Rottnest Island Museum has exhibitions of island history and marine wrecks. It gives insight into the island's original purpose as an Aboriginal prison.
OPENING HOURS :
Daily : 10:45 - 15:30
Admission by gold coin donation.
Limits are enforced and there is a strict crayfish season. Those on the island know when crayfish season has arrived because the visitors start to pilfer anything they can use to weigh their pots down. If you are lucky enough to be staying on the island there is usually a pot big enough for cooking crayfish in your unit.
Remeber to check out the dates and bag limits before you go fishing, you'll need a license too.
Just one look at the map of Rotto will indicate to you that it's not just your average desert island. The coast is a fretwork of bays, coves and headlands, and a significant proportion of the interior is occupied by a series of lakes, of which Lakes Bagdad, Herschel, Vincent, Serpentine and Government House are the most prominent.
However, in this sort of environment, be careful not to equate 'lake' with 'fresh water' - indeed, the absence of reliable fresh water supplies has imposed a considerable constraint to Rotto's development in the past (to the point where much of Rotto's water supply today comes from the reverse osmosis of salt water). The lakes are saline because Rotto has a much higher rate of evaporation than rainfall. Thus, water in the lakes becomes increasingly more saline as water vapour evaporates, leaving behind the dissolved salts, and in times past, salt has been commercially harvested on Rotto. As a result, Rotto's lakes have developed very specialised ecosystems of brine-tolerant plants and animals.
Salt concentrations in these lakes vary according to season, with the water reaching maximum salinity at the end of the summer season and rainfall during the winter period (during which coastal Western Australia receives its rainfall) diluting the salts in these lakes.
Natural science buffs will be excited to hear is that Rotto is home to some stromatolite communities. Boffins will know that these are the communities of blue/green algae (technically known as cyanobacteria) that form odd mound shaped structures that are particularly prominent in the early fossil record. Their significance is that they were the first organisms on earth to photosynthesise and release oxygen into the atmosphere way back in the Pre Cambrian, thus paving the way for an oxygen-rich atmosphere and the dawn of life as we know it.
There are a few sites around Western Australia which have stromatolite communities - notably Shark Bay - but Rotto is by far the most easily accessible. The visibility of the stromatolites varies with season, and obviously they're easier to see towards the end of summer when the water levels are lower. The best places to see them are around the fringes of Serpentine and Government House Lakes - see the website below for more detail on this.
Islands located close to large towns often have sad histories because they are such convenient places to dump inconvenient people - be they lepers, prisoners or delinquent boys. So it should come as little surprise that Rotto has been used for such purposes throughout much of its history.
Archeologists confirm that Rotto was settled by Aboriginals from at least 50,000 years before present and maybe even longer. At this time, Rotto was part of the mainland as this was during a glacial period when more of the earth's water was locked up in glaciers and sea level. However, as the ice caps and glaciers melted, Rotto became an island, and by the time that the first Europeans arrived in 1658, the island was uninhabited.
Sadly some Aboriginals were destined to returned to Rottnest - this time as prisoners. The first ten were sent to Rottnest in 1838 and it is estimated that about 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys were incarcerated here over the next century, some of whom died and were buried on the island.
The next wave of 'unwanteds' were delinquent boys who were exiled to a reformatory for boys which was established in 1881 and closed in 1901. Amusingly, some of the original reformatory buildings now form part of the Rottnest Lodge, although one would hope that boarding conditions are considerably more pleasant for today's occupants!
The next set of undesirables exiled to Rotto were internees during both World Wars: in World War I, the internees were mainly German and Austrians, whereas in World War II, the internees were exclusively Italian. Given Rotto's strategic location on the approach to the port of Fremantle, the island was also fortified during WWII, with gun emplacements Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, for defence of the Fremantle port. These were serviced by a light railway that was constructed to move munitions from the jetty to the Kingstown Barracks on Thomson Bay (this has since been recommissioned as a tourist attraction).
And these days, Rotto is almost exclusively devoted to tourists ... so do we draw the logical conclusion and assume that we're the new wave of undesirables???
As every website and tour guide will delight in telling you, the name 'Rottnest' is derived from the Dutch for 'rat's nest' - the name given to the island by the original Dutch explorers of the 17th century in honour of the small, strange mammals they encountered.
These were of course not rats, but quokkas - a Western Australian wallaby-like marsupial that is almost exclusively found on Rottnest (although apparently there are small populations on the mainland in the south west of the state).
