Rottnest Island Day Trip: Perfect One Day Itinerary

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Just a short ferry ride from Perth the island paradise of Rottnest Island awaits. Also known as “Rotto” by locals like myself, this destination offers a laid-back escape that feels worlds apart from the busy mainland. 

With its pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and relaxed island vibes, Rottnest is the perfect getaway from Perth, be it for a day or longer. Whether you’re seeking a day filled with beach hopping, exploring the island by bicycle or snapping a selfie with the insta-famous quokkas, a day trip to Rottnest will delight. 

Read on for my guide packed with insider tips and suggested Rottnest Island day trip itinerary, ensuring you make the most of your day trip to Rottnest Island from Perth. This is your ultimate Rottnest Island guide. 

This blog post was published in December 2020 and last updated in September 2023.

About Rottnest Island

Lying just off the coast of Perth, Western Australia, Rottnest Island got its name from Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1696. He mistook the island’s unique quokkas for large rats and hence named it “Rattennest” (Rat’s Nest).

Aboriginal Australians are thought to have inhabited the island over 30,000 years ago with the Whadjuk Noongar people, the land’s traditional custodians, referring to it as Wadjemup.

The island has a grim past; during British settlement in the 19th century, the island was used as a prison for Indigenous people. Many of the buildings in existence on the island today were constructed by these prisoners.

From a penal settlement turned popular holiday spot in the early 20th century, the island sure has changed a lot since then.

Today, its stunning beaches, unique wildlife and historical sites attract thousands of visitors to the island each year.

A small hidden beach on Rottnest Island

Best Time to Visit Rottnest Island

Due to many of the best things to do on Rottnest involving exploring the spectacular beaches, many will tell you that the best time to visit Rottnest Island is during the warmer months from November to March. 

Personally, I think you can visit all year round.

Perth has mild winters, making a trip to Rottnest Island in winter a great activity to do on a sunny winter’s day.

Plus, during winter the island sees substantially fewer visitors and the chance to spot baby quokkas! For more reasons on why it’s worth visiting in winter, check out my guide here.

For more day trips from Perth, check out 20+ ideas here!

How Much Time to Spend on Rottnest

For Rottnest Island, one day is sufficient to let you explore the primary attractions and see the highlights of the island. However, if your schedule permits a longer stay and you can snag available accommodation, it’s worthwhile spending a few nights.

This offers a more laid-back experience, letting you really soak in the tranquil beauty of the island after the day visitors have left. 

Securing a place to stay can be challenging; accommodation on the island gets quickly snapped up when it’s released months ahead by locals. If you find yourself short on time or unable to secure lodging, a Rottnest Island day trip is worth doing and won’t disappoint. 

Certain times of the year see a surge in visitors to the island due to special events.

Notably, the annual Rottnest Island swim, typically held in the last few weeks of February, draws a large crowd. Additionally, the summer school holidays in December and January, especially weekends, are busier than usual.

Try to plan a visit for mid-week if possible during this period. 

However, with some forethought, these peak times can still be manageable. Just make sure to reserve your ferry tickets and bicycle hire a few weeks ahead of time, and your visit should proceed smoothly.

Rottnest Island Accommodation

Accommodation on the island is limited, particularly during the school holiday periods

I’ve found that the best chance of securing accommodation during busier periods or for last-minute stays is with Discovery Rottnest Island (glamping tents). 

Here’s a rundown of the accommodation on Rottnest:

Karma Rottnest is now closed due to redevelopment

Pink and purple clouds above an eco tent at Pinkys Beach Club
Glamping Tent

Getting to Rottnest Island from Perth

The majority of visitors catch a ferry from Perth to Rottnest Island. 

Ferries set sail from various locations including Perth CBD (Barrack St Jetty), Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Various companies operate from each of these locations, but they all offer a similar service regardless of departure location. 

Fremantle is my preferred departure port. Not only is it conveniently located a short walk from the Fremantle Train Station, but it also has the shortest ferry ride to the island at a swift 30-minute journey. 

Furthermore, if you are hiring a car to get around Perth during your visit, the Fremantle ferry has ample affordable paid parking options for the day.

However, if you are staying in the Perth CBD, then catching the ferry from Barrack St Jetty is a great option as it involves a scenic cruise along the Swan River.

For a Rottnest day trip, I recommend booking an early morning ferry departure to maximise your time on the island. 

Departure LocationDeparture TimePriceBooking
Perth CBD8.30am$119Book via GetYourGuide
Perth CBD8.45am$119Book via Viator
Fremantle7am or 9am$79Book via GetYourGuide
Hillarys (complimentary CBD hotel pick up offered)7.30am or 10am$89Book via GetYourGuide

Tip: A quick tip for day trippers without checked-in bags: make sure to be at the ferry terminal at least 15 minutes beforehand as the ferry departs punctually. 

