Rottnest Island’s best beaches

By Sue White 7 February 2012
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With more than 62 beaches and 20 bays, you’re spoilt for choice on Perth’s favourite ocean playground.

WITH ITS PICTURE-PERFECT beaches, turquoise waters and prime location just 19 km off the coast of Perth, it’s no wonder that tourism authorities regularly point out Rottnest Island is in danger of being loved to death.

But despite declining visitor numbers in 2011 – which some blame on increased prices, others point to the weather – this 11km long island still holds a place in the heart of almost every Perth resident. Nevertheless, about 500,000 or so locals and interstate visitors arrive in ‘Rotto’ every year for snorkeling, swimming and a hefty dose of downtime.

It’s easy to see why, with 63 plus beaches and 20 or so bays, finding a secluded spot from which to enjoy Rottnest is easy. But while the island provides plenty of natural eye candy, Rottnest is also interesting from a geological perspective.

“You’ve got a mixture of marine limestone, overlaid with sediments that are deposited by wind,” says Ian Eliot, a coastal geomorphologist whose connection with Rottnest (like many locals) goes back to his childhood. “The sediments form limestone as well, and the two [types] come together. Because each form of limestone erodes at different rates, you get lots of little bays as a result,” he says.

So where to start? Selecting the top beaches and bays on Rottnest is like asking a parent to choose his or her favourite child, but we’ve given it a go regardless.

The East End of Rottnest

Starting at the island’s main hub of Thomson Bay, rent a bicycle ($27 a day) or take the jump-on, jump off bus ($13.50) clockwise around the island. Remember to carry water – and lots of it: there are no watering points until you’ve almost circumnavigated the island.

First stop for most visitors is the Parker Point/Salmon Bay area, which is a popular spot with families and snorkelers, although a little farther along Little Salmon tempts many into dipping in. “There’s a lot of pavement reef in this area, as well as interesting features like Green Island [marine sanctuary zone] and an Osprey nest,” notes Eliot.

West End of Rottnest Island

Rottnest Island’s remote ‘West End’ is less visited by tourists, mainly because the bus doesn’t go all the way here, and it’s a long, hot cycle for those on two wheels. Still, those who do make the trek will be rewarded by secluded spots like Marjorie Bay; all are accessible by taking one of the many unmarked tracks off the main road.

Surfers on this side of the island favour Strickland Bay, while for Eliot, the many brim hanging around the rock platforms in the West End’s waters are a highlight. “They’re terrific, you can see them from the air,” he says. Still, most visitors are more interested in spotting the West End’s New Zealand seal colony.

A large group makes its home at, although you’re best to take a boat to see them (Rottnest Express visits here on its 90-minute adventure tour); as scrambling over the limestone cliffs is not recommended.

Riceys and City of York

It’s around this stage of the Rottnest circuit that visitors focusing on bays and beaches realise just how spoiled for choice they really are. Both Ricey Beach and City of York are secluded and spectacular spots (more turquoise water, more white sand) – just watch out for quokkas if you’re planning on having your lunch under one of the rare shady spots.

These endemic Rottnest marsupials are far from shy, and letting them at your snacks will likely only further their endangered status. Quokkas aside, nature ensures a visit to City of York is different every time. “The beaches are really changeable there because of the storms – the sand moves a lot. I’ve sat there overnight and watched it change,” says Eliot.

Armstrong and Little Parakeet Bay

Continuing clockwise back towards Thomson Bay, you’ll pass Armstrong Bay. Two types of visitor favour this spot: fishermen and history buffs.  The first come for the herring and occasional salmon, while the latter know Armstrong Bay as the site where an indigenous chert tool was found. The discovery helped date aboriginal’s presence on this spot back at least 27,000 years, when Rottnest was still connected to the mainland.

If you fall more into the ‘swimmer’ or ‘sunbather’ category and are in the know, you’ll usually bypass Armstrong for Little Parakeet Bay. It’s not on the bus route, so you’ll have to cycle or walk the last stretch, but it’s an excellent choice for a last swim before completing the circuit. Little Parakeet Bay is also a good choice if the water is choppy at Little Salmon – if the wind is up at one of the pair, you can almost guarantee the other will be glassy still.

Thompson Bay: sunset and snoozing

Back at Thomson Bay the catamaran Capella, run by Charter1, offers a well-executed twilight cruise ($48), and limited overnight accommodation. It’s a little-known accommodation solution in peak periods, when the Rottnest Island Authority’s accommodation is so packed that cabins and tent sites are allocated via ballot. 

For more information on what to do on the island go to Rottnest Tourism.