Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ningaloo Reef

By Jen.

After (more) hundreds of miles on the road, we reached Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. With my bum knee, hiking was out of the question, but eager to do something even remotely active, I figured I could do water sports, like kayaking and snorkeling. So, we pulled into Coral Bay, surprisingly found a parking spot (peak season and the town was packed to overflowing) near the beach, and walked up to the lookout to make out a game plan. We decided to get the kayak out and start at Purdy Point, first kayaking to it, then snorkeling back. However, this turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for.


We got out to the point just fine, but with the wind, we started drifting pretty quickly in the kayak. Since I was in front and sitting under the water skirt, I had Jonathan get in the water first. He chose to get in without his flippers on, planning to put them on in the water. I had gotten both our flippers out, expecting to hand him his right away. Contrary to my silent expectations, though, he began to putt around trying to get a hang of his snorkel (I realized a bit too late that I don’t think he had really ever snorkeled before). Since he was doing his own thing, I decided to try and organize things around me by putting on my goggles (while trying not to lose the paddles or other gear). After I got them on, though, I realized I didn’t have snorkel attached. Sad smile Removing the goggles, I suddenly noticed that one of Jonathan’s flippers was floating in the water by itself (not on the kayak where I had left it). So I shouted at him to grab it, which he did very quickly. Then I realized that I didn’t have either of my flippers…


We glanced around, but didn’t see them and decided they were sinkers, not floaters. Dismayed, we stated several ideas on how to find them, but ended up with Jonathan towing the kayak against the drift to try and locate them (which, by the way, wasn’t part of any of the suggestions). By this point, we are both frustrated and have no clue if we are even in the general vicinity of the flippers. I tell him that I am fine without the flippers and that we should just go ahead and snorkel. But, since we have drifted so far down the shore already, perhaps we should relocate again. So he hops in the kayak (perpendicular to how one normally rides in a kayak), and we set off. However, the refractive index is playing havoc with our depth perception in the water, and every time we think to get out of the kayak, it seems like the coral is (much) less than 6 feet below us. Disconcerted, frustrated, and a bit angry, we make the call to take a break. Fortunately, it was close to lunch time, so not a complete waste of time.

Buoyed by the break from the water, we decide to try again; this time without the kayak (didn’t want to complicate matters and wanted Jonathan to get some practice before we involved the kayak again). This time we walked to the point and just let our bodies drift with the current. After a while, I tell Jonathan that we should try to swim to about where I was when I realized I didn’t have the flippers anymore. So we head off in the general direction, without much expectations. I had prayed to be reunited with the flippers (they are kinda expensive here). Suddenly, Jonathan yells my name and points. He found the flippers! In that large expanse, we had swam right to them! Divine guidance, anyone? Jonathan rescued them for me (so I wouldn’t have to kick my way down into the depths), and I put them on for the remainder of the snorkeling adventure. But then I wondered why I wanted them back. They are painful! Hopefully my flipper socks, which I have mail-ordered, will fix the issue.

Jonathan rescuing my flippers.

I have my flippers back!

Since I wanted to swim with whale sharks, we spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out which tour we would commit to. They all seem priced between $380-$400, with slightly different perks. We chose 3 Islands’ tour, since it was $385pp (on the lower end), but still came with a complimentary CD of the images and video taken on the trip (most others made you pay $50-$70 for the pictures). Plus, it was well rated on TripAdvisor.

The most of the next day was spent traveling to Exmouth and Cape Range National Park, but we did fit in some sightseeing.

A pair of sea eagles in their nest.

Charles Knife Gorge.

A king prawn statue commemorating the sustainable commercial prawning in the area.

Then the whale shark tour was the next day. We left early to arrive at Tantabiddi Boat Ramp by 8am. By 8:30am we were shuffled onto a water taxi and onto a boat. After a small safety briefing, we got to snorkel there in the Tantabiddi Bay for about 30min, then it was off to find a whale shark while we snacked on pizza, brownies, fruit, and muffins and drank warm tea to warm up (the wind was a bit cold in the morning). While we were waiting on them to appear (they were being spotted by spotter aircraft and reported to the boat), we were notified that the first humpback whales of the season where nearby, so we scuttled off to catch a glimpse. This was very exciting as normally they aren’t around until June in this area. Our first wild whale!

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Then, the main attraction, whale sharks! We had a false start or two before we finally got to see one. We had the same 6-7m male for all 5 viewings/swims, but it was still great.

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Jonathan and I actually both struggled with motion sickness while we out chasing the humpback whale. The swells were probably around 2 m high, making it a bit rough for us at times. I just did a bit of deep breathing and keeping my head in the wind and eyes out on the horizon to manage it. But on the 2nd swim with the whale shark, Jonathan really started to feel green and skipped out on the last 2 swims and snorkeling. I went in on the 3rd, and started swimming with the whale shark, but suddenly got overwhelmed with nausea and called for the water taxi. After a few minutes, I was fine.

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After another snorkel, the trip was done for the day and we were ready to go back and rest at our campsite. The next day, we stopped drove up to a small gorge, but our stay on the Ningaloo coast was done and we started out of the peninsula to the isolated Pilbara region.

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  1. Ha! Hooray for flippers, and oh boy does that recounting of marital communication ever resonate. ;) Those pictures are so cool!

    1. Lol, gotta love slightly stressful situations...