With most online bookings, you should be able to show your ticket on your phone and head straight to the ferry when you arrive at the port (double check your booking confirmation!). 

Both SeaLink (blue ferries) and Rottnest Express (red ferries) operate out of Perth and Fremantle.

Rottnest Fast Ferries (green ferries) only operate from Hillarys Boat Harbour.

Getting Around Rottnest Island

One of the unique aspects of Rottnest is that there are no cars on the island (other than service vehicles). Riding a bicycle is the most common way to explore Rottnest Island, or there is a hop-on hop-off bus.

Getting Around Rottnest by Bicycle

Exploring Rottnest Island by bike is a great way to see the island at your own pace.

Word of warning though – the island is hilly! A moderate level of fitness is required if you want to spend your day riding from one end of the island to another. 

Hiring a Bicycle on the Island

For bicycle hire, you can either book a ferry ticket with bicycle hire or hire one on the island. I have found the quality of the bikes to be better at the shop on the island, the ones provided by some of the ferry companies can be of mixed quality as they are brought over on the ferry. 

The bicycle store on the island is called Pedal & Flipper, a 10-minute walk from the ferry. They are open from 8.30am to 4pm daily, so make sure to return your bike before they close. 

You can also hire electric bikes (e-bikes) from Pedal & Flipper. The upside of this is it makes those tough hills a lot easier, but the bike hire fee is over double that of a normal bicycle. 

As of September 2023, adult bicycle hire is $30/ day and e-bike hire is $71/day. The hire fee includes a helmet and lock. It is mandatory by law to wear helmets when riding bicycles in Australia. 

Snorkel equipment can also be hired for an additional fee. 

Ferry & Bicycle Hire Package

For convenience, you can book a ferry ticket and bicycle hire in one ticket. 

For these packages, the bikes are provided directly by the ferry company and will be waiting for you when you get off the ferry.

This is the most convenient option as you can start riding as soon as you get off the ferry, but sometimes the bicycles aren’t the best quality. 

These options are summarised below.

Departure LocationDeparture TimeBicyclesPriceBooking
Perth CBD8.45amProvided on Ferry$155Click here
Fremantle9.30amProvided on Ferry$114Click here
Hillarys (complimentary CBD hotel pick up offered)7.30am or 10amProvided on Ferry$114Click here

Getting Around Rottnest by Bus

The next option to get around on your day trip to Rottnest Island is by bus. 

For a fuss-free (and hill-free!) option, there is an Island Explorer hop-on hop-off bus service. These shuttle services around the island allow you to explore the island at your own pace, jumping on and off at 19 different stops around the island. 

As of September 2023, the bus operates all week long between 8.30am and 3pm (at 15-minute intervals) and then from 3pm – 5pm (at 30-minute intervals). Tickets are $25/adult and can be pre-purchased online, in-person at the Visitor Centre or at the main bus stop near the ferry terminal.

During peak periods, you may have to stand on the bus or if the bus is completely full, wait for the next bus. 

This shuttle bus service is not a guided tour and there is no commentary.

Read on for tour options below. 

Rottnest Island Tours

The easiest way to get around Rottnest is on a guided bus tour. Offered as a package with round-trip ferry tickets, enjoy a 1-hour 45-minute tour in an air-conditioned bus with live commentary as you discover the island’s flora, fauna and must-see spots. 

The bus tour covers all of the island’s highlights, including the Wadjemup Lighthouse, Henrietta Rocks, Cathedral Rocks lookout and Cape Vlamingh.

This tour allows you to get familiar with the layout of the island and see the furthest away spots, before having a few hours of free time after the tour to explore the main settlement at Thomson’s Bay, have lunch and a swim before hopping back on the ferry home. 

A more extensive guided tour of Rottnest Island is available.

This Rottnest grand island tour is a 4-hour island tour that includes the guided bus tour, plus a tour of the Oliver Hill Gun Fortification and Tunnels and a light lunch. 

What to Bring On A Rottnest Day Trip

Here’s a short packing list to help you plan your Rottnest trip.

  • Towel
  • Snorkel (also available for hire from Pedal & Flipper)
  • Camera 
  • Bathers (or wear them over underneath your clothes)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sneakers and Flip-Flops
  • Water Bottle
  • Sun Protection including Sunglasses and Hat
  • Seasickness Medication if required 
  • Light Snacks (or buy on the island)

Stay hydrated: there are water bottle refill stations at Geordie Bay, the Settlement, The Basin and the Visitor Centre.

