One of the fun things we did on our recent Christmas holiday to Rottnest was go on a Rottnest Adventure Tour. This 90-minute boat trip takes you to some of the island's less accessible spots to see seals, sea-lions, dolphins and the like from the water.
The tour isn't cheap ($50/adult, $25/child, $125/family) but we decided to splash out on our last day to see parts of the island that we hadn't managed to get to during our stay.
In particular, the island's rugged West End had proved just a little far for our boys to cycle from our accommodation at Kingstown Barracks hostel. It seemed a shame to go back to Queensland without seeing the seals, so we booked ourselves in.
We were lucky and chose a sunny, almost windless day for the tour, which leaves from the fuel jetty near the main Rottnest wharf at 11.15am each day during the summer holidays. As we boarded, our tour guide commented on the good conditions and noted that the waves were only peaking around one metre.
He also explained that our boat for the day was a Naiad, the same kind of boat that the Australian navy uses for high-speed transport in open sea! While it looks like a sweet ferry on top, the base of the boat is inflatable (and virtually unsinkable).
Our guide noted that we would be travelling quite fast at various points, and advised the thrillseekers to sit up the front (where they would have a rollercoaster-like experience), and anybody prone to motion sickness to head for the back of the boat. My husband and 9-year-old son sat in the front row, while my 11-year-old boy and I went as far back as we could while still getting a good view.
This was just as well for us sooks, as we took off pretty quickly right from the start. Basically, the tour is not a 'cruise' (which suggests chugging along gently admiring the sights), it's a series of fast bursts of travel to particular destinations.
Our first destination was a rocky island not far from shore, where a couple of sea-lions basked in the sun. Sea-lions are not permanent residents of Rottnest, so we were fortunate to see even the two that we did. Our Naiad could pull in quite close and we had a great view. Our skipper also provided interesting, informative commentary.
After the sea-lions, we took off for another high-speed burst to our next destination. I have to say that I am very grateful that we were at the back and it was a calm day. Even so, both my son and I felt a little queasy as we bounced over the waves.
Next we visited an osprey nest perched high on a craggy rock. The osprey wasn't at home, but we soon tracked it to a nearby cliff, where we were able to watch it soar and swoop for food. On a sunny day, with sparkling water and rugged cliffs, it made a beautiful picture.
After our next zoom across the water, we came to Cathedral Rocks at West End, home to Rottnest's seal colony. We saw a large group of seals circled in the water, fins aloft like chubby synchronised swimmers (our skipper explained that they do this to regulate their temperature). It was a delight – only to be matched when a pod of dolphins went leaping by and our skipper turned the boat around so that we could follow them for five minutes until they swam away out of sight.
Our final sprint took us around West End and up the other side of the island, with just a short stop to look at The Basin, one of Rottnest's most popular beaches. We were back at the jetty and disembarking just after 1pm.
Everyone in our family really enjoyed the tour, but I think it's important to know a few things before you book.
First, if you are even slightly prone to sea-sickness, I would wait to buy a ticket until the morning of the tour so that you know how windy the day is. Second, even if it's calm, be aware that you will travel fast and will bounce along a fair bit (one woman in front of us got quite nauseated as a result). Third, there are really only two 'wildlife' sights that you will definitely see – the osprey nest and the seals. Everything else is down to luck on the day.
On the other hand, Rottnest is a beautiful island on a sunny day, the skipper and his assistant were knowledgeable and organised, and everybody on our cruise got some amazing photographs and learned a lot about the island's wildlife and environment.
What's more, if you take the cruise during whale-watching season (September to November), whales are also a regular feature. While our family didn't have that opportunity, what we did see has stayed with us as one of our best memories of Rottnest.