UWAUC were lucky enough to send 9 divers up to Geraldton to join up with the Batavia Coast’s Maritime Institute’s training vessel ‘MasterClass’ for a 3-day trip to the Abrolhos Islands.
About 60km off the coast of Geraldton, the Abrolhos are a group of 122 small islands and associated reefs. Due to the warm waters of the Leeuwin current, the Abrolhos have an amazing range of hard corals and tropical species that would not normally be found so far South.
We had originally booked onto a trip in August, but this was cancelled due to 5m swell and 40 knot winds…which I think turned out to be in our favour as the weather was a lot nicer in October and – more importantly – crays were now in season!
We drove up from Perth on Friday, arriving mid-evening at the Geraldton fishing boat harbour where we met Hayden, the skipper, and Mark, the dive coordinator. Worries about being a dry boat were happily unfounded! We loaded all our kit onto the MasterClass (a 62ft, 16-berth fully kitted out dive vessel with it’s own tender on board), had a couple of beers and went below for the night. The bunks were a bit snug for the taller guys, but comfy enough.
The crew boarded around 5.30am and got us under way to the Islands, which took around 3 hours. First off was a nice easy ‘let’s find out who the idiots are’ dive to assess our ability which was in a sheltered bay at Morley’s – the weather hadn’t been great the for the last few days so the viz wasn’t amazing but still plenty staghorn coral, baldchin gropers and nudis which was a taster for the rest of the weekend!
Our second dive that morning was at North Point, which sloped down from 6m to around 35m. Lots of big plate coral, and also lots of big crays hiding under them; they were so easy to catch it was almost a shame (almost)…very trusting but also very tasty and we caught around 20 between us. The final dive of the day was at Suomi West Wall – just down to around 15 metres, but plenty of life including nudis and anemone fish. The night was spent moored up to a jetty at Rat Island. The East side of Rat is a long row of fishermen’s shacks, quite quiet at the moment but would get busy during the main commercial crayfish season. Most of the islands including this one are flat as a pancake with a maximum of around 3m elevation at low tide, so must be pretty bleak during winter! After taking a walk for a sundowner we found an enormous colony of sooty terns down toward the airstrip. They were pretty much wiped off the island at one point due to guano mining and rats, but conservation and vegetation management has seen them return in big numbers. When we got back to the boat the crew had whipped up an amazing dinner of fresh crays, scotch fillet and even some vegetables. We had a sealion hanging round the back of the boat so we gave him some cray legs and a fish head which he was fairly delighted with, and even came up onto the marlin board for a closer look. There had been talk of doing a night dive, but there was a good amount of thunder and lightning around so we decided that driving out to the dive spot in the tinny probably wasn’t too smart and we’d leave it til tomorrow.
The first dive of the next day was at Anemone Lump, where we had an epic 40m of visibility! Spectacular hard corals all down the slope, and a decent amount of big fish including coral trout, emperor, snapper and dhufish.
There were also plenty smaller butterfly fish and angel fish among the corals and hiding in holes. The sound of whale song was particularly loud and constant on the dive, although none to be seen. At one point I spotted a parrotfish snot-sack rolling along at around 20m…they make them as sleeping bags to keep their scent in. Next stop was the wreck of the Batavia, which is one of the big drawcards of the Abrolhos but very weather-dependent as it’s in shallow reef to about 4m. The boat slowly passed over the top and we jumped in with snorkels to have a look. You can still see a bunch of canons and a couple of anchors from the wreck in 1629, although the main section of the ship has been removed and is now on display in Fremantle. There’s also a big hole where it smashed into the reef. The ensuing story of mutiny, murders and eventual rescue of the survivors is a good one, and worth looking up!
After looking at the wreck sight, Hayden took as for a wander on one of the nearby islands and told us a bit more about the history of the Batavia. The main island where the killings took place is now off limits as there is an archaeological dig planned there soon to try and locate human remains and whatever else might be buried there. We got back in the water for another dive almost immediately, at Goss Passage Wall, for more easy pickings of crayfish. We were catching them by hand without even really trying, it’s almost like they wanted to be eaten!
After lunch and a bit of a nap, dive 3 of the day was at Dhuie Lump. This one was covered in short kelp and was a lot like some of the Rottnest reefs – but quite a few big pelagics hanging round. I was absorbed in checking the rocks for nudis until everything went dark, I looked up and an enormous baitball was coming over Brian and I which was being corralled by 4 big yellowtail kingfish, pretty cool.
The evening was spent back at Rat Island. This time a couple of big sambos were cruising off the back of the boat looking for scraps; they were huge things and could’ve passed for sharks. A guy moored on the next jetty had recently landed a massive tuna so Colby the first mate managed to get a couple of slabs for sashimi, it was still warm and tasted amazing. We then had a night dive just as the sun set on the home reef. Neil was lucky enough to spot a big frogfish, he claims he tried to show everyone but doubts remain! Duy and I spent some time trying to take pictures of tiny crabs hiding in the coral, and both ended up getting eaten alive by some kind of tiny underwater fleas, having bleeding bite marks when we got out. Dinner was more crayfish – still not sick of it yet though!
The first dive of the day was on Chromis Lump; near to Anemone Lump and very similar, but a bit more current so it turned into a drift dive. Plenty cool stuff including Glorious Flatworms and the usual stack of baldchin gropers. When we surfaced, we were a good 100m away from the boat so we got the SMB out and waved a lift home.
Iain had been kind enough to lend Duy a turn of his drysuit which Duy repaid by turning the dump valve too far and flooding it, oops! Our second dive was at Anemone Wall; shallow at 8 m max but just a HUGE solid field of anemones and hundreds of anemone fish of different types – a great spot for photos. It could have really been a snorkel but we put the gear on anyway to stay under. One rebreather diver whose initials might be BS managed to jump in forgetting his fins and had to flap around until the boat could reverse back in to with them.
The last dive of the trip was at Coral Patches – an endless field of staghorn at 15m with a few shallower areas of plate coral filled with parrotfish, butterfly fish and wrasse. We found a cleaning station where some decent sized pelagics including some big dhuies were hanging out, and managed to get pretty close. Some of the guys saw a 3m tiger shark but unfortunately I missed it; saved me having to hose down the inside of my suit though, so…
After that it was back to Geraldton. The ride back was fairly uneventful and I think most people were passed out asleep…although we did stop a couple of times for whales and dolphins. We were back in port by around 3pm then it was back down the road to Perth. Thanks to everyone who made it an amazing trip, especially Hayden and the MasterClass crew. Great trip and maybe we’ll be back next year!