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Ningaloo Reef 26 July – 4 August 2013

By
Jacki Hollick

For those of you who have already experienced the wonders of Ningaloo Reef, I apologise for the extensive use of superlative adjectives in this report as you already know how wonderful it is. For those who have not, Ningaloo Reef is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.
The trip involved a pod of 8 paddlers staying at Yardie Creek Homestead caravan park in two cabins as a base with various day trips along the Ningaloo Reef from Yardie Creek up to Mangrove Bay.

The weather was glorious with blue skies, average top temperatures of 26-28 degrees and strong easterlies in the morning and previous night, dropping down to a gentler wind in the afternoons. For a couple of days, a south westerly came in but only for about a couple of hours or so.

The paddlers were Paul Cooper, Wolfgang Wetzig, Barry and Chris Roberts, Margaret Banks, Jo Foley and Ian and Jacki Hollick.


Outside cabin – Barry, Chris, Paul, Wolfgang, Jo, Ian, Jacki, Margaret. Photo by Ian Hollick.

When asked what the highlights of the trip were, these paddlers replied:

“The third day was the best. It was the perfect day with gentle breeze, cloudless sky and fantastic surfing. I’ve never experienced a more balanced paddling day.”

“The wildlife – Emus, Roos, Wallabies, birds, echidnas, Dugong, turtles, Rays, Tuna. The variety of things to do. The company. The sunset.”

“The third day. The look on Wolfie’s face when he caught that wave surfing. The paddle from Sandy Bay to Turquoise Bay when the wind picked up to 20 knots, top travelling speed of 13.2 kms per hour. Seeing that Tuna and the sunset.”

“The company. The turtle that popped up so close to the boat. The surfing. Sandy Bay was the best. Watching the whale breaching at the Exmouth Marina.”

“The camaraderie and great friends. The colours were amazing. The blue of the sky, the tropical blue sea, the springtime greens and the yellow and purple of the wildflowers. The iron reds and greys of the gorge at Yardie Creek and the amazing sunset at the Lighthouse.”

“The snorkelling and the fish. The surfing.”

“The clear sea and so many fish. The different colours.”

“The surfing and different paddling days. It was such a relaxed time with plenty of excitement on top”.

So, what happened? Well……

Friday and Saturday were spent driving up with stop overs at either Billabong Road House or Carnarvon. A storm had come in on Thursday and through into Friday, so the beginning of the journey was difficult with gale force winds and heavy rain. However, past Geraldton was different with blue skies and no rain.

On Sunday, we started the paddling with a short drive to Lakeside, where the reef is close to the beach and we got our first view of the beautiful turquoise clear water and the sound of the waves breaking out at the edge of the reef (continuously along the coastline).


Leaving Lakeside. Photo by Ian Hollick.

We set off south and it wasn’t long before turtles were popping up out of the water to have a look at these strange vessels or were swimming under the boats at great speed. We didn’t see another boat inside of the reef!

We landed at Turquoise Bay, which is renowned for its snorkelling which I’ll talk about later. And, yes, the water is bright turquoise.
After a short break, Jo and Paul ventured onto Oysters Stack when they were lucky enough to see a tuna fly out of the water alongside them.

After the longest paddle of the trip, we returned to the cabins and either cooked or joined the Christmas in July evening meal at the caravan park ‘restaurant’. Barry, Chris, Ian and Jacki enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings for dinner which was quite quirky in the middle of nowhere!

Monday proved to give us an even better paddling experience. We set off from Sandy Bay which is ‘picture perfect’ with white sand and clear water, and nobody else around!


Sandy Bay. Photo by Ian Hollick.

 


Kayaks lined up on Sandy Beach. Photo by Ian Hollick.

We paddled south for a while when we had a wonderful aerobatic display from a couple of sea eagles soaring directly above us.

After lunch, 6 of us paddled out to a special kayak mooring that Jo knew about at the edge of the reef. We rafted up 4 boats to the mooring and Wolfgang, Margaret, Jacki and Jo spent half an hour snorkelling in the deeper water while Ian and Paul went out further to check out the surfing for future reference.

When we got back to Sandy Bay, we enjoyed some rolling and bracing practice in warmer waters than we have been used to recently in Perth.

As with all evenings, we spent the end of the day discussing our experiences of the day over dinner and a glass of wine.

So, surely the next day, Tuesday, couldn’t top the two previous days of paddling. Wrong. The third paddling day was the best.

We started at Ned’s Camp and paddled up to Mangrove Bay where the coral reef was only about a metre below us. Again, we saw loads of turtles, sting rays, sea slugs (yuk!) and Jo saw a couple of small sharks in the mangroves.

Paul suggested we go out to the edge of the reef to look at some surfing. Best idea ever!

On the way out, we saw the tail fin of a fish thrashing around seeming to be trying to catch something off the reef. On closer inspection, we believe it was a 2 metre Tawny Nurse shark. As soon as it saw us, it took off but Ian put his camera under the water and managed to get a half decent shot of it.


