Saturday, 13 November 2010

The humpback highway

Rottnest Island is (cliché alert) like paradise on earth. There may be more attractive islands in more remote places but Rotto, as the Aussies call it, is so easily accessible, so affordable to reach and so simple to get around that it could rival even the most stunning of tropical idylls.

I was picked up at about 8am this morning by Rottnest Express to head down to Barrack St Jetty for the ferry ride down the Swan River and across to the island which was, although convenient, frustratingly slow. The boat was stuffed to bursting with weekend day trippers eager to get out of the city so loading everyone took an inconceivably long time – plus we had to make two further stops in Fremantle before heading out to sea – and the journey from hotel to island ended up being almost three hours.

It was, of course, well worth the journey. The water on Rotto is an arresting shade of turquoise, the sand is like silica and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – my camera battery took a beating. I explored some of the bays near the main “port” Thomson Bay and walked up to Bathurst Lighthouse, then joined Rottnest Express’s Adventure Tour for a trip around the island. Our boat was a rigid inflatable (a rib) which was so sturdy it could crash directly into the waves, negotiate the rising swells and turning on a patch of water the size of a credit card, leering several feet up above the water at a 45 degree angle and making everyone grin from ear to salt-splashed ear.

We started the tour in the deep-water channel eagerly scanning the horizon for humpback whales, a species which is currently on its long annual migration south. The desperation was almost palpable with everyone constantly leaping up, pointing with an excited arm then dropping it again dejectedly and, of course, firing up their cameras, but for several minutes we didn’t see anything. Our guide’s commentary became increasingly desperate but then suddenly several humpbacks appeared, three on one side of the boat at first then two on the other, then a juvenile right up close. Camera shutters clicked excitedly all around the boat but I just watched in awe – no photograph can do this justice.

After the whales moved on we continued to cathedral rocks to watch New Zealand fur seals lolling around on the rocks and regulating their body temperatures by diving underwater, leaving just one flipper in the air. A cormorant was feeding its chick on a ledge above us and out to sea a pod of dolphins glided serenely by. I’d forgotten how much being in Australia is like being in a giant wildlife park and was slack-jawed in admiration of this unique continent.

Back on the island I basked in some deceptively harmless sun (I now have red shoulders and a radioactive looking forehead) and got up close to several quokkas, the unique marsupials which call the island home, but quickly ran out of time. The ferries to Rottnest are timed so that if you’re on a day trip you only get five hours on the island – not nearly enough to even scratch its sandy surface. I didn’t get to the saltwater lakes, the windswept “west end” or the snorkeling trails (I didn’t even pick up the bike included in my ticket) but I did get to the Rottnest Hotel for a drink on the terrace. And I did get to see those whales.


  1. That just sounds awesome. No time for biking though - clearly need an overnight.

  2. Yep, staying would be good but it's extremely popular - you have to enter a lottery for places to stay during peak times.