Mr Perspective tells me that you are very interested in our trip, so in your honour I will recount it as though I am writing to you. I hope you enjoy the recount.
Saturday 6th November, 2021. As usual, we got away later than planned but on the road just after 11. Part of our delayed departure was due to trying to get the scooters in and still be able to have the roof down. More about the scooters later. Anyway, it was a nice drive to Jurien Bay (henceforth known as J Bay) for lunch. Mr P said he might bump into one of your colleagues known as SSB (ask Mr P to explain) and there he was, sitting in his boat, on dry land, having a beer, directly opposite where we parked! It’s a small world.
Back in Little Red we kept on to Geraldton, arriving just after 4 to the hotel, somewhat disappointed, at least on my behalf. In my head I had it at the Marina, but instead it is opposite the kids park, in town. My disappointment didn’t last long, thanks to the view, and the proximity to everything. Actually it was a lucky mistake and I am glad we are here and not where I thought. After unpacking, we decided to go for a walk after sitting in the car all day. We came across the Yamatji emu eggs. I love mosaic so I think these are really cool. Across the road, it looks like the eggs are being protected by Wiebbe Hayes. Mr Hayes is a bit of a hero when it comes to the story about the Batavia and it’s ship wreck. Seems he saved a few people and for that, he gets a statue in Geraldton. I think we learn more about the Batavia at the museum on Tuesday and once we join the cruise, and we get to snorkel over it too. But I am getting ahead of myself. Further on we encountered more Batavia related monuments, including a replica of the long boat that left the wrecked ship and passengers behind to go in search of help. Imagine being in the open Indian Ocean in that thing!
Eventually we needed dinner so we opted for a walk down the main drag, trying to choose. In the end we got pizza from the Provincial and took it back to our room to watch some cricket (the Aussies flogged the Windies), before our special “welcome to Geraldton” fireworks display, viewed perfectly from the balcony. Actually I think it had something to do with the Festival of Lights event, but it should be all about me. It is my birthday soon after all. Once the night really set in, it was awesome to watch the channel markers light up the bay and the tugs and pilot boats escort a ship through them. I found a Marine Traffic app and spent the rest of the night monitoring the harbour. I think I would make an awesome Harbour Boss. Lucky we are staying here and not the other place!
Sunday. Good morning Dr! I hope you are having a great start to Sunday. In true us style we managed to take quiet a bit of time to get cracking this morning, perhaps because there was much activity on the harbour I needed to monitor. There was even an upturned little sailing boat! Eventually we went for a walk, out to the viewing platform on the esplanade, before walking to nowhere. Realising we were going nowhere, we went back (5000 steps later) and got the car! Far more sensible. Apparently no trip to Geraldton is complete without a trip to view the Point Moore lighthouse, so we went and had a look. It sounds like it was tough life keeping that light house, with lives lost on the job, not just at sea! Our next stop was the breakwall where I saw either sting rays or turtles (or seaweed). The towels are still out – that’s our hotel behind the yacht. We are on the top floor.
For lunch we found a great cafe, quite by chance! It didn’t have a huge selection of options but it did have great coffee and an awesome salad. We can recommend AJs beach cafe, especially the comfy lounge seats semi inside! After lunch we did the chores (oil and petrol for Little Red) and went to Bunnings. Apparently no holiday is complete without a trip to Bunnings, this time for screw drivers to (hopefully) repair the scooter that won’t charge. After all the fuss to fit them in, it seems we have an issue. Taking it apart didn’t help so we decided to ride it anyway and see what happened. As luck would have it, we made it to the Horizon and most of the way back, without running out of power. Horizon is a great piece of art and I would like to go back and see it at sunset. I bet it looks better then than with Mr P’s big head in it! Time for a glass of rose and some harbour monitoring.
Later: I know this is going to sound silly but we had a load of fun monitoring the harbour. But first, there was dinner at the Murchison Hotel, where we snagged a table with a good view of the tv to watch New Zealand comfortably beat Afghanistan. I have to say that I was wholeheartedly going for Afghanistan. How could you not? The country is in turmoil, the Taliban are firmly re-entrenched, people are fighting with everything they have while losing what little they had, and somehow they field a relatively competitive cricket team. And of course Rashid Khan was a Scorchers player. But honestly so much respect for them as a nation and a team.
