The Cape Naturaliste Wilderness Cruise Experience

I spot the line of passengers at the Dunsborough Boat Ramp and realise I have found ‘my people’, Camera’s, binoculars and sunscreen are our weapons of choice as we board the ‘Exhilarator’ for today’s adventure at sea. Our captain, Peter, sun-bleached hair streaming out from under his Jet Adventures cap, instantly beams as he starts the engines and eases us back off the jetty. As I peer over the side an Eagle ray passes under the boat, off to grab some scraps from the young boys fishing for Salmon at the end of the jetty no doubt. I have my mental check list ready; Sting Rays, Fish, Seabirds, Dolphins, Seals, Sharks. I can’t wait to see them all on today’s cruise.

Eagle Rays are a common sight in the shallow bays around Dunsborough in Western Australia
An Eagle Ray swims under us as we board at Dunsborough Boat Ramp

Safety demonstration over we purr out to sea, the jet engines surprisingly quiet and the boat sitting high and stable over the small swells. A few Pacific gulls bob around waiting for the next school of fish to come thru. Geographe Bay is home to quite a few species of fish. The Pelagics – which are your surface swimmers such as Australian Salmon, Yellowtail Tuna and Mackerel, as well as the Demersal- prize eating fish like the Bald Chin Grouper, Pink Snapper and the Dhufish which swim in the deeper waters further out in the bay. We spot a few tinnies and larger vessels out around us, there’ll no doubt be a few good hauls today.

Birdwatchers get a real treat.

We pass Gannet rock on our port side. The Diving Gannets, or Cormorants are social creatures, hanging out together in groups of 20 to 50 clustered on this one rock – must be a special place for them. It’s amazing to watch them dive down into the water and pop up almost 100 meters away and sometimes a whole minute later, they seem more like a penguin than a bird. Speaking of penguins, we are informed that a group of surfers had a visit from some Fairy Penguins at a surf break in Margaret River just yesterday. Maybe we will get lucky on today’s cruise, they are quite rare! As we continue around past the stunning Castle Rock, Pete reminds us to look out for Sea Eagles and Osprey that also hunt these coastlines and can power dive at speeds of over 75kms per hour to snap fish up out of the water, I guess that’s why this next long stretch of heaven is called Eagle Bay.

Gannets, or Cormorants dive the waters around Curtis Bay and Castle Rock in Dunsborough, Western Australia
Gannets take a break from fishing and sun themselves at Castle Rock

The aqua water is so clear we can easily see for several meters under the boat, we cruise past shallow reefs (home to the Western Rock Lobster), sandy bottoms and grassy shallows. The stunning headlands are home to Abalone and Crab, this place must have been like a restaurant to the Aboriginal people who inhabited the area. Abundant Fish, Birds, Shellfish and freshwater running out of the limestone cliffs, what an amazing area! Peter tells us that there is evidence of Aboriginal inhabitance in some of the caves at Cape Naturaliste, which is where we are heading next.

First though were delayed by a pod of Tursiops Truncatus – you guessed it – the Common Bottlenose Dolphin. There are just 6 in the pod today, but these acrobats can travel in schools of hundreds. They race under the boat, popping up at the bow to stare at us. Such beautiful creatures! Pete says their numbers grow over the summer and it’s not uncommon to see them surfing the swells at Bunker Bay and further around in Yallingup.

Bottle Nosed Dolphins swim around Meelup, Castle Bay, Eagle Bay and Bunker Bay in Australia's South West
Bottle Nose Dolphins race the boat around Eagle Bay

Cape Naturaliste and beyond.

The light swell has eased off now as we find the protected waters of the Cape. We spot a few hikers on their way up to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and more than a couple of Kangaroos grazing around the granite outcrops as well. The Rocky headland begins to tower over us and as we turn past another small bay we are awed by amazing limestone caves, torn into the cliff faces by years of wind and sea erosion. Peter passes around some snacks, and just as I’m scoffing a big mouthful of a locally made, divine chocolate brownie, we come up on a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals.

The New Zealand Fur Seal is the world record holder for diving. Depths of up to 238 meters and dive times of 11 minutes have been measured. There are 14 seals here today some just young pups. One of the huge Males gives us a snort, and swats his flipper at us, as he looks up at us with curiosity. The boat cruises right up against the rocks and we can almost touch the seals as they laze in the sun. I’m seriously considering deleting photos of my families Christmas lunch as my camera storage gets low on space.

This isn’t like being at the zoo, the seals are just, right there!!!

 Sunning themselves off the cliffs at Cape Naturalist, only accessible by sea is a New Zealand Fur Seal colony.
New Zealand Fur Seal colony at Cape Naturaliste

Even though the water is stunning we don’t stop for a swim at this point. Peter explains that Great Whites tend to hunt close to the colony and it would be a brave abalone diver who would get in the water right here. White Sharks are spotted from time to time, along with Tigers, Hammerheads, Reef Sharks and a few of the smaller Wobbegongs and Shovel Nose varieties. From the safety of the boat, I start imagining how exciting it would be to spot one of these predators, but it’s not to be today.

Coming back again for Whale Season.

The wind has swung around to the South West now, making the rest of our cruise like skating on a mirrored pond. I’ll be back in a few months to see the Whales that proliferate between May and November every year. Over 30,000 Humpback Whales migrate along the West Coast each year, making Geographe Bay one of the world’s best places to view these gentle giants. Along with the Southern Right, Blue Whales, Minke and the Orca (Killer Whale) there’s another side to this tour to be seen in Spring and I can’t wait.

Jet Adventures Eco Tours making the most of the beautiful scenery in Geographe Bay and Cape Naturaliste
That crystal clear aqua blue water…just stunning!

The tours only half done and I’ve already ticked most of the boxes on my Wilderness Cruise sightseeing list. I’m hanging out to rush thru the canal at Sugarloaf and for a good dip off the boat at Meelup Beach on the way home. Having too much fun, come and see for yourself.