All the routes are signposted and easy to ride to
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Cycling in Paradise

A lap of Rottnest Island hardly sounds like a training ride. It’s only 24 km of undulating road, with a tailwind half the way. But try towing a couple of kids in a trailer and that extra 40 kg of ballast will guarantee you get your training in.

A lap of Rottnest Island hardly sounds like a training ride. It’s only 24 km of undulating road, with a tailwind half the way. But try towing a couple of kids in a trailer and that extra 40 kg of ballast will guarantee you get your training in.

Add the fact that the roads are virtually car-free and that the island is ringed by 63 white-sand beaches and you have a perfect destination for the kind of family holiday that keeps everyone happy.

Rottnest Island is only 32 km off the coast of Perth

A long-time favourite haunt of West Australians, Rottnest Island is only 32 km off the coast of Perth. It’s the kind of place you go for a week and then do as much or as little as you like. It’s been that way for more than 100 years, with the former penal colony first opening to day trippers in 1902. These days a ferry from Perth or Fremantle whisks you to the island, your luggage is taken to your accommodation by a little airport-style tug and you walk, ride or take a free bus to your self-contained unit. There are plenty of playgrounds for the kids and buskers and musicians entertain on weekends.

Quokkas are abundant  and curiousThere’s an interesting museum, volunteers run lots of free walking tours and the island’s resident marsupial, the quokka, is highly visible and very cute. Best of all, there are no private cars on the island, making it a cyclist’s paradise. A hop on, hop off bus runs a half hourly circuit of the island for those who don’t want to spin the pedals. However, it seems that most people bring their own bike or hire one from the centrally operated Rottnest Island Bike Hire, which runs a fleet of 1300 bikes. It’s a short walk from the ferry to the huge bike hire shed, where staff fit you out for a bike as well as a helmet and lock. You name it, they have it, as long as you’re looking for something pretty basic. Many of their customers only ride when they come to Rottnest, so the bikes are mostly upright, with wide handlebars, and big saddles. Women seem to be automatically steered towards step through models and if you want to do anything complicated like hire a tandem to tow a trailer you’ll be told, ‘No’. But it’s good to remember you’re beach hopping, not cruising with the pack. If you really want to be particular then you can bring your own bike on the ferry. Teams of mechanics work full time at the bike hire, but as they can put 1000 bikes on the road on a busy day, the tuning of most bikes will have you itching to reach for your keys. On the upside, all that salt and sand is rusting someone else’s machine instead of yours. They have a backup vehicle that will collect you and fix or replace your bike if you break down on the road and they will also pick up independent cyclists for a $25 fee. Kids’ bikes, trailers, tagalongs, kiddy seats, tandems and even good old single-speed postie bikes are there for hire and it’s a great way to get the kids into longer distance cycling.

The gorgeous beaches are the carrot on the stick to continue turning the pedals and you don’t have the usual worry about traffic. You just can’t help but feel like cycling at Rottnest. Large clusters of bikes populate racks outside every major attraction, eating spot and beach. Trips are punctuated by cheery hellos and the ding—ding of bike bells. Every corner has a detailed signpost marked with destinations and distances, and regular billboard maps show locations of toilets, water, snorkeling sites and the like. No cars mean lively games of street cricket, lots of kids trundling along with trainer wheels, plenty of smiles and a happy buzz. You do still have to keep an eye on the kids, as the island circuit bus uses the roads, as do the luggage carts and a few service vehicles.

Oh, and towards dusk watch out for quokkas. About the size of a cat, with a rat-like tail, these little animals lie low during the day and hop around at night. They might come up to you to sniff for food, but you’re asked not to feed them to preserve their health. The main settlement area of the island, Thomson, is where you’ll find the jetty and a large chunk of the accommodation. It’s also where you’ll find the information office, supermarket, bakery, cafes, museum and pharmacy. For a short family ride cycle under the pine trees to The Basin, a great little beach where the coral formations open into a shallow bay. It’s one of the busiest beaches as it’s less then a kilometre from the area known as the Settlement and ‘features’ a toilet block and beach shower.

Continue for another kilometre on the dual use footpath to lovely Fays Bay and Geordie Bay, where you’ll find the rest of the accommodation and another small supermarket and cafe. The beaches here are gorgeous, with powdery white sand and jagged headlands to explore. These would be beaches to die for anywhere else, but are runners up to some of the island’s other, more remote, locations. The round island bus service is free to this point and with accommodation here as well, these beaches can become busy. Beyond these areas you’re pretty much on your own for food and water. The bonus, of course, is that the beaches become less crowded. Carry a snorkel and facemask and you can see some great marine life at several spots around the island. The warm Leeuwin Current supports the world’s southernmost coral reef and a large diversity of tropical fish. The waters around Rottnest are protected as a marine sanctuary and total fishing bans further protect five sanctuary zones, where the fish life is amazing. The Leeuwin Current means the water temperature is pleasant, up to 26 degrees, even in winter. Two of the best places to explore underwater are Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay. At Little Salmon a snorkeling trail of submerged signs guides you around the bay, where one metre long, Bull-headed Buffalo Bream swirl past in big schools. Spectacularly striped Red-Lipped Morwong nose around the coral and large crayfish wave their feelers from deep holes.

