With cloudy skies, rain and the cooling of our beloved ocean upon us, it was time to migrate north in search of warmth and relaxation. Our destination was Coral Bay on the north coast of Western Australia about 1200 km from Perth the state's capital. Our first hurdle was to find a baby sitter for our five children, the second a reliable car to get us there. A pleading call to the brother-in-law provided both and a quick email and phone call took care of the accommodation. Our plan was to drive to Kalbarri and stop over for two days, then make a run for Coral Bay where we would stay for a week, including one day at Exmouth to dive the famous Naval Pier and do a bit of snorkelling.
We left at 8am on a chilly winter's morning, arriving in Kalbarri six and a half hours later. The clouds had now given way to a gentle sun which warmed the temperature to a more comfortable level. We unpacked our gear into the hotel room and went for a pleasant stroll along the beach. The next morning we headed off to do the site seeing thing, our first stop being the gorges along the coast. With the sun sitting high in the sky and barely a breath of wind, the scenic view was very relaxing and peaceful. We visited several of the lookout stations before doing some reef walking in search of some life which may have been trapped in the tidal pools. Octopus, crabs and small fish scurried around in front of us as we carefully hoped from one part of the reef to another. We continued this for some time before heading back to the town centre to collect some gear and see what the fishing was like. We headed for the local jetty, but the best we could manage was 2 or 3 fish less than 10cm long, which were gently released back to where they came.
The following morning we woke at 4:30am so we could get an early start for the long trip, approximately 800km, up to Coral Bay. We arrived mid-afternoon to the weather we had hoped for, 25oC with not a hint of a breeze. The settlement here consists of two caravan parks, a hotel, backpacker's accommodation and a small shopping square, all within walking distance from the beach. We were staying in a self contained chalet in the Bay View Caravan Park, consisting of a bedroom and a large air-conditioned living room / kitchen. Feeling a little drained from the long drive we did nothing but sit on the beach for the rest of the day.
After a good nights sleep I headed straight down to the beach for a snorkel. The staghorn coral here starts 30m from the shore right in front of the settlement, making this an ideal snorkelling site. The extent of the coral growth was amazing, unfortunately man's presence has caused a fair bit of damage and the appearance of algae over most of the reef here is a bit disheartening. The fish however didn't seem to mind with a wide variety of aquarium fish and several schools of spangled emperor, baldchin groper and trevally swimming past. I stayed here snorkelling for some time before retiring for a shower and dinner with my darling wife Lindsay. Over dinner we decided that tomorrow we would snorkel from the settlement in a northerly direction towards the proposed site of the controversial resort development at Maud's Point approximately 2-3 km in distance.
We woke early, had a quick bite to eat and I entered the water in front of the settlement; with clear skies and mirror-like water I couldn't have hoped for better. The coral growth was abundant and continued all the way up the coast, still only a short distance from the shore. The coral got healthier the farther out from the settlement I got, brain coral seemed to be in the best condition of the lot.
Once at Maud's Point I got out and had a quick look around. I remembered how on an earlier visit, during a light plane fight over the area, we had seen sharks and manta rays swimming in the bay. Looking out over the water I couldn't help but notice the large array of pleasure vessel's fishing right on the boundary line of the fishing exclusion zone, what would it be like if they built a marina here was all I could think about. Had the quest for wealth pushed aside the environmental needs yet again? I guess only time will tell.
It was now time to make the long swim back to the settlement. No sooner had I jumped back in the water than I was greeted by two turtles that followed me for a short distance before rocketing off into the distance. I headed off in the direction of a site called the Shark Nursery; this is a sandy section between the reef and shore where the black tip sharks come in to have their young. With little more than sand to see here I was hoping to see a shark or two; I was not disappointed as several baby black tips were swimming in the shallows. A short distance further and I was greeted by what looked like a family of cuttlefish, two large and three small, this was better than I had expected but there was more to come. A turtle, an eagle ray, a blue spotted ray, unicorn fish, schools of mullet and goatfish and a sea snake all in this one little area approximately half way back to the settlement.
As I was happily gliding through the water, Lindsay was meandering down the coast, keeping a watchful eye on me. My snorkelling trip took a little over 4 hours and we arrived back just in time to have lunch. I felt a little guilty on exiting the water as I realised Lindsay had been laden with the bags full of towels, dry clothes and drinking water.
I had enjoyed my morning snorkel so much I just had to go in again; this time Lindsay was to join me and we would go south of the settlement away from the fishing exclusion zone. The same situation existed here, the coral got healthier the farther out from the settlement we got. We came across a flat section of reef that was teaming with life, huge schools of parrot fish and goat fish were feeding on something on the bottom they didn't seem to care that we were among them. We stayed and watched this feeding frenzy before continuing. A bit further on and we ran into several stingrays that made a rapid escape as we approached. While I went chasing after an eagle ray that came gliding past, little did I realise as I headed off into the wide blue yonder after it that it had actually doubled back and was entertaining Lindsay. She swam around in a circle with it several times before it finally headed off in my direction, I however missed it again. Mullet, tailor and the odd barracuda made an appearance, but it was the spangled emperor that made us decide to spend the rest of the afternoon fishing.
My first cast from the beach quickly became caught on the staghorn coral that lay in wait a metre or so from the surface, I could almost hear the fish laughing at me when my second cast ended in the same way. Needless to say we purchased our dinner at the local restaurant that night. Tomorrow we would head up to Exmouth, approximately 135km up the coast, for a day of scuba diving and snorkelling.
