We were treated to the ferry ride over to Rottnest Island by Ollie's intrepid Grandma on Summer Solstice in December 2016. (Yes, it's taken me exactly a year to write this post - thanks Facebook memories for reminding me.)
The perfect place to spend the longest day of the year, soaking up the sun. And there was plenty of sun to soak up.
A stinking hot 40 degree (celsius) day, but as beautiful as you could hope for when we arrived at Salmon Bay - one of the many places to snorkel or enjoy on Rottnest Island, but one with special significance this day, as Loisette, Ollie's grandma, was personally responsible for a lot of the coral growth to be seen under the water today. Over the years she had come here many times, replanting little bits of coral on the reef, which have now grown.
So if you visit Salmon Bay, you know who to thank for the beautiful underwater wonderland you get to explore now!
Snorkelling in Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island
The funny thing is, I used to think I didn't like snorkelling. I have a somewhat mild fear of fish - I mean, I have a somewhat mild fear of seaweed touching my leg at the beach, so actual live fish make me extra jumpy.
But I think I'd just never experienced some proper snorkelling. And if I'm going to hang around Ollie's family at all - who are from tropical North Queensland, where you simply cannot not be a snorkeller - I needed to give it another go.
And I definitely do love water. I could live in it.
The water in Salmon Bay was crystal clear and deep enough that you could swim above the reef, and then dive down into pockets of it to get up closer. And I was able to avoid swimming directly through any patches of sea grass. So it was the perfect snorkelling experience for a scaredy cat like me!
I learned a few things: I prefer to not wear flippers, but I do like wearing socks (or aqua shoes, but i didn't have any with me), the backs of your legs really need sun protection when you're snorkelling, and I love diving down into the deeper pools, fully immersed in the quiet world that is under the sea.
It really is magical down there. Swimming like that feels like flying.
And Rottnest Island is a great place to get your feet wet, so to speak, to go snorkelling somewhere interesting, easy to get to, and not going to challenge all your sea-fears at once.
The most 'confronting' creature we saw was an octopus close to the beach, that reached out and grabbed a leg or two as we went past unaware. But was mostly content to hide in its little cave.
Then there is the sun. It was HOT. And the beaches are fairly exposed. We did find a little bit of shade amongst the rocks to shelter under when not in the water. But the glare is still intense.
Rottnest Island is not a huge island, but it's still a fair distance from the main ferry terminal and 'town' part to all the more natural parts.
Most commonly, people either rent bicycles and ride it, or take the hop-on-hop-off bus, which goes in a one way circuit around the island, stopping certain points to let people on or off.
We did see people riding bikes the day we were there, but that seemed a little crazy to me! It was not the day for it. The island is no Tour De France, but it's still a little up and down, and when the weather is hot and the sun unrelenting, it's a recipe for heat stroke - we met at least one person struck down and not doing to well.
We opted for the bus. Mercifully, as I would have anyway, even if everyone else had wanted to ride it. I've been to Rottnest Island once before, and discovered/remembered how much I a not a bike rider when it comes to the slightest hill. And I mean, Grandma Loisette would need accompanying on the bus after all....
The only shops and cafes are at the starting point where you arrive on the ferry, so if you plan to spend your day exploring the other parts of the island, make sure you take plenty of supplies with you - food and water - because you can't just pop back to the start of the circuit and then head out again easily, as the bus is only one way. Even if you're riding and more flexible, it's mostly a loop and so you can't easily treat the 'town' part as a base.
This day our main stop was Salmon Bay, and then we rode the bus all the way around and back to the start to get lunch.
There is beach front here in the 'town', but it was much more crowded here and the water felt too warm and not very fresh, kind of icky, especially compared to the beauty of Salmon Bay.
So here we mostly ate, bought Aloe Vera for sunburn (maybe that was just me), and some explored a little of the historic sites on a walking tour nearby. It was too hot for that for me!
But if you visit in less hot weather, there is definitely a lot to do.
Ollie’s grandma – sadly for her, having spent so much of her life in the ocean – isn’t really able to swim anymore. But she was taken out for a paddle in the kayak to see some of the reef she helped restore and nurture.
Australia wildlife abounds. We had no chips. But they eyed off our cheeses and fruit.
Sheltering under a towel against the glare.
It really is this good.
Getting to Rottnest Island
It's not exactly a cheap endeavour, but that tends to be the way with most island places.
The most common way is by Ferry - and you can catch this from Perth or Fremantle with a few different operators. Check out the options for ferries here. Timetables vary by time of year. Prices may change, but as an example at the time of writing this Sealink Ferries was about $42 return for 1 Adult.
There are also options for getting there by air or by boat, so have a look at Rottnest Island's website for tourist info on that.
Getting Around Rottnest Island
And also on their site you'll find all the other options for what to do and see and how to get around once you're there - too much to list here.
The most common are the bus, and the bicycle hire, but there are also guided tours, Segway tours and other options too, should any of them take your fancy!
At the time of writing this, the hop-on-hop-off circuit bus is $20 for an adult day pass. You can buy them online, or from the Info Centre once you arrive. And you don't book onto the bus itself, you just show up at the designated stops to get on - there's a timetable of when to expect them. If it's a busy day, buses may get full and you'll have to wait for the next one. But if this is the case, they do add extra buses to the route.
Food & Accommodation
If you want to spend more time exploring, you can stay on the island - and there are multi-day passes for the buses etc. There is definitely enough to keep you occupied for at least a few days, and it's a family friendly place.
And the Rottnest Island website again has details of the food options too, for a range of tastes and budgets - cafes, restaurants, and even a small grocery store - if you like to plan this ahead. I found it hard to find something decent that was gluten free or paleo friendly in the cafe options - but this was a year ago, so may be different, and we didn't check out the restaurants either.