Ningaloo Reef, North West Cape.

Tim at Oyster Stacks, Ningaloo Reef

Beautiful Ningaloo!

Where to begin? Photos can never truely convey the magical world of a reef, they can’t capture the behaviours and sounds of the animals who live there.

Such as the little damsel fish who guard their gardens with such vigour and bravery, attacking our cameras or fins, a tiny David against Goliath, making us laugh out loud at their fury. Or the flurry of sand from under a coral ledge, that sees us waiting patiently for what may appear, a catfish or grouper, an eel or octopus or ray hunting for food. They can’t capture the sounds of parrotfish as the crunch on the coral, or the clunk of coral moved by the big Blue Trigger fish. Nor can they convey our startled delight when a fish suddenly takes umbrage at our presence and flashes towards us or changes colour with its anger.

But we hope our photos will inspire those who are able to snorkel to try it, and for those who are unable to snorkel, this is our gift to you. We hope you enjoy this ‘other world’ we have come to love, a world that never ceases to amaze and inspire us.

Octopus

For some years now we have looked for octopus while snorkelling but have never seen one.

On our way back to shore after snorkelling at Lakeside, Tim noticed something strange. It was an octopus’s eyes looking out of a hole in the rubble. We stayed for a while but he didn’t come out.

The next day we went back to find him. A bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Tim did eventually find where he had been hiding the day before, but he wasn’t there. Searching near by we found him in some coral. Again, he didn’t move from his hiding hole.

From then on, no matter where we went to snorkel, we saw at least one, often two or three different octopus. Each day we snorkelled for about 2 hours. If they are in a crevice they were not likely to come out. But if they are hunting, they at first stay still, until they realise we are not a threat, then continue hunting. They hunt with half-moon groupers (small fish). Here’s an article for those interested, Partnership of Octopus & Fish.

You can see the halfmoon grouper at the bottom of these photos, waiting as the octopus ‘tents’ out over the coral and puts his tentacles down to flush out prey. The octopus’s mouth is between his arms, under his head, so when he flushes out prey, he can snap them up.

The most entertaining octopuses we saw were these two who were sitting next to each other. The lighter coloured one hunted around, the other one didn’t move much. We stayed with them about an hour, until our camera battery went flat. Again you can see the halfmoon groupers nearby.

Two octopus sitting near each other.

During our time with them, the active one went from dark chocolate brown, to soft tan, to white, to stripes. At one point he had thorny things all over him, then they were gone and he was smooth again. When laying under a ledge, the side near the sand was white, while the side near the coral was dark. Extraordinary!  A book we have just finished and found very informative about octopus behaviour, physiology and intellect is called ‘Other Minds; the Octopus and the evolution of Intelligent life’ by Peter Godfrey-Smith. 

Tim put together this video of highlights from our encounters with various octopuses. It’s at double speed and has music, no prizes for guessing which song.

Blue Triggerfish

Another incredibly intelligent animal we saw was the blue triggerfish. They are a big fish, about half a metre long, and quite round. This one was feeding, he would lift pieces of rubble (some quite large) and place them out of the way. Then go back to where they had been and blow jets of water to clear the sand to flush out crabs, shrimp, small fish and clams. All the while chasing other fish away. So fascinating to watch. They change their colour depending on their mood, going from bright blue to deep maroon. And their front teeth continually grow, so eating crustaceans and moving coral rubble helps keep them short.

Heres a video of a one feeding, double speed, no sound.

Yardie Homestead Campground.

Yardie Homestead campground was a great place to stay as its close to all the best snorkelling spots. Each camp site is quite large and it has cabins, powered sites, a dump point for van toilets, water, a cafe which sold very nice hot food at night, and live music on a Saturday night. Also a TV room, most important to catch the football games. The water is desalinated and although we could fill the van with it, they ask not to connect the water to the van. This is to remind people that the water is a precious resource. One tap was shared between four sites. We showered at the amenities block which was very clean. The power is hybrid, a combination of solar and diesel, so we couldn’t use electrical appliances that pulled too much power such as microwave, electric kettle, aircon, hairdryer, fridge, hot water system etc. We used gas for our fridge and hot water. Grass is only found on the two tent camping areas, each area holds about 12 tent sites and they are fenced to keep vehicles off the grass.

Snorkelling

The two places we loved most were Oyster Stacks and Lakeside. We also went to Turquoise Bay, but not as often as the current was quite strong at times. But it is a lovely place too.

Oyster Stacks – It’s only possible to snorkel at Oyster Stacks around high tide as the reef is very shallow. Due to the short window for snorkelling, it can became crowded in the car park, but plenty of room on the reef..

Lakeside – We found it best to snorkel at Lakeside at low tide as it’s much deeper there and the coral is too far down at high tide.

Beautiful Ningaloo, sharing the magic.

This Leopard Flounder (Ammotretis lituratusor) is so well camouflaged Tim only spotted him because he moved. There appears to be a face on his back, but I think that’s just his spots. His two little eyes are at the top of his head.

The following photos are from all three places; Oyster Stacks, Lakeside and Turquoise Bay. We used our two reference books as well as google to check names of fish, some of the names made us laugh.

Here are some highlights from our snorkelling on sites in Cape Range National Park, Ningaloo Reef. Double speed, no sound. Enjoy!

Helen snorkelling at sunset. Lakeside.

check out our 2019 visit to Ningaloo here.

cheers til next time, Helen & Tim