Samphire Rottnest: The Australian island that’s now a world-class destination
It’s 7.30am on a sunny Wednesday morning on Rottnest Island at the new Samphire resort and guests are rolling out fluffy towels on the poolside lounges, a couple is booking in for an in-room spa treatment with the concierge, and others are being guided by linen-clad staff to take a bayside seat for breakfast; maybe Gorgonzola whipped eggs with a Samphire Bloody Mary on the side. This is not the Rottnest I knew. At the Rottnest I spent childhood summers on, the only accommodation was self-catered bungalows with salt-water showers where you’d have to haul over a suitcase full of food on the ferry. The other options were tents or bunks at the army barracks.
Luxury has finally arrived on this quokka-filled isle, 19 kilometres off Fremantle. Various hoteliers had tried over the years, but it was WA family-run hotel giants, the Prendiville Group that endeavoured to comply with designing a resort on a protected A-class reserve – the highest level of protection afforded to public land, making Samphire Rottnest, together with Discovery Park’s glamping option (which opened in 2019), the first new accommodation on the island for 30 years. Rottnest Island/Wadjemup is now a world-class island escape with a range of accommodation and high-end cuisine, notably chef Will Meyrick’s superbly crafted south-east Asian-inspired menu at Lontara on site at Samphire.
At Samphire, I’m staying in a Beach Lane room which overlooks those bungalows from my childhood. The look is muted natural tones in a palette of sand, sea and native flora against pale timbers. Architects Christou Design Group were engaged to design the building with a remit to tread lightly. Endemic Tuart eucalypts frame the site, and all over the grounds native plants have been sewn. The pick of the rooms are the Beachside Suites, with views over Thomson Bay, though for the moment, at least, the cycle path in-between does attract onlookers keen to peer into this new island offering. The in-room menu features Sandalford Estate wines (also owned by the Prendiville Group), and to accompany, a mixed plate of dips and olives known as a Sundowner Board.
Over by the bar, Warwick Prendiville is picking up empty glasses. Opening a new resort during COVID-19 added an extra layer of challenges, he tells me. The cushions, clearly abundant on outdoor lounges and down at the Beach Club where guests sip cocktails with sand underfoot, didn’t arrive in time for the opening.
“We had a last-minute rush to Ikea,” he says.
All is in place now, and there’s more to look forward to. A smaller kitchen and bar right on the beach will open up, and there will be more overhead coverage in the outdoor eating areas, to protect from the occasional inclement weather.
With suites from $400 a night, guests know they are also paying for the convenience. Interstate (and one day, international) visitors don’t know the complicated rules behind securing the standard Rottnest ochre-tinged lime-washed bungalow, issued through a ballot by the Rottnest Island Authority. Even Perthites are having a hard time, with waiting lists banking up beyond 18 months.
Over on the northern side of the island, Discovery Parks has the low impact glamping experience zipped up. My Deluxe Tent overlooking the lighthouse at Pinky’s Beach, once the destination for late-night bonfires and teenage trysts, is definitely more glamour than camping in this portmanteau. There’s a built-in timber kitchenette with microwave and fridge, a walk-in robe, floorboards are adorned with kilim rugs and there’s not a sleeping bag to be seen on the pillow-topped kingsize bed. The best perch to enjoy the sunset is the outdoor lounge suite on the giant wooden deck, or you can head off the Pinky’s Beach Club on site and decide to have a drink by the 30-metre pool, or on the expansive lawn setting beachside. The restaurant began as a la carte, but in keeping with the more relaxed barefoot vibe, it’s now casual pub-style where you order at the bar. Come bedtime, the room is cooled by the seabreeze floating through the mesh windows.
Pinky Beach Photo: Tourism WA
Along with new accommodation, there’s a slew of new adventure offerings at Rottnest, the highlight being the Wild Seafood Cruise with Rottnest Cruises. Departing from the jetty at Thomson Bay you have to work for your lunch on this sea-to-plate adventure on board a 21-metre vessel. Willing passengers can opt to pull the craypots dotted off the coast of the island before anchoring at a secluded bay to swim and snorkel. Lunch includes the freshly caught Western Rock Lobster (crayfish) served sashimi style as well as barbecued and a smorgasbord of seafood including barramundi, crabs, octopus, prawns and oysters, accompanied by Howard Park wines. Another recommended aquatic adventure is kayaking around the calm waters of Pinky’s Beach on a glass-bottomed kayak tour with Sea Kayak Rottnest.
On land, the 24-kilometre round trip (with many tough hills to conquer) to West End just got easier, with e-bikes available to hire on the island from Pedal and Flipper. There are 63 bays and 20 beaches to discover along the way, and the reward is a treat from the deckchair fringed food van, Lexi’s, parked at the other side of the island.
Also recommended is the Indigenous tour with Noongar guide, Walter McGuire from Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours where you will learn about some other welcome accommodation changes on the island. At the former Rottnest Lodge, now branded as Karma Rottnest, a section of the resort known as the Quod, a hexagonal-shaped structure that housed male Aboriginal prisoners until 1903, is no longer used as tourist accommodation. Nearby, the Wadjemup Burial Ground, the final resting place of more than 370 Aboriginal men, representing the largest “deaths in custody” graveyard in the country, has been recognised as a culturally significant sacred site. For years the grounds served as a campsite for holiday-makers. Thankfully, no more.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Western Australia
See also: Plans for rebuild of iconic Southern Ocean Lodge unveiled
See also: Secret’s out: 18 of Australia’s best hidden beaches
Rottnest Fast Ferries have just upgraded to new vessels, cutting the journey from Hillarys Boat Harbour to 45 minutes. See rottnestfastferries.com.au
You can also ferry from Fremantle and Perth. See rottnestexpress.com.au
Kayaking, see rottnestkayak.com.au
Wild Seafood Cruise with Rottnest Cruises, see rottnestcruises.com
Wadjemup Aboriginal Tour, see goculturalaboriginaltours.rezdy.com
Samphire Rottnest Rooms from $400 per night, see samphirerottnest.com.au
Discovery Rottnest, glamping from $328 per night, see discoveryholidayparks.com.au
Beachside dining Lontara, Samphire Resort, see lontara.com.au