Quokkas are about the size of a domestic cat, and the population on Rotto are fairly habituated to humans which makes them much easier to spot and encounter at close quarters than most of the other indigenous mammals you're likely to encounter in Australia.
This tolerance to humans has unfortunately not been to their advantage in the past, as in the past, yobs descending on the island - especially during the notorious 'schoolies' period- have gratuitously assaulted these gentle animals by playing 'quokka soccer'. As you might imagine, this vile practice is absolutely illegal and I personally would like to see offenders frogmarched to the jetty and then dumped off the ferry half way between Rotto and the mainland and left to swim the rest of the distance home, preferably with a Great White or two in hot pursuit!
Like any habituated animal, quokkas have learned the dangerous equation that 'humans = easy food'. However appealing it might seem to feed this unique creatures, this fosters an unhealthy dependence on humans and is also detrimental to their health, so please resist the temptation.
However you look at it, Rotto is a ridiculously 'retro' sort of place in the most positive sense, and never more so than in the old fashioned weatherboard 'picture hall'. It's the sort of place that conjurs up the Oz of the 1960s - a bygone world of lamingtons and lamb chops for tea where you almost feel like you might be expected to stand for God Saves The Queen at the end of the show!
The picture hall is located in the main settlement of Thomson Bay and despite its old world appearance, the picture hall shows new releases and is a nice way to relax after a gruelling day on the beach. And best of all? No 3D!!!
Rotto is a marvellous place for bird spotting because of the absence of introduced predators such as cats and dogs that prey on birds on the mainland.
The waders and sea birds along the shoreline are marvellous to watch - such as the pied oystercatcher in picture - and it's particularly rewarding to observe the hyperactivity of the little waders such as sandpipers and stilts whilst you're concentrating on doing as little as possible yourself!
Most special of all, Rotto also has some nesting pairs of osprey (sea eagles) and it is estimated that a nest near Salmon Point has been continuously occupied for about 70 years. Osprey are generally fairly reclusive and have a tendency to nest in hard-to-access places, so being able to observe these stunning birds so close up is a very special experience, especially if they have young in the nest. Check with the tourist office to see which nests are occupied when you visit.
Rotto is as close as you'll ever get to a place that offers a beach to meets everyone's requirements at pretty well every time of the year.
Every regular visitor has a favourite beach depending on their interests - swimming, snorkelling, fishing, boating or just generally doing nothing at all - and people get very evangelical about their personal favourite. So if you do feel inclined to ask the question, "Which is the best beach?", just be prepared for a lengthy and impassioned response!
As a first time visitor, I would suggest that the most sensible thing to do is to enquire at the tourist office when you arrive to get their recommendations for that day. Obviously the prevailing wind and sea conditions have a big influence - especially when it comes to strong currents that could potentially affect swimmers and divers - so use this as your first filter in the decisionmaking process. They'll also be well informed about issues such as visibility which is important if you're planning to dive or snorkel.
Next, do yourself a favour and take the Bayseeker bus around the complete island so that you actually get to see the alternatives for yourself. The bus runs every half hour and the round trip only takes 45 minutes, and, having made your decision, you can then catch the next bus to the stop that you've selected. At the time of writing in November 2011, a ticket (valid for the whole day) was A$13.50 for an adult and A$29 for a family - see the weblink below for more information including the summer and winter timetables.
And the best part? There really is no wrong answer, as they'll all brilliant!!! And if the charms of the one you initially selected start to pale or the wind shifts? Well, there's another bus in half an hour!
Rotto is the southernmost coral reef along the Western Australian coast, and as you might expect, the snorkelling is excellent.
I am not a highly experienced snorkeller, and I am quite sure that there is better snorkelling for the discerning in Australia - on the Barrier Reef, for example. However, what is so wonderful about Rottnest is the range of snokelling options available, and the fact that these appeal to people of every level of experience, from absolute beginners to lifetime enthusiasts. Each bay and cove offers a slightly different marine environment, and because the bays are oriented in different directions with respect to the wind, snorkelling conditions are generally good somewhere on the island at any given time unless the seas are very rough.
The Rottnest Island Authority takes snorkelling so seriously that at Little Salmon Bay, a underwater snorkel trail has been established. So if you've always wanted to have a go at snorkelling but have never had the chance or got up the courage, it doesn't get easier than this!
Snorkelling gear can be hired on Rotto just by the jetty where the ferry lands: follow the link below for more details. If you are planning to visit in peak season, then I would recommend booking your equipment in advance to avoid disappointment.