Mary's Cove on the southern side of the island

When cycling, beat the buses, hot sun and the headwinds by getting out early. If you’re on the road before 8.30am you’ll have the place to yourself. In summer the famous Fremantle Doctor sea breeze comes in from the south west in the afternoon so make sure you ride in a clockwise direction to get home. The beaches have very little shade, so make the most of early mornings or late afternoons or lug a beach shelter. This is especially important if you’re travelling with children. The basic island circuit is only 15.7 km but a few side trips are well worth doing. You’ll need to bike for the 8 km side trip to Cape Vlamingh, on the island’s western tip as the bus stops at the turnoff. An interpretative boardwalk meanders through shearwater nests and windswept vegetation along the top of sandstone cliffs that plunge into postcard-perfect bays of turquoise water. On the southern side of the island, ride the half kilometre down to Mary’s Cove and walk through the dunes to a perfect little beach with excellent snorkeling. No high rise buildings, no car park, not even a paved footpath. Just a white beach, mint green water, a reef break, sea birds and you. It’s one of the delights of Rottnest that, if you’re prepared to get away from the Settlement, you can generally find a place to call your own, even at a time when 8000 people might be on the island.

Parakeet Bay leads to another pretty little cove that is highly recommended for families. On the way home you have a choice of continuing via the coast or cutting through the centre of the island past the salt lakes, another busy bird habitat. Although the island’s topography is undulating, there are only two really decent hills. The first is a short pinch up to Wadjemup Lighthouse and the second is the ride to Oliver Hill Lookout. Both are located in the centre of the island and each feature relics of the island’s role as a lookout during World War II. Volunteers run free guided tours of the signal towers and gun emplacements. At the end of the day the Quokka Arms, an atmospheric pub in the stately former Governor’s summer residence, runs a busy trade. It’s a fantastic place to sit over a quiet ale to watch the yachts bobbing on the ocean as the day fades. For a morning pick me up the Dome Cafe does the island’s best coffee. With its ocean view, high ceilings, polished wood floors and brass coffee making paraphernalia, it is a good place to kick back before or after a ride. Several restaurants offer meals but the lack of competition means stiff prices for sometimes unrewarding fare. Self caterers can bring food from the mainland or buy it from the well stocked general store which carries plenty of fresh produce and gourmet items as well as standard groceries.

 All the routes are signposted and easy to ride to

The general store also sells liquor and you can order online ahead of time and have your groceries delivered to your unit, with cold items placed in the fridge. The major catch is that you have to be very organised or very lucky at the last minute to book accommodation. The island is operated by the central Rottnest Island Authority, which holds a ballot for accommodation at peak periods such as WA school holidays. Most of the accommodation is in self contained units or cabins in varying states of modernity. It is also possible to camp or stay in youth hostel beds in the old Kingstown barracks.

The villas at Long reach, Fays and Geordie Bays are probably the pick of accommodation in terms of facilities and views. They come at a premium price but some sleep up to eight people, making them ideal to share. At the other end of the scale are the original but renovated bungalows built in the 1920s at Thomson Bay. The authority is gradually renovating all the accommodation and is doing a good job of sprucing up the old places with eco friendly lime based paints, simple wood finishes, well kitted out kitchens and newly tiled bathrooms. They’re still basic, but are comfortable and pleasing to the eye. If you’re travelling at the last minute and are hoping to score a few nights at Rottnest it’s worth keeping an eye on the online availability checker as cancellations frequently come up, especially during the ballot period in school holidays, when people book a long way in advance. It’s definitely worth the effort to get to Rottnest. It’s a holiday treat indeed to be able to immerse yourself in such a cycle centric culture. Plus, if you’re hauling kids you’ll come home fit as well as relaxed.

At the other end of the scale are the original but renovated bungalows built in the 1920s at Thomson Bay. The authority is gradually renovating all the accommodation and is doing a good job of sprucing up the old places with eco friendly lime based paints, simple wood finishes, well kitted out kitchens and newly tiled bathrooms. They’re still basic, but are comfortable and pleasing to the eye. If you’re travelling at the last minute and are hoping to score a few nights at Rottnest it’s worth keeping an eye on the online availability checker as cancellations frequently come up, especially during the ballot period in school holidays, when people book a long way in advance. It’s definitely worth the effort to get to Rottnest. It’s a holiday treat indeed to be able to immerse yourself in such a cycle centric culture. Plus, if you’re hauling kids you’ll come home fit as well as relaxed.


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