You’ll need to leave your drone at home if you have one. Drone use is not permitted on the island unless you have obtained a special permit from the Rottnest Island Authority due to the abundant wildlife and central airport located on the island.

What to Do in Rottnest Island In One Day

Go beach hopping at some of Rottnest’s best beaches

With 63 beaches and 20 bays, there is no shortage of spectacular beaches to be found on Rottnest. 

Some of my favourite spots that I recommend visiting by bicycle around the island are (listed from a counterclockwise direction around the island): 

  • Parker Point: a snorkelling spot with a long flight of wooden stairs leading down to the beach
  • Little Salmon Bay: beautiful crystal clear water, excellent snorkelling and a sheltered bay.
  • Little Parakeet Bay: sheltered little bay with the larger Parakeet Bay next door
  • The Basin: one of the more popular snorkelling spots, within walking distance from the main settlement. 
  • Pinky’s Beach: Located in front of Discovery Rottnest Island and Pinky’s Beach Club, this beach is looked over by the Bathurst Lighthouse

Cycle or Walk Through the Salt Lakes

The centre of Rottnest Island is made up of 10 salt lakes over a whopping 200 hectares.

They have created a unique wetland ecosystem, with waterbirds and interesting plant life that has adapted to the saltiness such as the samphire plant (from which the Hotel Samphire gets its name). At certain times of the year, the salt lakes may turn hues of pink.

You can cycle your way through the salt lakes, or traverse on foot. There is a boardwalk installed that allows you to walk through the lakes, as part of the Wadjemup Bidi trail.  

Clear water and blue skies at the salt lakes

Visit the Lighthouses

Rottnest is home to two lighthouses; the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the centre of the island, and Bathurst Lighthouse near Pinky’s Beach. 

Wadjemup Lighthouse was built in 1896 on the highest point of the island to safeguard against shipwrecks. Today, it takes the title of Australia’s fourth tallest lighthouse of its kind. It’s still in use today, helping to guide ships towards the port of Fremantle. 

Volunteers offer guided tours to the top of Wadjemup Lighthouse. Unfortunately, these can’t be booked online in advance, but it’s worth enquiring at the Volunteer Information Booth in town or checking in at the Lighthouse during your visit. 

The smaller Bathurst Lighthouse is also operational, however isn’t open to visitors for guided tours within the lighthouse. You can visit the exterior, and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset on Rottnest. 

Snap a Quokka Selfie

Thanks to the viral “Quokka Selfie” trend on social media, Rottnest Island’s charming quokkas have become international celebrities. These adorable marsupials, found exclusively on Rottnest Island, have been delighting visitors and the online world with their adorable smiles.

While quokkas are dispersed throughout the island, they’re notably active during the early morning and late afternoon. A popular hotspot to spot them is around the General Store and Bakery in Thompsons Bay.

However, a word of caution: many quokkas here tend to feed on leftover food scraps, which isn’t ideal for these herbivorous critters.

Always remember to respect the wildlife. While it’s tempting to interact closely, avoid touching or feeding the quokkas. But don’t hold back on capturing that perfect selfie – just do so responsibly!

On the spot fines of $200 apply for feeding and interfering with the quokkas.

See Rottnest from Above on a Scenic Flight

One of the best ways to truly take in the vivid colours of Rottnest’s many bays and beaches, and sparkling salt lakes, is from above on a scenic flight. Rottnest Air Taxi offers short scenic joy flights over the island. 

For the more adventurous, tick off a bucket list item with a tandem skydive over Rottnest. This exhilarating experience will give you a unique perspective of Rottnest, and leave you with memories you won’t forget anytime soon!

Check prices and availability here

Spot Seals at Cathedral Rocks

At the West End of Rottnest, the furthest point from the main settlement lies a lookout platform at Cathedral Rocks. From here, there’s a good chance of spotting seals sunbathing on the rocks below.

It is a long bike ride to get here, so make sure you have enough time if visiting for a day trip or catching the Island Explorer Bus. 

Learn about Rottnest’s History at Wadjemup Museum

Recently renovated, the Wadjemup Museum is the spot to learn more about the history of the island. Entry is a gold coin donation to this small museum, which is open daily from 10 am to 3.30 pm.

For more ideas on things to do on Rottnest, check out my guide with 25 ideas here.

Rottnest Island Day Trip Itinerary

Start your day on Rottnest by grabbing a map from the Visitors Centre as you disembark from the ferry. You can also purchase hop-on hop-off bus tickets here. 

