As an ocean lover, the Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia are a must do for anyone visiting the Geraldton Mid West region. With a rich history and an abundance of natural beauty, the Abrolhos Islands are not well known outside this area. Consequently visiting the islands is an amazing experience that not many tourists have done.
If you have heard of the Abrolhos Islands, or if you are looking for a day trip, a fishing trip or a 5 day cruise to experience some of Western Australia’s incredible marine life, this is how to do it!
Why Visit The Abrolhos Islands
From the migrating humpback whales that inhabit the waters around the islands between July and October, to the vibrant coral coast, the Abrolhos Islands are slice of Australia you won’t find elsewhere. While the islands are visited by eco tourists, fishermen and ocean lovers, some seasons are better than others for specific pursuits such as fishing or whale watching.
Regardless of the time you choose to visit, you’ll be rewarded with stunning landscapes, unique wildlife encounters, and a range of activities to suit every adventurer. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a history buff, or simply someone looking for a unique getaway, the Abrolhos Islands have something for you.
Immerse Yourself in Nature at the Abrolhos Islands
Located approximately 60km off the Geraldton coast, the 122 islands in the Abrolhos archipelago are a true nature lover’s paradise. The islands are home to a diverse array of marine life, including colourful coral reefs, a variety of fish species, and an abundance of seabirds.
Whether you’re snorkelling in the crystal blue waters, watching the local cray fishing fleet, or simply taking a sunset stroll along the pristine beaches, you’ll be constantly surrounded by the islands’ natural beauty.
Explore the Marine Parks and Wildlife on Offer
The marine parks of the Abrolhos Islands offer a unique opportunity to explore some of Australia’s finest marine biodiversity. With over 35 species of breeding seabirds such as noddies, shearwaters, and terns, the islands are a haven for bird watchers. The seabird breeding season is a great time to visit, with large bird colonies taking over the islands and filling the air with their melodic chatter, or noisy squawking, depending on your opinion.
The islands are also home to a variety of marine species. Whether you’re snorkelling one of the reefs or casting a line to catch a baldchin groper, you’ll be amazed by the diversity of the marine life in the area. The islands are also the northernmost habitats of the Australian Sea Lion, a species classified as ‘vulnerable’, making it a significant site for wildlife conservation.
On land, the Abrolhos Islands are equally rich in flora and fauna. More than 140 species of native flora, including heath, dwarf shrubland, saltbush and mallee, can be found here. For the fauna, Tammar Wallabies and bush rats are among the mammals that call these islands home.
The islands’ earliest European settlers left a significant imprint on the islands’ maritime history, further enriching the tapestry of the islands’ natural and cultural landscape. I have friends from Geraldton who come from fishing families that lived for the cray season every year on islands called “Little Rat” and “Big Rat”.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or a casual traveller, the Abrolhos Islands offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a world where nature thrives. While these islands don’t offer the postcard palm tree tropical terrain that you might expect, they are a very unique environment and not to be discounted. While the flora is scrubby and harsh, it is unique in itself and supports a thriving animal and bird population.
Snorkelling and Diving the Many Reefs Available
When you think of the Abrolhos Islands, one of the first things that comes to mind is the stunning coral reefs. Almost as vibrant and diverse as the Great Barrier Reef, these underwater ecosystems are teeming with life. If you head out on the fishing or tourist boat, you can have the privilege of snorkelling amongst the reefs, experiencing a world unlike any other.
Among the many marine species you may encounter, the baldchin groper stand out with its distinct blue hue. These fish are friendly and curious, often coming close to divers. Other species of reef cod can get massive in these waters and I’m not going to lie, when one wants to check you out, it can be a little intimidating.
The Australian sea lions also offered a memorable experience. These endearing creatures are known for their playful nature, often showing off their swimming skills. The sight of the endangered Australian sea lions, in particular, was a reminder of the delicate balance of nature and the importance of conservation efforts.
