On Western Australia‘s Coral Coast, Geraldton is a crucial seaport, exporting grains, livestock and minerals, but also the base for a lucrative lobster fishery.
There’s a gentler side to the city, at its string of beaches and their newly regenerated foreshore, and as a departure point for the Houtman Abrolhos, an archipelago feted for its biodiversity and shipwrecks.
Both topics are front and centre at the Museum of Geraldton, where you can view artefacts from the 17th-century Dutch ship Batavia, the sinking of which triggered a mutiny and massacre.
Spring to early-Autumn Geraldton is a water sports Mecca, particularly for kite-surfers, thanks to its consistent ocean breezes.
1. Museum of Geraldton
There are lots of enthralling stories to uncover at the town’s museum by the marina.
You can get a handle on the amazing biodiversity and natural scenery of the region and the Abrolhos Islands.
Space is also given to aboriginal Yamaji history and culture, while there’s a ton of early European at the Shipwrecks Gallery showing off finds dating back four centuries.
The story of the Batavia, wrecked off the Abrolhos Islands in 1628, is as exciting as it is bloody, and accompanying coins, cannons and an entire Baroque stone arch help paint a vivid picture.
Also devoted to underwater discoveries is From Great Depths, where an exhibit and 3D film present the wrecks of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) and German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran, resting at a depth of 2,500 after their battle in 1941.
2. HMAS Sydney II Memorial
The sinking of the HMAS Sydney II on 19 November 1941 was a painful blow to Australia and the Allied effort in World War II.
This was the largest Allied warship to be lost with all hands (645) in the war.
The exact location of the wreck was unknown until it was discovered close to the Kormoran some 100 nautical miles off Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay in 2008. Geraldton has a fitting memorial to the sailors who lost their lives in the event, which has taken on extra significance after the wreck was located.
There’s a wall of remembrance with the names of the 645 sailors on board, as well a dome with a silver canopy depicting hundreds of gulls, help up by seven pillars, one for each of the seven states of Australia.
Especially moving is the bronze figure of a woman standing close by awaiting the return of a loved one.
3. St Francis Xavier Cathedral
In 2017 this startling monument, completed in 1926, was rededicated following a long-term restoration.
The St Francis Xavier Cathedral blends Romanesque and Byzantine Revival architecture and was the work of architect and priest, Monsignor John Cyril Hawes (1876-1956). The cathedral, serving Geraldton’s Roman Catholic community stands out for its twin towers flanking the entrance and the substantial dome between the nave and apse.
The interior is decorated in the Byzantine style with round arches and bands of alternating stone, and a tour departs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:00 for anyone who wants to know about the building’s history and architectural details you might otherwise miss.
4. Monsignor Hawes Heritage Museum
Facing off against the cathedral’s imposing portal is a modern interpretive centre about the unusual life of John Hawes.
Born in England and qualified as an architect in the 1890s, he arrived in Geraldton after being ordained in 1915, and would remain for the next 25 years.
During this time he had a huge impact on Geraldton, designing 44 buildings for the city, 29 of which were built.
What you’ll get is a rich and intimate portrayal of the man, complemented by his architectural plans, diary entries, vestments and personal documents.
5. Town Beach
Roughly 200 metres long, Geraldton’s main beach is directly west of the city’s marina, continuing as far as a long seawall on the east side of the port, known as the Esplanade.
The seawalls at each end of the beach help keep the ocean currents away, and the surf is rarely more than knee height.
As we’ll see later, the foreshore of Town Beach has been completely regenerated in the last few years and is fine for strolling.
Geraldton’s CBD and its many independent and chain restaurants is also just behind.
Right on the beach there’s a couple of cafes, as well as the gigantic Geraldton Foreshore Playground and Water Park, which has three distinct play areas and a range of water features, perfect for hot days.
6. Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative
One of the things that puts Geraldton on the map is its multimillion-dollar fishing industry, centred on the western rock lobster.
If you’re interested in seeing this industry in action you can call in at the state-of-the-art , 90-tonne Brolos processing plant on Fishermen’s Wharf.
Tours take place at 10:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, during which you’ll find out all you need to know about the incredible scale of the industry and its commitment to sustainability.
There’s plenty of insight about the western rock lobster as a species, and why it does so well in the Indian Ocean off Geraldton.
If you’re feeling brave you’ll be able to try holding one of the larger lobsters at the plant.
7. Geraldton Esplanade
One of the things that will strike you about Geraldton is how fresh everything looks along the waterfront.
This is the upshot of a long-term renovation, laying down grassy spaces, planting trees and putting up shelters.
If you’re close to the visitor centre you’ll be able to use the free Wi-Fi, while at the southern end by the port, you can watch the cargo ships coming and going.
A colony of sea lions has also made its home by the entrance to the port, while you can climb an 18-metre viewing tower for a panorama of the city, port and Champion Bay.