Generally, it’s best to explore the island in a counter-clockwise loop, due to the direction of the wind. It also allows you to tackle the hillier sections of the island when you are fresh if cycling around the island. 

Morning

At the main settlement of Thomson Bay (where you get off the ferry), there is a small supermarket and the yummy Rottnest Bakery.

This is Stop 1 on my map below. Pick up any snacks to tide you over, or something for lunch later. 

Rottnest Map
Map courtesy of Rottnest Island Authority

Heading in a counter-clockwise direction, stop off at some of the best beaches in Rottnest. I recommend Parker Point (stop 2) and Little Salmon Bay (stop 3)

Continue on by bike or bus, to the Wadjemup Lighthouse (stop 4) in the centre of the island. There is a steep hill to reach the lighthouse, in the shade of the trees along here keep an eye out for quokkas that frequent this area.

At Wadjemup Lighthouse, there is a vintage caravan serving coffee and light snacks. If you’ve cycled here, you’ll likely be in need of refreshment after that hill! Sit back and enjoy the view of the lighthouse and 360 panoramic view of the island from your high vantage point. Kalli’s is open seasonally in the warmer months. 

Afternoon

At this point, you have a choice of continuing on to the West End of Rottnest (stop 5b), or taking a shorter route along the north side of the island, passing through some of Rottnest’s salt lakes on the way (stop 5a)

Parakeet Bay or Little Parakeet Bay (stop 6) are some more beautiful beaches worth checking out as you continue your explorations. 

At this point, a lunch stop is probably required! There is a General Store and café at Geordie Bay just after Parakeet Bay. Or, continue on to Pinky’s Beach where you’ll find Pinky’s Beach Club serving food and cocktails all day long. 

Make sure to check out the Basin, just next to Pinky’s Beach too. 

By now, you’re probably getting close to your ferry departure back to the mainland.

Use any spare time to explore the Settlement, checking out the Wadjemup Museum and quokka spotting. Wrap up your day of exploring with a cold drink at Hotel Rottnest, a casual beachfront pub.

This spot is a short 5-minute walk from the ferry, making it an ideal location to toast the end of a memorable day on Rottnest Island. 

Best Places to Eat and Drink on Rottnest Island

In recent years, the food and drink offerings have really expanded on the island, offering a range of cheap eats to fine dining options. 

Check opening hours before you visit, as they may change seasonally. 

Thomson’s Bay (the Settlement)

The main settlement has the largest range of places to eat and drink. Here are some popular options;

  • Hotel Rottnest: Classic pub fare, in a casual spot overlooking the beach
  • Lontara: Delicious fine-dining South East Asian cuisine
  • Subway: One of the most popular cheap eats on the island 
  • Isola Rottnest: One of the top-rated restaurants on the island, serving Italian cuisine overlooking Thomson’s Bay
  • Rottnest Bakery: Serving a wide range of pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches and sweet pastries and coffee
  • Frankie’s on Rotto: Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner plus yummy pizzas
  • Lane Cafe: Claims the spot for the best burgers on Rottnest!

Geordie’s Bay

  • Geordie’s Cafe and Art Gallery: An art gallery cafe with a large shaded outside seating area 

West End

  • Lexi’s: another vintage caravan, providing much-needed refreshment to those that make it out the West End

Final Thoughts – Day Trip Rottnest Island

That wraps up this comprehensive guide to Rottnest Island. A Rottnest Island day trip from Perth is one of the best things to do for visitors to the city, and I trust this Rottnest Island travel guide has answered all your burning questions and helped you plan your day of adventures.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

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20 thoughts on “Rottnest Island Day Trip: Perfect One Day Itinerary”

  1. Wow what a place! I’ve never heard of it but I felt like I took a virtual tour and that was nice! How did you learn about this place!?

    Reply
  2. Rottnest island looks beautiful, the water reminds me of what ours looks like here in The Bahamas. Thank you for sharing the not so nice history as well, that’s important. The quokkas are so cute, I would love to take some pics with those little guys!

    Reply
  3. This is so cute! And I love that there are Quokkas too!! The beach is beautiful too…I can’t imagine it being a prison…thanks for sharing a bit of the backstory as well! I’ll opt for renting a bike from the boat haha

    Reply
  4. This looks like a gorgeous destination (those beaches!), and those quokkas are so cute! Gotta plan a western Australia trip as soon as the world reopens! Thanks for the tips about the AM express ferry and no drones allowed!

    Reply
  5. Quokkas are the cutest little fellas in the world aren’t they!? I want to visit just see their little fuzzy faces, but it is good to know there are gorgeous beaches to explore as well!!

    Reply

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