Saturday morning Kacy, Claire, our two instructors Dani and Jen, and I flew to Learmonth airport on a military base in north Western Australia. Everywhere around us was the classic “sunburnt” land that you see in Australian movies. Termite mounds dotted the slow rolling hills of the desolate red country and pale shrubs spread everywhere the eye could see. It was a warm day and the hot sun warmed us even further- a wonderful change from the chilly wet days we’d had in Perth. We hopped in our rental car, a new white Mitsubishi SUV, and headed to Coral Bay.
We stayed at a Hosel/Homestead/Motel type of place at the end of the main road that runs straight through the entire tiny town. We got our sheets and pillowcases from the receptionist and found our room on the second floor. On either side of the one window was a set of bunk beds and two dressers at the end of each. Kacy, Claire and I claimed our beds and met back up with Jen and Dani. They drove us to a little stretch of coastline where the sand turned into a rocky shelf and the tide was slowly receding. It was a perfect place to check out the tide pools!
We saw so many awesome creatures, from sea hairs, corals and sea stars, to fish, little crabs, giant clams and sea cucumbers. We had worked up an appetite so we went back to our rooms and changed, then walked through town to the only pub there is. We got drinks and two orders of chips, then sat and watched the sun go down over the water. Dani told us that in the shallow parts of the bay, little stingrays congregate at night to find food and a safe place to spend the night, so we walked along the beach on the way back. Sure enough, we could see their little round shapes in the water, so we rolled up our pant legs, took off our sandals, and waded in.
When it got too dark to see the rays without a flashlight, we gathered our stuff and walked back to our rooms to dry off.
Our little group of five walked to the local pizza place and ordered four delicious pizzas. We then headed to Fraiser’s house (a small property at the research centre in coral bay) where he would give us a lecture about Ningaloo reef and the plants and animals that call it home. The next day we would be boarding his boat where he conducts “Manta Ray Tours” for tourists. The lecture was interesting, his couches comfortable, and his cat very happy to receive the love we had to give. We were full and tired by the time we made it back to our accommodations, but Kacy and Claire and I managed to play one game of pool at the deserted hotel restaurant/bar downstairs. We went to bed totally excited for tomorrows snorkeling adventure.
Sunday morning we got up early and packed our things so that we could grab it all and head to Yardie Homestead (where we would spend the rest of our week) at the end of our Manta Ray tour. We made a quick stop at the local bakery for some breakfast and met up wth the tour group right around the corner. After a quick briefing of how the day would go, we loaded into a van and were shuttled off to boat launch near our tide pooling location a day earlier.
The first stop of the day was at a beautiful snorkeling spot that was equal parts sandy areas and hard coral coverage. The mix of tropical and temperate waters of Ningaloo Reef meant bright colored fish, amazing brown, green, and blue corals, and bright blue waters. We saw turtles sleeping on the coral and got used to the water before heading to the next spot.
Fraiser drove his boat to a spot that manta rays had been feeding for the last few days. On board, we relaxed and warmed up in the sun and enjoyed some snacks before it was time to suit up again. We lined up on the back of the boat and hurriedly put on our fins and masks, then followed our snorkel guide into the water when she gave the signal. Swimming underneath us was a manta ray, cruising off to a cleaning station!
The swift flying motion propelled it quickly along the ocean floor and we had to swim quickly at the surface to try and keep up. Soon enough, the manta out distanced us and we lost sight of it. We loaded back onto the boat that Fraiser had brought closer, and the second group was waiting for their turn. We got in the water with the manta’s one more time per group before letting another boat have their turn.
On our way to the next snorkel spot we saw several humpback whales, Australian humpback dolphins, turtles, and a dugong (very rare to find in this spot)!
Our final snorkel spot was the most beautiful one yet in my opinion. We had to swim through a massive coral structure and fight the same current that eventually would rush you through a break in the landmark, spitting you out on the other side directly over a reef shark cleaning station. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of this because my GoPro died when we hopped in the water. I hope that my memory improves over time instead of deteriorating with age, so that I can hold on to that specific memory. I saw reef sharks (5 of them!) swimming lazily underneath me and was awestruck instead of terrified.
We swam around and checked out the different corals and creatures living within them and then started swimming back to the boat. We had just made it through the junction in the coral when one of the snorkel guides swam quickly over to Kacy yelling “are you okay?!” Confused, we lifted our faces out of the water and I was shocked to see Kacy’s mask about 1/4 filled with blood. “What?” she asked quizickly. I wasn’t worried because I know that she has a history of nosebleeds, but our poor guide has never had one or really seen anyone with one before. Kacy and reassured her and cleaned out her mask. Not two minutes after we had joked about ‘what if that happened over the shark cleaning station? frennnzzyyyy!’ did Claire come up behind me and grab my side. She had no idea what had just happened and was momentarily confused as to why I looked to scared. I was convinced for a brief moment that the sharks were coming to chomp me to pieces. Laughing, but still a little terrified, we got back on the boat and ate on our way back to the dock.
Our group of five hurried back to our rooms, grabbed our luggage, loaded the car and headed for Exmouth- the largest town for miles and miles. We stopped at the grocery store there and picked up food we would need for the week in order to avoid multiple trips back. We ordered fish and chips from a local restaurant and drove slowly to Yardie Creek. Kangaroos are everywhere in this kind of land, and we watched several dart out in front of our car to cross the road. Dani and Jen were prepared and made sure that we drove slowly and carefully to the homestead.
Kacy, Claire and I had a little duplex cabin to ourself, complete with 4 bunk beds and one queen sized bed, a small kitchen area with a fridge and oven, and a giant family sized table. We ate our dinner around the table, enjoying a glass of wine and talking about our crazy day. By the time we got in bed at 9:30, we were exhausted and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.