Finding my freedom on a West Coast expedition

By AG STAFF 23 February 2021
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Cruising our wild and wonderful places has never been easier.

I’d been itching for adventure. Something more than my usual, close-to-home weekend explorations. Something totally wild, in a part of the country I’d never visited.

So when an invitation arrived to explore the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off Western Australia with Coral Expeditions – Australia’s premier small-ship, adventure-cruising company – I jumped gleefully in with both feet.

The islands (known locally as the Abrolhos) lie in a shimmering sea about 60km west of Geraldton and 400km north of Perth. Oft described as Australia’s Galapagos, the archipelago of 192 islands teem with life. So much so that it was gazetted a national park in 2019, in recognition of its exceptional natural value.

Because the Abrolhos sit at the southern limit for the range of many tropical species, but also at the northern limit for many temperate species, it’s a mixing pot for wildlife.

And as I’m to discover while aboard Coral Adventurer, that means incredible encounters with the locals, including Australian sea lions, manta rays, sea turtles and a riot of fish species.

Houtman Abrolhos Islands, WA. Credit: Bill Bachman / Alamy Stock Photo

For the former, this is the furthest north they go, and when I slip into the water with them in the Abrolhos I find them swimming around in candy-coloured coral reef gardens – the southern-most coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.

Floating in the turquoise water I’m quickly surrounded by a rush of playful pups, darting and weaving and inviting me to join their game. It’s a breathtaking and breathless experience all at once. The average ocean temp here is 24 degrees, perfect for prolonged immersion, and so I stay for an hour or so as the sea lion’s silver breath bubbles rise from below and pop upon colliding with my skin.

This kind of encounter is the stuff that dreams are made of, and as I’m to learn during my 12-night journey, are the rule rather than the exception aboard the Coral Adventurer.

According to Coral Expeditions’ director Jeff Gillies these wild and unfiltered experiences sit at the heart of the company’s offerings for guests.

“Our small ships are distinctly different to the cruise industry,” he says. “We are the opposite. We offer connections with nature facilitated on a vessel. The voyage is not about the vessel at all. You cannot get to these places by road, rail or air so you join a group of very few who will be able to tell the tales of these adventures.”

Sunset on the coast of Cape Range National Park, WA. Credit: Sara Winter / Alamy Stock Photo

With a maximum of just 100 guests, Coral Expeditions is the only cruise line to have returned to operations in Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and has been safely operating since October 2020.

“This return has been possible due to key factors such as an Australian flagged and crewed vessel, visiting remote nature-based regions and developed a world leading SailSAFE health plan.

“Plus, and this is what we’re most thrilled about, our new itineraries celebrate the wonder of Australia – something we’ve been sharing with our guests throughout our 35 year history,” he says.

“Our voyages focus on the pristine nature, rugged landscapes and rarely explored corners of Australia; on cultural interactions, life-changing adventures, and exploring the country’s history and heritage.”

As we cruise the wild and largely untouched coast, with its bold palette of rich red sands and aquamarine sea, our onboard guest lecturer Howard Gray – whose passion is infectious – brings the region’s layered history to life. He shares with us the fascinating maritime and Indigenous history, from the Malgana people of Shark Bay to the exploratory journeys of William Dampier, Dirk Hartog, Baudin and Freycinet.

Green turtle and diver, WA. Credit: Kai Egan / Alamy Stock Photo

Specialist guides are also on hand to highlight the proliferation of birdlife throughout the Abrolhos. White-faced storm petrels and little shearwaters nest here, at the northern limit of their range. Sooty terns, brown noddies and wedge-tailed shearwaters – all of which form some of their largest colonies in Australia – are at their southern limit.

A range of shore trips afford viewing at close range, along with the pungent and memorable smell of birds nesting en masse. But you’re also assured of spotting plenty a feathered friend soaring through cobalt skies from the deck of the Coral Adventurer as you explore the other stunning destinations included in this trip.

From the Abrolhos to Shark Bay World Heritage Area, Ningaloo Reef to Cape Range National Park, and the Montebello and Muiron islands to Dampier Archipelago, this special journey is an intoxicating mix of wild and pristine landscapes, charming native wildlife and cultural immersion. You won’t want to miss it.

The Coral Adventurer, in WA waters.

The trip at a glance

Abrolhos Islands & the Coral Coast | Fremantle–Broome | 12 nights
Departures: 10 March 2021 & 1 March 2022

See the reverse direction of this itinerary Broome to Fremantle for departures on 27 October 2021 & 7 February 2022.

Coral Expeditions has also added a range of other new and exciting coastal wilderness trips, including:

Wild Islands of South Australia 
The Great Australian Bight

The Torres Strait Islands

Along with increased frequency on its staple expeditions to:
The Kimberley Coast
Great Barrier Reef
Cape York and Arnhem Land.

Coral Expeditions is a valued partner of Australian Geographic. It supports the business’s charitable arm, Australian Geographic Society, as well as the Nature Photographer of Year competition, our podcast Talking Australia, and much more.