Rottnest Island, Western Australia’s stunning offshore paradise

CNN  — 

With Qantas launching its nonstop London to Perth flights on March 25, Western Australia will be more accessible than ever to Europe-based travelers.

The 14,498-kilometer Dreamliner service will take approximately 17 hours. The world’s longest flight, it’ll be the fastest way to get to Australia from Europe.

While Perth, one of Australia’s coolest cities, is definitely worth exploring, there’s so much more in the region to experience.

Among our top picks is idyllic, family-friendly Rottnest Island, affectionately called “Rotto” by the locals.

It’s just a quick 25-minute ferry ride from the Western Australia port town of Fremantle or 90 minutes from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.

While many travelers go just for the day, this car-free destination definitely deserves more time to be able to properly unwind and align with its laid-back rhythm.

Days can be filled with leisurely bike rides to one of Rotto’s 63 silky sand beaches, free diving for fresh crayfish, surfing some of the best breaks in Australia, and snorkeling or diving in transparent turquoise water to see 100,000-year-old limestone coral reefs, 135 species of vibrant tropical fish and 13 shipwrecks.

It’s also home to what’s been named “the happiest animal on Earth,” the smiling quokka.

Lay of the land

While Rotto is home to only 100 or so permanent residents, the island has accommodation for 5,500 visitors (guests can and should book up to 18 months in advance if they plan to travel here during the high-season summer months).

The main settlement can be found at Thomson Bay, a protected north-easterly bay facing the mainland, but there’s also the sheltered Geordie Bay and Longreach Bay on the northern side of the island.

In between the bays are hiking trails, forests and lakes.

Pedal power

Rottnest offers a wide range of outdoor activities, from beach lounging to surfing.

The best way to get around Rotto is by bike as the island is car-free and flat in most areas, while the roads are in good condition. With more than 1,300 bikes, Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper – right behind Hotel Rottnest – is the largest cycle hire outlet in the Southern Hemisphere.

Riders can sign up for the island “Bike and Bus” service – bikes can be left at any bus stop and tuckered-out travelers can enjoy a bus ride back to the settlement.

One of the best rides is out to Cathedral Rocks, where New Zealand fur seals gather in large numbers.

Best dive and snorkel spots

Over 400 species of fish, 20 species of coral and nine species of seagrass can be found within the Rottnest Island Marine Reserve, making it a snorkeling hotspot.

A major factor influencing this diversity is Rotto’s location, in the path of the warm Leeuwin Current.

Popular snorkeling spots include The Basin, Parakeet Bay, Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay (also known for its Bottlenose dolphins, which feed and surf here) and Little Armstrong Bay – just swing by and rent a snorkel set from Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper or arrange a guided snorkel tour from Rottnest Express.

There are 13 different shipwreck sites to explore.

Several private diving charters on mainland can arrange to pick-up and drop-off divers from Rottnest Island. Between September and April, Charter 1 offers dive packages aboard their 43-foot Catamaran SV Capella, and Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper offers dive tank refills for independent divers year round.

Whale watching

Rottnest is an ideal spot to watch humpback and southern right whales as they make their annual migration.

In April, the whales pass by as they swim north from Antarctic waters to feeding and birthing grounds in the warm Indian Ocean. From late August to November they hang out in Rottnest Island’s warm and protected waters with their newborn calves.

Land-based whale watching is possible from Cape Vlamingh on the West End during the migratory season, or you can schedule a boat tour with Rottnest Express.

Surfing season is in its prime between May and October and boards can be rented from Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper.

Rotto’s Strickland Bay has some of the best surf breaks in the world, although Salmon Bay and Stark Bay are also notable. Island waves are consistently 2-3 feet larger than those at Perth beaches.

Hiking trails

Accessible for hikers of all levels, the Wadjemup Bidi trail system features 45 kilometers of trails split into five sections that pass stunning coastal headlands and gorgeous lakes.

The Ngank Yira Bidi section (9.4 kilometers, one way 3-4 hours) traverses the south east corner of the Island from Thomson Bay to Oliver Hill, allowing hikers to explore the remnants of Coastal Defence systems from World War II.

Gabbi Karniny Bidi (9.7 kilometers, loop 3-4 hours) starts from Thomson Bay Settlement and goes west out of Digby Drive and winds through lake systems which in places makes hikers feel like they are walking on water.

Wardan Nara Bidi (10 kilometers, one way 3-4 hours) goes along the coast of Salmon Bay, offers views from Wadjemup Lighthouse, and ends at the world famous surf break at Strickland Bay.

Karlinyah Bidi (5.9 kilometers, one way 2-3 hours) heads down long sandy beaches and has plenty of tranquil swimming lagoons within the reef, but in high seas access is limited.

Ngank Wen Bidi (7.6 kilometers, loop 3-4 hours) is perfect for wildlife lovers as it includes The West End boardwalk, where dolphins can be spotted. Migrating humpback whales can be seen from the trail as well.

But the most famous animal experience of Rottnest is interacting with what has been called the cutest and most photogenic animal in the world – the quokka.

These little animals are related to wallabies and have no fear of people so many will come right up to visitors. Quokkas give birth in summer and the baby quokka remains in the pouch until August or September.

The island was actually named after these quokkas. One of the first explorers of the island thought that they resembled rats, hence “Rat Nest Island.” Throw in a few foreign accents and over the years the island ended up becoming “Rottnest.”

Charter 1, +61 499 444 796

Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper, +61 8 9292 5105

Rottnest Express, +61 1300 467688

Rottnest Island Pedal & Flipper, +61 8 9292 5105

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