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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Ningaloo Reef - Osprey Bay

21 - 25 /06/2017
Cape Range - Ningaloo Reef (Western Australia)
Distance Travelled:
170 km

Whale sharks swam with

As is often the case on days when we are preparing to shift from one place to another, we were up early and ready to hit the road. Having arranged to have our windscreen fixed (finally) in Exmouth, we were determined to ensure that we would be there on time. So, pulling out of Bullara Station, we waved goodbye to the sheep who were wandering aimlessly through the campsite, said ‘see ya later’ to Damper John and watched as several flocks of galahs made their early morning rounds of the Bullara water holes; before turning onto the Minilya-Exmoth road toward Cape Range.

The drive to Exmouth was lovely; especially as we watched the sun creeping slowly into the sky, bathing the land in that pristine sort of light you only ever see at the start of a new day. I must admit, in my day-to-day life, I don’t usually appreciate such things. This is particularly so when the sun is rising as I’m heading to work. Back in the ‘real world’, any day on which I see the sun rising over the horizon, typically means I’m heading to an early morning meeting; rather than spending an extra hour in bed. But, deep in the heart of the Western Australia wilderness, the rising of the sun brought with it a sense of adventure and the promise of exciting times yet to come. As such, on this fine morning, any thoughts of staying in bed were summarily cast from our minds.

Thus, we found ourselves hurtling down the road, along a narrow peninsular jutting out between the Indian Ocean and Exmouth Gulf. Arriving at Exmouth, we soon encountered the usual hallmarks of a big town. However, this place still had the feel of a seaside destination. Amongst the hardware shops and light industrial spaces, there were marinas, boating supply shops, and all manner of outlets ready to supply the traveller’s every need and desire. But for us, we had a single task in mind – to get the irksome crack fixed, which had been marring our vision out of the front window.

We found the windscreen repair shop easily enough. Pulling up alongside a host of other vehicles that had been parked on a patch of waste ground, we unhitched the van on the edge of a slip road opposite the mechanics. With everything locked up tightly, we drove our cracked and bedraggled Pajero into the fix-it-shop. The folks at Exmouth Smash Repairs were quite delightful. Not only did they offer to keep an eye on our trailer, while we went off to explore the town, but also happily dropped us a few kilometres down the road in the heart of Exmouth. Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, we accepted their kind offer, piled into the car and tootled down the road.

Having been dropped off in the heart of Exmouth by our friendly mechanical taxi service, we headed to the nearest bakery for a spot of breakfast. Having scoffed down an egg and bacon roll and a strong cup of coffee, we soon felt fully watered and raring to go. As such, we took a quick nosey around the shops before heading to a public water park where the boys had a good run around.

Ben and Daniel on the 'Big Chair' in Exmouth

This place was brilliant!! However, I’m not really sure how to describe it… it wasn’t a water park, as such – rather it was more of public space filled with watery fun for kids to cool off in the hot summer’s sun. Sitting alongside a grassy playing field, this area was a fenced off area with all manner of jets and sprinklers spewing their misty water all over the place. There were water fountains, a model whale (complete with a spout from its blowhole), cascading showers and water cannons to play with. Fortunately, there was also a smattering of sunlight pouring through the railings, which was just warm enough to keep the early morning chill away.

Exmouth Water Park

A few hours later I gave the folks at Exmouth Smash Repairs a call and found that the car was just about ready to rock and roll. Leaving Nat and the boys to play for a little longer, I sauntered down the main road and picked up our car with its sparkling new windscreen (they had even reattached our tourist passes to the new window!). Hitching up our trailer once more, I waved goodbye to our beneficent glaziers, picked up the rest of the clan and soon we were on our way.

Exmouth – Giant prawn

Pulling out of Exmouth, we only had a mere 50 kilometre drive up the peninsula, around the corner and back down the other side of the cape to reach out destination. Surrounded by water, we enjoyed the route down the coast, watching waves crashing on the rocky shore as we came ever closer to our final destination of Cape Ningaloo National Park

Exmouth to Osprey Bay

And soon, we arrived at Osprey Bay. Oh my… What can I say?

Cape Ningaloo was awesome!

