A Rottnest retreat

Joanne Brookfield revels in the pristine beauty of the quokkas' West Australian home.

Should I add Rottnest Island to my West Australian itinerary? I turn to Facebook for the answer. "One of my most favourite places," a friend has posted. "Stay as long as you possibly can," another writes. Other similar comments appear, and so it is decided — my trip will include an overnight stay on "Rotto", as the locals affectionately call the small island that sits 19 kilometres off the mainland.

Getting there is easy and leisurely. Ferry operators have an airconditioned coach (important, given the extreme heat during summer), which collects me from my hotel in Perth's CBD. We cruise along the Swan River, complete with commentary, to Fremantle, where we collect more passengers. From there, we speed along open water of such a magnificent vibrant turquoise that I'm already snapping away wildly with my camera.

It takes almost two hours to reach Rottnest. All flora and fauna is protected on the A-class nature reserve and no public vehicles are allowed, so the main form of transport is bicycle. Having hired mine through the ferry company, I collect it from the pier. The ride around the island, 11 kilometres long and four wide, is estimated to take 3 1/2 hours, but the Seal Encounter Eco Tour comes first.

Rotto boasts 63 bays and beaches, with some of the best surf breaks in WA. It's a glorious day and before we even spot a colony of New Zealand fur seals sunning themselves on Cathedral Rocks, we spy a pod of dolphins catching the waves. I encounter more wildlife when cycling later.

Visitors are warned to stay hydrated as water isn't available after you leave the "settlement" (which refers to the island's colonial past, enshrined in the historic buildings by Thomson Bay).

The bulk of the island remains untouched and looks just as it would have when the Dutch first showed up and mistook quokkas for giant rats. Quokkas — marsupials related to kangaroos and wallabies but much smaller — are famous around these parts. Come sunset, I meet my first one on a deserted stretch of road, where I rest to catch my breath having cycled uphill past an inland lake and the endangered nesting fairy terns. This one acts more like a domesticated pet than a wild animal, fearlessly hopping over to sniff my ankle.

Back at Hotel Rottnest, there are more quokkas: by the bike racks, on the footpaths, even under tables in the beer garden.

The hotel is perfectly located on the water's edge for enjoying the sunrise the following morning, which is when I text my friend to tell her I now understand why this is one of her favourite places.