travel and life with lee mylne

Meet the quokkas of Rottnest Island

If it’s good enough for actors Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie and tennis champion Roger Federer, it’s good enough for me. On an overnight trip to Western Australia’s Rottnest Island, I was determined to get a “quokka selfie”.

Perhaps because of their seemingly smiling face, this cute little Australian marsupial – it’s actually a member of the wallaby family – has been dubbed “the happiest animal on Earth” and the craze for selfies with them is raging.

Although they do live on the mainland, one of the easiest places to see quokkas is on Rottnest Island, about 30 minutes by ferry from the port of Fremantle, south of Perth.

Rottnest was given its name in the late 17th century by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamigh, who mistook quokkas for ‘a kind of rat’ and named the island “Rat Nest”. Although now listed as “vulnerable”, there are now estimated to be 10,000 quokkas on Rottnest.

After taking the ferry from Fremantle, I was amazed to see my first quokkas almost as soon as I got to the small township of Thomson Bay where the boat docks.  Several of them were hanging around the general store and cafes on the main street (Rottnest is car-free, so they are safe from traffic).  Inside the store, buying some quokka postcards, I was amused to see the impact these little creatures have on the island economy – everywhere I looked, there were quokka-themed souvenirs, from soft toys to oven-mitts and pencil or toothpick holders.

I resisted the temptation to buy “quokka poo”, which I guessed was actually chocolate!

Quokkas – in some form or other – are everywhere you look on Rottnest and while some of the depictions are more tacky than tasteful, I was thrilled to see a weather vane featuring one of these furry symbols of the island.

Bikes rule on Rottnest, but I was keen to see as much of the island as I could in 24 hours, so I jumped on the hop-on-hop-off Island Explorer bus which makes 18 stops at various bays and beauty spots. And at one stop, it was easy to see quite a few quokkas in the bushland beside the road, so I jumped off for a closer look and some photos.

The quokka breeding season on “Rotto”, as it’s known to the locals, is from January to August.  Female quokkas give birth to a single young, and the joey will stay in the pouch for about six months, so this is a great time of year to see joeys emerging from the pouch and is the ideal time to get to Rotto to snap a smiley selfie.

To make it even easier, in 2022 the Rottnest Island Authority is offering special packages with free ferry travel for children aged 12 and under to help celebrate the “quokka birthday”. The island is turning on lots of free quokka activities, including wildlife tours, a treasure hunt, and photography workshops.

Of course, there’s lots more to do on Rottnest, including terrific diving and snorkelling. Bicycles are plentiful and easy to rent, and there are a number of tours to explore the island’s history, walking trails and beaches. There’s plenty of accommodation if you want to stay overnight, but book early as it’s a hugely popular destination for Perth residents.

So, did I finally get that elusive “quokka selfie”? Yes, I did! Although as you can see, the quokka was not very interested! It’s a little bit harder than it looks.

A Glass Half Full travelled as a guest of Tourism Western Australia and stayed in one of the glamping tents at Discovery Rottnest. This post was updated in 2022. 

7 Responses to “Meet the quokkas of Rottnest Island”

  1. Browsing the Atlas

    How cool! I’ve never heard of Quokkas, but they are certainly cute. I’d love to take advantage of Rottnest’s special weekend offer. If only I were closer!

  2. My year of exploring Australia | A Glass Half Full

    […] In February, I flew the 3600km (2237 miles) from my home in Brisbane to Western Australia’s booming capital Perth, on assignment for Frommer’s Australia, a guide book I update each year. I spent a week in Perth and the surrounding area, including a visit to the Spanish Benedictine monastery town of New Norcia, and a ferry ride to stay on Rottnest Island, where I took a ‘selfie’ with a quokka.  […]

  3. Richard Gallagher

    Visited Rottnest during a month in Western Australia. Loved it, just like the rest of our stay. However a couple of Quokkas stowed away and came back to the UK with us, disguised as oven mitts. Since then they have become part of the family, but also being blamed when anyone in the house burps, breaks wind, mislays keys or glasses etc….. They also are brash enough to say out loud what the rest of us are too ‘polite’ to voice. *ahem*


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