Now, I know I’ve used the word awesome a few times while writing this blog… But seriously, this time awesome means AWESOME!

Welcome to Cape Range

Forty kilometres from the start of the Ningaloo National Park, down a coastal road with grass covered mountains on the left and the crashing ocean on the right, Osprey Bay campsite was nestled amongst sand dunes and spinifex. There were forty-ish large campsites, spread out over a couple of kilometres, set along the rugged rocky coast overlooking the sea.

Osprey Bay campsite at sunset

Driving down the immaculately kept road towards the campsite, we were soon hailed by the camp hosts who had been charged with the sacred pact of looking after this patch of earth. As we trundled our way down the track, Mr and Mrs Camphost came out of their trailer and hailed us down. Quick as a flash they verified our bona fides, and once thoroughly satisfied, they cordially waved us on to our oceanside colonnade. We had expected some level of checking upon arrival; particularly after we passed the huge sign at the entrance to the park advising potential visitors that all campsites were “FULL!”. But luckily for us, Nat had headed the advice of our good friends at Morrows Westward Adventure and had booked early!

When I was younger, I remember watching the likes of Paul Daniels, David Copperfield and (bless his little cotton socks) Tommy Cooper, performing their arcane arts on telly. You know, pulling rabbits from a hat and making the statue of liberty disappear, and things like that. But, for all the magic I’d seen as a kid, I’d never witnessed a feat as tremendous as the magic Nat had performed when securing this fine campsite.

Osprey bay

Even during this ‘off season’ time of the year, the Osprey Bay campsite was pretty much full to the gunnels. While we set up our trailer, we watched as van after van came and were sent on their way by Mr and Mrs Camphost, when their names were not found on the sacred clipboard.

But, for us, these trifles were not our concern. Indeed, way back in the distant past of late summer 2016, Nat had spent many evenings pouring over maps, blogs and websites with the aim of locating the perfect spot for us to pull up at in Cape Range. Amidst all these late nights, with a protractor and compass in hand, Nat finally had a eureka moment when she eventually triangulated the perfect spot. Perched at the ideal position between camp toilets, beach and open swathes of sky, she had calculated the most impeccable campsite amongst the dozens that were on offer…

…and as we pitched up for the night, I couldn’t have agreed more!

Osprey Bay - just perfect!

All the camp sites at Osprey Bay were cordoned off by a simple timber fence, with a lucky few (aka US!) having private paths leading the 20 meters or so down to the water’s edge. Underfoot, the sites consisted of thickly packed earth and shells (which were an absolute bugger to try and drive a tent peg into for holding one’s awning). Fortunately, I was lucky enough to meet a number of kind hearted Samaritans, who took pity in my plight (or perhaps had spent enough time laughing at me trying to drive a tent peg into the unshifting earth) and came over with a rubber mallet and screwdriver to help drive the pegs home. While the kids played on the beach, the trailer was eventually set up and the welcome mat was set out.

Osprey Bay campsite

The next few days passed in blissful, sandy frolics. During the day, the sun shone gleefully on the lapping waves of the beach meters from our campsite; as the sea crept its way languidly up and down the sand. At their apogee, the waves pummelled into the rocky shoreline, before turning around and sweeping down the sea floor back to its sandy nadir many meters below.

Osprey Bay - Life on the ocean waves

Being so close to the water, there was of course plenty of opportunities to drop a line or two into the waves. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much biting – other than a couple of undersized flounders. But, as they say, a bad day of fishing always beats your best day at work, hands down!

Osprey Bay - fishing!

With a lovely breeze coming in from the ocean, many of our evenings were spent unfurling the kite that we had lugged around the country – in search of the perfect place to let it sail across the sky. Indeed, we found the perfect place for a spot of kite flying here at Ningaloo, and soon we had small crowds of kids lining up to have a go at taming the winds with our colourful sail. This kite had been a gift to the boys from their uncle Gareth a few years ago; but until now, it hadn’t been given a proper opportunity to truly spread its wings. As it turns out, Ben was a dab hand at aerial acrobatics… he’s always said he wanted to be a pilot; perhaps this is hint of things to come!

