We are a long, long way from home now, in a straight line we figure you can’t get any further from Sydney than in Exmouth. According to our GPS it’s 5,104km and 2 days and 9 hours to get back to Frenchs Forest… we may get there before January ends! It’s a shame too because it is so beautiful around here, it would be nice to be a little bit closer so that we’d be able to return more often.
We have had a brilliant time enjoying the Ningaloo Reef and still can’t quite believe that this place is still largely unaffected by big tour operators. There is in excess of 250kms of coastline included in the Ningaloo Marine Park and aside from the little township of Coral Bay the rest is either adjacent to Cape Range National Park or cattle stations which offer access and very basic accommodation options. Ideal for us, but still amazing that the area can remain this commercial-free.
Our first stop was at Cape Range National Park, on the western side of the Cape Range Peninsula, not far from Exmouth. There are 10 or 11 different campsites in the park, a few of which can be booked online, which we were thankfully able to do from Dampier as the park was full to capacity for most of the five nights we stayed. We were in Kurrajong campsite which was fairly sheltered from the relentless westerly wind that pounds the west coast from now until March or April each year. We generally have a reprieve every morning from the winds, but by mid afternoon things get blowy again. We had the sides of the annex up for most of the time on the coast and had the front up at Kurrajong too as we were limited with how we could position the camper in our site and were facing directly into the wind.
This time of the year at Ningaloo is mating and nesting season for the turtles. We spent a morning watching probably 30-40 turtles in the shallows of a bay chasing each other around. It was amazing how close they would come up to you near the beach. The females apparently get fed up with the males on occasion and come out of the water for a rest. We did see a few tracks and what appeared to be turtle nests, so I suppose they have started to lay eggs too. The little turtles don’t stand much of a chance though, once they’re out of the nest they have to survive the dash to the water, avoiding crabs and birds, then they get in the water and need to escape all sorts of predators, including fish, sharks, nets and plastic bags. If by some stroke of luck they make it through all that they will come back to the very same beach that they hatched at to start the cycle again. They’ll not be mature enough for breeding until they are around eight years old and by then only 1 from 1,000 eggs laid eight years ago will have survived. Pretty slim odds.
The brilliant blue water of the Indian Ocean did not disappoint, the white sand and blue water directly off the coast is like nothing we have seen so far. What I love most about Ningaloo is just how accessible the reef is, you can snorkel right off the beach and within a couple of kicks you are amongst brilliant coral and such fantastic fish life. We snorkelled every day we were here, at the various spots along the National Park, and could quite easily have spent more time doing the same. Both Jake and Tobey absolutely love diving down with the fish and can stay in the water until they turn blue, Indianna is slightly more reluctant, but once she gets going all you hear through the water is her yelling to point out the fish and coral.
We had the boat out while we were at Kurrajong as we were able to pull it up on the beach just outside the campsite. Ben and the boys went out fishing most days and had a great haul of Chinaman Cod on one trip. The local name for this fish is “Charlie Court”, named after a ex-premier of WA who apparently had a big mouth – just like the fish!
The boys also saw dolphins and more turtles while out in the boat as well as rescuing an exhausted turtle who was stranded on the rocks. No photos of course because the camera was left behind again!
The wildlife experiences continue with us all seeing whales (most likely humpback) breeching and blowing out to sea, heading south with babies to their summer feeding grounds and we’ve seen lots of daddy emus and their procession of chicks trotting along behind – very cute.
To the southern end of Cape Range National Park is Yardie Creek, the only permanent creek in the park. If you take a walk up the gorge and are quiet you may be fortunate enough to see some of the shy Black Footed Rock Wallabies that live here. We thought we’d give it a go even though Ben and I were not confident that the “quiet” part of the walk would happen. We were not disappointed though, after sitting for a while we managed to see 5-6 wallabies on the opposite wall of the gorge, they are certainly brilliant at camouflaging themselves.
From Cape Range we headed to Warroora Station which has been recommended to us on several occasions. Warroora is one of a few stations on the shores of the Ningaloo Marine Park, having the park on your doorstep I guess you have a greater incentive to “keep the scene clean”. As a result you are required to have a chemical toilet to camp at Warroora – there is no digging a hole here! So we have joined the realms of toilet-toting campers. Disgusting things really, I cannot imagine why anyone would prefer to empty a porta-loo rather than dig a hole or brave some of the worst of the long-drops… a new job for Ben!
Warroora has a huge number of camping options and had we had a little longer to spend here we would have investigated more of the real 4WD spots. We stayed at the very accessible 14-mile camp, tucked in behind some bushes out of the wind, but just off the beach. We were able to launch the boat right there and pull it up on the beach between outings. Ben and Tobey managed to catch a few fish here, but most of them were beautiful Tusk fish so went back into the deep blue. There were plenty more emu families around Warroora too, we even saw a dad bring his two chicks down onto the beach. They were drinking from the sea, so I guess with the lack of fresh water in this area they are able to stand a little extra salt in their diet!
It’s only around half on hour into Coral Bay from Warroora so we decided to make it a day trip rather than joining the school holiday masses at the two caravan parks there. Coral Bay is a stunning sight with the white sands and blue water, exactly as you are promised in all the brochures! The couple of snorkels we did there were not quite as good as at Cape Range though, the coral not as colourful and the fish not as numerous. The beach was brilliant for the boys and their new skim board and we even came away without any broken bones.
A great phase of our journey came to an end as we left the Coral Coast, we crossed south over the 26th parallel, over the Tropic of Capricorn and out of the Tropics for the last time on this adventure. It’s very easy to see the why the Grey Nomads make their migration every year to the north of the country. The climate has been absolutely perfect and of course the scenery and the feeling of getting to those isolated areas only adds to the attraction. Who knows when we’ll make it back north of the 26th parallel?
Just a note… On the 12th October we were included in Explore Australia’s “Roadtrip Hall of Fame” shortlist. I really have no idea how we ended up there, or how the winner gets chosen, but it can’t hurt to have a whole lot of ‘likes’ to our posting on their Facebook page! Check it out http://www.facebook.com/exploreaustralia.