The Houtman Abrolhos Islands are a chain of 122 islands in the Indian Ocean about 60km west of Geraldton, Western Australia. A combination of beautiful reefs, rich fauna, intriguing history and interesting recent fishing and pearling culture make the Abrolhos Islands a fascinating destination. The best way to experience them is to take a 5 day cruise aboard the Eco Abrolhos – a small family owned vessel that takes you to the various points of interest while the owner (previously an Abrolhos Island cray fisherman) provides intimate insights into both the history and life on the island.
The Abrolhos Islands are an important seabird breeding site and after a rather rough 4 hour crossing from Geraldton we were pleased to pull into the sheltered lagoon of the southern most island group and go ashore on Pelsaert Island to view some of the birds that had recently started to turn up in their thousands to breed.
One of the crew is also a professional photographer and provides guests with a record of the trip. Here Paul is seen in action leaving Geraldton and one of his fantastic bird photos – a crested tern taking a bath at Pelsaert Island
Birds on Pelsaert Island: sooty tern; common noddy and roseate terns – photos by Paul Hogger
The Abrolhos Islands are the centre of Western Australia’s biggest Western Rock Lobster Fishery. It was Australia’s first fishery to be certified as sustainable and is closely managed through a quota system for commercial fishers and bag limits for recreational fishers. Today rock lobster fishing is a $400m industry making it Australia’s most valuable single species fishery. Since its establishment, rock lobster (or cray) fishers have set up camps on some of the islands where they base themselves during the fishing season. The fisher’s camps certainly stick out on these low lying islands, however their bright colours lend a certain appeal.
Scenes from the fishing camps on Big Rat Island
The islands are the site of many shipwrecks including Dutch ships the Batavia (1629) and Zeewijk (1727). The Batavia’s story is one of the most interesting shipwreck/mutiny stories ever. A Titanic and Bounty story all rolled into one that Maddy has described in a separate post. So day 4, had us visit the island where the shipwreck survivors came ashore and where the horrific subsequent reign of terror followed while the Batavia’s captain and commander were away on the Batavia’s longboat to seek help.
Back on board we steamed north and anchored off East Wallabi Island – one of the largest islands in Houtman’s Abrolhos to visit a picturesque beach for some walking, snorkeling and final sunset drinks.
On the final day we awoke to calm conditions and a nearly flat sea – yes we were off to snorkel the Batavia wreck. It was truly amazing how much there was to see – one of the best snorkels we have done. While the West Australia Museum salvaged most of the wreck site and relics are now on display in museums in Geraldton and Fremantle, there are still many cannons and anchors scattered on the site as well as a deep sandy depression where the ship originally gouged out the coral on impact and subsequent settling as it pounded on the reef in the months after it ran aground.
Various cannons and anchors on the 390 year old wreck site. The large fish in the last photo is a bald chinned grouper.
Long Island lies about 200m west of Beacon Island. Some of the Batavia survivors were sent here by the psychopathic mutiny leader Cornelisz – initially on the pretense of reducing the demand on the limited food resources on Beacon Island – but in fact this was simply a divide and conquer strategy and he eventually had all of them murdered, except for one or two who managed to swim away to another island about 2km away where Cornelisz had cunningly sent all the soldiers who had been on board – without their weapons – on a pretense to search for water. While he had hoped that the soldiers would not find water and would soon die, they did find water and plentiful food too. When the swimmers alerted the soldiers of the massacres going on, they were able to prepare and defend themselves from subsequent attacks from Cornelisz’s henchmen and ultimately foil the mutiny.