New Zealand Fur Seal pup
This New Zealand Fur Seal pup is enjoying the sunshine!

The Top 10 Reasons to Take a Boat Ride at Dunsborough

If you are planning a trip to Western Australia, then the Margaret River Region should be at the top of your list. And getting out in a boat should be one of your first activities.

Dunsborough is a small, coastal holiday destination located in the north end of the Region. It sits on the calm, protected shores of Geographe Bay, which includes the Ngari Capes Marine Park. Geographe Bay is truly unique for a variety of reasons.

Here are my top 10 reasons why you should make sure you put a boat trip on your list of best things to do in Dunsborough.

1. Climate

The West Coast Mediterranean climate means that there are no frosts and the temperatures are moderate year round. There is beautiful, endless sunshine and little rain in summer. Temperatures average between 15-30°C, which is perfect for enjoying the azure blue waters in the Bay.

Blue waters of Bunker Bay in Summer
Bunker Bay in summer is very inviting!

Winter temperatures fall between 8-17°C with rain  from April through October. The winter storms that sweep through are great for dramatic photography, but there is always plenty of sunshine in between for boating in Geographe Bay.

2. Tropical Marine Species

It is rare to find tropical species so far south. Corals and tropical fishes can thrive here due to the very special Leeuwin Current. This warm-water current flows north to south during autumn and winter. It originates around Exmouth and bends around to Esperance on the south coast.

It is visible using special satellite imagery and is about 200 metres deep and 50 kilometres wide. This current carries larvae and tropical fish from the north to the Geographe Bay area. If you are a snorkeler or diver, you’ll have a wonderful time here as this area has an interesting mix of cold and warm water species.

A great way to see the underwater world without having to get wet is to visit the Underwater Observatory at the end of the Busselton Jetty.

3. Whales

The largest humpback whale migration occurs along the coast of Western Australia. It was estimated that over 30,000 humpbacks passed through Geographe Bay in 2017. These friendly and curious gentle giants seem to really enjoy interacting with boats and people and will approach, then circle the boat and bring their heads out of the water to take a good look at you. They also put on amazing displays of breaching (getting most of their hulking bodies out of the water) and fin & tail slapping.

Pygmy Blue, Blue, Minke and Southern Right whales also migrate past on their way back to Antarctica’s feeding grounds. Whale watching season is September-November in Busselton and Dunsborough. Book a tour if you’re in the area during that time.

4. Seals and Sea Lions

We have a local population of New Zealand Fur Seals, along with the odd Australian Sea Lion near Bunker Bay. The fur seals have been here year round since 1995 and are now breeding in the area. Pups are often seen sunning themselves on the rocks and keeping their distance from the big males (who always occupy the prime sunning rocks).

New Zealand Fur Seal pup
This New Zealand Fur Seal pup is enjoying the sunshine!

The Australian Sea Lion is listed as vulnerable under Australian law, so if you see one on a wilderness tour, consider yourself very lucky!

An Australian Sea Lion
The Australian Sea Lion looks very different compared to the more numerous New Zealand Fur Seals

5. Bird life

Taking a trip on a boat at any time of year is a good opportunity for bird watching. Terns, cormorants, darters, swallows, gulls, shearwaters and gannets are common along the coastline.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, and oystercatchers along the shore, or you may be visited by an albatross or two. You can often spot a pelican lingering around the boat ramps hoping for a feed from fishermen.

An osprey in flight
Ospreys are often spotted around Meelup Beach and Eagle Bay
This happy pelican has found a fish!
Pelicans are commonly seen around the Old Dunsborough Boat Ramp
A Sooty Oystercatcher
This Sooty Oystercatcher had several babies close by.

6. Dolphins

We have several local pods of cheeky bottlenose dolphins that will circle a boat, approach you and zoom past when you are snorkeling, ride a boat’s bow wave, or even catch a wave in among the human surfers.

Dolphins eat squid, fish and crustaceans and find their prey using echolocation—a technique where they produce high-pitched sound that bounces off of objects and tells them where that object is. The local pods are here year round, so you’ll likely see them up close in a boat.

 

Bottlenose dolphin
Local pods of dolphin wander through the Bay year round

If you’re interested in swimming with dolphins and learning more about them, then visit the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury.

7. Flying fish!

Yes, fish that fly! These little guys are a treat to see. When you first catch a glimpse of them, you think it’s a low-flying bird. But it’s definitely a fish with big fins soaring past the boat! They can travel over 100 metres horizontally above the water, likely to avoid being eaten. What a neat trick!

A flying fish
It’s always a bit of a surprise to see a fish cruising just above the water for up to 100 metres

8. Sting rays and sharks

Our smooth sting rays can grow to over 2 metres across and 4 meters long and are often spotted around the Old Dunsborough boat ramp. They are curious and will check out divers and swimmers and are not known to be aggressive. But they have a poisonous barb on their tail, so you should be cautious around them.

Other common rays are the Eagle and Shovel Nose Rays. And of course, the ocean wouldn’t be the ocean without sharks. We have a number of types on this coast, including bronze whalers, great whites, bull sharks, nurse sharks, wobbegongs and Port Jackson sharks.

Stingray
There are several types of stingray in Geographe Bay. They often cruise the shallow waters around the boat ramps

9. Both sunrises and sunsets over the ocean

There are not many places in the world where you can get up and watch the sun rise over the ocean, and then watch it set over the ocean. Because of the way Geographe Bay curves around at Dunsborough, it faces east, which means you see the sun rise over it. Then by heading over to the west side of the Capes Region (that is Yallingup south to Augusta), you can then watch the sun set. It’s perhaps a bit of trivia for your next quiz night?

Winter sunset Geographe Bay
Winter sunsets just off of Dunsborough can be quite dramatic

10. The coastline is remarkable and dramatic

From a boat you will see collapsed limestone caves, orange granite rock shelves, sea caves and white sand beaches. It’s a highly varied and interesting landscape and seeing it all from a boat is so different to standing on the shore.

Limestone sea cave
This collapsed limestone cave can only be appreciated when in a boat

You’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful piece of coastline that is this pristine, uncrowded and full of wildlife.

And this is just what’s in and around the ocean. There’s a lot of history, geography and wildlife on the land to talk about as well. But we’ll save that for next time!

If you know someone who is planning to visit the Margaret River Region, feel free to share this article with them and get them even more inspired to visit!