Many divers stop at Geraldton while waiting for a boat to the Abrolhos, but the town does offer some good spots in its own right. Unfortunately it is a windy place and the conditions can shut down inshore dive sites for as long as five days at a time due to silt stirred by wind and hazardous waves. It is estimated that shore sites are accessible for only about 60 days a year. Offshore sites like the “South Tomi” that are more accessible by charter boat even in relatively trying weather, and are twice as likely to be diveable. The best time to dive is between March to May and September to November. The average water temperature is around 21.5 degrees Celsius.
There are many shore diving sites around Point Moore, on inshore reef at depths of 1-9 m. They offer moray eels, stingrays, shrimp, nudibranchs, butterflyfish, cuttlefish, sea stars, coral trout, wrasse, scorpionfish and parrotfish. A bit further offshore the reef has quite rugged country with steep drop-offs and big bommies in 15metres. Coral trout, dhufish, bald chin groper and mackerel will visit the reefs. If shore diving tow a flag as in summer there tends to be a lot of recreational boats on the water.
On the southern side of the light there is a visible sandbar and offshore reef. Steer 270 degrees for some distance until you encounter a low 2m high wall near the breaking reef. To the right of this reef in 6 metres there is a 4m high wall. Following that along reveals a protected gutter about 50 metres wide and filled with white sand. There are huge plate corals here and spoon worms dangle down the rock walls. Some of the crevices are packed with small crays, talma, Moorish idols, western king wrasse, demaselfish, rock cod, toadfish, sweetlips, western cardinalfish, western scalyfin, moon wrasse and Maori wrasse. On the outer reef there are scoured limestone shapes with some large holes in sections that allow the swell in. Here the holes act like giant blower fans stirring up the fine sand and making visibility poor in the afternoon sea breeze or when the swell is up. This is a worthwhile and relatively easy dive.
This site, just to the east of Moore Point, offers good fish life and corals. It consists of a passage between two reefs and this channel attracts schooling fish like buffalo bream, kingfish, trevally and samsonfish. The reef at Lighthouse Passage is covered with soft corals and gorgonians. Stingrays, turtles, gropers and a wide variety of other reef fish are also often found there.
The reef at Hells Gates is a good place to find jewfish, kingfish, blue devilfish, coral trout, baldchin gropers, trevally and turtles.
Wreck of the “South Tomi”
The 57M long “South Tomi” was illegally fishing off Heard Island when sighted by Australian fisheries officer. The chase that followed was one of the longest on record, going from Heard Island to South Africa before she was boarded and captured by SAS commandoes. On board was $1.5million worth of black market Patagonian toothfish. After approaches were made by Geraldton businesses, she was then gutted and sunk in 2004 as an artificial reef 2.9 nautical miles off the Geraldton coast. The deck is 13 metres from the surface. The wreck has now attracted a lot of fish life and is slowly being carpeted in invertebrate life. The wreck no longer has a buoy or moorings. The site sits unmarked, roughly 200 metres east of the South Tomi Isolated danger marker.
Typical of many of the reefs off Geraldton, Shallow Reef has many ledges and caves. The dive boasts soft corals, blue devilfish, rock lobsters, pineapple fish, shrimp, coral trout, angelfish, nudibranchs and reef fish are found. A windless day is needed, like many spots near Geraldton.
Wreck of the “Mayhill”
This big four masted barque was lost in 1895, while taking railway iron from London to Geraldton. She hit Moore Reef, 2nm off Moore Point. The massive iron wreck is over 93M long but the site is exposed and the wreckage completely flattened and partly dispersed. The site is still visually quite attractive and is spread over an area of 100 m by 20 m. The jumble of iron masts is of interest. She lies 400 m south-east of the entrance to the deep water channel into Geraldton Harbour. The wreck is accessible only on days with low swell and wind.
Harbour Jetties/ Fishermen Wharf
There are 3 jetties and wharves in the harbour offering sheltered jetty diving around the pylons. A range of invertebrates and many reef fish live under the Fishermans Wharf. Soft corals and sponges cover the pylons and the sea bed. Stay out of the way of port traffic. This is one of the busiest in Australia with grain and ore carriers usually in port. The nearby breakwaters also shelter a variety of smaller marine creatures, including cuttlefish, octopi, sea stars and hermit crabs. Butterflyfish, lionfish, moray eels, stingrays and globefish can also be seen. Watch out for boats and its a pretty murky dive only when all else fails.
