20/09/16 After two relaxing days at Miaree Pool, we travelled 240kms south to spend the night at Nanutarra Roadhouse, then 80kms the next morning before stopping for a quick cuppa where the highway crossed the Yannarie River. The area down beside the sandy riverbed looked very pleasant and, while it was only mid-morning, we opted to camp there for the night.
Daytime temperatures at this latitude were still up in the mid-30s. It was a dry heat though that made it comfortable, and most days had a gentle cooling breeze which stayed on through the night, when temperatures dropped to the low teens. These conditions were now more pleasant for bush camping than up in the far north, and with the endless blue skies, the solar panels had no trouble keeping the batteries fully powered up.
Our site at Osprey Campground in Cape Range National Park was on the beachfront with great views of the sand dunes, beach and ocean. We arrived at about the same time as the south-easterly winds which blew steadily all day, rocking the van and preventing the awnings being set out for shade. Osprey was fully occupied, everyone hunkering down in their vans or trying for a still spot on the beach away from the wind. Despite the water being very chilly, Di was keen to get in for a swim after we set up. And I have to say, once you numbed down to it, it was almost enjoyable.
The colours of the water inside Ningaloo Reef were a marvellous mix of blues, aquamarines and greens, made so by the brilliant white sand. The main reef was marked by a line of breakers a hundred metres or so offshore, providing a calm lagoon into the beach for swimming and snorkelling. The low weathered limestone cliffs forming the top of the beach were once part of an ancient coral reef, full of fossilised corals and shells. My search for a fossilised shark tooth came up empty, but we saw lots of amazing fossilised coral formations frozen in stone in minute detail.
Di and I snorkelled at nearby Oyster Stacks Beach where Ningaloo Reef was literally just metres offshore. If you went into the water at the northern end of the beach at high tide, after gingerly negotiating over the foreshore rock shelf, the current drifted you slowly south parallel to the shoreline and along the reef to the sandy beach at the southern end of the cove, where you could exit and start over again. The colours and types of fish were spectacular, as were the coral formations and occasional bombie. Di hadn’t done much snorkelling before, but soon got the hang of it and was diving and clearing her snorkel like an expert. She loved it, as did I and we both stayed in for a long time. My back got sunburnt, so the following day, we headed into Exmouth for supplies and picked up a couple of rashies so we could keep on snorkelling each day.
On the way back to camp, from the heights of the lookout at Vlamingh Lighthouse we watched humpback whales breaching a little way offshore. Just amazing. We spotted whales from the shore every day.
Over our five days there, the weather was terrific apart from a couple of days of incessant wind– a T10 breeze (gauged by how many metres your thongs blew away if left outside).
The day before our departure from Cape Range National Park, we went on a Whale Shark cruise to hopefully see the world’s biggest fish. It was late in the season and no guarantee of a sighting could be given, though there had been good encounters the previous week. The wind dropped off that morning, boding well for me and my challenge with mal de mer. Our boat had only just gotten out beyond the main reef, when word came from the spotter plane circling overhead of a nearby sighting. It was a 5m Whale Shark (Fifteenth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List), and we were dropped into the water with snorkelling gear to watch it slowly glide past below us. What an awesome sight.
During the course of the day, we had multiple Humpback sightings and breachings, one just next to the boat. The spotter plane directed us to a couple of giant Manta Rays (Sixteenth Tick for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List) nearby, and while we were in the water with them, a female Humpback and her calf swam right past our group, between us and the boat. Who gets to actually be in the water with Humpbacks! We do! I wonder what they made of all those strange little creatures floating on the surface as they went by.
To finish off the cruise, we had a snorkel over Ningaloo Reef using electric sea scooters. The fish were amazing and we came across a large stingray resting on a sandy patch of sea floor. The cruise certainly delivered – Whale Shark, Humpback Whales, Manta Rays, Stingray. What a day! Absolute magic and definitely the highlight of our travels. Lots of ticks for Di’s Animals in the Wild List too.
“Most whale photos you see show whales in this beautiful blue water – it’s almost like space.” – Brian Skerry, underwater photojournalist, National Geographic magazine.