One last word of warning. There are very few more efficient ways to barbecue your back than snorkelling without proper sun protection: the glare off the water serves to magnify the sun's rays and the relative cool of the water gives you a sense of false security, so you only realise that you've burned once you get out of the water. A sunburned back is bad enough, but having sunburned the back of your knees can be truly agonising, so make sure that you cover up when snorkelling (a T shirt is good - a sunsafe swimming costume or wetsuit is even better) and make sure that the exposed bits are slathered with high factor waterproof sunscreen which you reapply regularly.
Rotto lies on the main shipping route into the port of Fremantle and is surrounded by coral reefs, so it's no great surprise that it was the site of the first lighthouse established in Western Australia.
The Wadjemup lighthouse is located close to Thompson Bay and means the 'place across the water' - you will notice that a lot of place names in Western Australia end in the suffix '-up', which signifies 'water' in several Aboriginal languages.
The original lighthouse was built using Aboriginal labour in the 1850s, but subsequently proved too small to guarantee visibility across the zone of risk, and was extended by convict labour in the 1890s. It was the first lighthouse in Australia to be equipped with a rotating beam, and is still operational to this day.
There are various tours of the lighthouse available, although confess that I've never done one of these myself as they do seem a little pricey.
When going to, or upon arrival most visitors hire Bicycles here...as there is no cars allowed on the Island apart from essential services..The mode of transport is by bike and because there are no cars on the islands roads they are really safe for the Children...There is a bus that does a loop of the Island and is a "hop on hop off" with an anywhere ticket available at bus station. It is really easy to find a good spot as there are numerous pristine beaches located right around the coast..as it can get very hot here a good hat is a must. Don't forget your beach towel and swimmers..
Stop off at the visitors information centre who are very helpful and will tell you all what you can do on the Island. There is a Rottenest Voluntary Guide system in place, where they run lots of free guided walks in and around the Island. Many activities including surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and sailing. Because the Island is small rent a bike on the mainland or on Rottenest and take a trip around the island to see the spectacular scenery. Stop off at the many beautiful beaches and have a picnic or go for a swim. No cars are allowed on the island. You can rent out one of the many apartments spread across the island or stay at the hotel. I just did the day trip and l took my own bike. No much else to do except relax and l did try the green beer as l spent "St Patricks Day" on the island.. take my advice and don't touch it.. I am only sorry l did not have more time to stay longer.
During its history, Rottnest Island was a penal colony for Aboriginal people. Thirteen people are believed to have been buried in the cemetery, though the names of only seven are known :
Luke Ankerman Drowned 19th Dec 1883 Age unknown
Henry Phillips (7th B. Rifle Brigade) Died 1st Nov 1862 Age 46 years
Emily Shea Died 1869 Age 9 years
Queenie Gurney Died 3rd Nov 1893 Age 6 years 4 months
Florence Mary Storrs Died 10th May 1898 Age 10.5 weeks
Patrick William O' Donoghue Died 13th Jan 1899 Age 10 weeks
Henry Hall (Father a warder) Died Unknown Age 26 days
However, approximately 22 graves appear to be marked so there is some discrepancy between the facts that are displayed on a plaque.
These graves were those of staff, warders and army personnel based at the colony.
A further cemetery on the island contains numerous Aboriginal graves which are unmarked.
When a Dutch expedition discovered the island in 1696, they spotted "a kind of big rats" that lived there in masses. After them they named it "RatteNest", which later became Rottnest.
The "rats" are in fact a species of very small kangaroos. When sitting upright they are about 40 cms tall. Their tails are hairless and when they bend down they do indeed look a bit like rats. Nevertheless they are cute little fellows.
On the mainland this species is almost extinct but on the car-free and dog-free island they have a chance to survive.
The quokkas of Rottnest Island are very tame. This bunch of five, four adults and a half-grown joey, more or less ambushed us. We were wheezing up a steep dune on our gearless old bikes when we spotted them hopping towards us. They had obviously been waiting for someone to come along and entertain them. The little guys investigated the bikes and were happy to receive a pat and scratch.
You are most likely to meet them in shady places with some trees.
Please do not feed them. You are not doing them a favour. They will get sick from food that is not part of their natural diet.
Rottnest Island is inhabited by many species of sea and water birds. Parrots have arrived on the island, too.
The freshwater lakes in the middle are populated by smaller water birds who like the shallow and calm water. If you keep your eyes open you can spot any different kinds of birds within close distance.