Without a doubt, Perths favourite weekend destination is the ‘quokka abundant’ Rottnest island (or Rotto as its affectionately known). During the height of summer, Rotto is so popular that they hold ballots for the chance to book accommodation there. Over the summer the beaches and cycle paths are crowded with tourists and you can pay almost double for the cabins and chalets. However, if like us you time it right during the winter months, you will get cheap accommodation and score this island diving retreat to yourself. Rotto is located about 20kms off the coast of Fremantle, which is where the ferry departs from daily. One of its attractions is that it’s an island with no cars, with the main form of transport being bikes- which are available to hire straight off the ferry.
After researching where the Rottnest Island seal colonies were, we decided to dive on the west end at Cape Vlamingh. From our cabin at Thomson Bay, it was a 20km return journey, so there were a few logistical issues about transporting our gear that we needed to consider…
1. We were riding push bikes, so taking a dive box wasn’t practical.
2. On the way back we would have to carry wet dive suits and our backpack wouldn’t stop the wet gear from dripping down our backs.
Thankfully the solution lay in the form of the 50L checklist drybag which fit everything we needed (2 wetsuits, 2 masks and snorkels, 2 set of booties, 2 underwater cameras, 2 weight belts and a towel) and also solved the dilemma of how to carry back the wet gear! Finding Rottnest Island seals: After riding the 10kms to Cape Vlamingh, we checked out the point to find pretty big swell, a difficult rock hop and no seals in sight. We backtracked a little and went down a dirt road to find a protected bay with a number of black fins visible, breaking the surface only meters from the rock ledge. Brilliant! You couldn’t ask for a better spot to enter the water, flop into the ocean and be surrounded by friendly seals.
Approaching seals underwater:
When diving with seals you should always approach with great caution. The seals on Rottnest Island that we encountered were New Zealand fur seals which are generally pretty friendly. While seals are often eager to play and swim around, they can get aggressive at certain times, and like all wild creatures are unpredictable. Big males seals can be particularly feisty protecting their territory and if you encounter one you should move on.
Fortunately on this near perfect winters day the large group of female New Zealand fur seals were very relaxed with their heads down and flippers up practising what looked like ballet moves. We took our time on approach, reading their behaviour and when it became apparent that they were eager to play, we began to dive and follow their lead. There were a number of pups that were initially coy, but once comfortable lavished the opportunity interact with us to see who could do the best underwater back flips and spins (they won hands down).
Other fish encountered:
The west end of Rottnest Island is a sanctuary zone, which is always exciting when you don’t have a speargun and are looking to take photos. Western Australia is home to a number of endemic reef fish found no where else on earth and Rottnest Island is a great place to see them. The Dhufish is an iconic WA fish and has suffered from heavy fishing pressure. Recent changes to fisheries regulations including a spawning closure appear to have helped the stock recover and we were lucky enough to spot a couple of 3-5kg Dhufish hanging under a ledge.
The next WA fish we spotted was a camera shy Harlequin Cod. This beautifully coloured cold water fish closely resembles a Coral Trout but scooted away before we got the chance to get a decent photo. During our swim we saw also saw a few Breaksea Cod (pictured below) who love to hang out under rocks and in caves.