Anyway, the meal was good and the atmosphere friendly, a definite plus on a Sunday night when most things were closed. Eventually we headed home arriving just in time to notice one of the ships from the port being escorted out by tugs. We are slowly observing and working out how ships come and go, and the app makes that even easier. The tugs escort the boat directly out, then assist it to make the required left hand turn, before one continues to escort it further out. When it is almost all the way to the end of the channel a pilot boat zips out, much faster than the others are capable of and retrieves the pilot, zipping him or her back in to the port. Remember this is all in the pitch dark so although we can see the bigger boats, for the most part we are watching lights. The tugs have three bright white lights up their masts, whereas the pilot boat has the red and green lights, of which the red one appears the brightest. Zipping across the ocean, it looks like a red version of a satellite flying through the sky, our normal viewing pleasure. How awesome is that? And there were 2 ships that left tonight. Is it nerdy Dr, that I found this awesome watching? You can be honest with me, one Dr to another.
Monday. Good morning, Good Dr. I hear you asked for a “full review and PowerPoint presentation” by the end of the week. I hope this little blog will suffice! Today we are back in the car and off to the Pink Lake at Port Gregory to do the buggy tour. First though, coffee from a popular little cafe called Quiet Life. They did a very lovely brew and a very sticky blueberry bagel (for Mr P not me). Unfortunately there was also an incident with an overly officious parking mechanic. Seems as though parking signs in Geraldton sometimes do and sometimes don’t mean what they say. Anyway, that won’t spoil what is otherwise turning into another great trip.
We arrived in Port Gregory in good time and promptly set off in the buggy. It’s a machine! We first headed onto the beach, learning about the jetty, which used to be above the water, has been almost submerged under sand for many years and is re-emerging post cyclone. Our first fun fact about the sand up here. The second relates to why there is some purple / pink sand, evident as a consistent line at the highest water mark. It is garnet sand, naturally occurring. The sand is mined and used for sand blasting, useful for 3 or 4 times before needing to be supplemented. Further up the beach Sam, our driving guide (girl power) told us about the whaling station and how a whole wall emerged from the sand over the last 6 years, before being destroyed in the cyclone! There is one block left, with the others strewn all over the place. Hopefully anything still to reveal itself stays hidden, in the interests of its own posterity! The other really interesting thing we heard about was the fish cannery. Just at the point where you can now drive onto the beach, which is where the railway line met the jetty in the old days, a fish cannery was set up during World War 2. The fish were taken straight from the ocean, canned on the beach and packed onto boats bound for Australian troops on the frontline! How cool is that? The other link to World War 2 that Sam told us was that the town was bombed by the Japanese, just like Darwin! Apparently the Japanese believed the port was still active and set out to destroy infrastructure. Fortunately no one and nothing was there, so no harm was done, and although there are reliable accounts that the bombing occurred, there is no evidence of where exactly the bombs fell, but Sam has her suspicions.
So what of the Pink Lake, the main attraction? Well it is amazing! Today, despite some significant wind and intermittent direct sunlight, it was bright pink! It is algae that make it appear that colour, algae that are full of beta-carotene. They like water that is 10% saltier than the sea, so the company that has a licence to harvest the beta-carotene make sure that year round the salinity is maintained. Nothing lives in it, due to the salinity, but birds like the edges. Actually there are tiny brine shrimp, “Sea Monkeys” that can tolerate the salinity. The harvested beta-carotene is used in everything from lipstick to baby formula. Back to the tour … we viewed the lake from 5kms north of the town, atop a sand dune, before winding our way through the dunes to another 3 spots, one high above with an awesome view and 2 at lake level. It’s a bit stinky, quite crunchy and very pink at lake level. It also has a variety of flowers at various times throughout spring. We saw pink pig face, some orchid-like tiny purple flowers and other tiny pink buds. We all know how infatuated I am with wildflowers, so a bit of a bonus to see some on this tour!
Finally the tour came to an end, back in the settlement of 30 permanent residents, just past the few relics that may be a dump, may be washed up there or may be something else. Our one hour Pink Lake buggy tour was fabulous and gave us the opportunity to see the lake, learn some local history and meet a lovely local. Dear Dr, if you are up this way, I highly recommend the tour.
Back in Little Red, we stopped just on the edge of town to grab some drone footage. The wind was pretty full on and the handset was alarming, but I think it shows you how good it looked today. We also tried to get some GoPro video as we drove out. It was our first turn of the GoPro in preparation for later this week. We stopped to get some lunch in Northampton, where the cyclone impact is still evident, before Mr P took me to the least remarkable place possible to eat it! Between the flies, the wind and the dust, I had a hard time holding my s#$* together! He’s definitely no good at choosing us a good lunch spot, so I won’t be delegating that task to him again.
