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The Broome Civic Centre was our gathering place in Broome to meet the expedition team from the Coral Adventurer. We had all done the pre-medical checks prior to our departure day and now we had our final check by the medical officer for the trip, Mark. We boarded the ship at a bit before 1700 and were welcomed with afternoon tea and freshly baked scones in the dining room. From here we were shown to our rooms where our luggage awaited us. We now had a bit of time to explore the ship which would be our home for the next two weeks. At 1730 we had our mandatory safety briefing in the Bridge Deck lounge, where we met Manfred and his hospitality team. We also learnt how to put the life jackets on and the safety requirements for the cruise. Next, we met Emily and the Expedition Team and found out about the interpretation and expedition part of the cruise.
By now the sun had risen well and truly above the yard arm and we remained in the Bridge Deck Lounge for pre-dinner drinks as the ship departed Broome and turned left to cruise southwards along the Western Australian Coast. This evening we got to know our fellow passengers while enjoying a delicious seafood meal.
A sunny morning greeted us as we sat down to a leisurely breakfast at 0800. We were well out of sight of land and continuing south on our voyage towards the Dampier Archipelago. Soon after breakfast we had our in-water and snorkelling safety briefing in the Bridge Deck Lounge. Sally, our Dive Instructor then met with all those interested in Scuba Diving. We were all issued with snorkel gear after the brief.
At 1100 Mike gave a presentation on our introduction to the Pilbara Region, with its history, geology, flora and fauna. Afterwards, a delicious lunch was enjoyed in the dining room. In the early hours of the afternoon, we were able to enjoy Bridge and Engine Room tours. Mike then gave another presentation on the bird life of the North West, with many photos of the birds we might see.
We were then treated to drinks and canapes as Captain Andrew welcomed us aboard the ship. We were able to meet the Master of the vessel before Emily briefed us on the activities planned for the following day. We then enjoyed another delicious meal in the dining room. After dinner, for the night owls, was a screening of the documentary “Our Planet-High Seas”.
Another sunny morning greeted us as we made our way to the dining room for breakfast. We had anchored off Dolphin Island and we were keen to begin our exploration of this remarkable coastline. There was a light breeze as we travelled into the island. We could see the features that Mike had described of a very arid and inhospitable land. The rocks overlying the granite were a rich burgundy red colour due to the covering of iron oxide.
As we explored along the coast, we spotted a beautiful beach inviting us in for a beach comb. The sand was very soft as we left the Xplorer and it was rich in signs of the marine life living in the area. It was well worth the time to visit this tranquil little beach.
At 1100 and back on board, Mike gave a presentation on “The Montebello’s – A Glowing Look”. This was a chance to find out about the islands we were visiting on the following day. Some of the atomic tests done there were less than seventy years old, so some residual radiation was still evident.
Soon after we retired to the dining room for another delicious lunch. After lunch we were once again heading into Dolphin Island, this time to explore for some ancient rock art carvings called Petroglyphs, evidence of an older indigenous habitation of the islands. Behind the little beach we landed on was a rich collection of this ancient art. We had the opportunity to explore two sites. Some took the kayaks out for a paddle around the coastline.
We returned to ship at around 1630, with time to prepare for our wine tasting with Mike. At 1700 we explored the world of wine, while enjoying special canapes prepared by the chef to match the wines. We finished just in time to start our predinner drinks. At 1845 Emily briefed us on the activities planned for the following day, before we headed down to the dining room for another delicious meal.
Another beautiful day greeted us as we made our way down to breakfast. We were anchored off Trimouille Island in the Montebello Group. Soon we were heading into a low-lying island which had been significantly scarred by Atomic Bombs tested at this site. After a landing on a lovely little beach, we headed up to the monument marking the spot of a massive 98 megaton bomb explosion in 1956. The radiation levels were low enough now for us to explore the island and Mike took many of the explorers over to a beautiful lagoon to see the tiny little Rufus Hair Wallaby. We then wandered around the edge of the lagoon to see Black Tipped Reef Sharks swimming below us and a group of Grey Reef Sharks feeding in the shallow lagoon. A number of turtles could also be seen. This was a great opportunity to view wildlife in their natural habitat. All too soon we had to leave and head around to another beach on the other side of the island. We found a beautiful white sanded beach with mating turtles oblivious to our presence. After landing on the beach there was a chance to snorkel or scuba dive. Some also took the opportunity to explore the beach and nearby coast. More Rufus Hair Wallabies were found and numerous turtles were spotted in the surrounding bays. Numerous turtle tracks indicated a healthy breeding population.
