Saturday, 17 September 2016

Ideal Isolation: Aboard MV True North in WA's remote Rowley Shoals

#expeditioncruising .

Location: Rowley Shoals Marine Reserve, WA


Ten years ago when I first sailed with North Star Cruises, owner and founder, Craig 'Craigo' Howson told me "You have to come to the Rowleys. It will blow your mind."

I am pleased to say that I have finally made good my promise to see this magical marine sanctuary for myself aboard his now multi-award-winning boutique small ship, MV True North.

click to enlarge
Located 260kms WNW off shore from Broome, this superbly isolated tropical reef system exists in a world of its own. While still visited by recreational users and fishers, the roughly 200 square kilometres are divided into 'sanctuary', 'recreational zone' and 'general use', so there is plenty for visitors to sustainably enjoy under the auspices of WA's Department of Parks and Wildlife (from 2013).

I'm told less than 300 divers are likely to visit in the course of any year and probably about the same number of recreational fishers. The two atolls, Clerke and Imperieuse, have their own lagoon and reef systems maintaining healthy populations of fish at every level of the food chain from tiny algae nibblers to massive predator species. Fish you are likely to see at any other reef system throughout the tropics, but in greater numbers all living together as they should, forming a healthy marine ecosystem.

Pristine reefs are part of the Rowley Shoals (Oli Olroyd / North Star Cruises)
Aboard True North is US-born marine biologist Dr Justin Rizzari.

"What makes the Rowley Shoals special is their unusual isolation, setting them far away from human influences like unregulated fishing and agricultural run-off," says Justin, "Most problems almost all world's reefs suffer from are virtually unknown here and we have a system of rare ecological integrity."


Enjoying such a natural wonder in the company of family and friends is one of the great advantages of cruising with luxury operators like North Star Cruises and I've been most fortunate to coax my daughter away from her gruelling day job to join me out here for a brief safari into this aquatic wilderness.

Beach sundowners on an uninhabited sand spit, 200Kms offshore. (R Eime)
A day aboard True North is as fast and furious or laid back as you want to make it. For the high-energy types, there is a constant offering of fishing, scuba diving and snorkelling, backed up with gourmet cuisine prepared by two expert chefs and the supreme comfort of this 36-passenger,  private motor yacht. Others can relax in the comfortable lounge, cocktail or cappuccino at hand, with a 360-degree absolute ocean view to destress to.

Double roasted pork belly aboard True North (R Eime)
While it is easy to catch small and medium size rock cod, trevally and emperor in the permitted lagoon areas, the big ones present more of a challenge. The massive aerobatic sailfish patrol the Indian Ocean just outside the reef and, I can tell you, hooking one of these ferocious monsters or a feisty tuna is a whole new ball game for this occasional fisher. Be prepared with lots of lures, upper-body strength and patience before you land one of these - and then say goodbye as you set it free again.

Wrestling the mighty sailfish (Oli Olroyd / North Star Cruises)
Underwater, the vast carpet of hard and soft corals is all but untouched by humans and it's a joy to see vast carpets comprising 28 species of staghorn coral alone with their abundant populations of colourful reef fish and marine creatures.

North Star Cruises offer just two 5-day Coral Atoll Expeditions each year in September. For dates and prices see, www.northstarcruises.com.au

by expeditioncruising.com editor, Roderick Eime, aboard True North