We got back into Geraldton just before 4, stopped for a look at St Georges Beach at Rundle Park which looked like a very fun place to have a swim, play in the park, wind surf and generally watch the ocean. From there we went to the St Francis Xavier Cathedral to admire the architecture, before finishing our afternoon at the HMAS Sydney II memorial. Gee whizz I love this site. It is outstanding and although we have been here before it still moved me to think about the 645 people lost at sea on the boat. The lady looking over them still stands there with her concerned look, holding onto her hat. She certainly has a good view, but I doubt it compensates for her service. Bless her and all those who perished at sea. May they never be forgotten today, on the 25th April, on the 11th or 19th of November, or on any other day of the year. Lest we forget.
Somewhat fortuitously, as we stood at the memorial, we realised that a ship was being escorted in to port. Imagine our delight! But seriously what a great thing to watch. From up there we could clearly see what was happening. As we watched it became obvious how kids tv shows are conceived. We could see the big ship, let’s call it “Maverick”, being escorted by “Timmy”, “Tommy” and “Tammy” Tugboats. They were all closely supervised by “Penelope” pilot boat who efficiently orchestrated the whole thing. The trio of tugs guided Maverick into the port, before spinning him around 180° and gently pushing him into place alongside the wharf. You could almost hear us cheer! Then, as everyone settled into have a rest, “Dicky” the dredger gave them all a wave, started his engines and motored out to make sure the channel is clear for the next ship. He’s such a good natured dredger!
And now we are sitting on the balcony, stuffed full of fish and chips from Stingers, in the almost still evening. The trio of tugs and Penny have just turned another ship, “Athens” around 180° in the harbour so the other side of the hull can be filled with grain (we assume). Dicky has just knocked off and all is relatively quiet. On land, the police have done their 200th drive past this evening and all those cars are still parked in the 2hr parking. Geraldton is very quiet on a Monday night. The forecast for tomorrow is for rain so our plan is to hit the museum, the Victoria hospital and the old gaol, before having a holiday massage. I hope you have a great day too. Goodnight Dr.
Tuesday Good afternoon Dr. It is a very good afternoon here. The forecast rain didn’t come to much here, although I know you copped a drenching. We woke to a clean Geraldton, with much improved visibility. In fact it was the nicest it has been since we got here, quite still and very blue.
I got awesome news this morning that one of my students joins our ranks, becoming a Dr like you and I! I may have shed a tear of joy and pride, before getting all business like and letting them know. That slowed us down in terms of getting out of the hotel but eventually we set off for the museum, which was seriously good. We initially wandered around looking at the typical museum stuff, the Indigenous and European local history. As always there were some interesting things to see and learn. We then joined a guided tour of the section of the museum devoted to ship wrecks. It was very interesting. We found out about the spice route, how the ships were full of ballast, the way 4 ships came to be wrecked on our coast and information about their rediscoveries. The museum houses some amazing artefacts and displays. There are 3 of the 5 canons from the Batavia, one of which is presented in longitudinal cross section! There is an entire (re) constructed portico made of German sandstone that was aboard the Batavia. On its voyage in this direction the sandstone served as ballast and the portico was to be constructed at the entrance to the Dutch East Indies Castle in Batavia. Of course it never made it, so technically it’s not reconstructed here in downtown Geraldton, rather constructed! There were other treasures like coins and kitchen ware, fabric that survived in salt water for 350 years and even some dry antiseptic powder from a small sealed canister! I am glad I didn’t sail these treacherous waters although apparently the loss of ships was minimal, all things considered!
The other thing we spent time looking at in the museum was the information and movie about the HMAS Sydney II. I am sure I knew what happened, having read the information at the memorial site last time, but I must have forgotten. It turns our Sydney encountered a German ship called Kormoran. Initially it wasn’t apparent that it was German because it was flying the Dutch flag and looked like a merchant ship. However, once the Sydney was (too) close the Germans hoisted the correct flag, dropped the facades around a battery of guns, shot at and sunk the Sydney. The Sydney did get some return fire in, enough to mortally wound and sink the Kormoran, but it’s crew had more time and the ship was less damaged so most of them survived. As you know from yesterday’s information, all 645 Australian sailors died. Some may have survived initially, but it took 4 days for the powers-that-be to realise that something had happened to the Sydney and that was only because some German survivors were discovered. A sad sad tale. The wrecks were recently found and more recently viewed, the footage of which makes up the movie. What wasn’t obliterated of both boats at the time, sits 2500m below the surface, largely intact and eerily still.
