Day 4: Swimming with Whale Sharks
Every year from March to August, the world’s biggest fish congregate along the Ningaloo Reef. The opportunity to swim with these gentle giants was one of the main reasons why we chose to head to Ningaloo Reef and even tour the Western Coast.
The weather and water conditions were perfect, shimmering blue waters surrounding me and a near-cloudless sky overhead.
Our tour started at 8.30am (we very nearly missed the boat due to Jules procrastination – I think tiredness has finally kicked in from the sleepless, sweaty nights.)
The tour began with a snorkel on the coral gardens of the Ningaloo Reef Lagoon, were we saw a few turtles and many smaller, colorful fish.
While the morning snorkel session is taking place, spotter planes head up to locate the whale sharks along the outer edge of Ningaloo Reef.
The mood on deck is relaxed but that changes quickly when a spotter plane radios word of a whale shark sighting. As the boat’s high-powered engines roar into action, torsos wriggle into wetsuits, snorkels are cleaned.
We are split into two groups of about 10 snorkelers. Perched on the edge of the boat, snorkel on, my heart pounds at the thought of whale sharks swimming below my dangling flippers. Our instructor receives the signal from the ‘Whale shark spotter’ flying in a helicopter above. “Go! Go! Go!” Adrenalin kicks in and our group of eight flops into the ocean.
I’m no Olympic swimmer but have to say, I quickly find myself beating the whale shark in this race to nowhere. That by the way is no indication of my speed, but rather the leisurely pace at which the whale shark moves through the water – so graceful. Despite their size.
While the creatures and their mottled skin photograph beautifully, no amount of megapixels can capture the experience of seeing them up close in the flesh. We managed to swim with three beautiful sharks throughout the day, ranging from 3-6f in total.
Once back on shore, we headed to Yardee Creek for the night. I did some yoga under the shade of palm trees and Jules got to work with setting up camp, which was going very well until we hit a minor hiccup – Jules broke the coffee plunger!! I quickly rummaged through the cupboards of the campervan for a solution (this night could make or break us, if I am not thoroughly caffeinated!) I found a small plunger under the sink, hopes were high, albeit temporarily, as the filter doesn’t work, cue grainy coffee. Better than nothing I suppose. I’ll take one for the team to ensure we survive the night without tantrums.
Day 5: Snorkeling the Reefs
Kicked the day off with a morning workout. I brought some gymnastic rings with me, hoping I could hang them from a tree (turns out northern WA is significantly lacking on the tree front). The camp site we were in had a kid’s playground with monkey bars, so I took this opportunity to get a quick workout in before Jules woke up.
Due to coffee plunger issues the prior evening, we headed to a local café for a morning brew. I confused the hell out of the waitress when I ordered mine with 4 espresso shots. I don’t think anyone has ever ordered this before? Maybe I do have an issue?
We also managed to pick up a plunger replacement in the local IGA – #relationshipsaved!
On the agenda for the day was snorkeling at Oyster Stacks and Lakeside, two famous spots within the marine park.
Oyster Stacks, as the name suggests, there are lots of oyster beds along the shore, so you have to go at high tide. Home to smaller fish and corals – this wasn’t the most interesting snorkeling site I have ever been on, so we didn’t stay for long.
Lakeside was by fare my favourite of the trip so far. The snorkel was like swimming in an aquarium. With large coral bommies, the place was a haven for turtles, reef sharks and stingrays.
Day 6: More snorkeling
Today was all about the snorkeling. We headed back to Oyster Stacks, despite being slightly disappointed with our first snorkel. We heard a rumor that if the swell was low, you can swim up a small canyon in the inner reef, to the outer reef, where you can find larger sharks and sea life. Conditions have to be near on perfect however. They weren’t. It was almost like being on a slow cycle in a washing machine. We gave up after 15ish minutes and came back to shore.
The second snorkel was at Lakeside, but this time we did the Bay vs the Drift. Nothing much to report – the beach was beautiful however and the sea crystal clear. It was the first time I actually sunbathed on the beach for a decent hour.
The best part of the day was dinner. I had heard of a great restaurant in town which specialised in local seafood. We shared a dish of local prawns and deep-fried calamari to start, followed by a steak for Jules and a Gumbo Pot for me (the chef was from New Orleans, so it was a no brainer and did not disappoint one bit). Of course, all was washed down with a few bottles of Shiraz. Heaven!
Day 7: Kayaking Bundegi Sanctuary Zone
The morning was quite a leisurely one, we went for coffee, had some breakfast in a local café, drove to the Lighthouse to take a few snaps of the view.
The afternoon was the highlight of the day. We headed out with The Exmouth Adventure Co for a sea kayak tour. Luck would have it, we were the only ones booked on, so we had a private tour guide to.
We headed out at about 1pm to the Bundegi Sanctuary Zone. As we paddled through the mangroves, we got to see baby turtles, eagle rays, shovel nosed sharks, reef sharks and plenty of fish. The turtles were the most fun, darting under the boat as soon as they saw the shadow of the boat approach them.
With the first part of the tour over, we kayaked to the outer reef, attached our kayaks to a buoy, donned our snorkel gear and went for a swim around the coral reefs, where we saw sea turtles, and hundreds of beautiful fish.
The tour finished with a picnic in the kayaks – cheese, biscuits, fruit, even cold lemonade. A perfect way to end our time in Exmouth.
Once on shore, we made our way down to Coral Bay, approximately 150km’s south of Exmouth. Coral Bay is very different from what I had imagined, as it is more of a resort / holiday park than a town. There are two large (overfilled) camp sites and a shopping center with a few cafes and restaurants dotted around (but nothing to write home about!).
But it is home to the Manta Rays (need to think of the big picture). Plus, the snorkeling is meant to be amazing – hence the name.
We spent the night in a rather crowded area of the camp site, which reminded me somewhat of the UK version of Butlins – lots of Bogans (UK version of a Chav) with their screaming kids running a riot and causing mischief.
This was all however, drowned out, with a healthy dose of vino.