The Management of The Abrolhos Islands
For many years the Abrolhos was used primarily by the local cray fishing fleet. The cray season on the Abrolhos saw families descend onto the island groups of Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert for months at a time. Schools ran on the islands and the boats who worked this area built camps that were constructed to make life easier for those captains and deckhands who worked the waters. Living on a boat is tough but when you entire family can join you for the season, life got easier and everyone got happier.
Supply boats ran regularly, delivering food and necessities and taking the cray fish back to the Geraldton co-op for processing. It was a life that many Geraldton children grew up with and our generation were the last to really experience it like that.
The natural significance of the area along with the limitation of both catch numbers and licenses resulted in the area coming under a high level of protection in the mid to late 1990s. WA Fisheries wanted to protect the cray population and started reducing pot licenses, which in turn reduced the fishing vessel numbers. While it wasn’t a popular decision in the area at the time, it has resulted in this incredible slice of Western Australia being very well protected.
While fishing still exists, the number of camps and who is allowed to stay during the season is very heavily regulated now. I know local families who have had 3 or 4 generations of family spend time at the Abrolhos every year, that now are not able to bring Grandma over for easter because she isn’t a necessary worker on the boat. The rules are very strict, but they have resulted in the absolute protection of this amazing archipelago.
You can read more about the current Reserve Management Plan on WA Fisheries Website.
Revealing the Rich History of Abrolhos Islands
The Houtman Abrolhos Islands has a rich history. Located about 60km off the Geraldton coast, the islands are steeped in a fascinating past that stretches back hundreds of years. The islands are made up of three major groups, namely the Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert groups, each with its unique historical significance.
The tragic Batavia Story is perhaps the most well-known historical event associated with the islands. This tale of shipwreck, mutiny, and survival has forever marked the islands, adding an intriguing layer to their allure. Apart from this, the islands are also known for their cray fishing and pearling industries. The industries have been a significant part of the islands’ history, providing livelihoods for the locals and contributing to the regions’ economic growth.
The Abrolhos Islands are not only a meeting place for tropical and temperate sea life but also a convergence point of cultures and histories. The islands’ marine life, which is one of the State’s unique marine areas, has played a significant role in shaping the islands’ history and way of life. The islands are a dream destination for those who love diving, fishing, or snorkelling. If you’re into photography, you’ll have a blast capturing the stunning scenery and vibrant marine life.
As a traveller, I find it fascinating to learn about the history of the places I visit, however I’m embarrassed to say that despite living in Geraldton for a few years I didn’t really know the full story of the Batavia and the story of its wreck.
The Dark History of Houtman Abrolhos Islands
The Houtman Abrolhos Islands harbour a stark and haunting past. The islands were named after their ill-fated discoverer, Frederick de Houtman, a Dutch explorer who encountered treacherous coral reefs surrounding the islands in 1619. However, the islands are more notoriously known for the tragic events that unfolded a year later with the infamous shipwreck of the Batavia.
In 1629, the Batavia, a ship from the Dutch East India Company, was wrecked on Morning Reef in the Wallabi Group of the Abrolhos Islands. The shipwreck survivors, about 300 in total, found themselves stranded on the desolate islands. What followed was a horrific tale of mutiny, murder and survival that claimed the lives of more than half of the survivors.
The ruthless leader responsible for the massacre, Jeronimus Cornelisz, was eventually brought to justice by the ship’s commander, Francisco Pelsaert, whose name was given to one of the main island groups (and a popular nightclub in Geraldton for a few years in the 80’s).
The eerie remnants of the Batavia shipwreck and the subsequent massacre can still be seen and felt today. When you visit the Abrolhos Islands, you can book a tour to visit the site of the Batavia shipwreck and learn more about this dark chapter of history. The islands, despite their grim past, have turned into a symbol of resilience and regrowth.
The Houtman Abrolhos Islands National Park was established in 2019, making it one of the newest national parks in Australia.
Today, the Abrolhos Islands are also known as the “Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean” due to their rich biodiversity.
