Some of the places we camp are very cool, but every now and then we discover somewhere exceptional. After we left Karijini, we headed for the Exmouth Peninsula and Cape Range National park. The park has a limited number of camping spots, so if it is full, you have to wait for someone to leave, before the next camper can enter. We had heard stories of people waiting at the entrance gate from 4:30am, just trying to get into the campsites. We arrived at 5:30pm and the ranger was nowhere in sight, so we just drove straight in and began looking for somewhere to set up. We settled on Osprey Bay, about 36km south of the entry gates, where there were three empty places.
Osprey Bay was one of the best campsites available, a fact we confirmed as we explored the area for the next 6 days. Our campsite host was happy for us to set up and sort out the details the next day, as the light was fading fast, and it takes a while to get everything ready.
Early the next morning, we wandered down to the beach entrance and snorkelled out to see if there was anything interesting underwater. About 30m offshore we discovered a large, deep hole in the rocks that was home to several hundred fish, of all colours, sizes and shapes.
Unfortunately, it had been a while since a grocery shop had been available, so we had to run into Exmouth and pick up some much needed supplies, fuel, water, all the usual suspects. Further exploring would have to wait until the next day.
As became our custom, we started the next day snorkelling. This time we headed for Turquoise Bay, a renowned reef destination, where you walk to the south end of the beach and enter the water, and the current pulls you along the reef until you reach the sandy point where you walk back up the beach and do it all again. And again. And again. It was amazing. As soon as you put your mask on, you were surrounded by a large school of curious Dart fish schooling on the sand. A short swim to the reef and the underwater environment literally exploded into life all around.
Ningaloo Reef is Western Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It runs south for 300km from the tip of Exmouth Gulf and is accessible from the shoreline in many places. Snorkelling on the outer reef is not recommended, due to the Indian Ocean crashing huge breakers constantly from the continental shelf, which is at its closest point to the Australian mainland. Not very far from the shore, the ocean plunges over 1600m deep. But snorkelling from the beach is easy enough, and there are many choices, depending on your skill level and fitness.
A short walk around the point at Turquoise Bay brought us to a calmer, more protected beach, where the snorkelling was easier, but less rewarding. There were still plenty of fish around, but the reef lacked the colour and variety found in the faster flowing waters. Josie and I decided to complete one last trip around the reef, and on the way back to shore, we managed to spot a Green Turtle lying on the bottom watching us. He swam away slowly, so we followed him for a little while, before leaving him alone. Amazing! Never in my lifetime would I have ever considered that we might swim with turtles, and Josie is only 12.
Once we finished snorkelling, we began our daily pilgrimage to the closest water tap to fill our 20 litre shower bottle. A flock of Emu’s knew where to find water, so we arrived to find several large birds guarding 6 smaller chicks and the only water tap for 50km. Luckily, Daniel was willing to brave the large birds to fill the water bottles, so we could all have warm showers each night.
We returned to Turquoise Bay several times over the next few days, but a fellow camper told us we should check out a site called The Oyster Stacks. Due to Rosa’s recent unfortunate accident on the Oysters at 80 mile beach, we were reluctant to visit, but we were assured it was worth the risk. The other important detail is to enter the water at high tide, as the reef here is very shallow. We found out that tomorrow mornings high tide was at 8:20am.
We left on time for our snorkelling adventure, but Rosa was apprehensive, and Leisl flat out refused to enter the water. She read a book on the shore. We put Rosa on her inflatable boogie board, to keep her above the water, and fitted our own masks, snorkels and fins. As soon as I put my face in the water, I was transported into an enormous fish tank! It was like the set of ‘Finding Nemo’, and we hadn’t moved off shore yet. Once we all got going, we discovered that this was the BEST snorkelling on the coastline. (AND it was our last morning!!! Doh…). Huge fish were hiding under the rocks in their dozens, the reef was alive, colourful and vibrant, we saw a starfish that would have measured 50cm across, and much, much more. It was incredible. There were no incidents with the oysters, as we were all very careful. As we left the water, we decided we should go back to Turquoise Bay for one last float along the drift.
We also took a few walks along the beach, spotting turtles, or wetting a fishing line in a vain attempt to catch a fish, or watching the kids play at the waters edge. I also am learning more about our digital SLR camera, so have been experimenting with sunset shots. I still take way too many photos to get a good one, but every now and then, they come out all right.
At the moment the beach and water are constantly filled with Green and Loggerhead turtles in the midst of their breeding, egg laying and hatchling cycle. There is plenty of evidence of these activities, and Karen took great delight in telling the children that they were Humpback Turtles. Until she overheard Rosa telling another child, who had just arrived at the campsite, “Oh those are Humpback Turtles! in the water” Try getting an explanation for that one from his parents…
Early on the last day, no-one wanted to get out of bed. No-one wanted to eat breakfast. No-one wanted to face the inevitable. It was time to leave. It was like pulling teeth, trying to get the kids to pack up clothes, beds and rubbish. Finally, we managed to pack up and head off to our next, as yet unknown, destination.
Wherever we are headed, it’s going to be very difficult to beat Ningaloo Reef.