Limestone reefs surround the island for hundreds of meteres out to sea, protecting calm, crystal clear lagoons that are home to corals, seagrass meadows and around 400 species of fish – including colourful tropical ones not usually seen so far south of the equator.
Although there are no shortage of great bays and beaches for snorkeling around Rottnest Island, some of them are definitely better than others, which is where this page comes in. With these guidelines, you won’t be disappointed!
The Four Best General Areas for Snorkeling Around the Coast of Rottnest
As a rule, the snorkelling off Rottnest is best at the more remote, less accessible locations around the island, and it tends to get better the further south and west you go. The best areas to head to for some snorkeling are the Parker Point promontory on the south coast of the island, the reefs and beaches along North Point over on the opposite side, the wild and often treacherous West End, and the coves are reefs around Kitson Point.
1. The Parker Point Promontory
- Parker Point
- Jeannies Pools and Little Salmon Pool
- Little Salmon Bay
- Chicken Reef
- Eastern corner of Salmon Bay
Photo: Mark McDonald on Flickr
The island’s southernmost promontory that contains Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay and the eastern end of Salmon Bay is the number one place to go snorkelling on Rottnest, especially for less confident snorkellers. This area has the most coral of anywhere around the island and fantastic fish life with plenty of colourful tropical species to see. It’s also relatively easy to get to from Thompson Bay, by bus or by bike.
Little Salmon Bay and the marine reserve at Parker Point have the most reliably good snorkelling with plentiful pocillopora coral and colourful wrasses. These spots have been established as snorkel trails with information plaques on the seafloor. Both are safe, not too deep and well protected from surges and breaking waves.
The eastern corner of Salmon Bay as well as the lagoon off Salmon Point are absolutely stunning in the right conditions when the water is calm and clear. Unfortunately they’re both exposed to winds from the south and west, which happen to be the most common winds, and are not so good when the swell is running high.
Another great snorkelling site is in amongst the pools and reefs in between Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay. This is more of a challenge because it’s a long swim around from the beaches, and there isn’t much protection from waves when they are breaking.
2. Rottnest’s West end
- Fish Hook Bay
- South Point and Wilson Bay
- Eagle Bay
- Henrietta Rocks
- Hayward Cape
The West End is the wildest and most pristine part of Rottnest. It has the best fish life in terms of variety, size and the sheer number of fish you see swimming around, and a fair bit of coral too (though not as much as at Parker Point and Salmon Bay).
For confident snorkellers and strong swimmers, the West End offers adventure unmatched anywhere else around the island’s coast.
One of my favourite spots on the West End, which also happens to be one of the easiest and most sheltered snorkeling sites, is beautiful Fish Hook Bay in the shadow of Cape Vlamingh. On a calm day, the clarity of the water is exceptional and you will be awed by the dense schools of big silver fish and the colourful wrasses swimming all around you.
Cathedral Rocks, in combination with the reefs off shore and to the west of Eagle Bay, is my other favourite spot. This is possibly the best shore-based snorkeling site on the island. There’s nowhere else with such incredibly rich marine life, such interesting reef formations, patches of coral and a ship wreck. The only problem is that it’s quite an effort to get to the best reefs, and I always get a bit spooked once I’m out there because it feels to me like a sharky sort of area – especially now that a colony of New Zealand fur seals have taken up residence there.
Apart from my two all-time favourite West End snorkeling sites, just about anywhere there’s calm water next to a reef is good. I’ve snorkelled around South Point, along the platform reef off Wilson Bay and around the reefs off Hayward Cape, all of which were pretty spectacular.
The downsides of snorkeling at the West End of the island is that it’s less convenient to get to, it gets the biggest waves and can feel a bit exposed and sharky at times. Many of the best snorkeling sites are not easily accessed – expect to walk over sharp rocks, follow a vague sandy track or descend a cliff to reach the water (all part of the adventure)!
It’s especially important to pick the right conditions before riding all the way out to the West End for a snorkelling adventure. On a day with strong winds or high swells you’re pretty much always better off sticking to somewhere more sheltered like Parker Point, Little Parakeet or Mary Cove.
3. Kitson Point
- Western end of Salmon Bay
- Nancy Cove and Green Island
- Reefs and lagoons west of Nancy Cove
- Mary Cove
Also on the south side of the island, the reefs and lagoons from Mary Cove to Nancy Cove and the western end of Salmon Bay form another area rich in marine life, including tropical species and corals. These beautiful bays and reefs are a little more remote compared to the Parker Point area and don’t seem to be as popular with snorkelers, but they contain some absolute gems.
Mary Cove is idyllic. It’s well sheltered from waves, and the eastern half of the bay has a fascinating network of reefs in shallow water very close to the shoreline with a good variety of corals and tropical fish – just perfect for little kids and experienced snorkellers.
The western half of Nancy Cove, protected by Green Island from wind and waves, is another good option with lots of fish, though not usually as good as Mary Cove.
For stronger swimmers, challenging snorkeling around reefs often exposed to large waves is to be found in the western half of Nancy Cove, around the point into Salmon Bay, and on the other side of Nancy Cove behind Green Island and to the west. These areas have some awesome caves in the reefs and a huge variety of fish, including the more unusual species.
4. North Point
- Armstrong Point
- Little Armstrong Bay
- Deeper reefs off shore from Armstrong Bay and North Point
- Parakeet Island
- Parakeet Bluff and Little Parakeet Bay
The reefs around the island’s northernmost point (called “North Point”) are quite different to those of the south and west, but are just as interesting. There are less coral and tropical fish to be seen at North Point, but it makes up for this with a huge variety of temperate species, nudibranchs, starfish and interesting reef structures like caves and arches.
Armstrong Bay on the western side of North Point is a marine protection zone, and for good reason. It’s home to large schools of fish, especially around Armstrong Point at the far western end of the bay (closer to the beach at Catherine Bay than Little Armstrong Bay. Armstrong Point makes for a spectacular snorkel when the water’s clear.
Over on the other side of North Point, down cliffy western edge of Parakeet and Geordie Bays, there is a series of tiny coves separated by limestone rocks, with a maze of reefs off shore.
I couldn’t think of a better place to take young kids snorkelling than at Little Parakeet Bay, the biggest one of these coves. In shallow water around Parakeet Bluff you’ll see (on a good clear day) schools of little electric blue fish, starfish and nudibranchs on the reef, morwong sitting under the ledges, and more often than not on the Parakeet Bay side of the bluff, sting rays.
The snorkeling is also good heading south-east from Little Parakeet Bay, towards the Geordie Bay beach. Swimming further out near the Geordie Bay boating channel (being careful of boat traffic, of course!), there are yet more interesting reefs to discover.
Honourable Mentions for Rottnest Island’s best snorkeling
A few of my favourite shore-based Rottnest snorkeling sites outside the 4 main areas mentioned above include:
- Point Clune (Geordie Bay side)
- The off-shore reefs of Longreach Bay
- The off-shore reefs of The Basin, west over towards Longreach Bay
- Henrietta Rocks and the Shark wreck
- Ricey Beach
Last Updated: 22nd May, 2015.
First posted on 12th May, 2014 by Bonny.
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