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Wild Abrolhos
Wild Abrolhos

We've been looking less than 10 minutes, scanning the gentle swell as the dinghy powers along, when the eagle-eyed kids at the bow spot them: a pod of more than a dozen wild dolphins.

Only five minutes earlier, they'd both wanted to go home but now, they're squealing with delight as the animals race the boat and jump out of the water.

Their mother, Tracey Basile, is at the wheel and an expert in these pristine waters around the Abrolhos Islands, 60km off the coast of Geraldton. Married to a third-generation fisherman whose family helped pioneer the islands, she has spent years as a deckhand herself. Just minutes earlier, she'd navigated the boat over a shallow reef near another island where two sea lions lolled on the warm sand and an eagle kept a watchful eye from a stone cairn.

It's fortunate for us that Tracey knows exactly where she's going. The waters of the Abrolhos have a dangerous history - it is famous for its shipwrecks, including the Batavia, which ran aground in 1629 and was followed by one of the most brutal mutinies in history.

There are 122 islands stretching over 100km of ocean, some not inhabited and others covered in colourful fisherman's shacks and wooden jetties jutting out over the clearest of water. The wildlife in the A-class nature reserve is incredible. Aside from the dolphins, seals and eagles, we saw a school of at least six bronze whaler sharks following the boat, looking for the scraps of bait that fall from the rock lobster pots when they're pulled in. Pacific gulls, with their red-tipped beaks, perched on the pots already stacked at the rear.

The Abrolhos has long been a favourite of fishermen and the beautiful corals along the extensive reefs, including the mysterious Blue Hole, draw snorkelers and divers. Only the island's workers and their families and visitors are allowed to stay on the islands and usually only during the rock lobster season, from March until June, meaning it is mostly deserted for the rest of the year.

But the islands are becoming increasingly accessible as more people own boats capable of travelling the distance from Geraldton or further afield. Charter planes from Geraldton and Kalbarri do scenic tours; there are airstrips on East Wallabi Island, which has a white sandy beach and coral reef, and Rat Island. Charter boats do a variety of tours ranging from a day to weeks.

The West Australian flew with Geraldton Air Charter. For more information about the Abrolhos Islands, contact the Geraldton Visitor Centre on (08) 9921 3999.