On Western Australia’s Coral Coast, Geraldton is an important seaport exporting grain, livestock and minerals, as well as a lucrative lobster fishing base.
The city has a more modest side, with its string of beaches and newly regenerated foreshores serving as the departure point for the Houtman Abrolhos, an archipelago famous for its biodiversity and shipwrecks.
Both themes are front and center at the Geraldton Museum, where you can see artifacts from the 17th-century Dutch Batavia ship, whose sinking sparked rebellion and massacre.
Geraldton is a mecca for water sports from spring to early autumn, especially for kitesurfers, thanks to its constant sea breeze.
1. Geraldton Museum
In the town museum by the pier, there are many fascinating stories waiting for you to discover.
You can learn about the amazing biodiversity and natural beauty of the region and the Abrolhos Islands.
There is also space for Aboriginal Yamaji history and culture, while the Shipwreck Gallery displays a wealth of early European artifacts dating back four centuries.
The story of the Batavia’s sinking in the Abrojos Islands in 1628 is as exciting as it is gory, and accompanying coins, cannons and an entire baroque stone archway help paint a vivid picture.
From Great Depths is also dedicated to underwater discoveries, with exhibits and 3D films showing the wrecks of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) and the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran, which remained at a depth of 2,500 after the 1941 battle.
2. HMAS Sydney II Memorial
The sinking of HMAS Sydney II on 19 November 1941 dealt a heavy blow to the Australian and Allied efforts in World War II.
This was the largest Allied warship lost in the war (645 ships).
The exact location of the wreck was unknown until it was discovered in 2008 near the Cormoran, about 100 nautical miles off Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay. Geraldton built a fitting memorial for the sailors who lost their lives in the incident to find additional meaning after the wreck.
There is a memorial wall with the names of the 645 sailors on board, and a dome with a silver canopy depicting hundreds of seagulls, supported by seven pillars, one for each of the seven Australian states.
Especially moving is the bronze statue of a woman standing nearby waiting for her relatives to return.
3. St Francis Xavier Cathedral
In 2017, this amazing monument was completed in 1926 and returned to service after a long restoration.
A fusion of Romanesque and Byzantine Revival architecture, St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral is the work of architect and priest John Cyril Hawes (1876-1956). The cathedral serving Geraldton’s Roman Catholic community is notable for its twin towers flanking its entrance and its massive dome between the nave and apse.
The interior is decorated in a Byzantine style, with round arches and alternating stone bands, and departs at 10:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and can be visited by anyone who wants to learn about the history and architectural details of the building, which otherwise might be missed.
4. Bishop Hawes Heritage Museum
Opposite the cathedral’s majestic portal is a modern interpretive centre about the unusual life of John Hawes.
Born in England, he qualified as an architect in the 1890s, arrived in Geraldton after being appointed in 1915, and continued to work for the next 25 years.
During this time he had a huge influence on Geraldton, designing 44 buildings for the city, 29 of which have been completed.
You’ll get a rich and intimate portrait of the man, complemented by his architectural plans, diary entries, vestments, and personal documents.
5. Town Beach
Geraldton’s main beach is about 200 meters long, to the west of the city’s marina, and extends to the long seawall on the east side of the port, known as the Esplanade.
Seawalls at either end of the beach help block currents, and waves rarely exceed knee height.
As we’ll see later, Town Beach’s foreshore has been completely regenerated over the past few years and is suitable for strolling.
Geraldton’s CBD and its many independent chain restaurants are not far behind.
There are several cafes on the beach, as well as the huge Geraldton Foreshore Playground and Water Park, which has three different play areas and a range of water features, perfect for hot weather.
6. Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative
One of the things Geraldton is known for is its multi-million dollar fishery centered on western rock lobster.
If you’re interested in seeing what the industry actually looks like, you can call the state-of-the-art 90-ton Brolos processing plant at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Visits are Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:00, during which time you will learn all about the incredible size of the industry and its commitment to sustainability.
There are many insights into the western rock lobster as a species and why it is doing so well in the Indian Ocean near Geraldton.
If you’re feeling brave, you can try holding a larger lobster in the factory.
7. Geraldton Esplanade
One of the things that strikes you about Geraldton is how fresh everything looks on the waterfront.
This is the result of a long renovation, laying grass, planting trees and building shelters.
If you’re near the visitor center, you’ll have access to free Wi-Fi, and at the southern end of the port, you’ll see cargo ships coming and going.
A colony of sea lions also make their home at the harbour entrance, while you can climb an 18-meter observation tower for panoramic views of the city, harbour and Champions Bay.
The name “Esplanade” has an unexpected origin, referring to the former Esplanade Pier, built in 1858 to serve sailing ships for the next 90 years or so.