Despite their gruesome history, the Houtman Abrolhos Islands have transformed into a beacon of hope for nature and wildlife conservation. A visit to the Abrolhos Islands will not only give you an insight into a dark past but will also showcase the remarkable resilience of nature and the importance of environmental preservation.
The Pearling Industry on the Abrolhos Islands
From afar, the Abrolhos Islands might seem like nothing more than a huddle of squat islands, but they have a rich history that’s worth exploring. The islands have been a hub of pearling activities since the late 1990s.
Each year, the crystal blue waters surrounding these islands become a meeting place for tropical and temperate sea life. Among the diverse marine life, you’ll find an abundance of oysters that produce some of the finest pearls in the world. These pearls have been an alternate source of income for local divers and the area is now know for its black pearls.
Pearls harvested on the Abrolhos can be purchased at local Geraldton jewellers “Latitude Jewellers” or at Chimere Pearls also located in Geraldton city centre.
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Adventures and Activities on the Abrolhos Islands
Visiting the Abrolhos Islands is a dream come true for any adventure seeker. These islands offer a plethora of activities that will keep you captivated and yearning for more. Whether you are a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or a thrill-seeker, the Abrolhos Islands have something for everyone.
Take a Scenic Flight and Day Tour To The Islands
There’s no better way to appreciate the beauty of the Abrolhos Islands than from the air. Shine Aviation (Geraldton Air Charter) offer an unbeatable aerial view of the islands. Each flight takes off from Moonyoonooka Airport in Geraldton and flies over Western Australia’s famous coastline, providing stunning views of beaches, townships, bushland and cliffs before coming to the island chain.
These scenic flights offer the fastest and most efficient route to the Abrolhos Islands. Landing on East Wallaby Island, I was immediately awestruck by the otherworldly landscape that greeted us. The landing strip is red dirt and it’s hard to correlate that to the amazing scenery you just viewed from the air.
The advantage of this day trip over a simple scenic flight is that you land on one of the islands and get to explore the island at your leisure, either by swimming in the crystal clear waters of Turtle Bay or taking a leisurely walk around the island. The pilot takes you on a walk around the area and offers some great info on the island, flora and fauna as well. At $440 its not cheap but it is really worth it.
Brad and I took his mum who it turned out had been involved in reporting on the impact of the small shelter that was built specifically for the day trips. It was so cool for her to see the outcome.
While the ocean is beautiful, you need to be aware that the Indian Ocean is COLD! Its not Canada cold but it is cold water so while you have time for a snorkel and it is really worth it – its not the warm water of the east coast.
If you don’t have the time to do the full day tour, consider one of these options which are both scenic flights over the islands, one also taking in the pink lake at Port Gregory as well.
There are flights from Perth but they are expensive – as you would expect. Check out all the day tours that Viator has to see the Abrolhos Islands.
Fishing Tours and Trips to The Abrolhos Islands
There are a few operators that do day trips or live aboard multi day trips to the Abrolhos for fishing.
Apache Charters offer a 6 night fishing charter starting at $2250 per person + gst. They operate from the end of February to the middle of may and depart and return from Geraldton Marina.
Blue Horizon Charters offer a similar trip to the Abrolhos that can be customised for between 3 and 6 days. They cater to groups so if you have some friends who are also keen get in touch with Blue Horizon for more info.
Another local company Pelican Charters offers both fishing and diving trips on their boat the Livewire a jet boat built for the offshore oil and gas industry. A jet boat means they can get in to much shallower waters so you can have a much more comprehensive experience. Get in touch with Pelican Charters to enquire about visiting the Abrolhos with them.
Cruise the Abrolhos Islands with Eco Abrolhos
This is going to be my next Abrolhos adventure. These cruises look amazing! All their cabins are ensuited so you and your nearest and dearest have great privacy. They offer different levels of cabins and even cater to solo travellers! Cabins start at just over $3000 for their 5 day trip which operate as a fly out boat back, or vice versa. The food looks amazing as does the itinerary. Check them out and see if this is suitable for you.
