The drive from Shark Bay to Coral bay takes about 6 hours so after leaving the Stralomolites, most of our was spent in on the road admiring the incredible scenery.
We stopped off briefly for a spot of lunch at the Billabong Roadhouse in the town of Carnarvon which is one of the busiest spots on the west coast for truckers. We didn’t stay too long but it was interesting none the less!
After leaving Carnarvon we made a bit of an interesting stop off and admired the exact spot where the Tropic of Capricorn crosses. This was super cool to see and we all definitely took about a million photos.
Back in the car, we soon arrived into the town of Coral Bay, just as the evening began to draw in. We were spending the night at the Ningaloo Club, which was fairly basic but perfect for a one night stop over – we were all pretty knackered by this stage anyway… We spent the evening sitting out by the pool, drinking beers and cooking burgers – it was lovely and relaxing!
The next day after a bit of a lie in we all wandered into town to grab some snorkels and flippers and we made our way down to the beach. We spent the entire day lying out on the sand, swimming in the sea and snorkelling in the shallows our first experience of the stunning Ningaloo reef. Spanning over 600,000 hectares, the Ningaloo reef is Regarded as one of the last great ocean paradises on Earth, it is Australia’s largest fringing reef and lies just metres from the shore in many places, so you can snorkel straight off the beach which is amazing. The Ningaloo Reef comprises 200 species of hard corals and 50 species of soft corals with over 520 species of fish. The reefs close proximity to the shoreline means it is easily accessible, being a diver’s and snorkeler’s paradise. The Ningaloo Reef is famous for Whale Sharks, Mantarays, Humpback whales, Dugongs, Turtles, Potato Cod and hundreds of other different fish species. It’s literally stunning! I made a bit of an error here whilst we were sunbathing…. somehow I managed to sunburn my eyelid. A first for me, and I definitely sported a very red looking eye patch for the days to follow. Gah!
After a few hours out on the beach we grabbed some food at one of the local cafes before wandering back up towards the hostel and climbing into the mini bus. We would be driving up to Exmouth that afternoon, a short drive which took about an hour and a half. Something that you notice a lot whilst driving in Western Australia is the strange earthy mounds that poke up like little muddy turrets all across the dusty ground. What are they? Termite mounds! Like ants, or bees, Termites live in large social colonies comprising kings, queens, workers and soldiers. They are generally large, whitish or brown in colour, soft-bodied, avoid sunlight and build these large clay mounds called ‘termitariums’. They are literally everywhere – it’s pretty to crazy to think you’re looking at evidence of hundreds of millions – billions – of termites that have spent their entire lives building over huge tracts of land in the remote tropical outback. Apparently some of these mounds can be up to 100 years old!
We soon arrived into the town of Exmouth as the sun started to set. We got checked into our accommodation the RAC Exmouth Cape Range Holiday Park, got unpacked and settled before wandering into town to grab some provisions – i.e. all the beer.
That evening we had such a fun time, sitting out in the grounds, eating dinner (fish and chips from the chippie), playing games of flip cup and generally just all getting a bit boozy. A bit later we headed into the main town where we spent our time drinking and dancing at the bar – the Potshot. We all had such a fun evening even if we were feeling a bit bleery eyed the next morning….
The next day we all woke up, grabbed some breakfast and lots of coffee out in the morning sun whilst planning our itinerary for the day. One of the main things that people do when they come to Exmouth is swim with whale sharks – the whole town is effectively built up around this industry. Every year from March to August, Whale Sharks (aka the world’s biggest fish) congregate along the Ningaloo Reef. These massive but harmless filter feeders can grow up to a crazy 18m long. They cruise the world’s oceans in search of concentrations of plankton to feed on, and the Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places on the planet they appear regularly in large numbers. The cost of swimming with whale sharks is unfortunately pretty pricey, it’s around about £300, regardless however Miles and I decided that we would only get this opportunity once in our lives so decided we would book ourselves onto a trip along with a few other people on our bus. Unfortunately, however, Cabs soon had to break the news to us that all boat trips had been cancelled that day due to adverse weather out at sea – we were all pretty disappointed.
Not ones to sulk, however, we all hopped on the bus and set about for a day exploring the spectacular Cape Range National Park. Located adjacent to Ningaloo Marine Park, Cape Range National Park boats spectacular rocky gorges carved by ancient rivers that adjoin one of the most pristine and beautiful coastlines in the world. It really is hard to explain just how beautiful it is. Having entered the park, we stopped off at the visitors centre to learn more about the ecology and history of the area. I always find myself in the wildlife section of these sorts of centres – particularly detailing the marine life found in these waters. Great white shark? Oh great…
On the drive down from the visitors centre we caught a lucky glimpse of one of the area’s most interesting creatures – the Echidna! Echidna’s (or the spiny-anteater) look like a hedgehog or porcupine but are in fact not related. Echidnas grow up to 50cm in length and their backs and sides are covered with spines and coarse hair. They have small eyes and the ears have no outer part, being mere vertical slits. Echidnas have a long, black, tubular snout with a small mouth and long narrow, sticky tongue to gather up their food. These super interesting creatures hide under rocks and bushes and are therefore quite difficult to see or find – we were pretty lucky! This particular one obviously didn’t enjoy our presence however as it defensively rolled into a ball, its spikes protecting its soft under parts. Super interesting!
After a quick picnic lunch, sitting out on the decks, we wandered down the sandy incline to spend our day on the most beautiful of beaches – Turquoise Bay. Looking at the picture perfect turquoise sea and the white sandy beach, it’s not surprising this has been hailed as one of the best beaches in Western Australia. We spent a good few hours here, lying out on the sand and snorkelling in the shallows. I found the vibrancy and the colours of the coral and fish so much better here than on the Great Barrier Reef. The fact that you just have to swim a couple of meters out from the shoreline makes it even better.
One thing to note about this beach, however, is that it has one of the most dangerous rip currents in the area. The current on this beach sweeps you round such power that you literally can’t just float; you are constantly drifted down the beach along with the current. This is great for snorkelling as you literally just let the current drift you across the corals. You do have to be really careful though as it’s hard to get out. That day we actually witnessed a woman being full on bay watch style rescued as she’d been caught out on the drift – it really is dangerous. Apparently if you do get caught out on a drift, the thing to do it lie on your back and relax. The drift should eventually bring you back round – this would take you really far out sea however, so I’m not sure how relaxed I would be constantly thinking about the sharks in these waters…!
After a few hours at the beach we all dragged ourselves back to the bus, dusted the sand off our toes and began the drive back into Exmouth. We did make one quick stop off, however, at the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. This beautiful Lighthouse overlooks Lighthouse Bay and has the distinction of being one of the few places in Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set. The Lighthouse was built in 1912 and stands on the northernmost tip of the Cape Range – it really was stunning. We even had ice creams to round off the day.
That evening, we had a chilled roast out on the grounds and enjoyed watching the outdoor film screening at the holiday park which was definitely, erm, meant for the kids.
That evening, Miles and I had a bit of a chat about what our plan was for the next few days. We were due to leave Exmouth tomorrow with our group and commence a two day drive back down to Perth. By this point, however, we had both decided that swimming with whale sharks was something that we both really wanted to do. We spoke to Cabs and asked whether there was any way we could stay in Exmouth for a couple more days and head back down to Perth on the next bus trip. Luck was definitely on our side that day as the next bus had two seats available. We snapped them up and booked ourselves onto a whale shark trip the following day – looks like we were staying in Exmouth!