Waves and wildlife on amazing Astor

Spotting wildlife proves to be a highlight cruising along southern Australia's scenic coastline.

Over the past couple of years we have enjoyed cruising aboard the delightful ship Astor to Esperance and Albany round trip from Fremantle. Having enjoyed the convenience of our home port, great service and amazing food on this smaller cruise ship, based in Fremantle for the summer, we decided that we would book again for 2017.

Browsing the brochure it was decided we would combine two sectors, the first being a seven-night cruise to Port Arthur, Hobart and Burnie round trip from Adelaide. The second sector of six nights from Adelaide to Fremantle via Esperance and Albany would allow me to celebrate my 66th birthday at sea. 

This also allowed us to visit our close friends in Albany. This was an exciting prospect for myself, being an avid nature observer and prolific photographer. Last year while cruising back from Albany in the vicinity of Cape Leeuwin I was fortunate to have sighted and photographed a rare Barau’s petrel which are normally observed around Madagascar where they breed.

We departed Adelaide and sailed between the mainland and beautiful Kangaroo Island, heading across Bass Strait and down the west coast of Tasmania. Weather conditions were variable but not rough or unpleasant. Many shearwater, petrels and several species of albatross made for very interesting daytime observations. 

The second day out I was very fortunate to glimpse a couple of pilot whales right in front of the ship’s bow. Too quick for a photograph, unfortunately! Another highlight on day two, unnoticed by the majority of our fellow passengers, was the discovery of an amazing little white-faced storm petrel resting behind the deckchairs on the promenade deck.

While I spent all day out on the foredeck looking for natural wonders Kerry, my wife, was kept entertained by the various on-board activities organised by the friendly Astor crew. Meals were delicious and beautifully presented. All the night-time entertainment and shows were always very professional and enjoyable throughout the whole journey.

As we neared the Tasmanian coast the birdlife and marine animals became more prolific. There were many sightings of seals basking, with a flipper in the air, on the serene surface of the Southern Ocean, dolphins speeding to catch a bow wave created by the ship and an occasional small whale. Rounding the bottom of the island, the rugged coastal basalt pillar cliffs were awesome and much photographed. 

We steered towards Port Arthur, with all its amazing historical buildings and several new bird species to be observed. Tenders took us ashore for several welcome hours of walking around all of the historical and many well-restored buildings and gardens of this early convict settlement. I did take a great deal of photographs.

Hobart was our next port of call, with an organised shore excursion taking in all the significant sights of this enchanting city. The Japanese garden, part of the botanic gardens, was a particular personal highlight, again I was able to observe many varied species of birds along with the exotic plants and landscapes.

On the seventh day of our Tasmanian interlude we were joined by a group of eight white-faced storm petrel stowaways in a corner of the promenade deck. On arrival at the port of Burnie the stowaways decided to fly off for a fish dinner. Here another shore excursion took us on a picturesque drive to the incredibly scenic Cradle Mountain and photogenic Dove Lake. On the return journey to Burnie we stopped at the delightful village of Waratah, with a stop to view and photograph a waterfall alongside this historic village. 

A final stop at the Burnie lookout allowed us to view our cruise ship berthed alongside the plantation woodchip-export facility. We then headed back to Adelaide, with an unusual sighting of a pod of four Southern Right whales and more leaping dolphins.

With a day in Adelaide before departing for Esperance, we took in the sights and visited the city’s lovely botanical gardens. Travelling across the Great Australian Bight had brought warnings from concerned friends and family. Their fears were well intentioned about this potentially rough stretch of Southern Ocean but we were fortunate to have a comfortable journey across to the protected and scenic town of Esperance. During the journey to Esperance I celebrated my birthday with a very special Asian fusion six-course dinner and cocktails provided by my son Adam and daughter in-law Amanda by way of an on-board gift voucher. Very thoughtful.

Having seen the amazing sights on offer in and around Esperance on previous trips to this pleasant south-coast town we spent our time taking in the delights of the beautiful foreshore walks and parklands. Along the walk, being a Sunday with many locals about, every person we passed had a welcome smile and a cheery G’day! 

Off to Albany, we cruised past scenic cliffs. The sight of more seabirds and dolphins made for another very interesting and comfortable sailing day. Entering Albany is very picturesque, with the headlands and islands taking up a lot more space on my SD cards.

A greeting from dolphins was a bonus treat. Heading into Princess Royal Harbour under the shadow of the Anzac centre, a lone bagpiper welcomes entering cruise ships before jumping into his vehicle to again play for us as we berth at the Albany port. Astor turns around and berths in front of HMAS ANZAC. It is an imposing sight in this historic departure point for our brave ANZACs. 

A pleasant day was spent lunching on homegrown produce with our friends, while the other passengers are taking in Albany’s many and varied sights. In the late afternoon we board Astor for our final leg around Cape Leeuwin to Fremantle. The weather is changing and we may be in for a little rock and roll, both from the weather and at the nightly show held in Astor’s showroom.

As the Southern Ocean met the Indian Ocean the swell and wind both pick became far more noticeable. As we cruised up the west coast I discovered that the wind had peaked at just over 100km/h. I was out on the pool deck, hanging on, under some cover while adding to my rapidly growing collection of nearly 2000 images. The pool had been emptied, the deck chairs stowed and most passengers were having a little difficulty moving about the ship. I heard there may be some seasickness about, I was lucky it is not contagious. By the late afternoon, we thought the wind had died back a bit to only 80km/h. 

At about midnight the ship was slowing and things appeared quite calm. I looked out the cabin window and saw lights along a shoreline. We had rounded Rottnest and anticipated an earlier arrival in Fremantle than the scheduled 7am. We berthed at about 12.30 am and I went back to sleep. Rising early to photograph the sunrise, I walked out on to the pool deck to be greeted by the imposing sight of HMAS Adelaide, the Canberra- class landing helicopter dock (LHD) ship, towering above our stern.

It had been a most memorable cruise and I was delighted with every moment.

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