Rugged, remote, sparsely populated and an under-the-radar alternative to the well-trodden East, Western Australia has a strong – but laid back – identity of its own. The vast expanse could be easily be considered to be Australia’s last frontier and a trip here promises to provide unique unspoilt landscapes, beautiful beaches and extraordinary wildlife spotting opportunities. Guest blogger Amanda Kendle from Not a Ballerina explored the region on our behalf and here she lists her favourite experiences from the protected Ningaloo Reef area…
The Ningaloo Reef might be thought of as the younger cousin of the Great Barrier Reef but it is still absolutely worth a visit. Being so close to the shore, it’s much easier to access, and there are so many other great activities around the Ningaloo area to try. I spent a few days staying in the towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth, exploring the local sights, and I’m already planning my return trip there.
Snorkel the Ningaloo Reef
Getting out on the water is really what it’s all about in the Ningaloo Reef area and there are lots of boat day trips you can join from both Coral Bay and Exmouth. I was lucky to be taken out looking for manta rays to swim with by the gang at Coastal Adventure Tours.
On our first snorkel of the day – with wetsuit and snorkelling equipment all supplied on board – we got to see the healthy brown coral of the Ningaloo Reef and see numerous fish and a couple of sea turtles. After that, the spotter plane sent up just to spot manta rays got us on track to find some in another great snorkelling spot – but the crafty mantas disappeared on us. Instead, we got to swim with sea turtles and sharks, and en route we were able to pull up close to a pod of dolphins and a humpback whale and her calf. I really appreciated that the captain would let us ooh and ah for a while, get our photos, and then let us know we’d head off again so as not to disturb the animals too much.
This year at Ningaloo they have been trialling swimming with humpback whales, something that only happens in a couple of other places in the world. The locals all told me it’s gone really well, and both the animals and the tourists have been happy, so fingers crossed the trial continues and more people get the chance to do this in the future.
Swim at Cape Range’s amazing beaches
As a born-and-bred Western Australian, I am a bit biased about believing our beaches are the most beautiful in all the world … but if you visit the Ningaloo Reef area and try out Turquoise Bay or Sandy Bay I’m fairly sure you’ll agree.
Both of these spots, along the western side of the Cape Range National Park, have long stretches of white sand, and the presence of the reef makes the water at the shore shallow, calm and with incredible colours. At Turquoise Bay you can do swim out and then “drift snorkel” back, letting the current carry you over the top of the coral (be careful to get out before the lifebuoy marking the northern sandbar). Sandy Bay is perfect for a day out with kids.
Quad bike trek along the dunes and beach
Coastal Adventure Tours took me out for their quad bike trek in Coral Bay on my first afternoon, and it was a great way to see the incredible coastal views that I’d become accustomed to seeing while I was in the region. If you have a driver’s licence, you can drive a quad bike, and it’s awesome fun.
Through the bush tracks running parallel to the coast you’ll find sand dunes and mini-deserts, then come up the crest of a hill and see the Indian Ocean and Ningaloo Reef right in front of you. On the return journey we spent some time driving along empty beaches. On hotter days, the tours stop to give you time to snorkel here as well, but by the early evening on a pretty windy day I was ready to head back for dinner rather than get in the water!
Hike along canyons and gorges
This is another awesome thing to do around the Ningaloo Reef area. Along the Cape Range there are several marked hikes through the canyons and gorges formed by the range and its rocks. I took a short boat cruise with Yardie Creek Boat Tours along the Yardie Creek, and saw hikers following the creek’s trail higher up above the rock wallabies I kept spotting. On the other side of the range, towards Learmonth airport, a local pointed me towards what she described as “our local Grand Canyon” at Charles Knife Canyon. If you’re short for time (as I was, headed for my flight home), even a driving tour of Charles Knife is rewarding, and there are lots of designated spots to stop your car and get out for photo opps.
Spend a night at a cattle station
If you’re one to enjoy accommodation which is a bit different, then I’d highly recommend spending some time at Bullara Station Stay. It’s a working cattle station with a sideline in accommodation including several cottages, converted shearers’ quarters and camping and caravan sites. I was lucky enough to arrive the day after muster and I got to see all the cattle close up – usually they are spread across the station which is, unbelievably, the size of Belgium!
When I arrived at Bullara, I realised I had a connection to it as one of my old school mates had actually grown up there, and her brother and his wife now run the place. Western Australia might be a vast state, but it’s still a small world. My favourite part of Bullara Station is there open-roofed bathrooms – the “Lava-trees” – where you can take a shower looking up at the amazing outback sky.
Fly like a bird in an ultralight
The best of my Ningaloo experiences was saved until last – Gav from Birds Eye View was taking me up for a scenic flight in a microlight. In case you’re as ignorant as I was, a microlight is basically a hang-glider with a seat and a small engine – you are pretty exposed, yet strapped in tight enough to feel safe and because they can glide as well as be propelled, these little machines are extremely safe.
Gav flew me up over the hills of the Cape Range National Park and then along the coast where the Ningaloo Reef is close to the shore. We got down low enough to see stingrays, turtles and on the other side of the cape closer to Exmouth, I finally got to see my manta rays. And not just one, but a perfect line up of a dozen mantas swimming together.
All words and images by guest blogger Amanda Kendle from Not a Ballerina.