A day out on Rottnest Island

One of the last things we did on Rottnest was to get lunch at the Hotel Rottnest, which has a children’s menu adorned with a truly terrifying picture of some demonic animal. That animal is the quokka, which is a cat-sized marsupial, now only found on Rottnest and Albany Islands. And that animal was why were were on Rottnest Island.

As well as scoring 23 points in Scrabble, quokkas are very photogenic animals. The island has capitalised on this; there’s even an enormous sign you can stick your head through near the ferry port, so your face can appear on the body of a quokka. When I arrived (after a 45 minute ferry ride across smooth seas, 19km from Fremantle), I asked a guide where would be a good place to look for quokkas and he looked at me like I was the worst kind of idiot. When I walked round the corner from the tourist centre, and found dozens of quokkas hopping around the shopping street, I began to appreciate why.

It’s not just that quokkas congregate there; there are quokkas pretty much everywhere. I more sensible question would have been to ask where you’d go on Rottnest if you didn’t like quokkas. (Back to the ferry, I suppose.) We spent a bit of time on the main street (six shops, selling pies, ice cream and souvenirs, basically) then went for a walk around the outskirts of town.

I hadn’t realised that until 1903, Rottnest was a prison for Aboriginals. Aboriginals whose crimes were often no more than running away from people who treated them like crap. Then in 1903 the prison shut and Rottnest instantly became a tourist destination, which strikes a slightly darker note than you’d expect of a small island covered in cute animals.

La Serpiente and Destroyer knew nothing of this, just that quokkas are cute (but as with all wild animals, you shouldn’t touch them) and so they were happy. We walked until we got back into town, then wandered down to the bicycle rental shop. I’d seen a few people with baby strollers attached to the back of bikes, and as nap time was approaching and I didn’t want to spend $150 on ferry tickets to Rottnest and then go home after 2 hours, I figured we could load the kids in a stroller and have them sleep while we rode around.

My wife was less than convinced. The last time we rode bikes was in Kaohsiung in Taiwan, in 2010, and she almost mowed down some innocent Taiwanese pedestrian. So her thought was that we’d hire one bicycle with a two-child stroller attached, and she’d accompany me on foot. Or I’d push the bicycle everywhere.

I wasn’t happy with that at all and bullied her onto a bike. To make things easier, the rental bike place found the biggest bike in the shop and put her on it, then looked surprised when she wasn’t exactly confident. Somehow I persuaded them to bring out a smaller bike and lower the saddle, and although she still wasn’t totally in love with the idea, she did accept that she’d be on two wheels too.

Now, the thing about my wife and I and bicycles is that I tend to ride along at a leisurely pace, never very fast, whereas she vanishes into the distance as fast as she can. If there’s lots of hills then my brute strength can compensate a bit, but not if I’m also dragging the kids along. So it wasn’t always the most social of excursions, unless she could hear me yelling from 200 yards back.

But Rottnest is really beautiful. Growing up in the UK, the idea of blue seas was a fantasy. We got miserable cold, dark green horror at the seaside, not lovely shades of blue. Even when we had a few abortive routes today (coming up to a dead end by the airport, going round in circles past some brutalist holiday cottages) it was just nice to be out there. Then we found the coastal route, which is a little hilly, but the views are gorgeous and if I can get up the hills with 45 kg of child holding me back, it can’t be that bad.

I even got to play with my camera a few more times, including some footage riding my bike down a road. The kids failed to nap, despite our best efforts, although they grew more clingy as time went by. (Or maybe that was La Serpiente developing a fear of venemous snakes part way round our journey, and wanting me to hold her.)

At about 2pm, she got in a rage because we didn’t give her the right sweatshirt to wear, and so she screamed for 20 minutes and then fell asleep, which was good, except of course by then we were on our way to return the bikes. Still, we got some exercise, I got my wife on a bike and we saw some beautiful sights – much better than confining ourselves to the town centre, strewn with quokka turds, or riding around in a bus and being isolated from the world.

We had a late lunch at the Hotel Rottnest, which I already documented (https://www.cushtie.com/beer-and-shit ) and that’s where the menu is that I started this post with. Then, with the kids beginning to unravel, we walked back to the ferry and returned to Fremantle on the last boat home. I left the ladies at the ferry terminal (the less than glamourously named "Shed B") and rushed the mile home to get the car, rather than make them walk it. The kids were comprehensively worn out; truncated naps, walking and lots of fresh air meant they were both bathed and unconscious before 8pm, and then we could enjoy the enormous bath in the apartment or just go to sleep, which was what my wife did. We have a three hour drive to Margaret River tomorrow so rest is useful too.

So, then, Rottnest Island. The quokkas are cute, although the closer to the town centre, the mangier they look. (That will be the downside of a junk food diet – please don’t feed the quokkas.) The landscape and the peace and quiet are the really great things about being there, even if our yelling kids did disrupt the quiet a bit.

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