Affordable Adventures Part III
To say we were slightly nervous is the understatement of the year. None of us slept. All of us had no real idea of what was in store.
Thankfully, vessel master of The Kashi-Mar, Andy Edwards with eighteen years experience along this coast and his young and capable crew obviously understood exactly how we were all feeling. Gently they eased us into it all. Kami, Luis and I were shown all the distress signals, warned that even the strongest of swimmers can get tired chasing after the biggest fish in the world and putting your arm up for help was perfectly acceptable. We would be close, we were told, but obviously we mustn’t touch the animal or allow it to touch us. A gentle flap of a whale shark’s fin could knock you well and truly out of your comfort zone.
As to the actual experience, we each kept a journal on this trip and compared notes at the end of the day. The entry that captured the excitement, the wonder, the sheer whole experience of swimming with whale sharks was Kami’s.
‘It takes a while for the adrenalin to kick in. You’ve got to learn the ropes, understand the signals, the safety rules but then, when it’s just a matter of waiting for the spotter plane to give us the thumbs up that the pulse starts to race and the nerves start to tingle. You’ve been talking it over and over in your head and you’re ready and waiting. Wet-suit on, flippers and mask in hand, and the call comes, “go go go!!”
Be fast, get in the water, head down, snorkel clear, get into the right position before the shark arrives. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance and mess up the sequence for the next group. “Go go go!” You’re in, doing as you were told, near to the others, head in water, mask on, spanning right to left, left to right, looking, waiting. There’s nothing there. Just this immense blue abyss below and to all sides. Nothing. Silence.
Then, out of nowhere, it’s there. You’ve locked eyes with it, it’s coming right at you and you’re paddling as fast as you can out of the way. It’s four or five metres long and it’s beautiful. Graceful. It’s slow and so calm. It’s also enormous and blue and has thousands of little white dots. You’ve been told to look for its ‘fingerprint’, a pattern of dots just under its pectoral fin that identifies it from every other whale shark in the world. You’ve been told your photographs could make a difference to scientific research and you try, you try hard to get a good picture.
Before you realise it’s passed you and it doesn’t seem so slow anymore. No, no, this is fast. Very Fast. And you want so desperately to keep up. Swim, swim, swim, swim, kicking as fast as possible with the fins, staying at its side, watching. Looking at the lines of it, the smoothness. You wonder at the gentle swish swish of its tail as it effortlessly propels itself through the ocean. We are only a few metres from the surface and the sunlight is playing tricks, the rays look like they’re coming up at you from below, from an opening in the depths of the ocean sixty metres below. This is the whale shark’s world and it’s letting you stay.
We followed not one shark, but three during our time on the Kashi-Mar taking turns between groups, following each one until it decided to dive down and disappear.
Later we stopped for lunch, a delicious picnic lunch which tasted divine after all the salt water on our lips and then we headed to the marine park for a relaxing after lunch snorkel. The time with the whale sharks was over but the wonders of the reef were ready and waiting to meet us. If you’re lucky you’ll see a turtle or a few dolphins, you’ll definitely see masses of coloured fish and coral and you may even spot a nearly perfectly camouflaged manta ray, nestling just under the white sandy bed.
As we headed for home at about 4.30 in the afternoon we realized, once again, what we’d done. We’d swum alongside the biggest fish in the sea. No cages, no nothing, just open ocean and us with the most beautiful thing we have ever seen and perhaps will ever see. What a feeling.’
We’re having breakfast in the café in the town square and the man making our fruit
juices has a suggestion. Why don’t we complete our experience with a bird’s eye view of it all? A young chap called Gavin Penfold who we saw on the news this morning, breaking a new record as he flew his Microlight aircraft from one side of Australia to the other, is based here at Ningaloo and offers touristic flights. We are supposed to be going home today. Have we time? We just had to have a go.
It turned out to be the icing on the cake, the cream in our coffee. Buzzing up there in the sky above the reef, in something not much bigger than a mosquito was another incredible, Ningaloo experience. We’d seen the coast and the reef from under the sea, from the land and now from up in the sky. What a view, what an experience, what a fabulous discovery.
Photo Credits: Wayne Osborn, WA Tourism, Sandra Ramini, Brad Norman