Should you visit Rottnest Island for a day trip or overnight? No contest!

I’m very lucky to live near Rottnest Island – just a short ferry ride away from my hometown of Perth. I’m sure I’m lucky, because when my German husband first moved here he couldn’t believe we had this amazing place just off the coast. Of course Germans are usually busy flying somewhere to be able to get that kind of beach and relaxation experience. He said it was paradise! 

Rottnest Island for a day trip or overnight

Rottnest Island for a day trip or overnight?

Now, the problem with visitors to Perth and their visits to Rottnest is that many of them make a big mistake. They aren’t here for long enough to spend more than a day there. And while a day trip to Rottnest is lovely, it is really nothing compared to spending a few nights there.

Day trips to Rottnest Island

On a day trip to “Rotto”, as we like to call it, you’ll take the ferry across (you can go from Fremantle in the south of Perth or Hillarys in the north of Perth – or the long route starting in Perth, via Fremantle) and arrive in time for morning tea. From there you can either rent bikes or use the shuttle bus to see more of the island – which is mostly beaches (tough, hey?!). (You will probably also see a quokka – the local native animal – but you’ll see more in the evening if you stay overnight!)

Seeing Quokkas on Rottnest Island, Western Australia

There are also some historical tours run mostly by volunteers which are really fabulous – looking around the colonial-era buildings, up through the tunnels to the big gun emplacements from the second World War, seeing the salt lake, and more. These days there are quite a few good cafes and restaurants for lunch, then you can have another look at the beach and it’s time to head back to Perth on the ferry. It’s nice, but it’s relatively crowded, because so many people only go to Rottnest for the day.

Staying on Rottnest Island overnight or longer

I find myself telling prospective visitors this over and over again: Rotto is best enjoyed at a relaxed pace and that means you have to stay overnight. Stay several nights if you can, or even a week if you want to chill out properly. It’s a beautiful island during the day, with idyllic bays, great snorkelling and swimming, lovely pub and cafes and an absolute holiday feel, but after five when all the ferries have long since departed and only those staying overnight remain, that’s when Rotto becomes a proper paradise.

Have a look in the search box here for some Rottnest accommodation (to make it more than a day trip!).

Rottnest Island beaches and bays, Western Australia

One of the many gorgeous bays and beaches at Rottnest Island (they are just like this all the way round!)

Rotto is relaxing because it’s small, there are virtually no cars, no high-rise, and not too many places to go. It is MOST relaxing when there are fewer people there and that doesn’t happen until the afternoon ferries go. Since the main Rottnest Island activities are things like swimming and lying on the beach, cycling round the island, relaxing with a drink and a meal, and spending time with friends and family, then you’re forced to relax and a lot of us need that these days. So, if you’re planning a trip to Western Australia, I urge you to see Rottnest properly by spending at least a night there and preferably longer. Okay? Rant over!

My own experiences of Rottnest Island – day trips AND overnight!

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited Rotto in my lifetime, although it’s not as many as some local friends whose families spent at least a week of the school holidays there once or twice a year, every year. I have been on day trips there on the odd occasion – usually for an event like a fun run – but they don’t stand out as being anywhere near as fun!

I spent a week there on a school camp aged 13, and I think there were two broken arms amongst my classmates falling off bikes (oops!); I admit I went there as a new high school graduate for Schoolies Week and that was a crazy time! I even got to work there for a week, assisting a professor I worked with who had coordinated a bunch of international academics to come over and write a book together. And more recently when my sister-in-law and her husband from Switzerland visited Perth, we spent a few days there – mostly memorable due to the fact we watched President Obama be elected for the first time on the little TV inside our rented house, and for the (sadly) unseasonable late spring rain that prevented us from getting out much. We still all loved it though and it was brilliantly relaxing.

For the locals: what are your favourite experiences of Rottnest? And the non-locals: when are you coming?!


  1. Hi Amanda, you’re right about Rottnest being best enjoyed for more than a day because it is soooo much more relaxing and you get to experience the Rottnest lifestyle rather than rushing around trying to see and do everything and worrying about missing the last ferry!

    My favourite experiences are too many to list, but include playing in the climbing tree at South Thomson Bay and riding my bike around with total freedom when I was a kid, roaming around with my friends when I was a teenager (including Pinkies and Leavers, haha), going for long night walks around the salt lakes and looking at the stars, snorkeling at all different bays and offshore reefs, staying overnight on the boat, and perfect lazy summer mornings spent at Pinkies and The Basin.