Drummond Cove is a small seaside town 12 kilometres north of Geraldton. This area offers a reasonable shore dive in good weather on the low reefs on the southern side of the cove. You have to drive through the suburbs of new housing to find a shore access spot, which are getting rarer. Getting on to the beach in a 4WD also allows you to explore the offshore reefs on the soft sandy beach to the north. You can find Interesting marine life around some small offshore rocks and reefs. Typically, visibility is in the 5 – 10 m range in low seas.
Houtman Abroholos Islands
The Abrolhos Islands are located near the northern end of the west coast overlap zone, where tropical marine species dominate but significant numbers of temperate species occur. The marine system contains a considerable development of high latitude coral reefs, the southernmost in the Indian Ocean, but also has extensive growths of temperate macroalgae such as kelp. Seaweeds occur extensively in the Abrolhos Islands. The Abrolhos Islands are unusual due to a large temperate species of kelp (Ecklonia radiata) found growing among tropical species of corals.
Despite the high latitude at which the Abrolhos Islands is located, the coral fauna is diverse, with 201 species of hermatypic, or reef building, corals and 10 species of ahermatypic corals having been recorded.
All but two of the corals are tropical species (Veron and Marsh, 1988). Extensive coral development occurs in the Abrolhos Islands, particularly on reef slopes, shallow reef perimeters and the sheltered northern and eastern sides of the three island groups. The corals can be overgrown by macroalgae, but populations are controlled by herbivorous fish. Populations of large fish are still good around the islands, particularly coral trout and baldchin groper. Many of the tropical species at the Abrolhos Islands do not spawn there but it is an important nursery area. Larvae are carried from areas further to the north such as Shark Bay or North West Cape by the Leeuwin Current.
Striped, common and bottlenose dolphins and Australian sea-lions occur in the islands throughout the year. Humpback whales move through the region on their annual migrations between April and October and can sometimes be seen in the lagoons. Green turtles are the most abundant. The combination of tropical, temperate and WA marine species makes the Abrolhos Islands a unique area, with considerable scientific value.
Despite it frequently appearing in magazines and documentaries this area is very remote and relatively rarely visited. Access is limited to a scenic flight and snorkel in a shallow bay, or a very expensive eco-liveaboard where diving is advertised on the itinerary but not really encouraged. Sometimes a charter group comes up from Perth, or visits via a day trip from Geraldton. However, most charter boats these days are preoccupied with fishing charters and don’t often cater for divers anymore.
The seaward side offers good diving. On and around Halfmoon Reef, divers will find spectacular fish life morwong, dhufish, coral trout, gropers, kingfish, silver drummer, mackerel, tuna, trevally, samsonfish, yellowtail and sometimes a reef shark.
Wreck of the “Zeewyk”, Half Moon Reef
The “Zeewijk” was on her way to the East Indies when she strayed too far west and ran up on the reef on 9 June 1727. The Zeewijk did not break up immediately and goods, including the treasure chests, were transferred to Gun Island. The survivors eventually gave up on a rescue and built a small vessel, the Sloepie, out of wreckage. This was jammed with 82 survivors and managed to safely reach Batavia. Another group of 11 of the fittest survivors set off for Batavia in the longboat, but were never heard of again. The rest were eventually rescued. Batavia’s High Court prosecuted skipper Jan Steyns for losing the Zeewijk and falsifying the ship’s records. In 1840 HMS Beagle found relics at the camp site, including a VOC cannon and two coins dated 1707 and 1720 which helped to confirm that the site belonged to the Zeewijk. They named the Zeewyk Channel after the wreck. In 1952, a cannon was found on the sea-bed. In subsequent trips the main wreck site was eventually identified. There isn’t an awful lot to see, but its is still an interesting dive, just to interact with the history of the site.
Wreck of the “Ben Ledi”
In 1879, the 1 107–tonne iron sailing ship “Ben Ledi” was on her way to Calcutta from Sydney. The captain messed up his navigation and struck a reef near the south end of Pelsaert Island. She later broke up. The “Ben Ledi” lies just offshore on the east side of Pelsaert Island about 7 km north of Wreck Point. The wreck consists of the main site about 150 m offshore on a shelving reef. Some frames and plating at the main site show above water. The bulk of the wreckage covers an area about 33m long, and there is still further material about 20 m to the north of the main site. The bows have disintegrated, but sections of plating and frames, anchors, chain, windlass, deck and mast fittings and ballast stone are visible. The wreckage is visible from the air at low tide lying against the shore. The area can only be dived in calm weather.