Planning Your Visit to Abrolhos Islands
Planning your visit to the Abrolhos Islands is easy, considering how inviting the coast of Western Australia is all year round. However, the hottest months are between December and February, make them less favourable for those who prefer cooler weather.
On the other hand, between July and October, you have the chance to witness the majestic migrating humpback whales that inhabit the waters around the islands.
Most fishing charters have specific seasons so be sure to check with them before booking your trip.
Geraldton will be the jump off point for most of the trips to and from the Abrolhos and getting to Geraldton is easy. Its a 4 hour drive north of Perth which if you take the coastal route, means you will get to see the small towns of Lancelin, Cervantes and Jurien bay on the drive.
Accommodation In Geraldton
Geraldton has quite a few decent hotels, however I would recommend The Gerald for your stay. Its a great hotel with a good roof top bar for sunset drinks and its right in the middle of town for access to all the food and restaurants. The Ocean Centre Hotel is also in the centre of town, however it is a little tired these days. They may have had a refurbishment since I last stayed so maybe check them out as well.
Weather Conditions in Abrolhos Islands
The Abrolhos Islands experience a Mediterranean climate. This means that the sun is often shining, making the islands a great destination for most of the year. However, the seasons do bring some changes in weather and sea conditions.
During summer, the temperature ranges from 30 to 40 degrees Celsius and can peak as high as 45. While Geraldton may see these extreme conditions (usually in February) the islands are always cooler. The sea is usually calm, with the warm temperature making it the perfect time for water activities such as snorkelling and diving. This is also when the marine life is most vibrant, offering a stunning display of colours beneath the surface.
Autumn sees a slight drop in temperature, ranging from 22 to 29 degrees Celsius. The sea remains relatively calm, with the cooler water attracting a different array of marine life. This is a great time for fishing enthusiasts as many species are more active during this season.
Winter brings cooler weather, with temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 degrees Celsius. The sea can be a bit rougher during this time, but it’s still a great time to visit for those interested in the rich history of the islands, or for bird watchers as many species migrate here during the winter.
Spring sees a gradual rise in temperature, ranging from 20 to 28 degrees Celsius. The sea conditions start to calm down, making it a good time for those looking to explore the underwater world.
Best Time to Visit Abrolhos Islands
The timing of your visit to the Abrolhos Islands can greatly influence your overall experience. Being a tropical paradise off the coast of Western Australia, each season offers a distinct charm. However, I’ve found that there are certain periods in the year that are especially spectacular.
The summer months, from December to February, are hot but this can be a great time for snorkelling, swimming, and exploring the underwater marine life.
During the autumn months from March to May, the temperatures cool down a bit, and the wildlife is usually more active during this period, making it a great time for bird-watching and wildlife photography.
Winter, from June to August, is the off-peak season, however this is when the whales migrate. From the giant Blue Whales to Humpbacks and even Whale Sharks this is the season to see them. They migrate from May to December from the colder waters of south west WA to the Kimberly in the north. This is an experience you won’t want to miss. Read my story on patting a wild whale for my own incredible experience.
Wrapping up the Abrolhos Island Adventure
I couldn’t believe that I had left it so long to visit the Abrolhos. I really wish I had spent some time on the islands with some of my cray fishing friends when I was young, however seeing it now it all its glory, protected for future generations is the best way to see it now.
One of the highlights of my trip was the time I spent in the water at Turtle Bay. The pristine, turquoise waters, teeming with colourful corals and diverse marine life, reinforced my love of Western Australia. It was so cool snorkelling just a few metres from the shore, and while it was DAMN cold – it wasn’t horrible. The bay was also the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a picnic on the beach and some sun to warm us up again afterward..
If you are in Western Australia and you’re seeking an adventure off the beaten path, Abrolhos Islands is the place to be. Even just for the day…