This stunning 18-25km loop ride weaves past beautiful hidden bays and dramatic headlands on remote, traffic-free, Rottnest Island 18km from Perth, Western Australia. Rottnest Island has world-class white sand beaches, natural salt flats, excellent snorkeling and historic features including a lighthouse, WW2 railway and gun emplacement and a prison. Rottnest is also home to the Quokka, a small furry marsupial, as well as snakes and lizards.
Good signage en route
This ride can be done in either direction. The best way to plan the ride is pick a lunch spot (depending on wind / weather conditions) and then choose the appropriate direction.
Thomson Bay – The junction 8km
Leaving the settlement to the northwest you soon reach a quaint beach called the Basin which, due to is proximity to the wharf (only 900m away), is one of the most popular (and busy) spots on the island. Resist the urge to stop and follow the path along the first of many undulating inclines as you pass over headlands and around the bays. It is worth taking the small detours from the main trail for the views and for access to several stunning bays and coves. Past City of York Bay the road cuts further inland and the detours to beaches get progressively longer.
8km from Thomson Bay the trail arrives at one of the few junctions on the island. From here you can turn left and return toward the ferry or, if time affords, a detour to the western tip of the island.
Detour: The junction – Cape Vlamingh 4km one way (8km return)
We recommend taking the detour to Cape Vlamingh at the western tip of the island. Get ready for a decent climb on last stretch to the Cape.
Returning from the Cape to the junction there is an optional scenic loop to the south (1km additional) which offers some good views back across the island. Continue back to the junction and onward around the island.
The junction – Thomson Bay 9km
There are several points of interest and detours along the south coast. The first point of interest is the Lighthouse detour with great views but involves a steep climb. Just past the lighthouse there is a turn-off for Inland route back to Thomson Bay if you are tired or short of time. Otherwise continue on to Salmon Point. This area has some nice beaches and a snorkel trail at Parker Point. We recommend enjoying a break or swim before heading along the final 4km stretch to the wharf at Thomson bay.
Planning your trip
Getting there and away
Rottnest, or Rotto as the locals call it, is a popular day trip for tourists and a holiday spot for Perth locals especially during summer and the school holiday period. Transport options include ferry, helicopter or private boat. There is a conversation fees imposed by the Rottnest Island Authority for all visitor arrivals this is included in the ferry charge. Rottnest Express is the main ferry operator departing Perth CBD and Fremantle daily. The ferry is excessively expensive considering the distance travelled so plan your trip in advance or try to take advantage of midweek or offseason specials. Alternative operators include Rottnest fast ferries who operates from Hillarys harbour (CBD tickets include a shuttle link to Hillarys ).
This ride is easy accomplished in a day trip however staying overnight would allow more time to enjoy the beaches and island atmosphere. The island is a nature reverse so there is a limit to the development allowed on the island. The Rottnest island authority controls all of the accommodation on the island. Nonetheless there is a range of accommodation options from a campground to full hotel resorts. Camping outside the campground is not permitted and the official campground is not terribly inspiring.
There is a $15 fee per person return to take your own bike on the ferry. Bikes can be hired on the island or booked with the ferry. The bikes on the island are good by international standards for hire bikes but if you want to go fast up the hills considering bringing your own. There is a pick-up service for the bike hire ($45) so you can leave you bike at a bus stop if you get too tired.
A light daypack is essential my favourite one is a Solomon
Navigation and Facilities
Schematic maps of the island are available on the ferry and at the visitors centre on the island. Note the times on this brochure we found were very optimistic. There are a number of vantage points to get your bearings but being a small island it would be difficult to get badly lost. There is no drinking water beyond the main settlement so ensure you take a couple of drink bottles especially in summer. The main settlement has a variety of food options including a bakery and general store. There are toilet facilities at the more popular bays.
The trail itself in excellent condition and generally asphalt. Be aware that, whilst the island is car free, buses and service vehicles do also share the trail.
The main village has trees providing shade and a number of small stores including a bakery, general store, bar and a couple of cafes.
Sunburn, dehydration, snakes and sharks are the key risks on the island. Use caution while swimming.
Flora and Fauna
The island is mostly scrub so there is little shelter from the sun. Wildlife include Quokkas, snakes, lizards, frogs, dolphins and whales can be spotted (as well as sharks!).
We set-off bright and early on the 8:30am ferry in late summer. The ferry was busy with tourists but it was still possible to get a good seat on the outside deck. We enjoyed the cruise with commentary to Fremantle as was our first time on the Swan river. We stopped in at North Fremantle and the ferry quickly filled up; this was where all the locals boarded. We arrived on the island just before 11am so only had 5 hours to complete our ride and get back on the last ferry of the day. It was a stunning day and not too hot. The town had plenty of trees for shade and a relaxed vibe. We stocked up on provisions at the bakery in town and set-off in an anti-clockwise direction.
We did several short detours to marvel at the beaches but refrained from stopping at the bays on the north and made a bee-line to Cape Vlamingh. We were happy in our decision to take our own bikes as we passed numerous others pushing their hired bikes up the hills. The Cape itself afforded good views of wave-beaten rocks at this end of the island.
Returning from Cape Vlamingh we spotted a big snake sunbathing in middle of the road. It moved too quickly for a photo but was a good reminder to watch out for wildlife. The detour up the hill to the base of the lighthouse was worth it for the view but access to the lighthouse itself was prohibitively expensive and only by guide at certain times of the day.
We spotted several Quokkas at the western end of the island and several more near Salmon Bay. They appeared to be quite used to tourists snapping photos and seemed very relaxed in the midday sun. We stopped at Salmon Point for a brief snorkel; the visibility was fantastic and there was an interesting range of fish. The cove had the feel of a Greek Island. Further along the coast we paused to look out at the snorkel trail at Parker Point; this looked too adventurous to attempt without fins and with no-one else in the water we decided to press on.
We got back to the settlement just in time for the ferry (but with too little time to stop at pub) so topped off the day with a refreshing beverage on the way back to Perth. A great day out!