The Abrolhos Islands, with their rich flora and fauna and surrounding coral reef communities, form one of Western Australia's unique marine areas.
When Dutch captain Frederick de Houtman sailed the area in 1619 he named the islands Houtmans Abrolhos.
That translates as Open your eyes a point many sailors foundered on.
The Abrolhos Islands lie about 60 kilometres west of Geraldton, on the Western Australian coast, and consist of 122 islands clustered into three main groups: the Wallabi Group, Easter Group and Pelsaert Group, which extend from north to south across 100 kilometres of ocean.
The area is home to an abundance of wildlife including sea lions, dolphins, migratory whales and sea birds. The extensive coral reef system stretches for a hundred kilometres and is home to many species, some as yet to be named. The unique wildlife and pristine beaches make for excellent swimming, snorkelling and beach walking.
The Abrolhos Islands provide idyllic surroundings for a quiet picnic on the beach, or an afternoon snorkelling over coral gardens just under the surface. The warm southern flowing current creates a marine environment that breeds both tropical and temperate sea life.
The current maintains water temperatures at about 20 - 22 degrees allowing corals, sea grasses, tropical fish and other sea life to thrive in an area they would not normally be found.
These islands are also the home of more than 90 species of seabirds.
The Abrolhos Islands are the main source of supply for Western Australias rock lobster fishing industry. Home to fisherman from March until June, the Abrolhos remains almost deserted for the other eight months of the year.
Houtman Abrolhos Is.
courtesy Tourism WA
The Abrolhos Islands and the colourful coral reefs, which surround them, are a unique marine experience. The Abrolhos are famous for their historic shipwrecks, the best known being the Dutch East India Company vessel Batavia, which ran aground in 1629.The Batavia links to a mutiny and a horrific episode of cruelty and murder which followed the wreck. Parts of the wreck can still be seen. The Geraldton Museum has good displays, video footage and information on the subject.
Visitors can access these pristine islands by charter, fishing and eco boat tours from Geraldton and Kalbarri, float plane tours from Geraldton, and aerial tours from Dongara, Geraldton and Kalbarri.
The water surrounding the islands is the graveyard to 18 other wrecks, mostly believed to be from the 19th century.
This stretch of the WA coast offers a choice of great locations and facilities for traditional and relaxing ocean-side holidays with attractions like fishing, reef diving, surfing, yachting and unspoiled beaches.
The wind surfing is world class, particularly in Geraldton. The main centres are: Jurien Greenhead, Leeman, and Eneabba (just in from the coast), Dongara-Denison, Greenough (including the historic Greenough Hamlet), Geraldton, Northampton, Horrocks, Port Gregory and Kalbarri.
Some are no more than villages but all have lobster boats and pleasure craft riding at moorings or tied up in a marina. Greenough Hamlet dates from early settlement with buildings dating from the 1860s. The Hampton Arms Inn and Walkway Railway Museum are well worth a call.
The Ellendale Poll area offers spectacular sandstone cliffs, bird watching free barbecues. About 25km south of Geraldton, Flat Rocks is a must for surfers and anglers. Greenough is known for its leaning trees which can be seen by travellers on the Brand Highway. They are the produce of the winds from the Indian Ocean and make interesting subjects for photographers.
The City of Geraldton, with a population of about 25,000, is the capital of the Mid West region and the commercial centre and port for the coast.
It can be reached via the Brand Highway (425 km) or via the Midlands Road (498 km).
Crayfish on the menu,
Houtman Abrolhos Is.
courtesy Tourism WA
The Midlands Road is further inland and passes through more farming country. There are also regular scheduled flights between Geraldton and Perth every day. There is a museum, theatre complex and heated aqua marine pool area that is open all year.
Geraldton is also well known for being one of the windiest places in Australia, making it ideal for windsurfing.
Geraldton is four and half hours drive (425km) from Perth via the Brand Highway, or five hours (498km) via the Midlands Highway.
The area is home to one of the world's finest collections of flowering plants. All main roads are sealed and ancillary roads well maintained.
The Outback Mid West is accessible via the Great Northern Highway. Mount Magnet, hub of the Outback Mid West is seven hours from Perth (560km). The area can also be accessed via the Canning Stock Route and the Gunbarrel Highway.
From Green Head to Kalbarri, the area offers a year-round holiday experiences, blending the sophistication of Geraldton with the regions relaxed rural lifestyle. Access is via the Brand Highway, Indian Ocean Drive and North West Coastal Highway.
The main wildflower season is from June to November and then summer time shrubs continue for the rest of the year.
There area has many nature-based attractions including the ancient Yamaji culture
In this region (subject to seasonal rains), visitors can wander through spectacular fields of yellow, pink and white coloured everlasting daisies during the season and marvel at the well-known wreath flower (Leschenaultia macrantha).
Pearl farm Houtman Abrolhos Is,
courtesy Tourism WA
The spring blooming of wildflowers is regarded as the finest explosion of wildflower colours in the world from June to November. The transformation takes place in the Outback Mid West by late July to late September.
The most common species found in Outback Mid West are white, gold and pink everlastings, billy buttons, velleia rosea (wild pansies) purple vetch, flannel bush, mulla mulla, acacia, lambs tails, eremophila (poverty bush) parakeelya, daises and blue pincushion.
In many areas the flowers are beside the bitumen road. The Wildflower Agricultural area can be accessed via the Midlands Road and the Wubin Mullewa Road.
Water sports lovers find a playground for windsurfing, fishing, diving, surfing or just a relaxing walk and swim on white sandy beaches.
A visit should include a meal of the regions famous western rock lobster or as the locals call it crayfish.
November to June at Dongara and Geraldton, visitors can take an educational rock lobster tour and learn more about the industry. Magnificent coastal gorges at Kalbarri bring the outback to the coast and a stunning array of wildflowers paint the coastal strip every spring.
The Kalbarri National Park has 800 species of flowering shrubs. The most common species are kangaroo and cats paws, acacia, star flowers, orchid, lambs tail, smoke bush, trigger plants, dampiera, pink and mauve honeymyrtle, yellow leschenaultia, grevillea, hakea, yellow bells and banksia.
Between June and November in the Eneabba and Arrowsmith River areas, there are national parks amidst sand plain country that offer flora as spectacular as it is varied.
Abrolhos Is. from the air,
courtesy Tourism WA
During the season, wildflower walks are conducted daily from the Western Flora Caravan Park by botanist Allan Tinker. Pretty displays of summer time shrubs continue through the year to June.
But the wildflowers are not the only attraction. There is a combination of outback experiences and coastal activities. There are national parks to explore, sheer coastal cliffs, authentic outback stations, offshore islands, adventurous activities such as abseiling, rock climbing, swimming with the sea lions, canoeing, sunset horse rides, and a rich selection of seafood to sample.
From Yalgoo in the south, stretching into the vastness of the Murchison, east to Wiluna and up towards Meekatharra, ancient stories of the traditional owners of this land, the Yamaji people, provide a powerful insight into the regions many secrets.
Guests can become part of Aussie station life at working sheep and cattle station homesteads. Or camp on red earth with the stars for company and fossick for gold.
It is easy to develop an appreciation of the challenge this land presents, the many historic buildings, museums and trails throughout the outback reveal the triumphs and hardships of the early pioneers in this wild land.
Editors note: GoSeeAustralia thanks Tourism Western Australia for assistance with this feature and the pictures with accompany it.