The road north quickly takes us from the city to the Pinnacles and on through pretty Port Denison and Dongara to Geraldton. There’s a comfortable night ahead at the Ocean Centre Hotel with its spacious rooms.
Even though our Travel Club Tour, in partnership with our friends at Imagine Holidays, will spend five of its eight days out at the Abrolhos Islands, just 60km off the Geraldton coast, there’s a twist. We’re not going there just yet.
For, after visiting the St Francis Xavier Cathedral and HMAS Sydney II memorial in pretty morning light, then the Museum of Geraldton, we again turn north in our comfortable coach, stopping in Northampton to pick up excellent vanilla slices (at guest Kerry Butler’s suggestion), and then cutting out west to approach Kalbarri along its spectacular clifftops.
There’s something (for me) even more spectacular in store, as the Murchison River is swollen by heavy rains — its choc milk beige spilling out into the blue ocean.
The chef turns it on for us at Kalbarri Edge — super main courses for dinner topped by a splendid homemade pavlova.
Already we are comfortable together — a “family of sorts” blended by common interests, spiced by differences, enjoying one another’s company. Travelling in company has all sorts of benefits, from the practicalities of organisation to the enjoyments of conversation.
The days run smoothly — not rushed, but pleasantly full. In Kalbarri National Park, we stare down upon the river again at Hawk’s Head, before venturing to Skywalk to step out into the air.
After plenty of time for lunch and shopping along the foreshore, we head on south again, past Pink Lake which is momentarily bubble-gum pink, and then along the White Cliffs Road to Horrocks for an ice-cream stop (at the great local store). We arrive in Geraldton in time to board the Eco Abrolhos expedition cruise ship. Our party of 26, accompanied by me and Imagine Holidays’ tour manager Shannon Lees, fill the boat.
We are not alone — Eco Abrolhos has 11 crew to take us out to the islands and tell us their human and environmental stories.
Jay Cox had been crayfishing around the Abrolhos Islands for 30 years, before he and wife Sonia switched to tourism 17 years ago. They started with a converted crayfishing boat, and for six years did day trips, taking guests fishing, diving and surfing.
“We needed to get a bigger boat,” Jay says. And they bought and refitted what is now the Eco Abrolhos. “It’s an old boat, with character and charm,” Jay says.
Jay and Sonia’s son Bronson is now master of the Eco Abrolhos, and daughter Maddy is involved in the business too. Bronson and Maddy grew up and went to school on the islands.
The boat is comfortable, 12 craypots are set each night, some days yielding more than 70 rock lobster, and guests catch the quota of 10 big baldchin groper. So food is fresh and plentiful.
They have the dive and fishing boat King Diver, two glass-bottomed boats, and two centre consoles with all guests sitting facing forward and steps that fold out through the bow to give safe and comfortable landings on beaches.
First mate Toby White, deckhands Hayden Michie and Ethan Hughes and snorkel guides and onboard hosts Lauren Goodheart and Alexis Bell are always there with a helping hand.
Visits include landing on Pelsaert Island in the southern group; Wooded Island, with its lesser noddy breeding sites, and Post Office Island, in the Easter or middle group; and Beacon Island, the site of the 1629 Batavia shipwreck mutiny in the northern Wallabi group.
There’s early morning craypot pulling and fishing, snorkel expeditions, and explanations from guide Paul Hogger.
After our Abrolhos odyssey, we head back from Geraldton, with an excellent farewell lunch at Lancelin Beach Hotel.
We have been away seven nights, but it feels much longer. New friends have been made, adventures shared, and we all have new stories to tell.
INSIDER TIP …
Sssh … Don’t tell anyone, but Imagine Holidays will have a similar trip in February, 2022. It isn’t on sale yet, but call 1800 924 450 to register interest. Or email your contact details to me at stephen.scourfield@ wanews.com.au and I will pass them on. I don’t want anyone who’s interested to miss out. (This season is sold out, and both our Travel Club Tours in partnership with our friends at Imagine sold out quickly.)
On our Travel Club Tour
- Imagine Holidays’ tour manager, Shannon Lees.
- Bill and Robin Creswell, Linda and Kevin Casey, Margaret Chakera, Judy Wolfe and Cheryl Wolfe, John and Michele O’Brien, David Shearer and Aurelie Yeo, Rudy and Norma Busch, Kerry Butler, Ross and Joy Parnell, Joan Blair and Ian Holding, Pauline and Martin Lamb, Marion Brown and John Scrivener, Peter and Gail Lloyd, Helen and Lloyd Stephens.
More tours with us at westtravelclub. com.au/tours