Ospey Bay - Kite flying

The water in front of our trailer was also filled with all manner of aquatic life. Flashy schools of large silvery fish (who, in retrospect, I’m glad were too smart to get hooked by my fishing line) swam shoulder to shoulder (or fin to fin) with green turtles and reef sharks. Nat, who preferred to keep herself firmly planted in the shallower waters near the beach, was lucky enough to swim for several hundred meters alongside a massive turtle (while Ben and I were at least 500 meters out in the ocean trying in vain to find one of the buggers…). Ben and I did eventually see and swim with a battalion of turtles, but on that particular day Nat had a magical time of her own in this unexpected one-on-one encounter with such a majestic beast.

Osprey Bay - Reef Sharks

Despite having paradise on our doorstep, we also remained cognizant that there were other slices of heaven to explore nearby. On one of our days at Ningaloo, we spent hours at the nearby ‘Oyster Stacks”. This was a superb place for snorkelling, with next to no effort required to see all of the wonders on offer. This stretch of beach was caressed by a fairly strong current, which flowed from left to right along the beach. As such, all one needed to do was traipse a little way up the shore; hop in the water and casually swim out 20 – 30 meters; then let the current pull you gently along. As you floated in the water, it was almost as if you were flying over cities of coral; each of which was inhabited by a myriad of colourful marine denizens, all going about their daily life unperturbed by the giant floating onlooker cruising overhead.

The giant pillars of coral and stacks of oyster encrusted rocks weren’t the most colourful (these were hard corals, which are far duller than their brilliantly coloured gaudy ‘soft coral’ cousins on the east coast). But, they were teeming with life – from little electric coloured fish, to large clams the size of a chest of draws. Amongst all of this were monolithic turtles, cruising their way amongst the patches of sea grass (but if spooked, these fellas could take off like a rocket!), and all manner of fish from the microscopic to specimens almost as large as me!

Marine Life

In order to top off our Ningaloo adventure, we felt it was only right to leave the shelter of the inner reef and venture out into the ocean to swim with the biggest fish in the world. As such, on a cold and blustery morning, Nat, the boys and I, found ourselves standing on a concrete pier waiting to board a boat in search of an elusive whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Fortunately (or rather, thanks to Nat’s tremendous planning), these magnificent creatures made this stretch of the coast their home during this time of the year. Throughout the months of April to August, these great beasts come out to play around Ningaloo Reef. Here they cruise the waters in search of food, trying to sate their voracious appetite (they have rather big bellies, after all…). Growing between 4 – 8 meters in length (in these waters at least – elsewhere they can be up to 12 meters long and weigh up to 19 metric tonnes), the gentle giants that inhabit Cape Range are mere teenagers compared with the specimens that occasionally appear in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean.

Whale sharks - All aboard, here we go!

Meeting the crew of 3Islands Whale Dive Tours, we and the other 20ish expectant passengers who were huddled together on the pier, were ferried in small groups to a boat anchored off shore. Once we were all aboard, and safety briefings were completed, we took to the open waters and cruised around for a few hours in search of these elusive critters. Along the way, we spotted pods of dugongs and dolphins, and spent a few hours searching for blue whales that had been sighted on the horizon earlier in the day.

Before long, the boat picked up the trail of a whale shark, so we abandoned the search for blue whales and got down to the business we’d signed up for. Over several hours we dropped into the cool waters of the Indian Ocean and swam alongside a handful of the largest and most magnificent beasts on the planet. In small groups of 10, we plunged into the briny depths, followed a spotter from the crew and swam out little hearts out. At times these great beasts moved dreamily through the water, cruising up and down in the water – disappearing for a short while into the murky depths, before reappearing again beneath us as it followed a trail of plankton through the columns of water.

Whale sharks - Ningaloo Reef

And so, with the best of Ningaloo experienced, we regretfully had to pack up our home on wheels and hit the road once more. Thankfully though, we weren’t saying goodbye to our beachy paradise for long, as we would be heading down the coast to Coral Bay…

…I hear there have been Manta Rays spotted there recently – AWESOME!

Until next time,

Bye ‘d bye,


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