BARRY WISEMAN highlights the best of the west’s boating destinations...
Western Australia has a huge coastline – 13,000km on the mainland and another 8000km on offshore islands – much of it remote and accessible only by boat.
To me, that’s one of the great attractions. Major centres and small fishing settlements outside the Perth metropolitan area are several hours’ drive by road. In this regard, they are relatively quiet and much of the coastal scenery is as it was when Dutch sailors first discovered Australia, driven across the Southern and Indian oceans by the Roaring 40s many centuries ago.
The Abrolhos Islands, 60km off the coast of Geraldton in the mid-west and graveyard to many sailing ships, is an archipelago of 122 islands, many untouched in a harsh, but strikingly beautiful environment.
This southernmost true coral reef in the Indian Ocean is the resting place of the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia, which ran aground on Morning Reef near Beacon Island in 1629. Small coral forts can still be seen on the islands where 322 wreck survivors fought off attacks by mutineers led by crewman Jeronimus Cornelisz who slaughtered many men, women and children while the ship’s Commander, Fransisco Pelsaert, sailed a longboat for Indonesia to get help. On Pelsaert’s return the mutineers were hanged and Cornelisz was returned to Indonesia to face court and was executed. (It’s a much more deadlier and blood thirsty tale than the mutiny on the Bounty and artifacts from the atrocity can be found today in the West Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle and Geraldton.)
The islands are an A Class Reserve, although visitors by boat are welcome. There is no tourist accommodation and you must take your own food and water provisions, but the trip is well worth it – and the fishing is great.
SHARK BAY AND FURTHER NORTH
Further north Shark Bay, Coral Bay and Exmouth make beautiful boating destinations with excellent marine facilities for both large and small craft.
A new marina is on the drawing board for Denham, in the Western Gulf at Shark Bay. Monkey Mia, with its world-famous friendly dolphin population, is also nearby, on the shore of the Eastern Gulf.
There is a rich history in this region too, where Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog sited the Australian continent in 1616 and later nailed a pewter plate to a post on what is now Dirk Hartog Island, just off Denham.
Northern parts of WA are popular boating destinations in the winter months from June to September for people wanting to escape the cool conditions in the southern half of the country.
The Mackerel Islands off Onslow, 1400km by road north of Perth, offer good fishing and relaxing in the Pilbara winter months, although easterly winds off the desert on the mainland can be icy first thing in the morning. They can also make for a lumpy ride offshore, but usually drop by lunchtime.
Of course, the Kimberley has a wild and rugged coastline with fascinating beauty and is a favourite for big boat owners and those making the Top End crossing from Western Australia to Queensland. Dinghy owners have plenty of fun on the river systems in the Kimberley, keeping one eye open for the crocodiles that habitat the tropics.
PERTH, FREMANTLE AND MANDURAH
The majority of boat owners in WA live in the Perth metropolitan area, with Rottnest Island off Fremantle being a major attraction no matter what time of year. It’s secluded bays of pristine waters and coral reefs offer great family destinations for extended stays, or day trips for owners of smaller boats as the journey takes about 40 minutes in the average 5.00m runabout.
The ‘Freo Doctor’, while the southwest winds brings cool relief in the hot summer, can also bring rough seas so it pays to learn the conditions and safe passage before venturing across from the mainland.
It’s a good idea to join the Rottnest Island Safety Convoys, organised by the Boating Industry Association (BIA) WA, to learn the safe routes to the island getaway. The convoys are led by experienced mariners from government maritime agencies such at the Water Police and Department of Transport Marine Safety.
Safety at sea is the theme, plus being shown safe passage through the reef into the many glorious bays. Vessels are escorted in convoy from several metropolitan locations including Fremantle, Hillarys, Woodman Point and Mandurah. Details can be obtained by contacting the BIA WA office in Perth.
WA’s capital city sits on the banks of the Swan River with its wide expanse of tidal saltwater from the ocean. It offers many facets of boating from yachting, power cruising, canoeing and fishing. Most of the city’s boating and yacht clubs are located along the river foreshore, along with public boat ramps.
The upper reaches of the river extend into the Swan Valley wine growing district, which makes a pleasant trip by private or charter boats, stopping to check out the local wineries for lunch or morning and afternoon tea. Tasting the local vintage is a must at the many cellars in the Swan Valley and there’s easy access via boat up the calm waters.
Mandurah, 70km south of Perth, offers WA’s largest inland waterway with the Peel-Harvey Estuary, fed by the Murray and Serpentine Rivers from the nearby Darling Range.
This 100sqkm inland waterway is a massive habitat and nursery for marine life. It’s very popular among locals and Perth boaters and well suited to houseboats. Its huge population of blue swimmer crabs makes it a popular destination for recreational anglers, plus provides a sustainable fishery for a few commercial fishers licensed to operate within the estuary. They also catch other species such as whiting, mullet and cobbler.
Surprisingly, this large expanse of water is relatively shallow with a depth of around 2m in the middle. There are many sandbars, so boaters need to follow the navigation markers, and the waterway is serviced by volunteers from the Mandurah Water Rescue Group.
In the state’s southwest, Bunbury and Busselton offer good boating conditions and cruising holiday destinations serviced by harbours and marinas. Geographe Bay off Busselton is a popular summer attraction.
A new boat harbour is now under construction at Augusta, at Cape Leeuwin, and will provide safe anchorage for vessels rounding the Cape heading to Albany and Esperance. Pen requirements at the Flinders Bay facility are now being assessed and the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean is bound to become a popular berth for large vessels. It will also be a boost for smaller trailerboats, providing safe launching facilities.
Albany’s King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour, from where the ANZAC fleet sailed for the Middle East in World War 1, offer natural harbours and many boating opportunities. A new marina at Albany was opened late 2011 and provides excellent facilities.
Esperance is also blessed with what is claimed to be Australia’s whitest beaches and is a very popular holiday destination and stopping-off point for thousands of people traveling around the country. In 1792, French navigator D’Entrecasteaux sheltered in what is now Esperance Bay during a big storm, naming the area after his ship.
The surrounding Recherche Archipelago is made up of some 105 islands, with holiday accommodation on nearby Woody Island. Esperance has a large local boating population, plus pulls-in boaters from Perth, Bunbury and Albany for its annual fishing classic every March. The 700km journey by road from Perth is well worth the effort. The town has boat ramps, plus there is a boat harbour at Bandy Creek a five-minute drive from the Post Office. There’s talk of a new marina also going in at Esperance. There are many beautiful white beaches and protected bays in the region with many visitors stopping at government provided camping grounds at Lucky Bay and Hellfire Bay.
CHECK OUT THE WEST
There’s a big boating population in WA due to its vast coastline, with major centres serviced by marine dealers who are BIA WA members. They are qualified to not only provide you with the type of vessel, engines and accessories suitable for boating in this region, but are a good source to obtain valuable local knowledge if you are new to the area or just passing through.
The same goes for the local sea rescue group, police and government marine safety and fisheries officers. The Volunteer Marine Rescue Group is made up of hundreds of volunteers who train and provide marine rescue services at major boating areas, from Esperance in the southeast to Broome in the Kimberley. The groups provide a vital service back-up to the Water Police and boaters are encouraged to log-on their travel details with their local group in case of emergency – and remembering to log-off on your return is a must. Safe boating.
MOST IMAGES COURTESY: Tourism Western Australia