Rottnest Island has been a tourist destination from the early 1900s.
From 1902 ferries carried tourists to Rottnest Island on Sundays. During these times visitors and prisoners were kept well apart.
The first public jetty was built in 1906 to the south of Thomson Bay Settlement, where the Army Jetty stands today. Until then passengers and cargo were brought ashore by a lighter. A tram track was laid from the Jetty to Thomson Bay Settlement and horse drawn trams were used to carry visitors and goods. The trams were later replaced by motor vehicles in 1925 and most of the tracks were removed and relocated to the Perth Zoo. Some small portions of the track still remain.
In 1907 a scheme for transforming Rottnest Island from a penal settlement to a recreation and holiday Island were drawn up by the Colonial Secretary's Department. As part of this scheme the Bickley area began to be modestly developed for public recreation. Timber and hessian camps, a store and a recreational hall were built overlooking Bickley Bay in the vicinity of where Kingstown Barracks stands today. A number of houses in the Thomson Bay Settlement were also made available for use, and the opening season was 1911.
The Prison and Boys' Reformatory were converted to hostel accommodation, completed in the 1913/1914 summer season. The Bickley camps were closed in 1911, and in 1913 it was proposed to shift the camp reserve to the Bathurst side of the Settlement. Thirty weatherboard camps were subsequently rebuilt at the Bathurst end of Thomson Bay.
More improvements were planned in 1917. A large tearoom and store were erected near the main jetty and wooden bungalows were also constructed close by and on the north side of the jetty.
In 1917 Rottnest Island was declared an A-Class Reserve under the Permanent Reserve Act 1899 and the Rottnest Board of Control was formed.
The original limestone buildings of Rottnest Island were whitewashed and this created an extreme glare. To remove the glare, buildings were progressively painted with an ochre colour that was created by putting rusty nails in the white wash paint.
Recreational and holiday pursuits have continued on Rottnest Island from this time to the present day except for its closure in 1914 and again from 1940 to 1945 for military functions.