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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Exmouth to Coral Bay via Cape Range NP (Ningaloo Reef)

After our brief stay at Exmouth to re-provision for the coming days, we set off in hope of getting a camping spot at Cape Range National Park. We were lucky enough to get in and we had a site at Mesa Camp.
Our first dip in the ocean was an amazing experience with lots of fish, an eel of some sort and the day was fairly still so very little wave action and beautiful clear water.
From there the snorkelling got better. We had heard that there were some lovely beaches and some great snorkelling and we weren't disappointed. The water was a beautiful turquoise colour and the reefs were close in to shore which meant we could all comfortably snorkel.
At Lakeside, one of the better snorkelling sites, we experienced a wonderful family moment where we all swam with a turtle. If I can I'll get the video up for this. We saw a myriad of both reef and "fin" fish as well as an octopus, a reef shark, some colourful parrot fish, a large estuary cod, "nemo" fish, reaaly small and some quite large fish. The coral wasn't spectacular, but as an introduction to snorkelling for all of us as a family, we couldn't have asked for anything more.
Annie and Ruby had another wonderful experience as they headed off to a beach where we had heard there was a good chance to see a turtle laying eggs at night. I took the boys fishing and even though we had a nice time, Annie and Ruby did see a turtle laying eggs which is something neither of them is likely to forget.
Another day the boys and I were fishing while Annie and Ruby went snorkelling nearby. We watched a large Manta ray swim by and then the girls arrived in time to see a turtle swim by. Both the ray and the turtle were very close to shore. Then a pod of 5 or 6 dolphins started playing around above some coral about 30 metres from shore right in front of us. Another memorable morning's viewing.
We saw a few different birds at a place called Mangrove Bay which has a bird hide. A white sea eagle, some cormorants and egrets and some small wading birds. We could also see some of these near our camp and along the roads through the Park.
We had other snorkelling days at Turquoise Bay and tried the Oyster Stacks but the weather had started to turn a bit against us and the wind had increased throughout the week.
We bought underwater cameras for the kids (what's processing mean Mum? - obviously they are digital age kids!) and they all enjoyed taking photos underwater, although Moses took a few out of water too, maybe he was just trying to work out a camera you had to wind on - we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
On a very windy day we went back to the beach where Annie and Ruby had seen the turtle laying her eggs and saw 20 - 30 turtles frolicking in the water and onto the sand. We also looked at where they had seen the turtle laying and the mounds and Ruby was very good at explaining how the turtle had dug a hole and then dug an egg chamber.
Our bird watching has become a great ongoing learning experience for all of us for the trip. We named 10 birds of prey we have seen on this trip in the car today (yes we have photos of all!) but the true excitement now is seeing unusual birds. Pete, we saw a Beach Stone Curlew, which is considered an at risk bird (yes, we have photos too), and there have been a lot of emus up around here and we have taken many photos of them, including some younger emus at the place we collected water from each day, and this morning we saw two chicks running across the road with an adult on the way out of Exmouth.
The reptiles seem to keep well hidden, not surprising considering the birds of prey, but we did see a freshly run-over snake this morning, a large lizard at Yardi Creek and a perentie in the pool area here at Coral Bay this afternoon.
The Camp Hosts, Greg and Adele, were really friendly and helpful during our 7 nights at Mesa Camp. They seem to really enjoy their role, which is on a volunteer basis, mainly retired folk, and the NP pay for their fuel if they have a generator, and they get their camping for free. Their role is to collect the camping fees, offer general information, keep the toilets and camp ground clean, and Greg and Adele had 5 pm welcome drinks where whoever felt the need could go and sit and chat about their travelling experiences with the other campers. They were doing a one month stint, and then heading off somewhere else. Seemed like the perfect life for some retired folk we know!
After a week at Mesa, we felt the wind was just getting a bit out of hand and we decided to come south about 140 kms to Coral Bay. It is a little more sheltered, but the wind is still pretty strong. We'll see how it goes for a couple of days and either stay a bit longer, or move on to somewhere further south.
I don't feel as though I have done the Ningaloo Reef justice in this blog but as Annie and I agreed, it is really hard to explain to people something that was so special for us as we experienced it. The photos are to come.


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