Wreck of the “Windsor”
28º 59.26′ S Long: 113º 55.98′ E
In February 1908, this 2892 ton vessel was on a voyage from Fremantle to Hong Kong with a general cargo. A big storm blew up and strong winds and currents drew her off the charted course. She struck the southern end of Half Moon Reef, about 7 km west of Wreck Point, Pelsaert Island. The steamer’s bottom was torn out and its back broken. The crew got away and the guano workers on Pelsaert Island came to help the survivors. Today, the site is subject to heavy seas and is normally only accessible on the very few days with little or no swell. The Windsor’s iron boiler sits on the reef and shows above the surface. Much of the vessel has washed over the reef into a nearby lagoon. This includes a 5–10 tonne section of the stern that has been carried 400 m over the reef. Boilers, windlass, prop and plating are still visible on the seabed. This is no dive for the faint hearted and would be impossible in all but exceptional weather.
This site is a coral reef extending out from the north east of Pelsaert Island. It offers good diving. The Coral Patches Dive Trail runs along the western margin of the coral reef flats in shallow water. On the left, the reef slopes steeply to depths of 14 to 17 metres. Finger and plate corals are common. Fish are abundant in the shallows, including sergeant major, wrasse and buffalo bream. Other fish on the reef slope include baldchin groper, parrotfish and coral trout.
On the eastern side of the island there a good reef dive can be had. Small corals are found in the shallows then it drops away more suddenly into depths with schools of fish including dhufish, baldchin groper , butterfly cod and long-snout boarfish. Along the edge of the slope large bommies are found that attract school fish. Sharks, mackerel and coral trout are also encountered at times. The visibility is great, often exceeding 20 metres.
A drop-off is found on the eastern side of Pelsaert Island. Experienced divers can try this as a drift dive along a coral encrusted wall. On the reef you can easily find rock lobsters (as this is a fish sanctuary), moray eels, wrasse, parrotfish, lionfish, gropers, butterflyfish, trevally and a wide range of invertebrate species.
Eastern Islands Group
Being the closest to Geraldton this area is dived the most of the 3 groups. They tend to be deeper than the Pelsaert Group but with similar marine life.
Rolland Passage is 750 m wide and 30 m deep. It offers pretty coral gardens over reef. Butterflyfish, parrotfish, cuttlefish, angelfish, coral trout, gobies, anemonefish, damsels, rock cod, gropers and sweetlips are plentiful.
Soumi Island Passage
The Rootail Coral Dive Trail extends westerly along the southern margin of the fringing reef lying south of the Eagle Nest Passage across from Suomi Island to Rat Island. The water near the reef flat is very shallow but the reef sloped away rapidly into about 15 metres. At the beginning of the trail is a large coral pinnacle inhabited by large schools of racoon butterflyfish. Further along the trail, the bottom is covered with a mixture of staghorn and plate corals. Clown fish can be found along the reef drop-off. The occasional small baldchin groper and Moorish idol can be seen around the crevices.
The Anemone Lump offers a deep dive, rising up from 38 metres until it nearly breaks the surface. It is considered to be one of the premier dive sites in the Abrolhos Islands. The sides of the lump are virtually walls of anemones with their resident anemonefish darting among the stinging tentacles. Thousands of silvery minnow shimmer above the reef. Nearer the bottom, coral trout, baldchin groper, snappers, sergeant major and butterflyfishes are seen. Tiger sharks can be sometimes seen patrolling the edge of the reef. Large plate coral cover the bottom, some damaged by Drupella snails. Many species of shellfish, crabs and worms hide under the dead coral plates. This is a dive for experienced divers and the area is affected by strong currents.
The dirt strip on East Wallabi Island offers some snorkelling access. It has everything you would expect from an outback airstrip, hot, waterless, flat, deserted, friendly lizards, and thankfully not too many flies. You can snorkel nearby, or use the strip to connect with any liveaboard charter that may be in the area.
Morley Island Dive Trail
The Morley Island Dive Trail extends along the fringing reef north of Morley Island. Once again the trail follows the reef slope with finger coral dominating the shallows. There are also low walls draped in corals. Schools of minnow, small baldchin groper, sergeant major and brightly-coloured wrasses patrol just above the corals.
