Ningaloo Reef is one of the world’s largest fringe reefs, which means amazing coral and sea life can be seen just metres from the beach. It was amazing and we would much sooner return to Ningaloo rather than the Great Barrier Reef.
After leaving Dirk Hartog Island, we said goodbye to my parents who headed for home so it was back to just the four of us again. We had decided to head to Cape Range NP, near Exmouth, and on the Ningaloo Reef for 5 nights which we hoped would be nice and relaxing after the excitement of having my parents around. It didn’t quite turn out to be relaxing but we still had a great time.
But first we had to stop in Carnarvon for a couple of nights to restock and to visit the Space and Technology Museum. The museum is run entirely by volunteers and was lots of fun for all of us, particularly the kids. We had no idea before visiting how much of a role Carnarvon had played in NASA’s space programme. NASA needed tracking and communication stations all over the world to stay in constant contact with its space missions and one of the stations was built in Carnarvon.
Halloween also fell while we were in Carnarvon and the kids teamed up with another girl in the caravan park to hit up all the grey nomads in their caravans. I have to say they did better than I expected (mostly by convincing everyone that had any lollies that they were the only kids coming around, so everyone just handed over whole bags of lollies).From Carnarvon it was an easy drive up to Cape Range NP and we found our campsite in Osprey Bay Campground. It was a lovely place but a disappointing campground which is clearly set up more for caravans/RVs than tents. The whole campground has been covered with 30cm of incredibly well compacted rock and gravel which made getting the tent pegs in next to impossible. And pegs were needed given the relentless wind over the next 5 days (hence, why it wasn’t particularly relaxing – the wind turns us all a bit ratty). As far as we could tell all the campsites in the campground were similar so we couldn’t work out where you’re supposed to camp with tents.
Despite the challenges of the wind we did manage to have a great time. Snorkelling was the highlight. There are snorkelling sites all along the coast and we tried out Oyster Stacks and Turquoise Bay which were quite different. At Oyster Stacks the coral and colourful fish started literally in shin deep water as soon as we stepped off the rocky beach. It was a small, shallow bay which meant the water was quite still. The tide was a little low when we were there which made dodging coral while we were swimming tricky but it was wonderful nonetheless.
In contrast, Turquoise Bay had a beautiful sandy beach and we had to swim out a little further to get to the coral (but still only 15m or so). There was a much larger lagoon behind the reef and a strong current pushed the water parallel to the beach creating a ‘drift snorkel’. Basically, we walked down the beach, swam out 15m or so and let the current push us over the coral. We just had to remember to get out before the current turned out to sea! It sounds great just being pushed along and watching the coral reef go by underneath and it was great, but I really could have done without the current. It just made staying in place to look at something interesting too hard. Anyway, again there was plenty of beautiful coral and fish and even a large stingray that we spotted, with a scary looking barb on its tail.
We couldn’t help compare the reef with the Great Barrier Reef and, while we had a great day on the Great Barrier Reef, we all agreed that Ningaloo trumps it in every way. The coral and fish were better, particularly the coral which was much more colourful than on the Great Barrier Reef where much of it had died. And we didn’t have to pay a small fortune to take a full day boat tour to go snorkelling. We just snorkelled straight off the beach for free.
Surfing and turtles
On one of our days Lindy and Izzy had a surfing lesson at Woribi Beach. Izzy’s going to write a separate post but I’ll just say it was amazing to watch them surfing with turtles swimming all around.
We returned to Woribi that evening at sunset to see if we could find any turtles wondering up the beach to their nests. We were lucky enough to see two, although one returned to the water soon after we got there. The second just sat at the water’s edge being pushed around by the incoming waves for an hour or so as we watched. It was beautiful.
A random cave
The final highlight at Cape Range NP I’ll mention was a drive over the range to the other side of the peninsula. We followed a 4WD track which left the main road right near our camp at Osprey Bay and headed up into the hills. It was reasonably steep and rocky as we went up so it was slow going, but we got up on top of the range which gave amazing views back over the beaches and the Indian Ocean.
We were heading for a cave we had found on WikiCamps but had not seen mentioned anywhere else. We found it easily enough, ate lunch then went in to explore. Somebody had set up and left a chain ladder which were very grateful for because there was a vertical drop of about 6m to get in. Then we found ourselves in a very large cavern with beautiful formations.
We explored a bit from there, including some crawling through narrow tunnels which was fun although none of the tunnels went very far. All in all everyone enjoyed something that was a bit different and we thanked WikiCamps once again for the tip. The road from there continued over to the eastern side of the peninsula and joined the main road on that side just south of Exmouth. On the way we passed some impressive gorges. There are more gorges along the range that we have liked to visit but, alas, we once again ran out of time to do everything!
The wind at Cape Range NP was getting to us and, for some reason, all the tours from Exmouth had stopped running for the season. However, we worked out there were still tours going from Coral Bay, about 100km south and still on Ningaloo Reef, so we he decided to head down there.
From Cape Range NP we followed a sandy 4WD track along the coast all the way into Coral Bay. It was a beautiful drive and certainly better than speeding down the bitumen. We even got to demonstrate our now well practised Max Trax recovery skills.
Once in Coral Bay we were keen to find somewhere to sleep out of the wind so booked into the the local backpackers which was a good experience for the kids. We figured some experience in a backpackers might come in handy for them in the future.
Then we booked Lindy and Matthew onto a glass bottom boat tour (Matthew was not into the snorkelling so has been missing out on the coral and fish).
And the following day we all went on the manta ray tour which was great fun. We found a manta ray and all jumped in to swim along behind it and it was such a beautiful and gentle creature. There was also a chance to snorkel over some more coral and Lindy and Izzy found a turtle and some reef sharks.
(The above photos were all taken by Tom Cannon of Ocean Collective Media)