Overseas trip cheaper than going 18km
With so many exquisite and exotic islands around Australia, why the hell are so many of us heading to Bali instead of travelling in our own backyard?
Last year more than 1.2 million Australians headed to Indonesia, with most of them holidaying in Bali.
Yet most Aussies could be on a picturesque luxury hideaway off our own coast after a short plane trip or ferry ride.
On our doorstep we have the Whitsunday Islands and Hamilton Island in Queensland, Lord Howe Island in NSW, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Bruny Island in Tasmania. And there are many more.
In Western Australia there is Rottnest Island.
But you won't be in Western Australia long before you hear the lament: "Why would I go to Rottnest Island when it is cheaper to travel to Bali?"
So I wanted to find out was it really more expensive to travel just 18km off the coast of Australia to stay on Rottnest Island, than to jet off to South-East Asia?
To make the contest fair I booked both holidays on the same day and travelled to both destinations on Thursday to Sunday. I didn't seek out the most expensive accommodation or the cheapest, but what was available.
The total costs of the trips included airfares, accommodation, food, alcohol, sightseeing and any extra money spent on travelling to the hotel and ferry rides.
So, patriotic Australians might want to look away because the trip to Bali was about $350 cheaper than Rotto. The three-day getaway to Rottnest was $1519, while Bali came in at $1171.
Before you start shrieking in anger claiming you could easily travel to Bali or Rotto cheaper, that might be the case. But our trip wasn't super-luxury or include enough Bintang singlets for all our friends and family or stuffed quokka toys.
Rottnest Island - or Rotto as it is affectionately known to locals - is a pristine, A-class reserve, with some of the best beaches in the world. It's also just a 30-minute ferry ride from Fremantle. (Although that short trek costs you $70 return for one person.)
Stepping onto the car-free, idyllic island you can be excused for thinking you'd stepped back in time. The accommodation built around the mid-70s also feels a bit that way.
Granted the digs are charming, but who wants to pay more than $300 a night to sleep in a rustic, quaint two-bedroom unit or villa that hasn't really been spruced up in more than 40 years?
I haven't stayed on Rotto for more than seven years and even I was gobsmacked at having to fork out $943 for three nights (off peak) for a villa in Geordie Bay.
If you wanted to inch closer to the water, it will set you back $1070 for the same amount of nights.
You can stay in a four-bed bungalow for around $160-$190 a night but none were available.
With the villas you pay for the views. And the vista is stunning, breathtaking and alluring.
Rotto's greatest treasures are its exquisite coves and glorious beaches. There are 63 secluded beaches and 20 coves to explore.
So almost every stretch of coast around the 11km-long, 4.5km-wide island is ideal for swimming, snorkelling, surfing, fishing and hiding from the kids.
Bikes are king on the island but the price to hire one is $58 for three days.
But the star of the show on Rotto is a furry little marsupial called a quokka.
Thanks to Swiss tennis great Roger Federer's "quokka selfie" on Instagram, just about everyone on the planet knows about the peculiar wallaby-like critter.
There was something richly comic about watching 40-odd tourists gush with giddy delight as one furry critter wandered aimlessly in front of them.
When not laying down in the sand trying to get a tiny macropod to grin like an idiot savant for a photo, one has to eat. But there are slim pickings for food on the island.
Even the island's iconic bakery, which was once a must-stop for barefooted, sun-scorched families has gone a little boutique and bland. A meat pie will set you back $6.50.
We settled on the Rottnest Island Hotel and there aren't too many boozers around the world with a view like this one.
So I wasn't shocked when two serves of basic fish and chips cost us $50. Throw in a couple of $11 schooners and you are racking up a decent bill.
The once free shuttle bus that ran from the main Settlement on Thomson Bay to Geordie Bay is now $3 a day for the 2km trip.
A short ride to take a tour of the Wadjemup Lighthouse ($9 each) by bus was $20 per person. To be fair, you can ride all day for that cost and explore the nooks and crannies of the quirky, verdant island.
Despite the costs, WA's love affair with their favourite holiday destination is far from waning.
More than 500,000 West Aussies visited the island in the last financial year, up 14 per cent from the previous year.
NEXT STOP, BALI
After finding out how cheap the airfares to Bali were, we wanted to give Rotto a sporting chance by booking the most expensive flights available on the days we wanted to travel.
(OK, it was a budget carrier but we still only paid around $600 return for two people.)
We also booked a 4.5-star hotel in Nusa Dua, which cost us $309 for three nights, and included a scrumptious buffet breakfast.
After three-and-a-half hours in the air we arrived in Bali. Ignoring 100-odd strangers who wanted to help us with our carry-on luggage, a driver took us on a pleasant 20-minute ride ($12) to Nusa Dua.
The area might be one big beach resort but it doesn't have the chaotic turbulence of Kuta.
Nor the traffic.
The rooms at our hotel in Nusa Dua were spacious and sumptuous and the view overlooking the lush gardens and meandering pools was magnificent.
Rottnest does have views across turquoise waters and lagoon beaches, but this accommodation was the clear winner.
Of course there are things to consider besides cost. Staying in palatial hotels next to some slum-like conditions in Bali can be confronting.
And grappling with the fact some staff probably get paid less in a day than the cost of a schooner on Rotto can be hard to digest.
Nusa Dua is renowned for its world-class resorts rather than its restaurants.
But there are a number of places where you can eat lavish lunches where authentic Indonesian and Balinese cuisine is served.
You can get siap pelalah - shredded chicken breast cooked with chilli relish, served with vegetables and steamed rice for just under $9. It was delightful.
At most restaurants and cafes you would struggle to spend more than $20 for two people.
And then there is the beer. Around $2 for a Bintang? Enough said.
Yeah, Nusa Dua is entirely purpose-built for tourists. And there isn't a lot to do unless you're into water sports. But doing nothing is the point.
The beaches of Nusa Dua can't compare with the deep cobalt blue waters off Rottnest or any other of the majestic island hideaways around Australia.
But beautiful beaches aside, there is no denying the lure of a cheaper holiday in Bali is hard to resist.
WHAT IT COST
Ferry ride: $140. Accommodation: $943. Food: $248, including dinner ($107) and lunch and food and alcohol brought over. Bike hire: $116. Island buses/tour: $72.
Airfare: $594. Accommodation: $309. Food: $208 (3 lunches and 3 dinners including drinks). Drivers: $60 (to and from airport and day trip to Ubud).