We had booked our Naval Pier dive for 9:30am via the Internet, or so we had thought. Upon arriving at the dive store we were informed that they had not received the final ok from us and all places for the day were now full, and that "the email services up here are not the best you should have rung". Not being too pleased at this I left Lindsay to sort it out. In true fine form she did us proud and before long we were on our way to the pier.
The pier was built to accommodate the needs of the US Navy in the Cold War era, it is only really used now to bring in fuel supplies for the VLF (Very Low Frequency) towers that are used to communicate with submarines. It is situated at the tip of the North West Cape and sits at the junction of the northward flowing, Ningaloo Current and the southward flowing, Leeuwin Current. These currents along with a strong tidal flow bring together an overabundance of nutrients within the pier's confines. This intern attracts the fish, over 220 different species of them.
We quickly kitted up and climbed down the steep ladder to the bottom platform, put our fins on and got ready for a giant stride into the water. Suddenly a large loggerhead turtle came flying out from under the pier right in front of our entry point, we could here all the people on the top platform calling out "turtle". All we could do was quickly enter the water, but it was too late to get a look, it had disappeared out of sight. We had heard a lot about the fish life here, but it not until you get in the water that you realize just how special this place is. No sooner had we entered the shelter of the pier and we were surrounded by fish, thousands of them; Trevally, sweetlips, sea perch and barracuda were in huge schools, with large potato cod and Queensland grouper swimming around amongst them. Further down amongst the wreckage caused when Cyclone Vance partly destroyed the pier in 1999, moray eels and lionfish were in abundance as were nudibranchs and flatworms. Care was taken with hand placements as stonefish, scorpion fish and frogfish were very hard to spot. The 6ft resident white tip shark was darting around along the bottom keeping its distance from anything expelling strange looking bubbles. There was not a place you could look without seeing a mass of marine life.
I stopped to get a picture of an octopus and wobbegong shark hiding amongst the rocks and stupidly let my hand get to close to some fire coral, I'm sure all divers heard me yelping in pain as I came into contact with it, I also had a scare to show for my efforts that stayed for about three weeks. We were sadly coming to the end of our dive and started back towards the exit point. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a massive Queensland groper about 2 meters length, I scurried over to get a photo and noticed something sticking out of it's mouth, upon closer inspection I discovered it was the antennae of a recent crayfish meal. I don't think it liked me getting to close and with a few flicks of its tail it was gone. We exited to hear everyone taking about how unbelievable the dive was, each explaining what they had seen in an excited tone. With a maximum depth of 14 meters and the wealth of fish life here, it is little wonder this is considered one of best shore dives there is.
We arrived back at the dive store around mid-day and enquired about the best places to do some snorkeling, Lakeside and Turquoise Bay within the National Park were the places to go, with Lakeside being better for pelagics. We might even get some blacktip and bronze whaler sharks there. This made my mouth water but I would have to wait a little under one hour before we could get there from the center of Exmouth. We arrived checked out the current and quickly swam out to the numerous bombies that made up this site. The current here was very strong and required good swimming skills; this is not a site to take the kids. It was hard going just to keep in one place. It wasn't long before a big school of giant travelly swam past followed by a very fast moving turtle. Flutemouths, titan trigger fish and blue spotted rays were easy to find, we didn't however encounter any sharks here, maybe next time.
We got back in the car and continued down to Turquoise Bay, the current here is fairly strong too, but being in a bay like it is, you walk down the beach hop in and it carries you down the to the exit point. The reef is in good condition with a multitude of aquarium fish swimming around it. It's a fun and simple snorkel which I did several times. It was now starting to get very late in the afternoon and with a two hour drive back to Coral Bay we hurried back to the car.
The trip back within the national park was done very slowly, as Kangaroo's lined the road and posed a real danger. The rest of our holiday consisted of snorkeling and then a little bit more snorkeling, but it was the most relaxing time I have ever had and the weather was fantastic.
Bob, Lins and some of their friends went up to Coral Bay & Exmouth on 7th January 2002, a week into their stay I just couldn't take the reports of how good it was anymore, so I packed up the car and started the twelve hour drive up there. Needless to say it was relaxing, fun and beautiful. Coral Bay is located 1200km North of Perth.
We did just about every leisure activity available, our first being a snorkel off the beach on arrival before unpacking.The coral reef starts about 20m from the shore and is covered in marine life. Most of the reef is in less then 10m of water and can be snorkeled. We were unable to get to the outer reef due to the wind, but we had heaps to see where we were. We than went for a 4 wheel motorbike ride through the sand dunes and along the beach to view the turtles feeding on the cliff face and than watch the sunset before heading back. We booked on the reef dive and Manta tour, this consisted of a dive on the inner reef (max depth 12m), sorry left the camera on the boat, and than a snorkel with the Manta Rays. It was than off for a plane ride over Ningaloo reef and Coral Bay, the views from the plane are spectacular, you can even see the Manta Rays and sharks in the water.
About a 20minute walk down the beach and you can go to the Shark Nursery, this is where the Black Tip Sharks come into the shallows to have there young. When we went they numbered about 30-40, a month earlier the locals say it was more like 300-400. Standing in the water knee deep and they are rubbing against your legs and swimming everywhere.