Carnarvon to Coral Bay Western Australia 3 to 6 March 2007.
11 Mar 2007
Coral Bay is situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn line, so our journey today took us into the tropics. To reach it you branch off the North Costal Highway at the Minilya Roadhouse. We made a stop at the road house to fuel the van and to sit inside for a coffee and a cookie, a welcome cool stop on a very hot day. The drive along is not very inspiring as the vegetation around us does not change very much, mainly very low bush. We passed a couple of entrances to cattle stations and spotted the occasional cow, sheep and feral goat.
The Ningaloo National Park region covers a huge area with the reef stretching 162 miles from Amherst Point, south of Coral Bay to slightly north of Exmouth. The township of Coral Bay is mainly a holiday centre with just 120 permanent residents. The climate of the area is described as fantastic, there is no wet season and in the summer time temperatures range from the mid to high 30's. We are now entering the autumn season so hope it might be on the cooler side.
We were recommended to stay at the People's Park which was very close to the beach, it was not hard to find as there is only the one road. The campsite consists of lovely grass sites under swaying palm trees and overlooking the bay, are you all jealous yet? Close by is a supermarket, a nice restaurant and a tour company offering boat trips. As we had been sitting in the van for quite a while today we decided to go for a walk on the beach before we cooked tea. Once on the beach I got the shoes off and paddled along in the fairly shallow water, it was crystal clear and I could see lots of little fishes swimming about, at one point a couple of small rays came past. Passing the moored tour boats we walked around the headland to find out what was there, just another stunning beach. I have come to the conclusion that being a 'beach bum' in Australia is a very difficult job and one that could cause a lot of stress, which beach to you choose to be a 'beach bum' on? There is just too many. After watching yet another stunning sunset on returning home were attracted by the lively noise coming from the café and after reading the menu decided to treat ourselves.
On Sunday morning we returned to the beach and this time Jeff took his socks off and also came in for a paddle. We had not been in very long when we were joined by some large fish, we later learnt they were Spangled Emperor, known locally as Nor'west Snapper. They come into the bay as the fishermen often throw over any bait that is left after their trip, there was up to 17 of these fish swimming around but no Rays this morning. One group of fishermen preparing their boat to go on a trip laughed saying they could save time staying where they were, but the fish knew they were safe in the protected area. It was getting very hot on the beach now so we went back to the site to find some shade. I don't know what the temperature was but it must have been very close to 40C, the sprinklers were going in the park and it was nice and refreshing to get a spray as you went passed.
Later in the afternoon we went to book a boat trip for tomorrow and look around the rest of Coral Bay. We found another supermarket, a post office and a couple of tour shops, so that did not take us long. We walked back and past our site and climbed up to a lookout point, there was not a lot to see but there was a nice cool breeze so we stayed there a little while. The largest fish in the world, the Whale Sharks, begin to congregate on the Ningaloo Reef from March to July, they come down from Indonesia. From June the Humpback Whales begin their northerly migration to Ningaloo and stay until November, so I guess the viewing point becomes more interesting when these guys are about. We were told it is usually late March and early April when they arrive so we will not see them here but hopefully as we travel further up the coast might get a glimpse. We returned to the van and just had a lazy evening.
On Monday morning, along with three young women backpackers and a young Australian couple, we set off on our reef and turtle viewing cruise. John, our skipper for the day, was very knowledgeable about the reef and the fish in the area so we learnt a lot. He also was very adapt at manoeuvring the glass bottom boat on occasions to get some good views of the turtles and a manta ray. We were taken to view a very large piece of coral known as Ayers Rock, it is now so big that the top of it is exposed at low tide and thus is now dead. Ningaloo Reef is hard coral and that only lives in shallow water as it requires sunshine for it to exist, soft coral does not require sunshine so is found much deeper. As the boat was manoeuvred over the coral we were treated to some wonderful views of it, the young woman from Australia told us she had been to the Great Barrier Reef at Christmas and thought this coral reef was better. The only difference she felt was the Great Barrier Reef is a much bigger reef. We were also able to watch the fish that were swimming amongst the coral, at one point a shoal of Spangled Emperor appeared. John said they had heard the sound of the boat engine and were looking for some food, he threw some over to them but only enough for a treat and not to make them dependant on the boats. Once he rinsed out the small tub they moved off as we were no further use to them.
As part of the trip there was a chance to go snorkelling, some of the group went on a guided swim whilst the rest remained in the boat. Once they were back on board we all had a coffee then it was full steam ahead to the turtle area. We all watched in anticipation to spot the turtles and it was not long before we were rewarded with some good sightings. Although Loggerhead Turtles do live around the coast of Western Australia these at Coral Bay were Green Turtles. You had to be quick to spot the one that swam under the boat and even quicker to see the Manta Ray that also went under the boat. On our return journey John spotted two more Manta Rays near the coast so took the boat over so we got a better look at them, we also saw a couple of dolphins.
John had told us about a bay within walking distance from the campsite where the sharks came in to rear their young, known locally as the Shark Nursery. After lunch we set off for a walk around, the journey itself was interesting as we kept spotting crabs, large and small, scuttling across the rocks to get out of our way. We eventually reached Shark Nursery and were rewarded with the sight of about 5 adults and a large number of baby sharks. John had said if you wade in slowly then stand still they will swim up close, so in I went, Jeff staying on the beach to take photographs. I was rewarded by two of the babies coming in close but the adults kept well back. At one point the group of babies looked as if it was breaking up, but the adults soon swam around and rounded them all up again, just shows that even shark babies need some discipline.
That evening we were treated to another spectacular lightening display lighting up the skies accompanied by a short heavy down pour, I have never seen Jeff move so quick to get the chairs into the van.