From Above And Below

Fri. 31st May 2019

Chocs away!We generally don’t like retracing our steps as there is always so much new stuff to see and do. However, a) We didn’t get to see all of the recommended places on the reef side of the Cape; and b) We so much enjoyed snorkelling in Turquoise Bay we want to get in the water once more. The clock is ticking, though, and so we need to get moving pronto tonto.

Mangrove Bay from the airOur first stop is Mangrove Bay (guess what is there! Aussie naming again.) This is known for bird sightings (with a bird hide) and on arrival, we are excited to see an eagle circling overhead. We do make a rookie error, however, when we park up and immediately take the nearest path down to the beach. The shoreline is OK – definitely mangroves but no birds and no bird hide. So, it’s back to the car park and there, in big letters, is a sign saying “Bird Hide”. D’Oh!

Pelican argy-bargy!A short boardwalk takes us to the hide which is tucked away amongst the mangroves on the shore of a tidal lagoon. What a fabulous place! A small island a short way offshore means that there are plenty of birds just right in front of us. It’s just inconvenient (ie bad timing on our part) that the sun is also directly in front of us. We just spend a little time comparing the birds we see with the identification boards placed around the sides of the hide. The pelicans are obvious (but always fun) and the red-legged stilts must have been named by an Aussie. What a tranquil place.

Beautiful colour of the clear seaAll to soon, we need to move on – we have more snorkelling to do. We decided against an early morning return to Oyster Stacks, and instead head for the 3rd of the recommended snorkelling sites Lakeside (a rare naming failure as there is no lake in sight). Whilst there is a beautiful beach by the car park, the snorkelling is (we think) in the next bay. As we round the headland, we disturb an Osprey on the beach & he flies off in disgust at being so rudely disturbed.

Unidentified swimming objectAs we walk on, we spot another Osprey watching us disdainfully from atop a yellow marker post. When we get near(ish), I try to get a photo with the camera in its underwater housing. It laughs at me (I can only assume) and flies off carrying the fish he was lunching on. I am disappointed not to have got a photo but, equally, I’m very excited to have seen so many Ospreys in the last couple of weeks.

Parrot fish on the moveThe yellow post hosts a sign that marks out the sanctuary area, which, presumably, is also the snorkelling area. As we look, we can see another yellow post further down the beach with a pair of yellow buoys paralleling them out in the bay. Having established that we are in the right place, we don masks, check snorkels and head out. Rookie mistake no. 2. We’d chosen a nice sandy stretch of beach. All well and good, but we should know by now that that is not where the fish are.

Giant clamPoking our heads up above the swell, we can see darker patches further along the bay and, so, swim slowly over. Bingo! As soon as we get to the coral there are all the fish you could ever wish to see (well, apart from whale sharks, manta rays and other megafauna). There was, though, a giant clam to add to the excitement. It turned out to be a long swim but, once again, we were buzzing when we got back to the shore and we swap notes as to what we saw and what one or other of us missed.

Pre-flight briefingMuch as we’d like, we don’t have time to go back out. We need to get back for lunch (remains of last night’s pizza – yum!) and get our laundry on as we are camping for most of the next week. In the afternoon, I’m going to get a different view of Ningaloo – from above, in a microlight. I’ve done this once before at Victoria Falls, and this seems a great opportunity to get similarly spectacular views. I think the planes look pretty solid (more than just a lawnmower engine under a hanky) and properly kitted out with instruments, radio & GPS (and an iPod so we can have musical accompaniment on the flight).

Not tempted by the golf courseThere is going to be a ‘squadron’ of 3 (with an American couple, but with Janet keeping her feet firmly on the ground) for a 90 minute flight around the Cape. We quickly agree that rather than go right up to the northern tip, we’d rather cut across the Cape and spend more time over the reef looking for large fish. The flying is certainly a different experience from my Spitfire flight a year ago – less noise for one thing but also less twitchy and bouncy. It is all quite relaxing, we don’t fly very quickly and nor do we get too high so it turns out to be a great way to see the sights from a different viewpoint.

Surreal view of the coastline......and of Cape RangeWe soon spot some dugong (like manatees, but different) in waters just off town (the other side of the Cape to the reef). They’re too small / far away to get a photo (even though I’m allowed to take the little Sony compact camera on the flight) but still interesting to see. As we turn inland we head over town and see the marina and a golf course. I am looking forward to picking up my golf clubs again – but I don’t think I’ll come back to this course.

Once we have crossed the Cape, we head south down the coast between reef and shore and just marvel at the sights – even if it is only the transition from sea to beach. Mangrove Bay that we so enjoyed this morning is easy to spot, and much easier to understand how we went wrong. Turquoise Bay where we were drift snorkelling yesterday was harder to spot but recognisable once Peter (my pilot) pointed it out.

Setting sun catching the tops of the canyonsBut best of all were the fish sightings – first tiger sharks, then whale sharks, then a couple of manta rays, then a whole pod of a dozen or more mantas swimming in circles and clearly hoovering up plankton or krill.

An appropriate sunset to mark the end of our time at NingalooAll too soon, it’s time to head back – but there is one final treat in store for me. I chose the 4pm take off slot so that the sun would be low and the light golden. My plan works out as we cross back over the hills of Cape Range. The landscape is unearthly – a mostly flat plateau but with deep, jagged canyons etched into it. Now that I have processed the photos, it’s easy to see that the canyons were cut by rivers, but in the sunset light it looked like the surface of a giant brain. It was all even more magical when the last light of the sun caught the canyon lips which then lit up as if afire.

From above or below, Ningaloo has been a magical place. We have loved our time here.

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