8. Hautman Abrolhos
Just 60 kilometers off the coast of Geraldton is an archipelago of extraordinary biodiversity, often referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.
Some 2 million birds from 35 species thrive here, while the Tamar wallaby calls the island home, rich in marine life including coral, various sharks and vulnerable Australian sea lions.
Gathered into three rough groups, now protected as a national park, there are more than 122 Abrolhos Islands.
It was the main site of the huge western rock lobster fishery, and dozens of shipwrecks, including the Batavia, that followed a bloody rebellion in 1628. Geraldton offers a variety of package options, one of the best if you’re interested in the maritime history of the archipelago is the 4.5-hour Shipwreck Special Nature Tour/Half-Day Tour on travel website Viator.com.
9. Cape Moore Lighthouse
Another important feature of Geraldton is this 34-meter-tall lighthouse, which continues to direct marine traffic from the tip of Cape Moore.
When it rose in 1878, it was the first all-steel tower on the Australian mainland, easily recognizable by its horizontal red and white stripes.
The 1000W tungsten halogen beacon has a range of 23 nautical miles.
Interestingly, the structure was built in Birmingham, England in 1876 and shipped here the following year.
The lighthouse is a five-minute walk from the CBD, and while the lighthouse is a working facility, there are explanatory signs outside with some facts and figures about the building.
10. Greenough Wildlife Park
This privately owned zoo about 20 minutes south of Geraldton is run by donations and has been saving and restoring Western Australia’s wildlife since the 1980s.
If you plan to visit the zoo, you can rest assured that all profits will go to the park’s residents and conservation efforts.
The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, with plenty of interaction with dingoes, joeys, camels, emus, farm animals and a variety of reptiles.
Check the website before you come to make sure you can see the alligators in the park being fed, usually around noon.
11. Water sports
Geraldton enjoys reliable breezes from September to April, making it one of the best places in Australia for activities such as kitesurfing and windsurfing.
Contact companies such as Geraldton-based KiteWest for equipment and tuition fees, as well as funding for stand-up paddle boarding and traditional surfing.
The Indian Ocean produces some powerful waves, and the bare Back Beach on the southern side of Cape Moore is the city’s main surf beach, but there are also world-class options up and down the Coral Coast.
Finally, the staggering number of shipwrecks off the Coral Coast is an attraction for divers, especially those willing to head to Houtman Abrolhos.
12. Mountain Road Drive
For those who want to immerse themselves in the Yamaji Aboriginal culture and history of the Coral Coast and its hinterland, there is a 195km drive through the Geraldton, Greenough and Mullewa regions.
If you take your time, you can complete the Yamaji Drive Trail in a few days, which combines history, art, and nature at 14 different locations.
A very detailed and very detailed accompanying booklet can be purchased from the Geraldton Visitor Centre and Regional Library.
Beginning at the visitor center, the trail ends inland at the Batrabi cemetery, a few kilometers south of Mulwa, the site of a tragic 1864 skirmish between the Wajali and Nhanhagardi/Wilunyu people against the expansion of herdsmen .
13. Kolsim Conservation Park
If you’re between July and November, you must head inland to Coalseam Conservation Park, known for its wildflowers.
Spring is here and hakeas, banksias, everlastings and grevilleas produce a riot of color for a photo worth sharing or just a blissful walk.
As the name suggests, the space has interesting geology as the site of the first coal seam to be mined in Western Australia.
Exposed coal belts can still be seen on the ground, as well as the siltstone, sandstone and claystone formations that form the cliff faces.
From the Irvine Lookout there are stunning views of the Irvine River and an abundance of wildlife, from kangaroos to echidnas, emus, cockatoos and eagles.
14. Geraldton Visitor Centre
Adjacent to the foreshore of Marine Terrace, the city’s visitor centre is both a convenience for guests and an impressive heritage of Geraldton.
This fine wooden building dates back to 1878 and was the first railway station built on the Western Australian government line.
The building’s history has been carefully preserved, and charming elements of the old station can be seen throughout the visitor center.
Go here for first-hand advice, flyers, brochures and maps, and book a flight or cruise to the Abrolhos Islands.
15. Tin head
Those who like eccentricity and obscurity will find gold or tin in this private museum belonging to Geraldton couple Margaret and Robert Gaston.
They have assembled what is believed to be Australia’s largest collection of tin containers, which as of 2020 are in the mid-1100s, although numbers have been increasing.
Designed for anything from shoe polish to tea, syrup, cake or biscuits, they are neatly stacked in glass display cases and floor-to-ceiling shelves.
The oldest tin ware dates back to 1834, and almost every exhibit Margaret and Robert has has a story to tell.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Geraldton, Australia
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