    • Thanks Bonny, glad to hear you agree with me!! And leavers … oh yes … in retrospect I guess my parents were glad I was at least somewhere where nobody was going to get in a car and drive off somewhere but I do kind of dread the time when my son reaches that age! (I’ll probably encourage him to go to Rotto though!!).

      • Hi we are family with our son 4 years old from Spore, plan to visit Perth on Spring. What itinerary u would recommend to spend 2 days 1 night in Rottnest Island?


        • Amelia, you’ll love it, and your four-year-old will love it too! Arrive as early as you can (depends where you catch the ferry from – which depends where you’re staying in Perth – but most people will catch it from Fremantle). You might want to hire bicycles once you’re there, it depends if your son is a bike rider or not, mine loves to and can keep up to some extent too. While you’re there you might want to join one of the tours e.g. up to the historical forts (including tunnels which kids love), or take the bus around the island and hop off at one of the bays (they’re all gorgeous), or just hang around the beaches near the main settlement. Your son will love the quokkas (local animals) too. The last ferries leave about 4pm so if you stay one night and then most of the next day you’ll get a good feel for the island. Expect to spend some time relaxing – that’s what Rottnest is for! Enjoy!!

  2. EA Nicolas says

    Thanks for this lovely info.
    May I inquire which month/s do Rottnest become too crowded?
    Thanks in advance.

    • You’re welcome Nic! Rottnest is especially busy during any of the Western Australian school holiday periods (google that for exact dates if you’re planning a trip) which broadly speaking is December/January, then around Easter, mid-year (not so busy then as it’s winter), sometime in September. Basically school holidays are the big problem – it’s hard to get accommodation then. (VERY hard!). Also, one week in early December is Schoolies Week, when final year high school students celebrate there after finishing final exams – definitely a time to avoid it.

      • which accommodation would you recommend?
        is the basic good enough for couple stay? was looking at the lodge but is way over budget.
        I can walk freely during night time and its safe?

        thank u !!

        • Absolutely safe there, and yes accommodation can be a problem – the Lodge is pretty expensive. If you’re happy with budget level accommodation usually then it’s all fine, for sure (I’m happy with it).

  3. Hello,

    Thank you for all the great information. i was looking at visiting at the end of June with my 2 children 10/12 would you be able to recommend any accomodation? and is this time of year ok for snorkelling ?

    Thanks again

    • Hi Bianca – there are not heaps of accommodation options, but everything pretty much is shown at – or if you have a higher budget try the Rottnest Lodge. It won’t be great for snorkelling because that’s the middle of winter and the water will be pretty cold … but perhaps with thick wetsuits and brave kids you’ll be right? It’s still a gorgeous place whenever you’re there!

  4. Michelle says

    Hi Amanda,

    We are a fit husband and wife in our mid to late 50’s. Wanting to spend 1 day there in late December – bike or bus???? Best method to get around to see sights and have a nice lunch. Won’t really spend time sun-baking or swimming.

    • Hi Michelle – if you’re fit then I would pick bike for sure. Potentially it could be pretty warm weather, so be prepared for that, but you’ll enjoy the freedom of being on a bike more than the bus. You can stop anywhere whenever you want. It’s definitely small enough to get around in a day by bike. Enjoy!

  5. Hi Amanda

    Thanks for the information. I will be in Perth for 10 Days in mid-August and am thinking of staying on Rottnest for a night to explore. What do you think would be the best accommodation for a single person?


  6. Found this post via your Pinterest poster 🙂 I’m going from the UK to Rottnest at the end of September. Will it be warm enough to swim? Not sure if we can stay overnight but hope so. Looking forward to seeing quirky quokkas!

    • Quokkas are cool Zoe! And as we discussed on Twitter, probably only warm enough to swim for people who like braving cold water. Good for a spot of paddling perhaps? And probably some time on the beach sand at least.

  7. Hi Amanda, thank you for the lovely post! However I’m disappointed to hear that the week my family will be in Perth will be schoolies week (first week of December). I’ve been dreaming of going to Rottnest to meet the quokkas, do you reckon it would still be a good idea to go just for a daytrip?

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