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Published: February 20th 2018
Mantarays Beach Resort
The view from the dining patio across to the sea!
On the Ning Nang Nong, where the Cows go bong, and the monkeys all say Boo!
There's a Nong Nang Ning, where the Trees go Ping! And the Teapots jibber, jabber joo!
On the Nong Ning Nang, all the Mice go Clang! And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So it's Ning Nang Nong, Cows go Bong,
Nong Nang Ning, Trees go Ping,
Nong Ning Nang, the Mice go Clang,
What a noisy place to belong,
Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!
I was reminded of this classic poem by Spike Milligan, as we left Perth today, to fly 800 miles north, straight up the coast of Western Australia, to the Ningaloo Reef Heritage Coast and, in particular, the small resort locations of Exmouth and Coral Bay. This area is on a peninsula of land ( a finger really) pointing up north from the main coast line and includes the Ningaloo Reef, supposedly a smaller, but less busy and less damaged version of the Great Barrier Reef. As we close in on the end of our journey, the plan was to have
The beach at Mantarays.....
5 days relaxation in this specific location, before we headed back to Perth for the final 3 days, followed by the long flight(s) home!
Our flight north was with Qantas in a Fokker 100 aircraft, scheduled to leave at 11.20 am, for the two hour flight to Learmonth airport, about 30 km south of Exmouth. We checked out of the Pan Pacific, having first reorganised our luggage so that we only needed to take one suitcase per couple on this leg. The Pan Pacific will store our remaining luggage, with the intention of having this waiting for us in our rooms, when we return to Perth next weekend. A taxi to the airport and through check in and security pretty quickly, although Sue's knee brace did set off all the alarms and did require a bit of 'closer attention' by security!
The Fokker 100 carries around 100 passengers and is configured slightly unusually, with 3 seats on one side of the aisle and 2 seats on the other. With the plane only about two thirds full, Tim had managed to get our seats reallocated so that Sue and Mandy shared 3 seats, thereby giving Sue a bit extra
......and the other way!
leg room, with Tim and I in individual seats in the 'twos'; we both had company for the flight though, Tim with a young lady called Becky in the last year of studying to be a Vet and me with a chap who is a Marine Pilot, navigating ships around tricky stretches of the Western Australia coast. Millan was flying north to supervise the refuelling of some ships off the Ningaloo coast and had flown this trip to Learmonth on many occasions in the past. As it turns out, he was staying in the same hotel as us (albeit for only one night) and, even more spookily, he ended up being next door to Mandy & I - we weren't sure who was stalking who! A very interesting chap, who was good company for the flight........although it did mean that I didn't manage to get any blogging done!!
Tim's lady friend was also good company and did give some helpful advice on where to go while we were up north, although her warnings about jellyfish and venomous snakes didn't really help with our plans to go snorkelling while we were away. In fact, she still had the remains of
The beach at Coral Bay...
a rash on her arm where she was stung by a jellyfish a couple of weeks before! And talking about stalking, Tim actually saw her again (with her partner) while we at a very remote beach, a couple of days later!! And, by the way, we never came across any jellyfish or snakes whilst snorkelling!
Learmonth is, in fact, a military airport, with a small domestic terminal 'on the side'. Landing was perfect (7 flights done now!) and we picked up our last rental car of the whole trip and a saloon car at that, the world renowned, Holden Barina - no, we'd never heard of it either! The saloon car was fine for our needs, as we weren't planning any off-roading and we had less luggage, of course. But, one thing to beware of when renting a car up here; this was the only place on our whole trip where Avis imposed a limit on the number of kilometres we could do during our five day rent - a fairly paltry 500 km, with every extra km charged at 29 cents. In such a huge country, that charge can soon mount up!!
Exmouth is about 30 km
.......and just to prove that we went in!
north of Learmonth; an easy drive which we covered in no time, before arriving at our accommodation, the Mantarays Ningaloo Beach, a beautiful resort of about 70 units, with fabulous pool and fronting on to a magnificent beach and bay - heavenly! We had two super rooms and although they were in different blocks, they were only a short walk apart, across the pool area. This was going to be perfect for some R&R, but it did present us with something of a conundrum. We were due to stay here 3 nights, before driving 150 km down the coast to Coral Bay for two more nights. We knew that the accommodation at Coral Bay was a little more downmarket, but the location was meant to be even more beautiful.