Tawny Nurse Shark. Photo by Ian Hollick.

The surfing at the edge of the reef proved to be exciting for all. You could catch a set of waves and surf three times over!

We landed back at Ned’s camp for a late lunch and everyone went back to the cabins apart from Paul, Jo, Ian and Jacki who went to the observation hide to view the birds in the mangrove lagoon (so different to the ocean just next door).

Later on, Paul, Jo and Margaret went up to the Lighthouse to see a spectacular sunset over the water.

What a special day.


Sunset from the Lighthouse. Photo by Jo Foley.

Tuesday was going to be hard to beat, so we tried something totally different on Wednesday and drove down to the Yardie Creek itself, a water gorge, apparently about 14 kms long but much shorter for paddling access.


Paddling up Yardie Creek. Photo by Ian Hollick.

We paddled up as far as we could go checking out the rock wallabies emerging from caves above us. The contrast in colours was amazing with the blue water and sky, bright red rock soaring up and green bushes.


Rock Wallabies emerging in the morning sun. Photo by Ian Hollick.

We ventured back to Sandy Bay either by boat or car and then drove on to Turquoise Bay for some snorkelling. Turquoise Bay has a strange phenomenon of a ‘drift’ which sends the snorkeler along the beach without any effort of swimming. This means you can just watch the fish as you go by. And there were plenty of fish of different colours, blue, green, yellow and even pink.

Margaret demonstrated her snorkelling skills, frequently diving down to get a closer look at the fish that we pointed out to her!

Paul continued by boat from Sandy Bay back to Turquoise Bay rather than driving and had an exhilarating paddle.

Thursday was our ‘dry’ day which we spent in search of the tourist sites. We drove up Charles Knife Gorge with amazing views across the ocean.


Paul at Charles Knife Gorge. Photo by Jo Foley.
Charles Knife Gorge. Photo by Ian Hollick.

Jacki and Ian were privileged with the sight of a whale breaching over and over outside the Exmouth Marina. A local said it was the first whale he’d seen this season. What a treat!

A few of us checked out the SS ‘Mildura’ wreck, a 1907 cattle ship wreck visible from the shore and the renowned Surfers Beach.


SS ‘Mildura wreck. Photo by Ian Hollick.

Thursday night was our last night together as Jacki and Ian left a day early to return home via Carnarvon.

So, Friday’s report comes from Jo.

We woke up to another day in paradise. With Jacki and Ian’s departure yesterday there were now 6 of us. Over breakfast we discussed our options for our last day’s paddle. Wolfgang and Paul were keen to do some rolling practice before getting back to chilly Perth and the rest of us were keen to do one last paddle. In the end we decided to paddle north from Lakeside to Ned’s Camp and return, as we had not paddled that section. The plan was to then do some snorkelling at Lakeside and rolling.

When we got to Lakeside it was super windy – about 20 knots ESE so we hugged the coast as much as possible which was at times difficult due to it being low tide. When we got to the bay that held Ned’s Camp the wind was howling and seemed to be more north easterly and the water very shallow so we decided to head back with the wind at our backs to a lovely bay which was sheltered by a glistening white sand dune. We had an early lunch break which included a little sand in our food (crunch, crunch). We had an amazing view of many shades of blue ocean against a marvellous blue sky. Paul and Wolfgang treated us to a rolling display. On the way back we encountered 2 dolphins –which were the first of the trip. We also had schools of trevally and gardies leaping out of the water (I wonder what was chasing them?!?!).

When we arrived back at Lakeside the wind had dropped and it was slack tide, so the perfect time to go snorkelling at a brilliant spot 500m south of the carpark called lakeside bombies. We got our gear and paddled down. The snorkel was like swimming in an aquarium. With numerous bombies of massive coral we encountered many colourful and beautifully patterned fish of all sizes from tiny blue to damselfish to a huge groper hiding in a hole in the rocks. Margaret and I snorkelled further out and came across 2 massive rays that seemed to be about 3metres in length lying on the sandy bottom. One of them, you could only see its outline as it was covered in sand. The other was eyeballing us and we snorkelled above.  Paul and Wolfgang opted to do some more rolling practice.
It was another balmy evening and we enjoyed a last night similar to most of the others, with a bbq out on the verandah and a few wines with great friends.

The next day we set off for our 2 day journey back to Perth – Barry and Chris stopping at Carnarvon for the night and the rest of us stopped at the Old Northampton Convent for a cheap night’s rest ($20 each).

And so we come to the end of this trip report.

Thank you so much to Paul and Jo for organising such a fantastic experience to be remembered.

Also, thank you for all the photos, in particular to Ian for so many of them, and a big thank you to the whole group, you guys, for good company in the presence of great friends. We had so much fun in a spectacular and memorable place.

It was truly special.

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