The name “Esplanade” has unexpected origins, referring to the former Esplanade Jetty, built in 1858 and servicing sailing ships for the next 90 or so years.
8. Houtman Abrolhos
Sixty kilometres off the coast at Geraldton there’s an archipelago with extraordinary biodiversity, often described as Galapagos Island of the Indian Ocean.
Some two million birds from 35 species breed here, while the Tammar wallaby calls the islands home and the abundant marine life includes coral, a variety of shark species and the vulnerable Australian sea lion.
Clustered into three rough groups and now protected as a national park, there are more than 122 Abrolhos Islands.
This is the main site for the vastly productive western rock lobster fishery, as well as scores of shipwrecks including the Batavia followed by a bloody mutiny in 1628. There’s a big choice of packages available from Geraldton, and one of the best if you’re intrigued by the archipelago’s maritime past is the 4.5-hour Shipwreck Special Nature Tour/Half Day Tour featured on tour website Viator.com.
9. Point Moore Lighthouse
Another of Geraldton’s great identifiers is this 34-metre lighthouse that continues to guide ocean traffic from the tip of Point Moore.
When it went up in 1878 this was the first all-steel tower on mainland Australia, and is easily recognised 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 in one piece, arriving the next year.
You can get to the lighthouse in five minutes on foot from the CBD, and although the lighthouse is a working facility there are interpretive signs outside with some facts and figures about the building.
10. Greenough Wildlife Park
Run by donations, this privately-owned animal park about 20 minutes south of Geraldton has been rescuing and rehabilitating Western Australian wildlife since the 1980s.
If you’re tentative about visiting zoos, you can be assured that all profits go towards the park’s inhabitants and conservation efforts.
The staff are friendly and knowledgeable and allow plenty of interaction with dingoes, joeys, camels, emus, farm animals and a variety of reptiles.
Check the website before coming to make sure you catch the park’s crocodile being fed, normally taking place around midday.
11. Water Sports
Between September and April Geraldton enjoys reliable breezes, making this one of the best places in Australia for activities like kite-surfing and windsurfing.
Check in with companies like Geraldton-based KiteWest for equipment and tuition, as well as the wherewithal for stand-up paddleboarding and conventional surfing.
The Indian Ocean produces some mighty swells, and the exposed Back Beach on the south side of Point Moore is the city’s prime surf beach, but there are world-class options up and down the Coral Coast.
Finally, the absurd quantity of shipwrecks off the Coral Coast are a draw for divers, particularly those willing to travel to the Houtman Abrolhos.
12. Yamaji Drive Trail
For those who want to immerse themselves in the Yamaji aboriginal culture and history of the Coral Coast and its hinterland there’s a 195-kilometre driving trail passing through the Geraldton, Greenough and Mullewa areas.
The Yamaji Drive Trail can be done in a couple of days if you take your time, and mixes in history, art and natural splendour at 14 different sites.
There’s an excellent, highly detailed accompanying booklet that can be bought from the Geraldton Visitor Centre and the regional library.
Beginning at the visitor centre, the trail ends inland, a few kilometres south of Mullewa at the Butterabby Graves, the poignant site of a skirmish where in 1864 the Wajarri and the Nhanhagardi/Wilunyu peoples fought to resist pastoralist expansion.
13. Coalseam Conservation Park
If you’re around between July and November you have to make the journey inland to Coalseam Conservation Park, which is famed for its wildflowers.
Come springtime, hakeas, banksias, everlastings and grevilleas produce a riot of colour for share-worthy pics or just a blissful walk.
As the name suggests, this space has interesting geology, as the site of Western Australia’s first mined coalseam.
Exposed bands of coal can still be spotted on the ground, along with accompanying strata of siltstone, sandstone and claystone that pattern the cliff-faces.
There are dramatic views across the Irwin River from the Irwin Lookout, and bountiful wildlife, from kangaroos to echidnas, emus, cockatoos and eagles.
14. Geraldton Visitor Centre
Located right next to the foreshore on Marine Terrace, the city’s visitor centre is both a handy amenity for guests and an impressive piece of Geraldton heritage.
This fine wooden building, dating to 1878, was the first railway station to be built on a government line in Western Australia.
The building’s history has been painstakingly preserved, and fascinating elements from the old station are visible throughout the visitor centre.
Head in for firsthand advice, leaflets, brochures and maps, and to book a flight or cruise to the Abrolhos Islands.
15. The Tin Heads
Those with a taste for the quirky and obscure will strike gold, or tin, at 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 numbered in the mid-1100s, although the count is rising all the time.
Made for anything from shoe polish to tea, syrup, cakes or biscuits, these are stacked neatly in glass display cases and on shelves from floor to ceiling.
The oldest tin dates back to 1834, and Margaret and Robert have a story to tell about almost every exhibit.