Wreck of the “Batavia”, Morning Reef
This is a bit of an oddity, being one of Australia’s most colourful wreck sites, but basically found in two sections separated by many hundreds of kilometres. Much of the wreck has been excavated and reconstructed in the W.A. Maritime Museum in Fremantle, but that’s not really as exciting as seeing it ‘in situ’. The “Batavia” was the flagship of a Dutch United East India Company fleet that left Holland in 1628 en route to the East Indies. On board were 316 people, cloth, lead, jewellery and 12 chests of silver coins and some particularly mutinous ship’s officers. After leaving the Cape of Good Hope it was separated from the rest of the fleet by a storm. In 1629 the Batavia crashed into the coral and started to fall apart. The passenger made for a nearby waterless island. The captain made a mistake, leaving the survivors camp in a longboat to search for water. After a long and fruitless voyage he decided to speed off to Batavia and organise a rescue. In the meantime the survivors had found pools of rainwater and were making the best of it. The mutinous officers decided this would include taking over the camp, it’s provisions and some of the female passengers. Discipline and the usual norms of human behaviour broke down and 125 people were slaughtered. Some loyal soldiers had holed up on a nearby island and the old fort is still visible and is the oldest building in Australia. These soldiers later warned the rescue ship not to let the mutineers on board. The culprits were rounded up and many were executed. Most of the treasure was recovered and the wreck was quickly forgotten, until rediscovered by divers in 1963. In very calm weather it is an easy snorkel over admiralty anchors and cannons still on site. Its visible from the air as a clear sandy patch on the reef slope.
A day-use public mooring for up to two vessels is available at Long Island Dive Trail, subject to maintenance. The Abrolhos Islands mark the overlap of tropical and temperate waters. Parrot fish, butterfly fish and coral trout, swim alongside temperate fish, such as buffalo bream, western rock lobster and baldchin groper. One of the aims of the various Dive Trails that are provided is to highlight this unique ‘zone of overlap’. Each point of interest is marked by a plaque illustrated by Western Australian artist Kellie Merritt. Bombies of Porites coral are featured. A three metre-high bombie will be about 1,000 years old. Tropical staghorns are fragile, but grow about 15 centimetres per year. Unlike other places where staghorn coral polyps at the Abrolhos are extended during the day. Here there is a variety of larger reef fish including baldchin groper, coral trout, snapper, cod, wrasses and West Australian dhu fish. The trail is within the boundaries of the Beacon Island Reef Observation Area, a no take zone. There are also plenty of shells and nudibranchs. Turtles are also sometimes encountered.
Beacon Is Trail & Goss’ Passage
A public mooring is provided off the Beacon Island jetty. Beacon Island Dive Trail runs along the western side of Beacon Island, from the shallows into the sandy bottom of Goss Passage. The first marker on the trail is an area of patchy corals. Macro-algae grows attached to the dead corals. The second marker on the trail is dominated by finger corals. A wide variety of invertebrates, including shellfish, crabs and seastars, live under dead coral plates. Fish are abundant in the shallows, coral trout and sergeant major can often be seen. Goss’ Passage is a great dive for fish with sites being visited by large pelagics, spanish mackerel, trevally, kingfish, samson fish and tuna chasing bait fish. In turn they are followed by bronze whalers, hammerheads and tiger sharks.
Wreck of the “Hadda”
On 30 April 1877, the barque “Hadda” strayed too close to the islands at night and went up on Beacon Island. She was stuck hard and fast and all attempts to refloat her failed. The wreck of the Hadda lies 720 m ENE of Beacon Island, in a gully at the edge of a coral reef. The scattered wreckage covers an area of about 40 m by 20 m. There is a substantial amount of the hull remaining, particularly a large portion of the port side. Other wreckage includes the the keel; iron knees which joined the deck to the hull; and rigging deadeyes. Being very shallow, the dive can only be attempted in calm weather.
Looking at the brochures about the nearby Turtle Bay I expected a safe and thoroughly dull shallow snorkel. Instead it is brilliant. The island offers a range of possibilities from a shallow swim with the kids, to a snorkel over some surprisingly pristine corals reefs loaded with fish.
Turtle Bay is located on the north-eastern corner of East Wallabi Island, off the western edge of Fish Point. The Turtle Bay Dive Trail includes the best seagrass beds in the Abrolhos. Then the dive trail passes around a small patch of reef located in water only a few metres deep on the beach side. The area is noted for large fields of blue staghorn corals. Further on, the reef consists of plate corals, finger corals, and small brain corals. Shells, crabs and brittlestars hide under the dead coral slab. Buffalo bream, sergeant major and stripeys are often seen.