After that sombre but very interesting history lesson we headed out for lunch at the Jaffle Shack, right on the water front. Tasty toasties always go down well and their coffee was very good too. Our next stop was the Karl Monaghan gallery to have a squizz at his impressive photographs of the Abrolhos. By the way, do you know what Abrolhos means? Think about the fact that the area was treacherous and ships were wrecked there. “Keep your eyes open” is the translation. Houtman was a ship captain who discover the islands and named them Abrolhos, to ensure that anyone following him would “keep their eyes open” as they made their way through! Back to our day … Our next stop was the Victoria Hospital, which has a couple of rooms containing nursing memorabilia and medical equipment. Needless to say, as a nurse (albeit with the title Dr) I found it very interesting. Mr P on the other hand was a little squeamish, especially when the museum attendant mentioned a “penis clamp”! We had just enough time in the hospital to see the displays before it closed and we were due to head for our massage.
Now what of the harbour comings and goings I hear you say. Well, I have deduced that Dicky Dredge loads himself full of sand or sediment from the channel. He progressively gets lower and lower in the water until he looks as though he may sink, then he quietly goes slightly northeast, but within the bay and dumps the load. I guess the current is from the south. There is another boat that appears to work with Dicky. It drags a piece of equipment behind it, up and down the channel. Perhaps it is flattening the bottom or sieving it? Anyway, a third ship is in the port, arriving this afternoon. We watched it from our balcony this time. It is tied up at the western side. Once in the harbour the trio of tugs turned it 270° before gently nudging it into place. There isn’t much room in there so the manoeuvres are amazing.
So that’s most of our day gone. There is a huge cloud formation to the east, lit up by the sun setting to the west. We are going to Skeetas for my (early) birthday dinner.
Then the next part of our trip starts tomorrow, with us due at the Eco Abrolhos office at 9am for a 10am flight. The excitement is building, the travel sickness tablets are procured and this time tomorrow I will be writing to you from the islands. I hope our captain keeps her / his eyes open!
Dear Dr, rather than a day by day, blow by blow account here’s some information about what we did and how I felt about it. As a bit of background, the main attraction here is the Batavia and all it’s history.
The plane trip out to the Abrolhos
Because of the time of the year we were only able to join the cruise after flying to the islands. We flew from Geraldton airport on a plane that seats 6 plus the pilot. There were 2 other planes that flew the other 6 guests and our luggage. Their planes were smaller and went ahead of us, but we all flew in convoy to get there. Our pilot was a tiny 28yr woman (more girl power), very earnest and did a great job. Mr Perspective sat up front next to the pilot, which absolutely thrilled him right up until the landing (more about that in a minute). The flight was largely perfect, including flying directly over Geraldton harbour. The trio of tugs were in and Athens and the other boat were also still all in place. It only took about 40 minutes to get here, of which the last few minutes were over the emerging islands. The landing was perfect despite up to 15,000 pairs of mating Preston Terns flapping about and a very short, dirt runway (quite scary, according to Mr Perspective) on Rat Island. All in all, a great start to the trip.
We are spending our 5 days and 4 nights on board the Eco Abrolhos. It’s a 4 level catamaran with 5 tenders – 2 glass bottom, 1 dive boat and 2 center steer. Our room is number 22 on the main deck. It’s bigger than our camper, with an ensuite! Quite luxurious for us. It has everything we need and is very comfortable during the small amounts of time we are there. There are cabins across the deck above us, the deck we are on and the deck below us. We can basically go anywhere on the boat and there are a number of outdoor areas on each deck that we are enjoying sitting on. The top deck is huge and that’s our favourite spot to sun soak, to eat our meals and, for evening drinks and nibblies. On the main deck there is a landing where we get ready for trips and embark and disembark the tenders. They have developed a great system where you get allocated a string bag for your snorkelling gear and it lives under the seats on this same deck. Grab and go. Between the main deck and the top deck there is a smoker’s balcony that is lovely to eat breakfast on (if there are no smokers using it). It looks out the back of the boat, so it is not windy and it gets lots of sun. On this same deck there is a front outdoor area, in front of the bridge, that is nice for looking at where you are going, especially when crossing between the island groups, when the top deck gets closed. Inside, the main deck has the dining and living area. It is large enough for five 6-piece dining tables, a huge lounge, a bar and the kitchen. This is where the activity briefing occur and the home of the all important board. There was an option for an engine room tour that I opted out of (didn’t want to test the sickness tablets that far) but Mr Perspective did do it and reported that it was amazing and interesting, as well as hot and airless. Two new engines were fitted in 2014 through a hole that was cut into the side of the boat! The boat can carry 35,000 litres of diesel, enough to go from Geraldton to the Kimberley, but our trip used somewhere between 3500 and 4000 litres. There are two generators for all the power that is used onboard. All the fresh water on board comes from the sea and is desalinated on board! That includes the water we shower in, the water that is used to wash down the decks and the water we drink! There are 2 desalinators that can desalinate 1000 litres of water per hour, which is stored in a 10000 litre tank. The engineer desalinates water every second day. Similarly, the waste flushed into the toilets and washed down the drains is treated and deposited into the ocean. It’s perfectly safe and appropriate, but the captain and engineer choose to deposit it when the boat is passing between island groups, in deeper water.
