Location: Rottnest Island
Distance: 9.7km loop
Trail Marker: Yellow Wadjemup Bidi markers
Duration: 2 - 4 hours
Cost: Rottnest Island entry fees apply
Date Hiked: 23rd October 2018
Kml Map File: Please click here.
I have visited Rottnest many many times in my life, all for different reasons but I had never actually walked the official walking trails around the island so thought it was about time I did.
The Wadjemup Bidi is a series of 5 walking trails that takes you across spectacular coastal headlands, past stunning inland lakes and presents encounters with both natural and man-made attractions along the way. Each of the 5 sections boast cultural and environmental significant landmarks to interpret and experience. "Bidi" in Noongar means "trail" or "track". The Whadjuk Noongar are the Traditional Owners of Rottnest Island.
The intricate network of trails aid to control and manage visitor impact, by connecting Rottnest Island's beautiful natural features to its cultural history in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Wadjemup Bidi project aims to raise awareness of both the environmental and cultural values of Rottnest Island. The Rottnest Island Authority (RIA) is committed to ensuring the integrity of the Noongar language is maintained.
I chose to head over for the day on a Telethon Tuesday, a day of the week when fares are half price so recommend planning around that if your able to. I jumped on the first ferry over and had till 4pm to head back. The plan was to tackle the northern section of trails from Thomson Bay all the way out to the west end where the Ngank Wen Bidi, the final trail in the Wadjemup Bidi project was recently opened.
For this trail in particular though I ended up doing the inland section only as I was linking up with the Karlinyah Bidi from the Geordie Bay bus-stop. The trail begins opposite the main shopping area which used to be the Stable Yard of the Prison Superintendent's Residence. The yard included the first prison and farm buildings, some of which survive to the present day. For example the General Store used to be a hay shed, and the shops on the opposite side of the store occupy the location of the first prison building.
Now a trip to Rotto would not be complete without an encounter with the resident Quokka and I only had to walk a few metres up to have my first one (on this trip).
The Quokka is one of the smallest wallabies and has the ability to climb trees. Restricted to the south west region of Western Australia, Quokkas are found on the mainland as well as on Rottnest Island and Bald Island. Their presence on the mainland has declined severely in the twentieth century to the extent that they are only found in small groups in bushland surrounding Perth including Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, Torndirrup National Park, Mt Manypeaks National Park and the Stirling Range National Park.
There are two old cemeteries on the island both date from the colonial 19th century. The trail leaves the shopping mall and walks through Rottnest Island Cemetary which gives visitors a look into pioneer life with an interpretive panel nearby providing a wealth of information about Rottnest's history.
The trail continues up the steps to the first landmark, the Vlamingh Memorial and Lookout. Willem DeVlamingh was a Dutch sea captain who explored and mapped a lot of the west coast before the British settled here. Willem DeVlamingh described the Quokka as a kind of rat as big as a common cat. He named the island Rottenest ('rat nest') in honour of this sighting. The island is now of course known as Rottnest Island.
Descending down from the lookout walkers are taken past Garden and Herschel Lake via a main road walking by the large wind turbine.
The wind turbine is part of the Rottnest Island Water Renewable Energy Nexus Project. A new 600 kW solar farm was also commissioned early in 2017. Combined with a consistent and complementary wind resource, known as ‘the Fremantle doctor’, the solar farm and wind turbine, when commissioned, will work together to meet up to an average 45% of the Island’s electricity needs, from renewable sources.
The solar farm, wind turbine, diesel power station and desalination plant will be controlled by an advanced system to maximise the use of renewable energy by creating water at times of surplus renewable energy. This will greatly increase the amount of renewable energy available on the Island and reduce the Island’s reliance on diesel fuel.
Only a few months prior to my visit, Herschel Lake was put on a new list of WA sites impacted by toxic chemicals from the use of old firefighting foams. A former landfill on the island, adjacent to the lake, is also impacted. The areas have been classified by authorities as “possibly contaminated with further investigations required.”
The trail leaves the road and sends walkers up some stairs along a limestone ridge just above the road. With it being quite narrow and warm I was being cautious of snakes and sure enough I found me one slinky off into the dense bush along side the track.....eeeeek Previous to 2018 I had never seen a snake on my hikes, in over 6 years of hiking and then, on a womens only hike out at Yanchep I was asked the question and after bragging about not seeing one, I turn around to see 2 that day and from then on they have now become a regular thing.
