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About Wadjemup / Rottnest Island

Image of Rottnest Island and jetty with SeaLink ferries ready to depart the island

Home to the much-loved happiest animal on Earth – quokkas

Rottnest Island (or Rotto) is a favourite holiday destination for local and international travellers

Situated just 19km off the coast of Fremantle near Perth, Wadjemup / Rottnest Island sits close to the mainland where it can be seen across the shimmering turquoise blue water. A favourite holiday destination for both local and international tourists, Rottnest Island offers something for everyone. From its unique history, over 20 beautiful bays that are the perfect home to beautiful marine life, 63 beaches ideal for swimming, snorkelling and surfing and the many picturesque trails for walking and cycling. Rottnest Island is a car-free, sustainability focussed Class A reserve and a little slice of paradise.

Helpful things to know

  • Rottnest Island’s history stretches back thousands of years, back to when the island was still connected to mainland Australia.

    Aboriginal artifacts suggest there was significant human occupation until ~7,000 years ago when the rising sea levels resulted in the separation of the island. Without boats Aboriginal people on the mainland weren’t able to make the crossing, leaving the island uninhabited for the next several thousand years. Rottnest Island features in Noongar Aboriginal mythology as Wadjemup, meaning "place across the water where the spirits are".

    In the middle of the second millennium, European settlers came across the island and started to build settlements on the island. The island became a central exporter of salt, with several salt lakes supplying the Australian mainland.

    Rottnest Island still goes by many names – known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people, and colloquially known as Rotto. Today, it is a popular holiday destination, with ~500,000 annual visitors.

    Due to its rich social and geological history as well as a truly unique ecosystem, Rottnest Island has been classified as an A-class reserve – the highest level of protection afforded to public land.

    ‘t Eylandt 't Rottenest

    After separating from the mainland, the island remained uninhabited until 13 Dutch sailors from the Waeckende Boey landed near Bathurst Point on the 19 March 1658. This marked the beginning of the European exploration and settlement on the island. In 1696, Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh spent 6 days exploring the island before giving it the name 't Eylandt 't Rottenest ("Rats' Nest Island") after the quokkas which he mistook for giant rats. In his reports, Willem described Rottnest Island as "...a paradise on earth".

    Swan River Colony Offshoot

    A couple hundred years later, William Clarke and Robert Thomson received land grants from the British Swan River Colony for pastureland and town lots to be built on the island. In 1831 Thomson moved his family to the island and began building up the island’s main settlement at Thompson Bay. Pastureland for hay production was developed west of Herschel Lake, while several salt lakes were harvested, and the salt was exported to the mainland. Today, you can wander through the main settlement and be transported back through time as you stroll past early colonial cottages, including the salt stores.

    Throughout most of the European exploration and settlement, Rottnest Island communicated with the mainland of Western Australia through semaphore flags and flares. Up until the 1880s, a manned lookout at Bathurst Point included a signalling station, which conveyed shipping information between the island’s Wadjemup Lighthouse and Arthur Head on the mainland. Wadjemup Lighthouse has undergone many upgrades throughout its history, continuing to be in operation today by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

    Rottnest Island Fortress

    During World War II, Rottnest Island was an important part of the defence of Fremantle port. Military fixtures including the railway, barracks, concrete lookouts, bunkers and four large guns positioned at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point became known as the "Rottnest Island Fortress". Much of this infrastructure was decommissioned after WWII and in the 1990s the gun emplacements and railway were extensively reconstructed. Today, you can set up camp in the old barracks, take a tour of the guns and tunnels, and journey to the battery on the train from Kingstown Barracks.

    Aboriginal History

    Rottnest Island has a long history with Wadjemup. The traditional owners of Rottnest Island are the Whadjuk Noongar people. The name for Rottnest Island in the Noongar language is Wadjemup, which means ‘place across the water where the spirits are’.

  • Rottnest Island enjoys Mediterranean-style climate, which means it’s pleasant and inviting all year round. During the summer (December to February), Rottnest Island sees an average temperature of mid-high 20°C. Rottnest Island is usually a few degrees cooler than Perth in summer and warmer in winter. During winter (from June to August), the average day time temperature is about 19°C.

    The temperature of the ocean around Rottnest Island is around 23°C in summer and about 18°C in winter. This is due to a phenomenon called Leeuwin Current, which flows along the west coast of Australia and keeps the water temperature warm.

  • With 63 beautiful beaches, Rottnest Island is an ideal getaway for those looking to lounge and relax in the sun. Rottnest has some of the best beaches in Australia, making it a must-see for beach lovers.

    With popular beaches such as Ricey Beach and Pinky Beach, you’re sure to find that idyllic location to chill out in the sun.

    Looking for the ideal beach for your Rottnest Island getaway? Use our guide to the best swimming, snorkelling and surfing spots on Rottnest Island.

  • Rottnest Island is known worldwide to be the home of the happiest animal on Earth – the quokka (setonix brachyurus). Close relatives of wallabies, these tiny animals are found all over Rottnest Island, where their survival is largely attributed to the exclusion of any natural predators.

    While the quokka is one of the rare animals that seem to have no fear of humans and will often approach people closely, island visitors are asked not to touch or feed them. These little marsupials are adorable and very photogenic. However, to keep everyone happy and smiling, please follow the #quokkaselfie instructions.

    In addition to the quokka, Rottnest Island also has a beautiful array of wildlife. The Perth Canyon off Rottnest Island is one of the main habitats for blue whales in Australia. From September-November each year you can witness the annual migration of humpback whales.

    The island also plays host to a colony of New Zealand fur seals in residence at Cathedral Rocks. Pods of dolphins are regularly seen frolicking in the waters near the island. With the extensive reefs surrounding Rottnest Island, many species of coral, crustaceans, and fish can be found – you might even see an eagle ray cruising by.

  • Rottnest Island is currently undergoing a reforestation conservation program, focusing on growing and spreading Rottnest Island’s endemic floras to preserve them for future generations.

    There are three woodland tree species endemic to Rottnest Island – the Rottnest Island tea tree, the Rottnest Island pine, and the summer-scented wattle.

    Walking or biking across Rottnest Island during spring or summer is bound to introduce you to the bright, beautiful Rottnest Island daisy. These flowers are identified by their tiny blue flowers that sit above tall flower spikes.

    When strolling closer to the coastline of the island, you might come across some dune flora including beach spinifex, wild rosemary, and sea rocket.

  • Due to limited service on Rottnest Island, we reccommend downloading a map before travelling to the Island.

    Rottnest Map