Foreword: There aren’t as many pictures as usual in this post as we are still mastering our GoPro. The underwater pictures that we do provide are murky for the most part, apologies, but you will at least be able to get the drift. Rest assured that it was much better in real life!
You may recall from our previous post that we were feeling more than a little bit in love with Ningaloo Reef. We were reluctant to move far and, from Exmouth, we only migrated slightly south to Coral Bay, still on Ningaloo Reef. As we were packing up our campsite James was chatting to the Aussie chap on the site next to us who seemed to have travelled absolutely everywhere and was very enthusiastic about our plans to see the world. James concluded that he was an absolute hero, this has nothing to do with his extensive travels and everything to do with the fact that he was in his late 60s, wearing shorts, no top, flip flops and a fishing hat and whipped out a moustache comb half way through the conversation to tend to his very impressive facial hair.
Space left for the photograph that we should have taken
The drive from Exmouth was short and we pitched up early in the day at the cheaper of the two campsites in town. “Town” is a generous term, the campsites make up 75% of the total size, without them Coral Bay wouldn’t even be a hamlet. But you don’t go to Coral Bay for what’s on the land, you go to see manta rays and turtles and sharks… or at least, we do.
We may have mentioned this previously but we have been everywhere at the wrong time of year and Coral Bay was no exception. With the caravan parks quieter than at peak, there were fewer tours heading out and we weren’t able to book a full day trip to see the mantas. We secured ourselves as space on a half day trip the following day, did a 52 second tour of the town and settled down for the afternoon. James made his way out for a snorkel off the beach and Caro read for a bit and then made a vague attempt at some exercise, which is all it takes because with exercise as with gifts, it’s the thought that counts.
Many of our campsites haven’t had Wi-Fi and we seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how we can secure free internet access everywhere we go, to the point that we now have a list of internet tasks on our phones ready for when we can jump online . In Coral Bay, we were going for a snack and then a beer to qualify for free Wi-Fi at the two places in town that actually had any. As with most of our plans of this nature, it never happened and we figured our friends and family could wait another day or so to know that we were alive. A swift, and painful for James, game of canasta (4-2 Caro) and then it was another early night for us.
The next morning we were up bright eyed and bushy tailed in excited anticipation of wedding present number two. After a very efficient onshore brief and transfer to the boat we were soon steaming out to the inner Ningaloo Reef for our first snorkelling point, Blue Maze. Just to heighten our expectations even further, we were treated to a leopard shark swimming under the boat. Having become accustomed to temperatures of at least 35 degrees we both opted for wetsuits, which turned out to be a very wise decision as we were both starting to feel the cold after 30 minutes in the water. The first snorkel confirmed our assertion that we preferred Ningaloo Reef to the Great Barrier Reef. The coral was bright, colourful and alive, the fish were abundant and hugely varied, including a school of about 500 parrot fish and sturgeon all attacking something particularly tasty on the coral. We also saw 3 turtles, but this appears to be an everyday occurrence when snorkelling on Ningaloo. You know that life is good when turtles become normal.
We currently have three tour companies battling for our favourites and, although this one didn’t offer us booze, Bayview Coral Bay did give us a much-needed cup of tea and biscuits when we emerged from the water. A short briefing on swimming with the rays followed and although they were thorough, it’s one of those things that you only really figure out as you do it. Basically, you sit on the back of the boat until someone tells you to get in the water and then swim like mad to get to the manta ray.
It turned out that we had the laziest of lazy rays to follow and hardly needed to swim at all to keep up. And what an incredible animal it was, so wonderfully graceful in the water and not bothered in the least by all the people snorkelling 5 metres behind. It would be churlish of us not to mention that, as we jumped in the water the first time there was also a very large loggerhead turtle just cruising along next to the ray. We should have bought a lottery ticket with the luck we were having.
We were only meant to be doing two stops on our trip but thanks to our ray obligingly making life really easy for us we were well ahead of time and the crew offered us the opportunity of another snorkel with the possibilities of seeing sharks. Being in the water with sharks is one of Caro’s biggest wildlife aims, we’ve been in a shark cage to see great whites but not actually snorkelled with them before, so we leapt at the opportunity of another snorkel. After some quick snacks it was time to get in the water again and fin our way over to Asho’s Gap where the shark cleaning station is located over a cauliflower coral. The site is actually named after one of the Bayview skippers who found the spot.
It was absolutely fabulous, a turtle swam along the top of the reef next to us and then the sharks were there. When you first see them your breath catches and all you want to do is dive down and swim with them. We had been asked not to do this however so we all hung in the water completely mesmerised as these beautiful creatures swam around quite unconcernedly below us. There were 7 sharks there whilst we were and it was very cool watching them open their jaws wide for the cleaner fish to attend to their teeth.
(You were warned about the pictures!) We really didn’t want to get out of the water and could happily have stayed with them for hours but it was time to head back in. We let the others get on the boat first and stayed in the water until the very last minute, playing with the Go Pro and admiring the coral.
After a thoroughly enjoyable morning we spent that afternoon relaxing and reminiscing about what we had seen, still marvelling at the beauty of the rays and the sharks. We would be leaving Ningaloo Reef behind the following day and we both felt that we had absolutely made the best of our short time exploring it… here’s a picture of us looking happy.