Passing by the Wind Farm I was greeted with another Quokka as I sat on the bench to take in the views looking out to Wadjemup Lighthouse.
Descending off the limestone ridge the trail continues down across Geordie Bay Rd, skirting around the salty plains of Lake Baghdad alive with a plethora of birds dancing on the lake.
Sadly, Rottnest does have quite a dark past and for awhile there I refused to visit the island angry about the sinister side to the island's history. From 1838, for nearly 100 years, Rottnest was a prison where 3700 Aboriginal men and boys, ranging in age from eight to 70, were brought from right across the state to be imprisoned, often for minor offences such as stealing food.
According to some Aboriginal elders, being incarcerated on Rottnest was a double punishment for the indigenous people because the island is a place forbidden to them culturally. It has been called the island of the spirit people. The prison finally closed in 1931 but during this time 10 per cent of the prison population, 369 prisoners, died from measles, influenza or malnutrition. Five were hanged. Those who died were wrapped in blankets, buried in a seated position and placed in unmarked graves on the island.
Aboriginal prisoners were instrumental in the development of Rottnest, building causeways between the lakes to provide access ti the salt works and the lighthouse. They also played a central role in the construction on colonial buildings, the seawall and roadways which are still in use today. An interpretive sign as you enter passed Lake Baghdad explains a little more.
Stop to watch the birds dancing on the Salt Lakes. These lakes have been recognised as Wetlands of National Importance, and as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for seabirds.
The trail heads on to Lake Vincent and an interpretative sign talks about the variety of birds of the Salt Lake with a bench for walkers and avid birdwatchers keen to take a break and soak in the surroundings.
Walkers are then treated to some history about Thomson Farm. Although the soil on Rottnest was never as fertile as anticipated, farming was a significant industry. In 1831, Robert Thomson, whom Thomson Bay is named after, took possession of a 200 acre property between Lakes Baghdad and Serpentine. His family spent eight years on Rottnest making a meagre living by farming and salt collection.
The trail traverses what was once their farm and relics from agriculture use can be seen including remnants of farm buildings, troughs and fencing entering the lakes. The Thomson well and troughs can be seen in the pics below.
Moving on and walkers find themselves at the highlight of the walk, the Lake Vincent Boardwalk where walkers can experience the illusion of walking on water, assuming the water levels are high enough.
The boardwalk safeguards the significant samphire communities below. Samphire is a native succulent also referred to as sea asparagus, swamp grass, salicorne, glasswort, pickleweed and sea beans. Woody at the base and with many branches it grows freely on many of Southern Australia’s salty flats. A bushtucker chefs heaven.
Thew trail continues on up some limestone steps and through a strand of trees till you come out to Defence Rd. A picnic table provides the opportunity to rest and enjoy some morning tea or lunch of which I did. Clearly a popular rest stop for people eating as quite a few friendly Quokkas were quick to approach to see what I had.
P.S. Please don't feed the Quokkas.
Next up was another highlight of the walk, the Pink Lake, although not quite as Pink as some of the other Pink lakes we have here in WA. A microscopic algae called Dunaliella salina is common in the open water of the lakes. It grows on salt srystals. This algae contains beta-carotene, a red/orange substance which is partly responsible for the pink colour of the smaller lakes.
Following the path around, once again you are walking alongside Lake Baghdad providing a new view out to the Wind Turbine.
Once an underground cave system, these lakes formed when the limestone roofs collapsed some 6,000 years ago allowing the sea to flood the system. Today the salt lakes are completely land locked.
The trail leaves Defence Rd and crosses over a grassy plain before reaching Bovell Way and the end of this trail for me as I now begin the Karlinyah Bidi.
For those continuing on this trail however, make a right hand turn and head back to Thomson Bay via Little Parakeet Bay, Geordie Bay and Longreach Bay past The Basin and Bathurst Lighthouse.
The Karlinyah Bidi trailhead and Gabbi Karniny Bidi half way mark.
Hopefully this post inspires you to visit and if so, we would love to hear your thoughts on the trail. Please feel free to tag us in your adventures.
We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we walk, the traditional lands of the Whadjuk people & wish to acknowledge them as traditional owners paying respects to their Elders, past & present, and Elders from other communities who may be here today.