Thu, 26 Apr, 2018
There's more to Rottnest Island than the adorable quokka
Fresh off the Rottnest Express Ferry and eager to put distance between myself and the scores of selfie-stick wielding tourists dithering around the quaint township of Rottnest Island, I grab a hire bike from the dock and start pedalling the island's 22km coastal ring road.
Little did I know that whiling away the day in the village's cafes, giftware shops and museum was the safe way to spend the day, but my excitement blinds me to the ominous storm clouds rolling in from the Indian Ocean.
Two days earlier I'd landed in Perth, greeted by a keen driver from Perth Luxury Tours. "Are ya headin' to Rotto" he enthusiastically asked, as we cruised past the Swan River heading for a plush hotel in the hipster port town of Fremantle. Nattering on he promised I'd have a "pearler of a time" while regaling long summers he'd spent relaxing on the island's beaches.
Affectionately known as Rotto by locals, the protected nature reserve sits an easy 40-minute cruise off the coast of Perth.
The island's quaint township offers the basic necessities and nothing more. There's a small supermarket, a couple of pubs and a handful of accommodation spots, the remaining 19km is raw scrubland interrupted only by a few historical points of interest.
For decades it has served as a go-to holiday destination for Perth residents and it's easy to see why. With scores of golden beaches, it's a cinch to get a stretch of coastline to yourself, then there's the sought-after surfing, fishing and snorkelling in the marine sanctuary zones.
But, in recent years Rottnest has found international fame thanks to the island's adorable residents – the quokka. The small wallaby-like marsupial has been described as the "world's happiest animal" and Hollywood stars Hugh Jackman and Desperate Housewives actress Teri Hatcher have made the headlines for snapping selfies with the protected animals.
Now, scoring a quokka selfie has become a goal for those in the social media sphere and day-trippers flock to the island to cuddle up to the cuties.
Pedalling down the coastal road, my first impression is Perth holiday makers have the right idea. They typically spend at least three days to a week unwinding on Rotto, whereas international tourists, like myself, make daytrips and race around it in less than six hours before jumping back on the return ferry.
A hop-on, hop-off bus whizzes past as I push up the undulating road, eroded in patches by the encroaching sand dunes. As I take in the scenery I spot my first group of quokkas huddled in the scrub. A mother and her baby happily hop up to me, eager to explore the contents of my backpack. For the health and safety of these little animals tourists are asked not to touch them, so I keep my distance.
There's no doubt their wee faces are adorable, but I want to discover what else the island has to offer.
Thirty minutes into the ride I pull up at Parker Point, one of the island's three snorkelling beaches. Unbelievably I have the whole beach to myself. Struck by the bright turquoise water I grab the snorkelling gear provided with the rental bike and make for the water.
Only a few steps off the shore the ocean is teeming with life. Gently floating over the seagrass I discover thick schools of fish dancing in the reeds. I recall being told to watch out for stingrays and, as if on cue, one glides into my vision. It floats a little too close for comfort as it checks me out.
Back on the bike, I plan to head for the fur seal colony in Cathedral Cove on the far west point, but first I'm keen to get an elevated view of Rottnest so pedal towards Wadjemup Lighthouse, jutting out from an outcrop of jagged rocks.
The island is known by the Aboriginal communities as Wadjemup and is a place of spiritual significance. Aboriginal artefacts have been found at a number of sites on Rottnest dating back 6500 years and some are thought to be tens of thousands of years old.
About a kilometre out from the lighthouse, torrential rain begins to pour, soaking me in seconds. The pelting rain blurs my vision so I seek refuge under a large tree that's also sheltering a handful of damp quokkas.
Sensing a break in the rain I hightail it back to town. Trudging into the Hotel Rottnest restaurant, still dripping from head to toe, the manager kindly offers me a towel, a sympathetic smile and a hot meal.
With water squelching in my sneakers I board the return ferry to Fremantle, disappointed my adventure was cut short, but committed to return for a longer stay in the future.
The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism WA and Air New Zealand.
Written by Laura Baker. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.