Motionless on the ground outside Rotto’s general store, the 60-something lady looked like a cadaver.
I nearly tripped on her, as she lay, sprawled in the dirt.
Then I realised she was fine; merely contorted and grimacing in the grime to procure a selfie of herself and an ill-looking quokka, snout fallen into its belly.
Thanks to quokka-selfie Insta sensations Roger Federer, Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie, every tourist wants to be in frame with the beady eyed critters that have been omnipresent on the holiday isle beyond memory.
Now, after all these years, quokkas are “on trend” – the new black.
Try riding to the Basin, or another bay.
You can’t go 100 metres without seeing excitable folk pawing at, and clamouring at ankle height to be close to the furry marsupials.
On the ferry over, a voice on the loudspeaker now warns, “Please don’t touch the quokkas, you may catch a disease,” but if anybody even notices the message, they don’t heed it.
I can’t go to Rotto without mixed emotions.
On the plus side, who doesn’t love the island itself? The bays, clean air, serenity, laid-back atmosphere, the caw of the crows at first light.
The human offerings are less enticing. On the minus, it’s the hefty price tags, the lousy food, shabby, grimy buildings and the terrible service.
On a January visit this year, we stayed overnight at The Lodge, aka Karma Rottnest: It wasn’t flash. The words “tired” and “grubby” spring to mind: around the premises, there were cobwebs, broken lights, peeling paint, dirty walls and doors. A table in the courtyard was covered in muck the day we arrived and the muck was still there the following day.
Surely, for the price of a night’s stay, somebody could have got out a bucket and mop?
On this latest visit, we’d opted to stay at a humble, cheaper, Bungalow. While waiting to check in, we went to the Dome for coffee.
Could we have Vegemite on toast as well? That wasn’t an option, said the lady at the counter. Thankfully her offsider stepped in and said it was.
The toast – clearly not from the yummy Bakery close by – arrived without the Vegemite and the coffees took another 20 minutes (a waiter explained they couldn’t find us, though we hadn’t moved.) First world problems, yeah; but jeez, all at first world prices.
Still, it killed a little time; watching merry day-trippers crooning at quokkas, and boats bobbing about on Thomson Bay.
You must never be in a rush to check into your island digs; you have to wait until 2pm before you can even collect the key. Meaning if you’ve got there on the morning ferry with gear too cumbersome for your bike, you’ll need to hire a locker for eight bucks.
But if you’re leaving the next day, don’t expect you can sleep in. No, you must be out by 9am; the luggage outside by 8am.
So you’re really just there for 19 hours, tops, your luggage, 18.
We rode our bikes to beautiful Salmon Bay. As we lazed in the sand looking at the reef there was the rumble of a bus engine. Seconds later, dozens of tourists descended. Who can blame them? That’s why we were there. It’s a gorgeous spot; WA locals were lucky to have it pretty much to ourselves for as long as we did. Now, the accents are way more cosmopolitan.
But disturbingly, it’s clear that the reef has been badly damaged by all the visitors trampling over it. As we sat on the beach, we watched at least half a dozen wallowers standing in their flippers on the once-healthy reef, oblivious to the harm they were causing. You don’t need to be a scientist to notice the damage. There is very little, or no signage, warning snorkelers not to stand on the reef, a vital hatchery for marine life. What lies ahead for this beautiful bay? Should we be cordoning off some of these areas for recovery?
Time to cycle off for refreshments. A flash new brochure we’d found on our Bungalow’s dining table reveals that the place to enjoy refreshments with 360 panoramic views of the isle, is the Lighthouse. We peddled there, only to find a small van near the historic edifice, deserted (but for a lone quokka perched outside) as it was after 3pm.
That night, after a pizza costing more than a designer blouse on Ebay, we returned to our modest Bungalow.
Great that there’s no TV; we can read – or can we? There are no lamps by the beds and the overhead lights are dim. No doubt reading a book is the last thing some of the younger residents have on their minds. I was one of those people once! Thankfully we’d brought a little torch.
It was with interest that we read this week that Rotto is about to have a $33 million upgrade.
That’s great news – but with the dosh, will more be done to protect the reefs in this precious A class reserve?
For tourists seeking refreshments, will it mean the Vegemite toast and coffee arrives promptly? That overnighters can check in earlier and check out at a civilised time? That the Bungalows will have reading lamps? That those making it to the Lighthouse after a 2pm check-in will get there in time for a cuppa?
And of course, the millions won’t make a difference to how often the tables are wiped at Karma.
At many places on Rotto, the service still leaves much to be desired. (If you beg to differ, please drop us a line.)
Will the cash injection mean we can walk through the settlement without being impeded by a supine Selfie-seeker, clawing at a ravaged quokka, in the bid to out-shine her chums?
Is Rotto really ready for extra tourists, and how are they helping our wildlife and environment flourish on this unique and wonderful island?
Thanks for next to nix, Roger, Matt and Margot.