As you know from reading other trips of ours that involve sea travel, I am prone to motion sickness. I can report though, that on this trip, I did not experience any motion sickness at all. I did take travelcalm in the white box with the blue writing, immediately before we flew there and back, and immediately before each crossing from the island groups. I was little concerned as the Chef experiences sea sickness and the few references to it alluded to how the crossing are the worst. But we stayed outside, in the fresh air and I kept my eyes in the horizon.
What I have experienced, now that it is all over, is land sickness. Back on dry land I have experienced the rocking sensation, slight dizziness and nausea! It’s now our third day back on dry land and it hasn’t quite gone away yet. We were only on the boat for 5 days! Perhaps I should take a travelcalm.
First and most important is the Captain. On this trip it’s Bronson, the son of the owners. He has a great smile, greets us each time we return to the boat and seems to have a really nice relationship with his crew. I think he feels the weight of responsibility, that is reflected in his professionalism.
Josh is the first mate. He is 23, left school in year 11 like The Piper, did a diploma in marine studies and has amassed tickets so he is able to do most skippering. He is a friendly young man who also loves his mum, and that’s very important. Definitely living his best life.
Liam is the quiet engineer. He also left school in year 11 and landed this job with no experience. He says he’s learning as he goes and there is more than one of everything on board, so he has lots of examples. He is friendly when he is around but I think he has a lot to do keeping everything working.
Ray is the cook and probably the most loved guy on board, thanks to what he can create in that little kitchen, including a surprise birthday cake for me. We are both 1968 babies so rather than my name, the cake had “1968” decorated on to it. We have been treated to crayfish in every conceivable form, lasagne, Moroccan chicken, pork belly on a bed of sweet potato, steak however you like it, salads of every type, desserts, snacks and even a couple of cooked breakfasts! It is so nice not to cook that I have tried to stick my head into the galley and say thank you after every single meal.
Brad is the boats naturalist and resident funny guy. He is passionate about seaweed and it’s super food value. He is an ex AFL player and knows people I know. To us though he is a doppelgänger for my brother! In every respect. He looks like him, talks like him, smiles like him, has the same sense of humour and dry wit. I’ve made it my mission to gift him with a piece of rubbish when we are on each island.
Hayden is the deck hand and all round nice young man, also living his best life. He drives the boats all over the place and pulls cray pots with ease. He is very quiet and seems to just pop up everywhere doing almost anything.
Kelsi, Ronni, Corrine and Alexis are our “hostesses”. They are also our snorkel guides, being qualified to do that. They tend the bar and coffee machine, clean up after the meals, do room servicing (if guests require it) and all of them do it with lovely smiling faces. Ronni is a mean cray pot puller and boat driver. Kelsi reminds me of Phoebe from Friends. She loves her dog and her van. Corrine is very kind and gentle, saving me when I had the worst leg cramp. Alexis is very efficient and knowledgeable, helping me to differentiate the Pacific Gull from the Caspian Tern. They add a great sparkle to the boat and brighten each day. Like the boys, they are living their best lives!
Our fellow passengers
You can’t go far in WA without seeing someone you know. There is a fellow passenger on board who I recognised (the ANF cap was also a bit of a giveaway). Turns out she did some work where I work for a while and is an RN @ one of the city hospitals. The rest of the passengers, there are 24 of us, are Western Australians, except for one couple from South Australia. Thank you closed borders. There are people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, but all are friendly and enjoying the mix of do-your-own-thing with one-in, all-in activities. The cruise caters for all levels of fitness both in the water and out.
Day 1 we snorkelled from Little Sand Island. The sheer amount of broken coral on the shore makes getting in and out of the water tricky. It complicated my entry by causing my foot to cramp in my boot. Hence, when it came time to put on flippers I just couldn’t get my foot to uncramp! So I went in barefoot and was unceremoniously towed along by one of the beautiful young people. You would think I can’t swim! Anyway, it was a murky snorkel, cold and fumbly. I also managed to lose one of my 4 remaining pieces of jewellery as I entered the water. Fortunately I doubled back and somehow I managed to find it! Meanwhile underwater there were some lovely corals and a few fish.
