The Road To Ningaloo

Sun. 26th May 2019

Drama at the cliffs at Quobba Blow HolesWe nearly made a quick getaway out of Carnarvon – not that we’d broken any laws, just a general sense of wanting not to be late to Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef Coast. We are self-catering for the next 10 days or so (only 1 week till we need that tent!) and despite our best efforts at Woolies yesterday, we think of a few last essentials (like tea and coffee) that we might need during that time. Then, I spot the fuel station and think we’d better fill the cavernous belly of the Beast – we’ve never yet dropped much below ½ tank of diesel but we do remember the dictum of ‘fill up when you can’. I try to keep in mind that fuel is about half the UK price as the pump goes past 100AUD.

Outside the Carnarvon Space MuseumEven as we head out of town, Carnarvon has one last ‘treat’ for us – the Space and Technology Museum (“Carnarvon’s Number One Tourist Destination”). This is built on the site of the Carnarvon Tracking Station which was built to support NASA with the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. Bless their cotton socks, they really tried to make a show out what is essentially a load of junk. It is, however, a load of junk that bring back some very happy boyhood memories as their claim to fame is that they were the last people to speak to the Apollo crews before they left Earth orbit for the Moon. The satellite dish and Mercury rocket quietly rusting in the grounds pay silent testament to that past.

Houston, we have a problem!The exhibits are mostly old communication and computing equipment in grey racks and dated dials and switches. There are also a number of interactive exhibits for kids (of all ages) such as the electro-magnetic induction propelled ball bearing around a racetrack, and one exhibit for those of us who were kids in the late ‘60s – a ‘simulation’ of the Apollo 11 launch. Needless to say, the Apollo Command Capsule was as realistic as the spacesuits. But what was real was the video and soundtrack of the 3 mins prior and 2 mins post Apollo 11 lift off that you got to see and listen to lying down in the faux capsule. Such fantastic memories of the heady days of man going to the moon.

A good show at the blowholeHaving, eventually, escaped Carnarvon, we then have a decision to make. How far off our route are we prepared to go for a photo opportunity? Our pre-trip research tells us that the Quobba Blow Holes are nearby to our route – but in Aus, nearby means 40km one way and what are these blowholes anyway. Well, of course we go for the detour and it works out well. Not only is it sealed road all the way but the sea is pounding in against the red cliffs of the endless coastline – but the blowholes are doing a passable impression of Icelandic geysers (and a lot more frequent too). There’s even a bonus lighthouse at the top of a nearby hill.

A lonely lighthouseMuch less successful, however, is our lunch stop. Essentially there is a whole lot of nothing between Carnarvon and Coral Bay. There is one Roadhouse marked in our guide but that is too close to Coral Bay to be any use for lunch and there are two rest areas – of which we give the first a try thinking that we can use the picnic tables for a bite to eat and some fresh air. Hah! Fat chance! As soon as we exited the Beast we were swarmed by flies. They don’t bite but they are persistently buzzy little blighters and the like to try to fly in my ears (they can see daylight through the other side?) or up my nose. Lunch was eaten sealed inside the Beast and we were so disrupted that no photos were taken of the Rest Area.

Fish cleaning station in Coral BayWe weren’t really sure what to expect of Coral Bay. It sits on the coast with Ningaloo Reef (“the world’s largest fringing reef”) just offshore and running for some 200km along the coast. It exists as a marine tourist destination – snorkelling and diving along the reef – and in particular it is known for the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. (It is this last that has drawn us here). The reality is that Coral Bay is essentially a resort village with a sprinkling of campsites and self-catering apartments set amongst bars and tour operators. Oh, and a dedicated fish cleaning station where local anglers can prepare their catch after a day on the water. There was a queue as we walked by – they do love their fishing do these Aussies. (BTW- the red fish is a Red Emperor)

Do you prefer your sunsets with birds...What is a shock is that we have become used to places we visit being quiet and with relatively few tourists. Here, the campsites are full and it is as well we booked our apartment weeks in advance. What we didn’t think to book in advance though was our whale shark swim. Although we are here for two full days, our preferred tour operator only has one place available across those days and after a check, the other local operator is fully booked. After we pull long faces and a chat about other options, they suggest that one of us comes along as an observer – there’s a couple of other snorkels you get to do but you stay in the boat when the others are swimming with the whale sharks. Janet is definitely less keen on the whale sharks than I am and so that sorts that out and we book that final place and an observer spot.

...or boats...With the priorities sorted out we get back to the apartment and are just starting to relax (well, get on with other stuff like blog) when we notice that the sun is setting and with the clouds present, the sky is starting to take up some colour. Picking up the cameras, we set off out again. As we are at the far end of the resort, there is a look-out point on a large sand dune close by and we first head there. Whilst there is a nice panoramic view out to sea and the sun is slowly setting on the horizon, there is no foreground to make an interesting photo. A little disappointed, we head back but then notice that the beach is mostly empty apart from a handful of gulls, there are boats moored close in and the wet send is glowing orange and red as the colours in the sky intensify. Cue a couple of very happy bunnies as we experiment with different angles and combinations of birds and boats. I think we’re going to enjoy Ningaloo.

...or, my favourite, both birds and boats?

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