Lying 12 miles off the Indian Ocean coast due west of Perth, this fish-shaped island measuring some seven miles by three (11km by 5km) was “where West Australians lost their virginity,” according to the novelist Robert Drewe. Its 63 sandy beaches and bays provide plenty of cover for canoodling couples but nowadays government-run “Rotto” markets other physical activities (swimming, surfing, hiking), balancing the touristic pressures of 600,000 annual visitors with the protection of a fragile ecosystem. No one lives here – bar the staff who maintain it – and cars are not allowed (a bus service and bikes, which you can hire, are the preferred transport options). Most people come over for the day on ferries, though there is self-catering accommodation and a hotel. What they find, apart from those scalloped bays, is a beautiful environment of gentle hills covered in tea trees and grasses and, out on the headlands, wild rosemary and low-lying succulents. Cute mini-marsupials called quokkas kick back in the shade and nibble the greens of the golf course while, offshore, bottlenosed dolphins cavort above pink coral reefs. If all this sounds impossibly paradisiacal, it should be noted that Wadjemup (the local name for the island) has a dark history, for it served as a penal colony for Aborigines for almost a century (until 1932). Some 370 prisoners still lie here. The story is told in the little museum in the main settlement, known as the Settlement.