Day 2 was far less eventful (in the morning at least). We snorkelled on Wooded Island, entering in Squid Hole and floating with a very mild current around to where our shoes were waiting for us. On this snorkel we saw wrasse, bream, parrot fish, anemone fish, 2 lion fish!, starfish, sea cucumbers, angel fish and many many more! The water was initially cool but I acclimatised quickly and then didn’t want to get out. Lion fish! I did feel something stringy on my foot as I was getting out and reached down to remove it, only to have it stick to my finger. It was white, about 2 inches long, thin like string with tiny sticky feet and little fangs. Like a long, white sea leach. It didn’t hurt me.
In the afternoon we snorkelled along the coral cliff from the dive boat off Morley Island. The water was less clear and very cold but the coral was very pretty, dropping down a ledge face. There weren’t as many fish. Unfortunately I did get a small cramp up the outside of my right shin so I was rescued by the glass bottom boat. Saved me swimming back!
On day 3, moored off Post Office Island, we were ferried out to Coral Patch where the coral was spawning. It is a bomby that we swam around, watching fish and coral in the most beautiful, clear water. Unlike yesterday, I didn’t wait until I got a cramp, getting out after about 20 minutes. The water is really cold but I did get used to being cold, so I went in for a couple of swims off the back of the dive boat. Amazing place to have a swim.
On day 4 we snorkelled off the beach on East Wallabi Island out to and around a small reef. The coral was very beautiful, the water very clear and the fish very pretty. Leg cramp? Yep, just before the water was deep enough to stand. As hoped, the water was warmer up here than down at the Southern Group yesterday.
On our final day the group had the option to snorkel off Long Island. After walking all over it in thongs, I chose to swim rather than snorkel, knowing my feet would invariably cramp. Mr Perspective snorkelled though and reported that it was a good experience. It must have been, he was one of the last ones out.
Back at Geraldton after the trip ended, the business owners met us and the first question was ‘where was your favourite place to snorkel?” For me it was definitely the Squid Hole, the place where we saw the Lion Fish and the only place Mr Perspective did not take the GoPro! If I had a criticism it would be that we didn’t snorkel the Batavia. The seas and the weather were very calm and we did get to snorkel the Coral Patch, something that rarely happens. It was alluded to that conditions were perfect for the Batavia but it didn’t eventuate. The call rests with the captain and I get that, but if it wasn’t possible when we were there, I can’t see when it would ever be possible.
Glass bottom boats
As I mentioned earlier, the cruise caters for everyone and for those who couldn’t snorkel or didn’t want to, there are 2 purpose made glass bottom boats that give a lovely view of the ocean under the boat. We only had the chance to see the view during transit to and from the boat because we snorkelled, but when we did it was impressive! Others who did go on the “glassies” said they were a very good substitute for snorkelling, a lot drier and warmer!
There are many. Many, many in fact. On the island we landed on there are 15,000 breeding pairs of Bridle Terns. They have a black stripe that looks like a horse bridle. There are other terns here, including Preston terns. They have a black comb-over that looks like Elvis’ hair when they face the wind. There are some healthy Pacific Gulls that manoeuvre themselves at the back of the boat and swoop and glide. We saw a pair with a sole chick this morning. Mum and dad were busy trying to distract the White Breasted Sea Eagle from their precious chick. Apparently they had 2 chicks last week. We saw another pair with two adolescent chicks, one of whom spent some time swooping and gliding off the back of the boat as we enjoyed our afternoon drinks! There are so many other birds here it’s hard to keep up with all their names, but some are only found here. There are Caspian Terns, Sooty Terns, your average sea gull, cormorants, rosy terns, white breasted sea eagles, Osprey, and even flying fish and swimming birds!
We landed onto Big Rat Island in the Easter group, which is one of two with a landing strip. It has dwellings on it, all painted different and bright colours. We were asked not to photograph the dwellings and to stick to the path. Apparently there is some tricky politics, creating animosity. I guess everyone wants to be the only one who gets a piece of this place! The main thing I noticed about this island was the 15000 breeding pairs of birds!
On Little Sandy in the afternoon of day 1, we saw the sea lions and snorkelled. Our introduction to seaweed and all its merits started here.
On day 2 we went ashore onto Wooded Island where we saw a million (felt like it) birds, more sea lions and had an interesting encounter with a mother and baby! Wooded also has a tidal, inland lagoon with a mangrove system, making it attractive to the birds.
We spent some time on Morley Island, again visiting a mangrove lagoon with little mumma birds sitting on eggs. One of the things that was heavily mined on the islands was the bird guano. Many tonnes were mined and exported after the islands became inhabited. There is also huge amount of washed up coral and shells on the islands, estimated to be up to 40m deep on all but a couple in the Wallabi group that are like the mainland.
