Rottnest Island is 25-minute ferry ride from Freemantle, Western Australia.
The island is small, only about 10km long, 4km wide. I had never been to the island before and for some wierd reason, all I wanted to do while in Perth for a few days business was to visit Rottnest.
I had heard vaguely about these ‘quokka things’ and I wanted to see one before I died. It’s bucket list stuff, you know. Don’t ask me why.
You can get to Rottnest by flight or ferry. Once there you can walk, bicycle or get a bus to tour it.
We decided to bike it being told it was flat and easy riding (never believe what anyone tells you – there is a reason why one of the bike hires have electric bikes…take note!).
Rottnest Island quokkas
The island is home to amazing fauna, not only quokkas but king skinks, venomous snakes called dugites, and much bird life including rock parrots, ospreys and wedgetailed shearwaters.
So, quokkas. Most people have never heard of them, let alone seen one. So what are they? Well, think small rat-like creature, give it a pouch and put it on steroids.
Sounds not so pretty? Actually they are. In fact, they are very cute. Well more so, I am so taken by these little guys that I am in love.
Husband move over. If I could get one of these little guys in my luggage, I would have him home with me in the matrimonial bed. But my husband knows this already.
He already has to share the bed with a geriatric poodle and a champion stud chinese crested “baldie” dog… say no more!
So, back to the quokkas.
What is a quokka
For the scientists amongst you, the quokka is the only member of the genus Setonix. It is a small macropod the size of a domestic cat, depending on your particular feline interest.
Lets say an average of about 2-3kg. It was first sighted on the island in 1658 by a Dutchman. He also thought it was a kind of rat and named the island ‘Rotte nest’ meaning ‘rat nest’.
Nice. However the aboriginals knew better and gave it the name ‘quokka’ not rat.
It is a marsupial like kangaroos and koalas, and as such it has a pouch for suckling its young.
Quokkas are usually nocturnal and spend most of the day sleeping or resting under shady bushes.
They eat grass, leaves, roots and seeds, and need very little water, going for months without drinking from a water source. It is said that human food can make them dehydrated and malnourished.
Well, my thoughts of seeing a quokka whilst on the island as a day tripper were quite slim. Not so. Our first bike stop was at the Settlement where there is a popular small mall with cafes, Subway and a General Store, surf boutique.
I saw a curious sign on the General Store door that quokkas weren’t allowed inside. Mmmm. Perhaps a clue…
Whilst pushing our bikes through the mall, we soon re-focused our eyes on the ground. A quokka was grazing on some leaves next to a bike stand.
Full of excitement I crouched down to proceed to take hundreds of shots of this little guy thinking he was the only one I may see in my life time.
I was then disturbed by a man behind me who said “don’t step backwards ‘cos there’s one behind you!” Sure enough, a smaller one had crept up behind me and was sniffing my pockets and my shoes! Cute eh?
I spun around and began filming him. Then we spotted another, and another, and another. Oh my god, they were everywhere.
Under the tables, between the chair legs, on the grass, around the tree stumps. Quokkas quokkas everywhere!
We soon ran out of SD card memory and we hadn’t gotten anywhere yet! A big hint to move on before I began to stuff them all in our bike trailer to take home…
Cycling around the whole island that day, all I wanted was to then see a quokka ‘in the wild’. We saw lots of poo (or ‘scat’ to the aficionados), but no quokka.
We did come across two venomous ‘dugites’ (similar to brown snakes on the east coast of Australia) sunning themselves on the roadside.
We also fed a few very polite seagulls when we stopped in some of the gorgeous bays.
Then as the piece de resistance, two king skinks came out of some limestone rocks where we were sitting getting ready for a snorkel.
Not only where they not scared of us, but they even came right up to us to take some small bread titbits out of our hands too! And with vegemite on it, go figure!
Finally at Parker Point, one of the many lovely bays on the island, we spotted two ‘wild’ quokkas waiting for a bus.
They hung around whilst everyone took turns in taking photos of them, for which they posed very nicely thank you, and then hopped back off into the nearby bush when we all left – probably got tired waiting for the bus to take them back to the Settlement mall!
It would seem that quokkas have become quite habituated to man. Where man goes, so does quokka. Daylight or not, they are there.
They hang around where ever we hang around, so’s to speak. But having said that, we didn’t see many eating human food at all.
Most were happy grazing on leaves, or nuts lying on the ground. And they seemed almost tame and would quite happily let you go right up to them, stroke them or have a GoPro poked in their faces, be it on the end of an extension pole!
We did see the odd one resting under a shady tree, as Wikipedia would have you believe. They actually curl up on themselves and appear to ‘face-plant’ into the ground, a strange position to be in but they seemed happy and at peace.
But most quokkas were around the hustle and bustle of the cafes enjoying the company of big and little humans running around.
Who would have believed it? Well go see it and believe it…
Visit Rottnest Island and Get Quokka’d!
Irene Isaacson travelled at her own expense.
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