Planet View: S22°08.994′ E113°52.917′
Street View: S22°08.994′ E113°52.917′
Wind. Wind, wind and more wind. From 10:00AM to at least midnight for our six days exploring Cape Range National Park and the wonders of Ningaloo Reef we endured gale force winds typical to this area of Western Australia during spring. The winds did keep the flies at bay, but when we were walking along the magnificent beaches of Cape Range with the sand stinging our legs as it was blown so viscously by the gales it wasn’t so much fun! The Great Barrier Reef is almost synonymous with Australia but few foreigners, even Australians themselves, are familiar with the almost 200 kilometer stretch of coastline beginning north of Exmouth and ending south of Coral Bay in the central region of Western Australia. It has, without a doubt, some of the most extensive coral gardens either of has seen anywhere in the world. Wind aside, we enjoyed some magnificent snorkeling and beautiful beaches on the stretch of coastline, taking our time to experience all the area had to offer.
Cape Range and the coastline adjacent to Ningaloo Reef is an extremely arid area with little to no protection from the wind and sun. We spent our first night at Lakeside campsite, an exposed patch of dirt next to one of our favorite snorkeling spots along the entire coast. The current at Lakeside reef was strong enough to send Lisa back to shore after a few minutes in the water during our first afternoon swim at the site, but after my accounts of the amazing ocean life we returned to the water at 7:00AM the next morning when it was calm so she could have a look for herself. Within 200 meters from the shore we were swimming with turtles, a Manta Ray, sting rays, Lionfish, Black- and White-Tip Reef Sharks, schools of Australian Salmon and Golden Trevally and a grouper whose head was at least as big as my own! Lakeside also gave us our first dose of the extensive terrestrial native wildlife of Cape Range; we took a sunset walk around the bush adjacent to the campsite and spotted scores of wallaroos feeding in the waning light as well as an Echidna moseying through the low-lying scrub next to the dunes.
After spending a night wondering if The Tank’s Blue Room (that’s our bed) was going to collapse on us in the gale force winds at Lakeside we continued south to the beautiful locale of Osprey Bay. We arrived early in the morning in an attempt to secure one of the ocean view campsites, we were successful and spent two nights on the edge of the sandstone overlooking the pristine turquoise waters of Ningaloo Reef. Such a beautiful spot… A small gap in the sandstone below our campsite made a protected little beach, where we spent the afternoons fishing and relaxing. I managed to reel in a few mullet for Lisa’s lunch one day but wasn’t so successful trying to hook some of the Australian Salmon we saw when snorkeling over the reef near our campsite. A few of the plethora of wallabies and wallaroos making their home near the campsite were quite tame, the mother and joey pictured here came sniffing for a handout a number of times during our stay. At one point when I was eating breakfast the mother had her front paws on my knee and nose almost in my bowl vying for a bite of my Weet-Bix!
We used Osprey Bay as a base for a few days to explore some of the other offerings of Cape Range National Park as well as most of the other snorkeling sites inside the park. Turquoise Bay, made famous by Elle Macpherson in the 1990s, was the winner for coral, an amazing array of seemingly endless coral gardens between the sandy beach and outer reef we viewed while floating peacefully in the current of the receding tide. We also dove at Oyster Stacks and South Mandu, at the latter I finished my swim after making it almost to the outer reef and finding myself encircled by five or six Black-Tip Reef Sharks! Oyster Stacks also had some brilliant coral, but the highlight for me was a bit of fun with a very inquisitive turtle who frolicked in the water within an arm’s length of me for more than 10 minutes, seemingly quite happy for me to touch his flippers and shell as we swam. An awesome experience… We also spent some time inland, exploring Cape Range’s two largest gorges: Mandu Mandu Gorge and Yardie Creek Gorge, hiking the length of both while enjoying brilliant views of the coastline from the cliffs bordering the gorges.
Yardie Creek is the end of the road for most travelers to Cape Range National Park: the bitumen ends and on the other side of a deep, sandy, saltwater creek crossing is a coastal 4WD track that winds its way across a couple of sheep stations to the resort town of Coral Bay approximately 100 kilometers south. Armed with the might of The Tank we waited until the tide had drained enough water out of the creek to cross without dowsing our undercarriage in saltwater and, in low-range first gear, trudged through the boggy sand of Yardie Creek and onto the coastal 4WD track.
Cape Range National Park extends for a few kilometers south of Yardie Creek, at which point the 4WD track traverses the Learmonth Air Weapons Range (a test facility for the nearby RAAF base) on its way to Ningaloo Station. We stopped off at a few secluded beaches along the way, taking a dip in Lefroy Bay where I caught Lisa a nice Yellowfin Bream for dinner on a spear (it’s illegal to spearfish at most locations along Ningaloo Reef but at Lefroy Bay it was game on!). We stopped off at Ningaloo Station (S22°46.426′ E113°46.452′) to pay our $5.00 each per night for camping on the station property and after receiving some very shoddy directions from the station owners found a somewhat wind-protected site in the dunes for the night.
From our campsite amongst the dunes on Ningaloo Station we continued south across Cardabia Station, some desolate landscape where we encountered plenty of Emus, wallabies and some extremely muscle-bound male wallaroos. A few of the tracks through the dunes looked enticing, but after getting The Tank stuck in the deep sand along one track we decided it was time for civilization again and made a bee-line for the resort town of Coral Bay (S23°08.670′ E113°46.246′). After checking-in to one of the two caravan parks in Coral Bay we washed the sand off of The Tank and both lavished in much needed showers, our first for five days. I washed my hair, what little of it I have left, twice!
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