On day 3 we traveled to the Southern Island group and moored for the day just off Post Office Island. It is so named for the way one of the cairns looks. There is no post office and never has been. The cairn does apparently date back to the time of the Zeewijk wreck and now it and others can be lined up in various formations to assist with direction. The island is home to lots of birds, gets sea lions, has an array of plants including mangroves, and is where Jane Liddon, a cray fisher woman turned pearl farmer lives. She explained how the pearls are farmed and we had the option to buy some of her pieces of jewellery, right from her kitchen bench.
On day 4 we headed to the Wallabi group of islands, where all the Batavia action happened. We visited Beacon Island in the afternoon, seeing the place where the survivors clambered ashore, where the 126 unmarked graves are (likely walking over some), and where Jeronimous Corneliusz was held and tortured for his crimes.
In the afternoon we had a wonderful snorkel just off East Wallabi Island, before heading back over there for a walk and sunset drinks. Unlike the other islands, this one is land, as opposed to dumped coral. It is home to wallabies, lizards, snakes and birds. It is also the home of the 2nd airstrip and the place we departed the Abrolhos from.
On our final day we walked on Seal Island, now called Long Island, the place where Corneliusz exiled many of the passengers to, hoping they would die. We saw the point where Corneliusz was hanged after having both his hands traumatically amputated, as well as the remains of what is believed to be an original structure. We heard about the 3 boys who avoided being murdered when Corneliusz sent his henchmen to murder everyone on the island (because they refused to perish). The boys hid and when the murderers thought they were done killing everyone and had left, the boys re-emerged. When one was spotted, the murderers came back, found all three and took them in a boat back towards Beacon Island. On the way they offered one boy the opportunity to join them and therefore survive, if he pushed the other 2 overboard. He chose survival. Our final snorkel was around a bombie just off the shore of this island.
Within minutes of being here I spotted dolphins, so that of course made me very happy. They are regular visitors around the northern end of Big Rat Island, including darting around the back of the boat at night, attracted by the fish and squid that come to the lights. A great sight to see!
There is a population of about 100 Australian Sea Lions that live within the Abrolhos. At the moment there are lots of seal pups but apparently mating and birthing are not seasonal, so you see them all the time. This population is the northern most, with populations stretching all the way around the south to Clare Island. There used to be a lot more but they were hunted at various times, including for a food source by shipwrecked people. In fact survivors of the Zeewik killed over 150 of them as they waited to be rescued. They are very cute and the pups are playful and inquisitive. Day 1 we saw 9 on Little Sandy, sunning themselves lazily on the beach. One also came ashore as we were snorkeling and chose to walk among all of our gear on the beach to get to his destination. Day 2 on Wooded Island we encountered a pup feeding from its mummy. They separated when we arrived and the pup entered the water and swam towards me. There were also 2 in the water, swimming behind our guide who was trying to provide as with an informative description of red, green and brown seaweed. Needless to say, the sea lions stole the show! As we all started snorkelling in the afternoon another little one spent some time playing with one of the staff and then caught itself a fish to play with. It tossed the fish over and over until a Pacific Gull swooped down and stole it. We encountered another sea lion on Post Office Island who was lazing alongside the kitchen! Eventually it got too hot for him so he waddled to the edge, stumbled into the water and proceeded to play with the tender ferrying us across to the other side. He was a beautiful show off pup, known to frequent the house as do others, one of whom was once found asleep on the owners lounge!
Each day, at each meal, there is some variation of crayfish. Half cray thermidore, half cray with garlic butter, cray salad, cray sauce for surf and turf, plain cray. That’s because the boat has a trial tourist licence to drop cray pots and harvest 8 crays for each person who is aboard the boat that is retrieving the pots. Each morning at 6am and each evening at 6pm the dive boat goes out to empty and reset the eleven pots. We went out the first evening and watched the crew of three do their thing. Pre-COVID crays we’re selling for $100 per kilo. Now they go for $25-30, thanks to China selectively banning trade with Australia. On our trip, the 11 pots yielded more than 100 crays, of which 32 were keepers, ie not female with a plate or eggs, and legal size. The boat had 11 people on it so we could have kept 88 crays, had they been legal. However 32 crays create 64 halves and they went from pot to plate! As an aside, there is a pamphlet onboard for a cray day tour, with adult prices starting at $150 per person.
This year the coming of summer has been slow. Incredibly slow. We have had record rainfall and it has been cold right up until we came away on the 6th November. In the week leading up to this one we were watching the long range forecast in an attempt to understand what to expect. The BoM were posting that the day time temp would be max 21, the night time temps min 19 and the water temp between 20 and 21. The thing that ruins it on the water though is the wind! In the 5 days and 4 nights we were on board (10th to 15th November 2021) we had almost perfect weather. There were no clouds in the sky at all, a light breeze most days and stunning evenings for top deck drinks to watch the sunset. Our weather was apparently a complete contradiction to the week before that was windy every day. How lucky are we?
