We recently spent five nights staying in a family room at Kingstown Barracks Hostel on Rottnest Island, and I can recommend it if you're looking for comfortable budget accommodation on the island -- in a handy location.
We visited Rottnest from Queensland in the second week of December, just as school holidays were starting. As many of you will know, the summer holidays are a peak period on the island, and accommodation is much sought after. So strong is the demand that would-be holidaymakers go in a ballot for Christmas accommodation.
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By the time our family of four decided to visit Rottnest, the ballot had finished, and our only choices were the Rottnest Island Campground ($12/night/adult) or a family room at the hostel ($102/night).
The idea of taking or hiring camping gear didn't appeal, so we chose the hostel. As I booked the room for my husband, myself, and our 9- and 11-year-old sons, I wondered just what we were getting into. Although alcohol is banned at the hostel, I couldn't help worrying about rowdy backpackers, dirty kitchens, and the four of us squeezed into one room with no en suite.
I needn't have worried. Kingstown Barracks proved perfect for our purposes and the base for one of our best family holidays.
One of the barracks' greatest appeals is its location, a little over 1km from The Settlement, the island's main shopping area. After arriving on the ferry and collecting our bicycles, we cycled 10 minutes from the visitor centre to the hostel (our luggage was delivered later by the ferry operators). It was a pleasant ride with just a few hills, and we all coped fine and enjoyed Rottnest's generally car-free roads.
The hostel proved a lovely surprise. Located in a red-brick army barracks built in 1936, it's been nicely modernised while retaining a heritage feel. Our simple family room had polished wooden floors, high ceilings, and clean cream walls. Our beds were freshly made with crisp sheets, and the mattresses were firm and clean. We also had plenty of room for our luggage.
Our room was part of one long wing that also included another family room and standard backpacker dormitories. It faced what was once the parade ground but was now a perfect space for kids to ride bikes or shoot some hoops at the basketball goal. Across the parade ground was another large wing that included more hostel rooms.
Facility-wise, we had all we needed. Our room (No. 172) was right next to a pleasant lounge and the communal kitchen and toilet-bathroom. This made access easy, but did mean we got a lot of foot traffic past our door. The kitchen was clean and had all I needed -- two fridges, microwaves, gas stoves and assorted cutlery and crockery. There was also a free barbecue and tables outside. All areas were cleaned daily and I only had a few 'yuck' moments as far as hygiene was concerned.
Kingstown Barracks was a great base for visiting Rottnest's many beautiful beaches. Paths from the barracks led to Bickley Bay and the Army Jetty, both of which were nice for swimming. The Basin, Rottnest's most popular family beach, was a 10-15-minute cycle back through The Settlement, while cycling in the other direction took us past a string of lovely spots (Little Salmon Bay was one favourite).
A track from the Kingstown railway station (a now largely disused heritage station right near the hostel) took us on a fascinating walk around an old gun installation on the headland.
At night, we were in easy cycling distance of The Settlement's eateries and a picture theatre that operates in an old hall. Night-time also brought hordes of cute quokkas out to feed on the barracks' grassy lawns. Some bold quokkas also hung around the hostel kitchen in the daytime looking for a feed.
Downsides? Well, our room had a fan but no air-conditioning -- but I have to say that the old brick construction kept our room reasonably cool even on hot days, and we got a good breeze through our window.
Some backpackers were a bit noisy and inconsiderate, but none were too bad. While the alcohol ban isn't enforced (wine and beer are obvious in the fridges), we saw nobody drink to excess. And, although there are no on-site staff at the barracks, a ranger did pop in on the weekend nights to check things out, and there was a 24-hour security number that could be dialled in an emergency.
Kingstown Barracks Hostel isn't for those who prefer 5-star accommodation, but it's great if you want something affordable, comfortable, well-located and with a little charm. We saw three or four other families during our stay, and all seemed to be having a good time. As for us, it made it possible for us to visit Rottnest Island and enjoy all it had to offer.
Tips to know before you go:
1). Take $2 coins for the washing machines.
2). There's a bigger toilet and shower block across the road from the hostel, near the laundry.
3). Book for weeknights (rather than weekends) if you want a quieter experience.