Eighteen kilometres off the coast of arguably the most isolated city in the world, Perth, lies Rottnest Island, a muted jewel in the Indian Ocean. For here lies translucent water, isolated beaches, undersea tunnels, salt lakes, lonely hills, a lighthouse, WWII cannons, ship wrecks and large, rat-like creatures that hop with island insouciance.
Originally named Wadjemup (place across the water) by the Noongar people, the island is thought to have been uninhabited for several thousand years prior to European occupation, when tides rose to separate it from the mainland. In late 1696, Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh arrived, and upon sighting the rat-like quokkas he named the place “rotte nest” (rat nest in Dutch).
The captain also labelled the island “paradise on earth”, and after its function as an Indigenous prison for much of the period between 1838 to 1931, it became just that, to many who now visit (or live there). Today, a small community, pub, and clusters of accommodation and shops litter the edges of this wind-swept haven.
Summers on Rottnest Island are typically warm, while the beaches and small coves host water with bewitching shades of blue. Having most of my family in Perth, I’ve been on and off the island for nearly 20 years, and the place has filled me with fond memories.
From snorkelling through reef tunnels, spying huge manta rays, sharks, cliff diving off Eagle Bay, swilling more than my fill at the sea-side pub, and circumnavigating the roughly 11 by 4.5 kilometre island on bicycle (numerous times), I feel like it’s my island home.
However, my favourite time in Rottnest Island is winter, when the place is quiet, the skies are lined with nebulous charisma, the hills and salt lakes are home to lonely winds, and the light is ineffably beautiful. Here the vastness of Western Australia effects the hues unlike anywhere I’ve seen.