Another delicious lunch was enjoyed upon returning to the Coral Adventurer before we were once again heading into Trimouille Island for further exploration. This time we were able to head up to the Elephant Hill Lighthouse for excellent views across the island. We could also see remnants of equipment left by the scientific team testing the atomic bombs here. We then had time to further explore the area around our landing, swim or use the kayaks. Once again there were numerous turtles in the waters around us, including many amorous males. The sun was moving over the “Yard Arm” by the time we returned to ship, and pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed on the Bridge Deck before Emily briefed us on the plans for the following day. Another gastronomic creation awaited us in the dining room to complete another great day of exploration. Tonight the documentary “The Bomb” was played in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
With light winds and a beautiful sunny day, we once again enjoyed breakfast in sight of the island we were about to explore. After breakfast we headed into Serruier Island where pristine coral reefs awaited us. Some used scuba, while the remainder of the in-water explorers used snorkels to investigate the life on the reef. The remainder of explorers travelled with Mike to do a bit of exploring along the pristine beaches. Again numerous turtles were spotted, and a variety of wildlife including Caspian Terns, Crested Terns, Roseate Turns, Bridled Terns, Pied Oyster Catchers and Ospreys. We finally returned to the Coral Adventurer for a well-earned lunch.
In the early afternoon we relocated around to the Muiron Islands for further underwater exploration using both snorkel and scuba. Mike and Emily took the remainder for an exploration of the nearby beaches, where numerous turtles were once again in evidence. We also had an opportunity to explore one of these lovely little beaches after negotiating the coral reef guarding the shore. The specialization shown in the vegetation reinforced our understanding of the very dry and arid nature of the land. We returned to ship by 1630, in time to prepare for pre-dinner drinks on the Bridge Deck. Emily briefed us on the expedition planned for the next day, before we made our way down to the dining room for another of the chef’s delicious creations. After dinner Ash hosted games night in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
During the night we had sailed down to Exmouth Gulf and anchored. Breakfast was enjoyed at 0600 so that we could have an early start to our exploration of this northern part of the Ningaloo Reef. By 0645 we were heading through some choppy seas under an overcast sky to the marina at Exmouth to meet our bus driver. Our first stop was the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, to enjoy the views above the northern coastline of the reef system. The bus continued south to Turquoise Bay where we stopped for some snorkel diving time in the beautiful coral reef. We were able to hitch a ride on the current, which took us along the reef. We then headed further south to Yardie Creek to enjoy our scenic lunch stop. There was also time to explore the waterway seemingly rising out of the dry country side. Gorges further up gave evidence of the strong water flows at other times of the year which had carved out Yardie Creek.
The bus then delivered us to the Ningaloo Discovery Centre in Exmouth. The interesting displays here also included an Aquarium which allowed us to view some of the local marine life. We also had a visit to the city centre for the chance of a bit of retail therapy. The Xplorers were waiting at the marina to take us back to ship, where we had time to prepare for pre-dinner drinks. Emily outlined the activities planned for the following day before we headed down to the dining room for another wonderful dinner.
Our overnight passage from Exmouth along the Ningaloo Reef brought us to a wide open bay north of Coral Bay, the day a little cloudy and windy but not enough to dampen the spirits of our intrepid explorers. Leader Emily had reconnoitered a protected little cove where snorkelers could explore and beachcombers could find plenty of interest, with Mike revealing the stories that each of the little treasures found had to tell. Those who ventured to the ridgetops had great views out to the reef edge and encountered some of the local fauna, including the astonishing ‘mountain devil’.
Back aboard and underway after lunch Mike gave a talk on his 3-year involvement in a baseline study of the sharks and rays of Ningaloo. Extensive diving and collecting discovered much about the distribution and abundance and extraordinary features of the local species, many of which had not been recorded before.
Afternoon tea was followed by Howard’s introduction to our next destination, the towering Zuytdorp Cliffs and the diverse marine and land habitats of Shark Bay. The remarkable geology of the Bay, the diversity of the marine habitats and life, the beaches composed entirely of shells and the prehistoric stromatolites, and the superbly adapted land flora and fauna make this a very special part of the world, so much so that it was given World Heritage status in 1993.
Drinks on the Bridge Deck were a perfect way to share stories with the friends we were making along the way before another wonderful meal and a movie to finish off the day.
A strong southerly wind kicked in and made for an exhilarating ride in the Xplorers to the tip of the remarkable Peron Peninsula where we were greeted by many hundreds of Australian Pied Cormorants called Wanamalu in the local Amangu language sunning themselves on the sandspit getting ready for their day of fishing. From the beach a steep climb up the vivid red sand dune led to the start of the appropriately named Wanamalu Trail which meandered along the clifftops for a kilometre and a half and gave some spectacular views across the red dunes and cliffs and the brilliant turquoise and blues of the Bay. Animal tracks, birdlife and wildflowers added plenty of interest along the way, survivors in a remarkably arid landscape.
For those not up to the steep climb, the second Xplorer crept slowly along the shoreline affording up-close views of the amazingly beautiful dune formations and escarpments. All eyes were peeled in the hope of a dugong sighting, with one tantalizing brief appearance.
After a beautiful lunch we were underway to Cape Inscription, the northernmost point of Dirk Hartog Island. As we passed the Cape and its lighthouse, the westernmost one in Australia, Howard gave an overview of the events that led to the erection – and later removal – of the inscribed plates of Hartog (1616), Vlamingh (1697) and Hamelin (1801).