What to do?? We checked out the likely price and availability online and whilst it wouldn't be cheap, it was 'within budget', and so, a possibility. We also sent an email to Trailfinders to see what they could do, although as it turns out, their price was more expensive that the hotel's own website!! Anyway, we decided to sleep on it and decide in the morning.
Now, as I
A rose, from a rose to a rose....
said, this was a period of R&R, so I definitely won't bore you with every minute of lazing by the pool, having a refreshing swim, downing a beer or two, etc. Instead, I will cover things under a number of generic headings, as opposed to day by day, so here goes! Exmouth
- Western Australia is the biggest state in OZ and we are barely half way up its western edge. Exmouth is remote (although, not as remote as Coral Bay) and although the town is quite spread out, there isn't a great deal to it. There are a number of hotels dotted about, of which the Mantarays looked about the best; the town centre (such as it is) includes a couple of small supermarkets, a bakery/cafe, a beauty salon, a small ladies wear shop and a bottle stop (the Aussie off licence). There is no bank in town, but there is an ATM in one of the supermarkets. Whilst, there are a number of restaurants in town, most of these were closed for the summer (!!). It is low season up here, mainly due to it being so hot - 40C + again today!
But, this slightly
A red serviette.....the perfect Valentine's gift!
odd little town is surrounded by beauty, with the stunning ocean and beaches and, a little further afield, the Cape Range National Park, about more later. The town also has a very helpful Visitor Centre which was in the throes of being moved to a brand new building, next door. We wanted to do some snorkelling while we were there, both from the beach and out at sea. The lady helping us, told us the best beaches to go to down the Cape Range NP side of the peninsula and helped us choose an open sea tour where we would have the opportunity to snorkel the reefs and swim with Manta Rays. And, what's more.......this helped us with our decision on 'going to Coral Bay or not' - the tour leaves from Coral Bay at 8.15 in the morning and as CB is a good 90 minute drive from Exmouth, we decided to stick to our original plan. Swimming
- I'll talk about snorkelling (at some length!!) later, but just a quick word about general swimming. The pool at Mantarays Beach was lovely, albeit like getting into a warm bath. The sea was a couple of minutes walk away,
Vlamingh Lighthouse looking fab....
across a super beach which, for the most part, was deserted once again. The sea was warm, but more refreshing than the pool and seemed to be very salty - floating was a doddle! It was also, absolutely crystal clear and being out there, on our own, just felt as though we had our own private ocean. The beach and sea at Coral Bay was much the same and there, we even saw a few stingrays swimming around in the shallow water. Dining
- After a lovely few hours lazing by the pool, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant that first evening, in a lovely setting outside on the patio area, under the stars - not 'Uluru style' stars, but stars nevertheless. The meal was really delicious, but to be honest, pretty expensive, especially the desserts at $20 a pop! Whilst we enjoyed it, we decided to look elsewhere for the next two nights, although as I said earlier, this was trickier than expected, with a number of places closed for the summer! With an air of slight desperation, we pulled into a hotel called the Exmouth Escape and its restaurant, The Whalers. The food was excellent
.....and even some old anchor!
here and although still pretty pricey, was much better value for money - desserts only $12 here, however after the size of the main meal portions, desserts were actually pretty thin on the ground!
We booked again at The Whalers for our last night, which happened to be Valentine's - not sure when any of us had last been out for a meal on Valentine's Day, but here we were.....four old romantics together! I say 'romantics', but none of us had bought cards and certainly no flowers......$10 for a single rose in the restaurant, was almost the price of a pudding and I know which one Mandy would prefer! I did, at least, dress in red shorts and a pink polo shirt for the evening, being Mandy's very own 'Valentine' and surprised her with a 'beautiful' origami rose which I fashioned out of my red napkin. Tim couldn't be bothered with the origami thing and just gave Sue the napkin instead. Sunsets
- the weather was fabulous while we were 'up north', although a cyclone was about to batter the northern part of the State as far down as a place called Broome, still about 1400 km away
....and the Memorial too....
from us! To try and capture a good sunset, we decided to take a drive up to the top of the peninsula and a spot called Vlamingh Lighthouse (the site of.......you've guessed it........a lighthouse) and a very remote place back in the day, when the nearest civilisation of any sort was a place called Onslow over 400 km away and where the lighthouse keeper and his wife saw resupply ships, only once a year! And, we were in luck.........the sunset was beautiful, especially as a backdrop to the lighthouse itself and also to a memorial nearby, commemorating the time that Australia was bombed by Japanese planes at this spot in 1943. It was however, blowing an absolute gale on top of the headland and made a right mess of our carefully coiffured hair styles, mine especially! Anyway, lots of pics were taken and........there were even a few good ones!, Wildlife
- there were, of course, the usual warnings about snakes around the hotel area and when we were out and about, you needed to be careful about venturing to far off the beaten track - but, I'm pleased to say that we have yet to see any slithery things
In our zombie-like state, still time to catch the evening glow over Coral Bay.
