The jetty was fast filling up with locals, tourists, and students on a school trip. There were bicycles parked all along, waiting to be loaded onto the ferries. We were at Freemantle, a port city that’s part of the Perth metropolis in Western Australia, and waiting to take be taken to Rottnest Island.
It was a half-hour trip, and though it didn’t rain, the sky was overcast. The sea was very choppy and I was thankful I didn’t suffer from seasickness.
Rottnest, or “Rotto” as it’s known locally, is like an island in the middle of nowhere, and that isolation is part of its beauty. The beaches were empty that day and we were thankful the sun had come out. But it was still chilly and a strong breeze blew.
A cluster of buildings stood before us as we got off the boat. At the information centre, we discovered there was a bus service around the island, but no private vehicles for hire. There were bicycles and Segways for rent, however, and feeling adventurous we decided to cycle. “It’s a good way to explore the island,” the ticket lady said.
We went to the bike rental area, a huge warehouse-like building. What amazed us was the number of bikes inside – two floors full of them! A young staffer walked us through the building, and after sizing us up, he picked out two mountain bikes for us. Then he fitted us with helmets.
After paying for the bikes, we set off. Excited, we cycled along a path that led to a tarmac road. After pedalling for several minutes, we came to the coastline. The road widened, clear blue waters lapped at the beach, and wind turbines stood tall in the distance. It was a beautiful sight. We waved to other cyclists along the way.
The road wound uphill gradually. It wasn’t a difficult ride, but there were several climbs along the way. In the distance was the ever elusive lighthouse that with each pedal didn’t seem to get any closer!
And then we saw two cyclists by the roadside in a shady area. Their bikes were overturned and one of the cyclists sat on a rock, while the other stood. Concerned, we stopped and crossed to where they were. And then we saw why they had stopped.
A creature resembling a giant rodent (but cuter) was trying to nuzzle up to one of the cyclists. Another was looking on curiously. A third had decided to explore one of their backpacks. They were the size of a huge house cat and appeared extremely inquisitive. Suddenly, more appeared out of nowhere, eager to know about the visitors to their home.
They were quokkas, native to Rottnest island, one of the only places in the world where they live. We sat near the two cyclists, and one quokka came up closer and peered cheekily at us with huge dark eyes as if to ask “what’s up?”
It almost felt like a Walt Disney movie. The fellow grew braver and scampered towards us. He took great interest in my husband’s pouch and tried to climb onto his lap. Though we would usually not handle wild creatures, these quokkas seemed to be asking for human attention.
Another critter tried to nuzzle at my hand and closed its eyes. It really behaved like a cat. Enchanted, we took some photos with the friendly quokkas.
It had started to drizzle, but we continued cycling for what seemed like a long time. Finally, we came to a fork in the road and a signboard showed it was another 0.6km to the lighthouse. We heaved a sigh of relief.
The last stretch of road was a steep 80° gradient uphill. We had to get down and push our bikes up. Triumphant, we finally arrived at the lighthouse. We paused to rest and take in the view of the coastline and surroundings. Then we headed back as it was getting dark.
It was only a 25km ride around the island with some uphill climbs along the way, but the cool weather made it easier to cycle for even longer distances without getting tired.
Rottnest island is 18km west of Freemantle in Western Australia. Fremantle is about a 30-minutes drive from Perth. Both AirAsia X and Malaysia Airlines fly to Perth daily from Kuala Lumpur. The best way to get to Rotto from Fremantle is on one of the ferries:
> Rottnest Express at B Shed Victoria Quay, Freemantle; or Northport Rous Head Harbour, North Fremantle
> Rottnest Fast Ferries at Hillarys Boat Harbour
It’s also possible to get there by air, helicopter, seaplane and air-taxi. Accommodation is available on the island. For details, go to rottnestisland.com