Approaching Exmouth from the north gave us a taste of things to come; by 9AM it was 40°C. Exmouth was hot and dusty sprawl and apparently closed by 3, which is when we arrived, so we continued to the coast. Ningaloo is kind of a long way from anywhere, so no surprises to find a VLF array for talking to submarines. We didn’t come for that though, we were interested in snorkelling – or shallow free diving, for those of us that don’t use snorkels! Ningaloo is a fringing reef – so you can swim (or pretty much walk) out to it.
In terms of the practicalities, we had already bought a snorkel and some flippers/fins at KMart in Perth, and we had our tent, so we found ourselves a pitch in what turned to be a kangaroo tick ridden campsite. The camp sites are nice, with plenty of space in each bay for a car and a tent, with a scrubby hedge, and plenty of benches. There is lots of information at the visitors centre, which includes the tides and everything you need to know to see the best stuff at the best time. We managed to find a turtle paddling around at the Bay loop, before heading over to the Oyster Stacks, which was very shallow, so we could see everything close up, including an octopus which changed colour. Once we’d had enough snorkelling for the day, we checked out the birdlife at Mangrove Bay.
Once we’d been death stared out by the local birds, we headed back to the beach and chilled.
Next morning the sea was a bit choppy, but we snorkelled at Lakeside and managed to see a ray, before trying Turquoise Bay and the Drift Loop again. Drift Loop has a strong current so that all you really need to do is get into the sea and keep an eye on your position and get out at the right time; if you don’t you float off into the Indian Ocean and don’t come back. After an entire morning of that, we were up for a bit of a walk and wandered off into the Cape Range national park. There are a bunch of set walks around the gorges here, easily tackled even by people in flip flops. I wouldn’t want to do it in flip flops, but others did and survived.
Ningaloo is more accessible from the land than the Great Barrier Reef, but that bit of land is a bit less accessible – a long drive from Perth or Karratha, which are a long way from everywhere else themselves! I find in Australia, getting there is half the fun, but if you don’t, the Great Barrier Reef is definitely a lot less effort. However, where the Barrier Reef required a boat trip, we could just walk from our tent to the sea and dive in, and emerge for lunch, or a rest. We did get sunburned a lot, probably due to inexpert and insufficient application of sun screen. When the sun is out – it burns hot and long, and it’ll probably get you. Apart from a slightly pissed off looking octopus that I mentioned earlier, the only other annoyances were the wind, which screwed with our cooking and reduced visibility for snorkelling, and the Kangaroo ticks, which appeared in the mornings in groups and got into our stuff after Kangaroos has been nosing around our camp. Apparently they actually carry Lyme’s disease, so these need to be watched out for. There don’t seem to be any sharks in the area, and we didn’t encounter any poisonous snakes, though I expect they are there. If you want to do things on your own time, don’t mind a long drive, and enjoy the isolation – this is a great place to visit. I just wish I’d taken an underwater camera!