The afternoon breeze ends the days aquatic adventures way too early. This is a magic trip that I would recommend to anyone in good weather. It is a highlight of any WA trip.
This area tends to have slightly clearer water than Geraldton. The dive is not on the beach but on the rocky offshore reefs, especially the little bays to the north accessible by 4wd. There are plenty of ledges and swim throughs. For very fit and experienced parties there is a lagoon to cross to get access to the outer reef, which offers even more life. Divers need to be careful in a big swell as the passages through the reef can break heavily even in moderate weather. Small boats can be beach launched with a 4wd or tractor. Nearest tank fills are Geraldton
Wreck of the “Xantho”
Port Gregory is situated in open water but protected by 5 kilometres of exposed coral reef, which provides relatively safe anchorage in a sandy and shallow lagoon. The reef is long and almost continuous, and about 1 metre high. The area is dived intermittently but it can get very stirred up and dirty. A local heritage site is the “Xantho” wreck. A large part of the wreck lies in the maritime museum in Perth as her unique early steam engines have been recovered for a ground breaking restoration project. If you are so fascinated that you want to see the in situ remains of the “Xantho” she lies inshore of Gold Miners Passage, where she foundered in 1872. The site is exposed to swell and currents so the sandy bottom is often stirred up, causing poor visibility. Currents can also be strong. She is really only for curiosity’s sake on a calm and clear day on a slack tide, if you are in the area with a boat. The boiler reaches to close to the surface but she can be hard to find. Please don’t touch anything and it is unlawful anyway.
Lucky Bay Reef
This area is a popular family swimming beach between Port Gregory and Wagoe (near Kalbarri). To get to Lucky Bay, the entrance to the track is about 10 kilometres north of Port Gregory. The road isn’t that great and a 4wd is the order of the day. The reef at Lucky Bay runs quite close to the shore and has some great diving and snorkelling. There are plenty of fish to see. On a calm day you can dive around the deeper seaward side of the reef, but the area is more exposed and can be affected by currents. There is plenty to see on the protected side of the reef, but it still gets stirred up after heavy weather. The area is similar to many other shore diving spots along the coast.
Wreck of the M.V. “Stanford”
This 4,803–tonne motor vessel Stanford ran aground in a storm on African Reef on the night of June 24, 1936. The passengers and crew were taken off by the State ship Koolinda before the wreck broke up. The wreckage lies mostly on seaward side of the reef. The wreck was used for bombing practice during World War II, and may contain unexploded ordnance. It is also renowned as a bit sharky by local spearos. Today it is barely recognisable and is dangerous to dive in all but flat calm conditions. The wreck lies about 7.7 km (4.1 nautical miles) off the coast on a rock that breaks dangerously. The bell is displayed in the WA Museum, Geraldton.
The Kalbarri area does have some shore diving around the gorges from Red Bluff south which offer crevices and ledges. Shore diving can also be had in the shallows of the Blue Holes and Chinamen’s Bay Beach at low water. The whole area is relatively exposed and surge can be very strong even in relatively calm seas. The swell comes with poorer visibility.
Wreck of the “Zuytdorp”
On 1 August 1711, the Dutch vessel “Zuytdorp” (meaning ‘South village’) was on its way from the Netherlands to Batavia (Jakarta). It never arrived at its destination. In 1834, Aborigines told a local farmer about a wreck. The colonists presumed it was a recent wreck and sent rescue parties who failed to find the wreck or any survivors. In 1927 wreckage, mainly coins (some dated 1711), bottle fragments, timbers including a spar, carved female figure, breech blocks from swivel guns and other objects including evidence of a deliberately lit fire, were seen atop and at the foot of cliffs on the coast mid way between Tamala and Murchison House Stations on the mid-west coast. In 1954 the exact site was located. This wreck is found along the nearby cliffs to the north of Kalbarri, but is in a protected zone with little access. Even if you get a permit the weather needs to be uncommonly calm. The protected zone covers a 500 m radius around wreck. The Zuytdorp Cliffs, extending 160 km from the mouth of the Murchison River to the end of Dirk Hartog Island, are one of the most waterless and inhospitable parts of Western Australian coast. The coast at this point is highly exposed. Attempts to find survivors camps at the site haven’t been successful and its possible that none reached the shore alive after losing their ship to an during atrocious winter storm. Those that reached the shore probably died of thirst shortly afterwards.