sometimes known to be on the roads of the island, I got back to Thompson Bay and decided to walk to Bathurst Lighthouse nearby. On my way, I was lucky enough to meet some quokka's. 

The first one cocked his head quizzically as I approached and then continued eating whatever he had in his paws (?). I moved a little closer but I didn't want to scare him as I had heard they are very shy. He didn't move so I took a few photos but they didn't come out very well as the light was shaded by the trees and hedging.

I moved further down the road and one seemed to move out of the trees towards me, I had heard that they forage for food and sometimes try to scavenge off strangers, although you're not supposed to give them food. I stayed still and then he stopped, also looking at me. They have kind little faces, almost like a squirrel. When I tried to take a photo he ran off, the evidence is below.

Delighted at having met the inhabitants, I continued on the Bathurst and also took a swim at the Basin, another popular spot for bathers. I found the undercurrent quite strong here and I think you'd need to be a strong swimmer to brave the currents here. I found myself a good few metres from where I started, but the water was so refreshing and there was plenty of sea-life around.

Afterwards I headed back to the settlement and had some lunch at the Rottnest Bakery (really tasty but very expensive, fries alone were $7, if you can, bring supplies). There is a well-stocked local store, obviously for the holiday makers who stay in the cabins and on the camp-site, it also offers souvenirs but again, it is fairly over-priced. This is probably unsurprising, given that it has a captive market. There are a couple of restaurants and even a Subway, even you can't be away from commercialised consumer fare for too long.

I also had some time to explore the local museum, which gives more information on the flora, fauna and wildlife of the island along with some personal histories of various residents. Not many people actually live on the island anymore, preferring to commute for work from the mainland. 

My last stop before heading back to get the last boat (it leaves at 16.15, a bit early for my liking - I would love to have seen dusk here) was the church. A tiny little room, with a few wooden pews for worship, it probably holds less than 50 people, but how many more would it need to? There were some lovely plaques inside, commemorating past residents and loved ones.
Sweet memories.

I left the lovely island after my day there and vowed to come back - although it's a killer to get to from most places! It's a really unique and tranquil place and definitely worth spending a few days on.

(If you want to stay on the island, apart from the cabins and camping - there is the Rottnest Hotel and also the hostel - in the old prison lodgings!)

All photos are my own and cannot be used again without my permission.