Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef, WA

Celebrating my 60th Birthday swimming with Whale Sharks on the Ningaloo Reef with friends and family was amazing. Best 60th EVER!

A birthday to remember. Celebrations started at Easter and continued through to June. Thank you to my wonderful husband for making this all come together. I am so blessed and so grateful to have such loving family and friends.

The tour company we went whale shark swimming with was Ningaloo Whale Shark Swim in Exmouth;  they were fantastic. Whale sharks are wild animals in their natural environment and they are magnificent to see.

These are the photos by the professional underwater photographer Sian (Sharn). She was amazing.  Four different  sharks are pictured here, all were between 6 metres and 8 metres long.

Our arrival in Exmouth was not so wonderful. Leaving the relatively green Coral Bay area with its green lawns watered with bore water, I became somewhat downhearted to notice the deterioration in greenery as we drove north toward Exmouth. Not sure why, but I assumed Exmouth would be as green.  Arriving at Ningaloo LIghthouse Holiday Park, just outside Exmouth, I promptly burst into tears at the sight of the dust bowl we were booked into for the next 4 weeks.

Thinking we had a swimming beach within walking distance only to find it was unsuitable for swimming due to rocks and prickly creatures in the water did nothing to help matters.

Thank goodness Dan Murphy delivers to remote areas via Australia Post (we didn’t need to use the shower in our van anyway).

We were suprised to hear that mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has bought this caravan park with plans to turn it into an eco-resort (“Shire boosts eco-resort plan”).

Even though it was a rocky start to our stay, we came to love this place, and after four weeks, were reluctant to leave. Snorkeling on the beautiful Ningaloo Reef and being able to share it with family and friends has been magical beyond words. The fish life here is much more abundant and diverse than at Coral Bay although not as much coral; and Cape Range National Park has some majestic gorges and stunning rock formations. The down side is that you have to drive quite a distance to each area, but its worth it.  We fell in love with the landscape too; the myriad of greens and reds of the land against the turquoise and blue of the ocean, just spectacular. We will definitely come back, perhaps stay longer next time.

Here’s what we got up to.

A movie night at our camp, thank you to our wonderful daughter. Tim’s Sand Wars movie, Muriel’s Wedding, and popcorn. There’s nothing like going to bed with ‘ABBA’ and ‘The Star Wars Soundtrack’ going round in your head.

Coffee fueled exercise classes in the mornings.

Chasing kangaroos around the camp ground.

The Ningaloo Reef lies off shore along the west side of the peninsula, thus the best snorkeling spots are on that side. Snorkeling at ‘Oyster Stacks’ is only safe near high tide due to the oyster crusted rock stacks. This is the place to see the most abundant fish life.

This little black damsel fish took a dislike to the GoPro, or maybe it took a likening to it? Either way, it kept hitting the camera, and I couldn’t stop laughing, which is quite difficult with a snorkel and mask on.

Getting in and out of the water at Oyster Stacks can be tricky, especially when also trying to get your flippers on. Thank you to our daughter for laughing hysterically while taking this footage.

Drift snorkeling at ‘Turquoise Bay’. It’s best to walk up the beach, swim out to the reef and let the current take you to the other end. It’s crucial to get out of the water before you reach the rip that goes out to sea. Some days the current was unpleasantly strong, other days there was not much current at all. Not many underwater photos from here because the GoPro was away being replaced.

Wading in the shallows at Turquoise Bay, schools of blackspotted dart fish swam around our legs, some as large as 50cm in length. They took a liking to my pink nail polish and would nibble my fingers.

Snorkeling at ‘Lakeside’, which has the largest and tallest coral bommies in the area (a bommie is a tall column of coral like an underwater tower).  Its important to look at a diagram of where the coral is before going. There is a designated sanctuary zone in roughly a square with each corner having a yellow marker: two yellow markers on the shore and two yellow buoys in the sea, each about 150 metres apart. On our first visit we followed written instructions only …. Walk along the beach 500 metres til you come to the second shore marker. Enter the water and swim directly out 150 metres to the yellow buoy then another 150 metres parallel to the beach to the second buoy (against a strong current) then another 150 metres to the first shore marker and exit the water. We did this, totally exhausting, it took us 90 minutes of strong swimming and we saw NOTHING. The next day we found a booklet with a picture of the area. We had swam the boundary and completely missed the coral in the centre.

Determined to find the elusive coral we went back and it was amazing, in fact we went back many times. Some days there was very little current, other days the current was scarily strong and heading out to sea. Apart from the beautiful coral bommies and lots of fish, we wanted to find reef sharks which this spot is suppose to attract. We only saw two, tried to follow them but they were too quick for us. Tim got some great footage of one with the GoPro.

Milyering Discovery Centre is at the turnoff to Lakeside. It’s well equiped with tourist information, gifts, books and does tour bookings etc, but most importantly it has a coffee van out the front called ‘The Lost Shipp”. A large flock of pink and grey galahs and white corellas visited us there one day. The only other coffee place on the west side of the peninsula is Yardie Homestead Caravan Park, but on all three occasions we stopped there the cafe was closed even though the open signs were out.

The best swimming beach we found was Jansz Beach, really deep and sandy and not too rough.

Yardie Creek is the only gorge in Cape Range National Park with permanent water; it’s salt water, crystal clear, surrounded by cliffs that are home to the rare black footed rock wallaby. The boat tour was very informative.

This is an osprey and its nest.

The Yardie Creek Trail around the ridge has great views; the last part is a bit of a climb.

Flies were plentiful.

The beach near Yardie Creek was beautiful.

There is a 4WD track from Yardie Creek to Coral Bay which takes about 4 hours one way. We did go to Coral Bay for a day trip but via the highway rather than this track.

On the east side of the Peninsula is Shot Hole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon in the Cape Range National Park. The rock formations are fascinating.

Our driver went beyond the call of duty to ensure our safety and entertainment through out the day.

Sunsets from Vlaming Head Lighthouse. The views anytime of day are spectacular, but at sunset its a very popular spot: difficult to find a carpark some nights.

Sunsets from the Lighthouse Beach near the camp.

Sunset at Hopkins Beach.

Fishing, unsuccessfully at Bundegi Beach. This was another place with a cafe that never seemed to be opened even though the signs were out.

Pebble Beach is a unique beach made up of pebbles, some still in the conglomerate form along with coral and shells. I will leave those of you interested to read further on this subject. So beautiful and fascinating.

Things we saw around the town and on the road; lots of signs, secret buildings, dingos, emus, kangaroos, termite mounds, bogged back packers in Kombi vans, even a dust storm.

The Harold E Holt Submarine Centre communication towers.

The Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival just happened to be on the weekend we arrived.

WAO (West Australian Opera) came to Osprey Park in Exmouth. Fantastic!

The Ningaloo Centre details the history of Exmouth, North West Cape, and the Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt. I won’t go into detail here, but it’s well worth a read for anyone is interested in what the area was used for during WW2 and the Cold War. The area is still mostly military and anyone photographing specific areas can have their camera confiscated or be imprisoned. Lots of places on the peninsula are restricted areas. Quite interesting. The Australian Federal Police are also present here, not sure why. I hope I have these photos in correct chronological order, and that you’re able to read them.  Can I also add that we found it quite disturbing that there was nothing about the Aboriginal peoples of this area.

Our final video is “feature-length” at 12 minutes. If you are in a hurry, check out the schools of fish at the start and the turtle at 1:51. It’s best with the sound on.

till next time. Cheers from Helen & Tim