The trivia night
On our last night onboard the Mystery Quizmaster Bradster hosted a trivia game. A fast game is a good game so there was no mucking around. It was funny and informative, with our quizmaster wearing a hat suitable for the occasion. It also happened to be on our captains birthday, so the mood was high. Our team name was “Top Deck” but in hindsight “Seaweed Appreciation Society” may have worked in our favour. Here are questions:
1. There are 3 groups in the Abrolhos Islands. What are their names and they must be spelled correctly. A: Southern (or Pelasaert), Easter and Wallabi groups (note the spelling on the map that is in each cabin and held up at the nightly wrap up).
2. How many islands are there? Either or both answers will be accepted. A: 122 or 196
3. What was the full name of the lead mutineer on the Batavia? A: Jeronimus Cornelisz
4. Where was the Batavia going from and to? A: Texel (Holland) to Batavia (Java)
5. What was the Batavia carrying? A: German sandstone to make a portico, silver, spices
6. What date did the Batavia hit the reef? A: 4th June 1629
7. What is the English translation of abrol vos olhos? A: Keep your eyes open
8. Who was Cornelisz’s unwilling lover? A: Lucretia van den Mylen
9. Who lead the survivors who were sent to West Wallabi Island and found water? A: Weibbe Hayes
10. What was the first name of captain Pelasaert? A: Francisco
11. What was the full name of the Dutch woman who provided accurate information on the whereabouts of the Batavia wreck? A: Henrietta Drake Brockman
12. What is the rarest bird in the island group? A: Rosy tern (we think. Don’t blame us if you get it wrong).
13. What is the name of the only tree that grows on the islands? A: Mangrove
14. What was the first thing mined on the island group? A: bird shit (aka guano)
15. What are the three most populous birds species. A: common noddy, bridle tern and something else. We didn’t know the answer so in an effort to impress the quiz master, we also wrote red, green and blue, the three types of seaweed.
16. How was Cornelius punished for his crimes of mutiny and mass murder? A: His hands traumatically amputated, and was hung by the neck and left to hang.
17. On what island did the survivors of the Batavia shipwreck come ashore? A: Beacon island
18. On what island did the executions of the murderers take place? A: Long Island formerly called Seal island
19. When was the HMS Windsor wrecked, what cargo was it carrying and where was it going? A: 1908, sandalwood and Hong Kong.
20. There are three types of seaweed in the island group. What are they? This was the last question and we knew the answer (Red, Green and Brown), but instead we wrote “is there seaweed? We didn’t know”. I suspect that lost us the quiz, given our quizmasters love of the stuff! Oh, we remembered them all!
The plane trip back to Geraldton
As is always the case, our trip ended all too soon and we were allocated to leave with the first batch of guests out. We were slightly disappointed, as we had arrived with the second batch of guests, but as it turned out, it was just as well. We were allocated to a smaller plane than on our arrival, with 4 of us and the pilot on board. Mr Perspective missed out on the front seat this time. We departed from East Wallabi, island, the same island we had our beach sunset drinks on the day before. The runway was dirt again and looked too small to me. It even had some tyre tracks appearing to disappear off the end, into the ocean. Despite this, our takeoff was smooth and well within the confines of the runway (thankfully). The view from my seat was spectacular again, and this time I could recognise the islands, having walked on them earlier in the day and yesterday. We could see the coral spawn, slashing across the surface of the water and could make out boats and even the bigger plane as we overtook it! Within 25 minutes we were coming in to Geraldton airport and our holiday was truly over. What an amazing way to end it!
A final word or two
This week off has been an amazing substitute for the 2 weeks we had planned on the mid-north coast of NSW. We have had the right mix of land and sea. As I have said before, don’t underestimate how good a holiday based in Geraldton can be. If you have an opportunity to spend some time in the Abrolhos then we would highly recommend it. As usual I offer you a breakdown of our costs ($9000 in total), but the main ones were the Cruise ($6932), the hotel in Geraldton ($932), the Pink Lake buggy ride ($160), massages ($170) and eating out in Geraldton ($340). This trip is our most expensive ever (on a per day basis) but well worth the cost. It has definitely been a case of “you get what you pay for”. It makes me very happy to have spent my money in regional Australia and most of it in small, individual or family run businesses. It’s going to be hard to beat, but I am sure we will give it a red hot go!