As our next destination was the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Howard gave an introduction to this amazing archipelago with its over 150 islands and extensive reef system, bathed in the warming waters of the Leeuwin Current.
Pre-dinner drinks and a wonderful meal again were a perfect end with a movie for those with any energy left for a late evening.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes on the Coral Adventurer so our continuing transit to the Abrolhos gave the opportunity for engine room and bridge tours to see this state-of-the-art vessel at work.
Howard continued his revelations on the incredible marine and island flora and fauna of the three groups of the Abrolhos – the Wallabi, Easter and Pelsaert Groups – ready for our afternoon excursion. At Turtle Bay on East Wallabi Island we had terrific views over the Bay and the expansive reefs. On a nature walk we encountered much of the local flora and fauna, trapped on these islands after the sea level rose by over a hundred metres starting just 12,000 years ago. Tammar Wallabies, Skinks and Bearded Dragons made an appearance along with several of the local bird species, including Ospreys, Pied Oyster Catchers and Bronze-wing Pigeons. A hard limestone platform on the edge of the island provided a perfect place for the Pacific Gulls to drop and smash the turban and trochus shells that abound in the shallows, with piles of shells telling of their long use of the site.
The divers had a wonderful exploration of the reef off the bay and reported lots of rock lobster, corals and fish.
Sunset drinks on the beach in such a stunning place was the perfect way to end the day before venturing back to the Adventurer for our evening meal and a movie recounting the astonishing story of the Batavia shipwreck at the Abrolhos in 1629.
Strong winds greeted the day but that did not prevent us venturing to the sites of the Batavia shipwreck and the ensuing tragic events. Howard guided us past the places that featured in the story – Morning Reef, Traitors Island, Batavia’s Graveyard, Seals Island – recounting the unfolding story. We landed on Seals Island – today called Long Island – and examined what is possibly Australia’s oldest European-built structure, dating back to the 50 marooned there by Cornelius and subsequently murdered. The amazing banks of coral shingle that make up the islands were explored and the seabirds that called the place home provided an extra dimension to this stark and remote island.
The Coral Adventurer made her way to the Easter Group while we lunched and then we were able to go ashore at Little Sandy Island. There we encountered many Australian Sea Lions and lots of seabirds, being careful to give them plenty of space to go about their day undisturbed. Crested Terns, Pied Cormorants, Roseate Terns, Caspian Terns and many small rested on the island edges and extensive sand spit.
The snorkelers and divers explored the beautiful coral reefs on the edges of the island and across a narrow channel, with the fields of plate and staghorn coral and their colourful fish proving a highlight.
Back aboard, pre-dinner drinks ended a perfect day, with Joel giving a story-filled introduction to star-gazing on the top deck for those rugged up for the chilly winds.
The Abrolhos Islands are famous for and most important as a seabird nesting habitat and today provided an opportunity to seek out some of these on Morley Island. An exceptionally low tide made landing a little difficult. Once ashore, the clouds of Lesser Noddies over the mangrove forest were apparent, along with a White-bellied Sea Eagle sitting in the tree-tops with a ready food source at hand. The presence of fledgling Caspian Terns curtailed our beach walk, but a turnaround led us to Pacific Gull chicks out on the water carefully chaperoned by their beautiful parents, Roseate Terns, Pied Oyster Catchers and several Sea Lions resting on the beach, providing endless intrigue as to their antics.
Our Xplorer took us back to the Adventurer via the Rat Islands where the fishing shacks of the rock fishermen are concentrated with their colourful exteriors, long spindly jetties and obviously a remarkable way of life.
Over lunch Coral Adventurer relocated to the southernmost group of the Abrolhos, the Pelsaert Group. There we went ashore to visit the rock lobster camps on Post Office Island, hear the stories of the people who have lived there since the 1950s and learn from pearl farmer named Jane about her amazing set-up, not only about the stages of growing several species of pearl shell, but also designing along with Michaela the amazing jewellery she had on display. Many guests left with beautiful pieces that will be treasures linked to wonderful memories.
After drinks and dinner, Ash conducted the famous and hotly contested Quiz Night, with one team victorious and rewarded after many amiably disputed results.
Our sail to our final destination began during the night with Coral Adventurer handling the rolling seas and the remarkable stabilisers keeping the ship steady for everyone’s comfort.
The day at sea was punctuated by two presentations by our lecturers Howard and Mike. Howard with the amazing life and times of Frederick de Houtman, discoverer of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands in 1619, and Mike with his talk on the marine turtles of the world, the great ocean wanderers.
Bridge and engine-room tours followed lunch, then the expedition team had put together a slideshow of the events along the way, reminding us of the amazing experiences we had had during this Abrolhos Islands & Coral Coast expedition.
Captain Andrew hosted farewell drinks which gave the opportunity for all of the fabulous crew to be thanked for the exceptional service at all levels. Unfortunately, Emily had to also tell us of the disembarkation arrangements for tomorrow which made us all realise that the wonderful times had come to an end, but we had many new friendships to take away and the opportunity to have more good times in future with the array of Coral Expeditions voyages that are on offer.