It started off as just a fun side-trip along the Coral Coast of Western Australia. It’s turned out to be a full scale adventure.
We are in search of Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth Gulf, over a thousand kilometers from the city of Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia. We’re only here for four days and each morning as we wake up there is something new to be discovered.
The diversity and natural beauty of Ningaloo Reef comes, I am told, from two different currents, one temperate, one tropical that flow along this coast producing both hard and soft coral. Swimming lazily over the reef, in water that I could almost stand up in, I look through my goggles and see intricate formations in some areas and vibrant fish and colours in others. It’s so active, so untouched and so accessible. Combine this with a sea as clear as crystal, striped all colours of blue, from milky turquoise through to deep navy and sand so fine and white that it squeaks beneath your heels and you have what must amount to a marine paradise.
The other wonder is the emptiness of it all. Despite the fact that this is high season Ningaloo is still relatively empty. It’s this untouched quality along with the extraordinary variety of things to do that makes it all so special. Yet Ningaloo Reef was only recognized as a world heritage site three years ago!
We could have gone on snorkeling for ever; there are 260 kilometres of reef to explore, but if, for a moment, you turn your back on the sea you have Cape Range National Park. We took a Ningaloo Safari, which is highly recommended. Not just because you get to see everything but because the Department of Environment and Conservation doesn’t believe in fences, but do believe in education. You quickly learn not to go stomping about. The indigenous plants are as precious as coral and don’t like being squashed underfoot.
Then there’s the wild life; the wedge-tailed eagle, the Euro kangaroo with enormous ears, the emu and rock wallaby, not to mention the lizards and snakes are all here, but they are pretty clever at pretending they’re not and the resulting silence is deafening. Only when we slide along the surface of Yardie Creek in a flat bottom boat to see the mangrove swamps do we disturb a flock of shrieking fruit bats, annoyed at being interrupted.
They reckon the cape is about 60,000 years old, which is quite young for gorges and chasms like this. We are told that it erupted from the ocean, possibly millions of years ago. Examining fossils from the sea bed and huge shark teeth that were once embedded in ancient rock you can’t doubt it. Australia is one of the world’s oldest continents with a slightly Jurassic Park feel about it. Both in and out of the sea.
And talking of sea, what about the whale sharks? Back at our chalet at Exmouth Escape we find a message from the dive boat crew. Conditions are perfect, the whale sharks have been spotted. Tomorrow is the day.