Repacked as best we could at Billabong Roadhouse ( amazing how a male and female differ as regards what stuff needs to be more “accessible” 😊 ), the compass was set due north for Shark Bay. Like Kalbarri, Shark Bay ( and its many attractions ) loomed large on our itinerary – the dolphins at Monkey Mia being the first stop. En route one passes remarkable Shell Beach, a beach formed entirely with shells – the beach setting is stunning itself, perfectly crescent shaped with the “sand” not being sand but in fact tiny shells simply adding to its unique character.
At first appearance, very resort”ish” (and not our usual style), the RAC campground at Monkey Mia was a great attraction in itself. Right on the waterfront in the heart of Shark Bay, (and with emus walking freely all over the park), it had a very relaxed vibe with all features and services being first rate. The main attraction, the dolphins, did not disappoint and true to form turned up for their feeding at 7.45am just as the crowds formed. They would come again throughout the morning and some lingered, frolicking by the shore, well into the afternoon. Giant turtles could also be seen either from the jetty or when snorkeling, delighting adults and children alike. Lest folks be thinking it seems counter to conventional wildlife wisdom to “feed” dolphins, this is a very controlled experience – they are only given 10% of their daily needs to ensure they continue to hunt on their own. Indeed, the viewing experience itself was delayed while one dolphin aggressively chased a fish around the shallow waters until it was caught.
From Shark Bay it’s is a fairly easy drive north via Carnarvon where we overnighted and stocked up with supplies for the longer drive north on to Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef. Not a place folks usually spend a lot of time but it does have a nice waterfront and some of the major stores we needed to access that we wouldn’t be able to in the coming weeks. Locals told us had we been here a month earlier we’d have had the best viewing of a full solar eclipse in the Southern Hemisphere ! You can’t win them all I suppose, but not sure I’d go too far out of my way to see that anyway !
From dolphins and sea turtles at Shark Bay to whale sharks further north on the Ningaloo reef near Exmouth this week has literally been one marine extravaganza after another. Exmouth ( and nearby Coral Bay ) are renowned for the reliable appearance of giant whale sharks at this time of year. Feeding in the shallow, warm waters near the edge of Ningaloo reef, these marine leviathans lumber along just below the surface feeding mostly on shrimp and plankton. Despite their giant size and shark-like appearance, they are quite harmless. But, wow, are they big ! Technically the worlds biggest fish, a whole industry has been spawned ( if you’ll excuse the marine analogy ) taking snorkelers out to swim with the sharks. Probably the most popular attraction in the area, it’s not cheap ( $475/day ) but what an incredible experience it is . We were told not to miss it so stumped up our credit cards and went out for the day – very glad we did. An unforgettable experience to jump in the water, mask on, look down and see this enormous creature just slowly glide past you barely metres away. As the old MasterCard ad used to say – priceless!
If swimming with Whale sharks was not enough, Exmouth is right beside Cape Range National Park, home to some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches and first class snorkeling sights in WA. With the water so warm we sampled several, Turquoise Bay being our favourite.
Exmouth itself is actually a relatively “new” town. A base for certain military actions against the Japanese ( who then occupied Singapore and Indonesia ) during WW2, Exmouth really started to grow in the ‘60’s after the Americans set up a military base there – at one point over 2,800 active serviceman lived here. The VLF ( Very Low Frequency ) communications tower system, constructed back then is still actively used today, albeit with just a handful of US personnel and now mostly run by the Australian military.
Coral Bay, just down the coast offers the same whale shark adventures and one of the most beautiful beach settings on the peninsula – I’ve never seen more caravans ( trailers ) crammed into a coastal caravan park than we did in Coral Bay. A prettier beach would be hard to find and we enjoyed wandering the coastline and swimming in its crystal clear warm waters.
All good things must end, however ( as the saying goes )and our time on the coast with some amazing marine life would soon give way to other attractions inland – next week we’ll explore the canyons and gorges of one of Australia’s most amazing natural wonders – Karijini National Park.