Picture a little island off the coast of Western Australia only about 19km from Perth. Far enough away to feel like you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of life’s everyday responsibilities but close enough for it to be easily accessible by ferry, boat or plane and for the mainland still to be visible from the island. It has everything one can possibly need for an island holiday with a range of accommodation choices, a bakery, some cafés, shops, a pub, bike hire shop, mini golf course and some more, without it being over-developed. One can do as little or as much as you like, hang out around “The Settlement” where the shops are, go to the beach for a swim or a snorkel or take yourself for a bike ride to one (or more) of the many spectacular bays around the island or visit some of the historic spots. With no private vehicles on the island, cycling and walking are the two main modes of transport which greatly adds to the laid-back relaxed vibe and the kids absolutely love the freedom that this safety allows them.
The island was initially named “Rotte nest” (meaning rat’s nest) by the Dutchman de Vlamingh in 1696 because they didn’t know how else to describe the Quokkas, but the name was later adapted to “Rottnest”. These cute little marsupials are still probably the most well-known animals on the island quietly going about their business, sometimes cheekily trying to get into accommodation units after food and often suddenly hopping in front of a cyclist which gives cause for quick evasive action. Cycling back to our accommodation on the northern side of the island after a meal at the pub at night with very few lights and no moonlight to guide you, negotiating our way around the unpredictable Quokkas always makes for some interesting encounters, especially when you’ve forgotten to take a torch or light of some sorts.
I’ve had another interesting experience of a different kind whilst cycling to our accommodation at night on our second visit but our first overnight stay on the island. My husband was only able to join us on the island the next morning so the kids and I went across on the ferry late afternoon and by the time we’d checked in and were ready to head out to our unit some 2km away, it was dusk and getting dark rapidly. I realised very quickly that my sense of direction on the island which relied upon the cycling around we did on our first trip some 3 ½ years prior, was established in broad daylight and limited to certain parts of the island, and that it all looked very different in the dark. After setting off in the right direction but taking a wrong turn we ended up in what felt like a maze of little streets and cottages where one looked just the same as the other in the darkness. The map wasn’t much use because I couldn’t discern one street from another, it was pre-smartphones (and therefor Google Maps and a little blue GPS dot), I asked people for directions twice, ended up phoning my husband in exasperation because he’s so good at directions (but frustratingly wasn’t much help over from the mainland this time) at which point the kids started getting worried. Eventually I gave up on the maze and we made our way back to the main “Settlement” area where I knew my way around and we tackled the (even darker) road that runs between the lakes out through the middle of the island. This didn’t inspire much confidence in the kids either as it was pitch dark by this time, there was no moon, no street lights, and we didn’t have a torch and neither was I really exuding an air of bravado (falsely or otherwise). We stopped every couple of hundred metres and I used the light from my phone’s screen to check that we were still on the road and not about to cycle straight into one of the lakes and we finally made it to our unit, only to be teased about it by my husband to this day.
Last weekend we packed our bags and set off for our annual trip to the island again and I was persuaded (mostly by Child No 3) to leave on the first ferry of the day at 7:30am which meant having to get up at bright and early 5am to be there on time. Our family does seem to have the knack for getting up early when we have to travel, sometimes getting up at 3am, so it’s probably just as well my husband (as the main early bird in the house) is not in charge of the ferry timetable because then we’d probably have been on a 5am ferry. That said, arriving on the island at 8:15am gave us the entire day to explore and enjoy and we cycled along the southern side of the island stopping at most of the breathtaking little bays so the girls could swim and snorkel and I found plenty of photo opportunities along the way – it truly is a very photogenic place – and we had the best time.
Then on Sunday morning it was time for the (21st) Rottnest Marathon and Fun Runs. A unique race in a very unique setting with the marathon start heralded by the wail of bagpipes at 6am and the bagpipes, having become a traditional part of the marathon, being played throughout the race at Armstrong Hill. The atmosphere on the day is always lively and cheerful with lots of runners and their families and friends having descended on the island for the weekend and even more people going over to spend the day on the island and run a fun run while they’re there. Never an easy race contending with hills, quokkas, snakes and almost always the wind, but the spirit is always that of camaraderie and appreciating the privilege of having all of this on our doorstep.
Heading back home after an amazing weekend in such a magical place is always a touch melancholy and makes me dream of a simple life but reality beckons and so we’ll recount great memories and look forward to our next visit to this little paradise island with its quokkas, beautiful scenery, great vibe, individual character and very unique charm.