The chic new Samphire Rottnest hotel brings barefoot-style to Perth’s favourite playground, writes Carolyn Beasley.
As I cycle past beachside cottages on Rottnest Island, kids in pyjamas, hair askew, munch toast in courtyards. Teenagers ride by, chatting as they wrangle surfboards. Chances are, their Mums and Dads holidayed here as kids too, and nothing much has changed.
Rottnest Island or “Rotto” as it is affectionately known is a 30-minute ferry ride from the Perth suburb of Fremantle. The island, famous for quokkas, has a cherished, laid-back atmosphere. Life here always seems shifted back a gear.
But one thing has changed, a new hotel opened in late 2020.
Samphire Rottnest has 80 rooms on the beachfront at Thomson Bay and is the most stylish accommodation the island has ever seen.
All rooms have balconies, most facing the lagoon-style pools or beach laneways. Sixteen beachfront suites front the Indian Ocean, and it’s here that I’m staying.
Guests of these premium rooms receive personalised service, and before I arrive, my guest experiences co-ordinator has recommended and booked my island activities.
My room is an upstairs super-king suite, with muted-palette styling and accents of natural timber.
A private outdoor rain shower adjoins a bathroom, which has retractable wooden shutters. Opening giant glass doors, the salty breeze wafts in, and from my veranda’s lazy day bed, I watch boats come and go.
A new breed of luxury
In developing Samphire, local owners the Prendiville Group understood they were treading a fine line. It was essential to preserve the relaxed, nostalgic Rottnest vibe while satisfying demand for higher-end accommodation.
Chairman Peter Prendiville maintains Samphire is not a traditional luxury hotel, as that would not suit Rottnest.
“We’re not a marble and brass hotel,” Peter tells Signature Luxury Travel & Style.
“It’s meant to be a boutique, sand between the toes, casual-but-quality hotel operation, where you get fantastic cocktails, outstanding food and one of the best views in the world.”
All in the name of research, I’m putting Peter’s claims to the test.
Beneath a tasselled umbrella, I recline in a blonde-wood lounge chair in Samphire’s own Beach Club, toes wiggling in the sand. My cheery waiter recommends his favourite cocktail, the Lontara Smash.
“It’s made with Margaret River gin, and the Thai basil and chilli salt complement the flavours of the food you’ll have,” he says.
“It’s got a hint of Eucalyptus and some lemon, for love.”
Samphire Hotel restaurant – Lontara
Feeling the love, I transfer to Lontara restaurant, where I can still see Peter’s world-class view.
Chef Will Meyrick, of Bali restaurants Sarong and Mama San, combines his love of Southeast Asian cuisine with WA produce, creating punchy flavours.
I’m in awe of the Rottnest Island scallops, with caramelised minced duck and finger limes, and the crispy spangled emperor is a tastebud-tingling sensation.
Rottnest island activities
With Peter’s claims verified, I try my first activity and realise it’s not just the Rottnest Island accommodation that’s had an upgrade.
Western rock lobster is an important WA industry, and now tourists can catch a lobster too. I board Rottnest Cruises, a glammed-up lobster-vessel, for a wild seafood experience.
Donning the gloves, I pull up the first pot, and delight in catching four lobsters.
Other guests pull traps too, and after checking they’re legal size, our chef barbecues them while we snorkel. When the lobsters are done and we’re dripping with salty water, the staff hand us chilled Margaret River wines, and we dine on lobsters, sashimi, oysters, and prawns.
After lunch, I join a waterbike tour. The ‘bike’ is a hybrid between an exercise bike and a kayak. We peddle the efficient vehicles around the cliffs, learning about geology, Aboriginal stories, and wildlife, and admiring Rottnest Island’s astonishing colours.
Of course, you can’t do Rottnest Island without seeing the famous quokkas, otherwise known as Australia’s happiest animal.
Taking command of a shiny new e-bike, I’m ready to explore. I decided against the ‘quokka selfie,’ but as I crouch to take a natural photo of an adorable fluff-ball, the curious youngster inspects my camera, holding it with two tiny paws.
When I return to the Samphire Hotel, I hustle to the restaurant for breakfast and glance down at my outfit with dismay.
I realise my footwear consists of thongs, and my handbag is a mesh sack of snorkelling gear.
But who am I kidding? There’s no breakfast dress code at Rottnest Island.
The Rotto vibe is alive and well, and this is my kind of luxury.