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Abrolhos Islands guide
Abrolhos Islands guide

Abrolhos Islands travel guide, best things to see and do

The newly minted National Park Islands are located off the Western Australian coast. A hidden gem in the Pacific Ocean, birds, sea lions, spectacular coastal scenery, a maritime heritage of fishing surrounded by brilliant backlit waters reflecting the tropical light of the Pacific.

How difficult is the place to get to, well it is definitely not for the faint of heart or those who suffer from sea sickness. However the reward of the journey is enough for all of us to dream about a magical place where nature and the environment still are in charge.

It is a place where the seventeenth century shipwrecked Batavia story is the narrative people are most likely to associate with Houtman Abrolhos. Batavia’s infamous shipwreck and stories of barbarism and brutality fascinate and repel all of us.

Abrolhos Island Tours @Eco Abrolhos

Weather

The Islands are dry bush and mangroves whipped by ocean winds and the currents of the Pacific Ocean. It is an exposed environment where comfort consists of layers, your own water supplies and the ability to carry your food with you. The wind is relentless throughout the year.

The boat journey can take several hours due to headwinds.

Have heard of the Dutch merchant ship Batavia and its sinking in 1629? A new lease of life in the story occurred with the discovery of the wreck in 1963.  Survival, mutiny, rape and sordid tales of deliberate abandonment on rocky atolls without water or food makes for a gripping narrative. Archeological marine recovery of the wreck and the various campsites, of the Batavia survivors are shared among the three museums with an interest in the story of the shipwreck. The collection of Western Australian Museum, Australian National Maritime Museum and the Netherlands Government, retell the narrative to a fascinated visitors. The Netherlands has a full sized replica of the ill-fated ship which is a popular visitor site. The replica is anchored at the Bataviawerf (Batavia Wharf) in Lelystad. A replica of the longboat was also built and is presently on exhibition at the WA Museum in Geraldton.

The islands have this notorious narrative yet isolated, and relatively undisturbed they are the Australian Galapagos according to a passionate spokesperson for the National Park, Dr Chris Surman, a marine ecologist.

Definitely a reason to visit our backyard, and support our local parks. Let’s see what is there to see and do.

  • Wildlife encounters with sea lions are pretty much guaranteed as sea lions greatly outnumber the human inhabitants.
  • Bird watching destination, on the migration path for numerous ocean going birds as well as significant breeding site.
  • Quirky local personalities who have made the Island their home and are passionate about its future.
  • Stupendously spectacular coastal landscape where the only footsteps could be your own.
  • Dive the wreck of the Batavia or snorkel among the coral reef.
  • Fish the abundant waters off the Islands and coral reefs.
What to see and do in Abrolhos Islands

Wildlife

The islands are a major undisturbed site for breeding birds such as Lower noddies, Crested terns and Shearwaters. Bird watchers rejoice at the sheer number of birds who call the islands home, from 35 breeding species to over 2 million migratory birds. Bird nesting and breeding sites for migratory waders, such as Curlew sandpiper, Great knot, Eastern curlew and Bar-tailed godwit are strictly protected.

Abrolhos Islands is also the northernmost habitat of the Australian Sea Lion. The Australian sea lion is under threat due to environmental degradation and loss of habitat. The Islands act as a reservoir for genetic diversity and a place where the sea lion population has much greater protection than mainland locations. The sea lion is now classified as a ‘vulnerable species’.

Other mammals that call these islands home include the Tammar wallaby. Tammar wallabies are the size of a large cat. The unfortunate captain of the Batavia, Francisco Pelsaert described the wallaby as a hopping cat. In semi-arid areas of the Islands Tammar Wallabies are able to drink sea water when there is no access to fresh water. The wallaby is nocturnal and not easy to spot during the day as they rest in scrub and bush. Dusk is the best time for wildlife spotting.

The Australian sea lion is commonly seen at the Abrolhos, the northern breeding limit for the species.

There are a number of reptiles and birds found nowhere else including the Abrolhos Painted button quail, Dwarf bearded dragon and Stokes’ spiny tailed skink.

The Island’s vegetation is similar to that on the nearby coast however there are several communities of special conservation interest including mangroves, saltbush flats and the dwarf Atriplex shrubland.

Swimming

The Leeuwin Current makes for warm sea temperatures all year round ranging from 24c (75f) in the summer months to 20c (64f) in the winter months. However a wetsuit is recommended all year round due to the rough edges of the coral and rocks that are prevalent.

Snorkelling & Diving

The Batavia shipwreck lies in four to six metres of clear Indian Ocean and is ranked the #1 dive spot in Western Australia. There are a number of self-guided dive trails or you may like to charter a boat. For information on the self-guided dive trails contact the Department of Fisheries or download their information guide.

Pristine waters, glass clear sharpness against the coral reefs, plus an historic wreck makes for one of the world’s top dive spots. And it is Australia’s backyard.

The Batavia lies in four to six metres of Indian Ocean water.

Fishing

Recreational fishing is permitted around the islands within allocated seasons. For fishing regulations and licenses please contact the Department of Fisheries.

Anglers delight in the Islands location as the confluence of cool and tropical currents creates upwelling rich waters where there is a buffet for fish species to feed on. The fish species commonly caught are:

  • Pink snapper
  • Spangled emperor
  • Coral trout
  • Baldchin groper
  • Narrow barred mackerel
  • Western dhufish
  • Trevally
  • Tuna offshore

Permit holders and inhabitants of the Islands

Currently the Islands are permanently inhabited by rock lobster and fishing permit holders. The waters and permits are managed by the Western Australia Disdiversity, Conservation and Attractions Department.

Getting there

It is not easy, the planned infrastructure is in the process of being realised. Your trip will be an outback adventure, complete with red dust airstrips. Airstrips are located on the popular North, East Wallabi and Rat islands. Remember private boats need permission to land. Due to the lack of infrastructure and the need for valid permits in the National Park it is recommended you contact Visit Geraldton Visitor Centre for booking information. Currently there are scenic 2 hour flights, half day flights or a full day flight where you land and have an opportunity to explore the coral reefs up close. For multiple day trips the accommodation is on charter boats.

Travelpack information

  • Abrolhos Marine Park provides visitors with information about permits, landing rights and where to go
  • Park Information, As the Islands are a precious marime heritage for all of us I have quoted the park’s guidelines for a visit that nurtures the fragile ecosystem you are visiting. The Abrolhos is an archipelago of 122 islands off Western Australia’s midwest coast, about 60km west of Geraldton. The national park includes 105 of those islands. The islands are clustered into three main groups – Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert. Visitors are welcome for day trips in the national park though many of the islands are difficult to access due to the surrounding shallow waters and reefs. When visiting you must be completely self-sufficient and take all your rubbish with you. Follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace to help leave the islands as you found them. Fossicking and use of metal detectors are not permitted. If you find relics of European heritage they should be reported to the WA Museum.
  • Check the Fisheries Abrolhos Recreational Fishing Regulations for daily bag limits, legal sizes and other regulations that apply or book a fishing charter. The waters of the Abrolhos are managed by Fisheries Officers from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and maritime archaeological sites are managed by the Western Australian Museum
  • Houtman Abrolhos marine map
  • Houtman Abrolhos dive and snorkling guide

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