in the wild, so far on this trip. We saw a couple of kangaroos down on the beach when we were up on the lighthouse headland - quite far away, but I managed to get a couple of decent snaps. An Aussie family turned up at the lighthouse and wondered what we had spotted, but when we told them what they were, they just said........'Oh, not more bl***y kangaroos!'. There was the possibility of seeing some baby turtles leaving their nests on the beach after dusk, but the same family had been trying to see these for the last couple of nights without success, so we gave that a miss.
Seeing wildlife beside or on the road, was fairly common, with Emus, Bush Turkeys (or Bustards as they are officially known......a bit like baby Emus), a couple of Dingos which ran out into the road in front of us and a bull which decided to have a 'Mexican Stand Off' with us in the middle of the road on the way back to Learmonth from Coral Bay - he blinked first though and eventually backed off. There were loads of birds of prey and also a lot of wild
Mandy showing just how close the Milerying kangaroo was...
parrots, including a couple which decided to join us for brekkie one morning, perching on the next table! And, at a visitor centre in the Cape Range NP called Milerying, we got our closest view of a kangaroo to date, just chomping away on some grass outside the centre, literally feet away!
But there was one piece of wildlife, which we didn't actually see any of, BUT we did see masses of evidence of their existence. Something that is more numerous that cows, sheep and kangaroos, put together and that something is...............Termites!! The Australian Outback is awash with Termite Nests, thousands and thousands of huge mounds dotted all over the landscape. We photographed Mandy next to one mound close to the roadside and I know that she is a bit of a titch, but this nest really was pretty tall! I read somewhere, that each mound contains millions of termites and we saw thousands and thousands of mounds during our time in OZ, so...........that's a lot of the little beggars!! Cape Range National Park
- getting to the NP requires a drive around the top of the peninsula and then due south along the west coast road for
....posing, before leaping off.
about 55 km to reach the park entry station, with a fee payable of a modest $13 per vehicle. Although there is the chance to see wildlife as you drive the Park road, the main attraction along the coast is the multitude of beautiful bays and beaches and getting access to the reef by swimming from the beach. At the Milerying visitor centre about 15 km from the entry station, we were able to rent snorkelling gear at a cost of $10 pp, plus a returnable deposit of $50 per set AND, you need to have cash; no cards taken out here!
We snorkelled at three beaches altogether, namely Oyster Stacks, and the Drift Loop and Bay Loop, both at Turquoise Bay. Oyster Stacks can only be entered at high tide to avoid damage to the reefs and having checked our tidal charts beforehand (such experienced travellers are we!!), we knew we were fine. The snorkelling here was really good, with lots of coral and stacks of fish; however, it was really rocky along the shore's edge and very difficult to get in and out.
At Turquoise Bay, it was a wholly different matter, with beautiful sandy beaches
Kangaroos on the beach at Vlamingh, caught on full zoom...
and blue (probably 'turquoise') water. The two bays are separated by a spit of sand, making swimming conditions totally different. At Drift Loop, the current is incredibly powerful and you are strongly recommended to walk as far left along the beach as possible before entering the water and then allow the current to drift you right; making sure that you exit the water well before the spit of sand. This worked pretty well, but the only snag is, if you take a beach bag with you and leave it where you enter the water, you have to walk the full length of a very long beach again, to retrieve it. We decided to leave our bag about half way and with only a small number of people on the beach, there was little danger of anyone waltzing off with our bits and pieces!
The Bay Loop is simply a beautiful beach and sea, with only a modest current to think about. The thing is though, there is definitely a correlation between the ease of entry into the water and the marine life seen. Oyster Bay was terrific for coral and fish but very hard to get into, Drift Loop
less good and Bay Loop, very little coral to speak of at all. However, there were a lot of fish swimming in the shallows at Bay Loop, including some big snapper, which were very nearly leaping out if the water to eat the bread which some guy was feeding them!
The other part of the NP that we visited was as we left Exmouth, going south towards Coral Bay. As you drive south, but before reaching the airport at Learmonth, there are two turnings off to the right, one to Shotgun Gorge and one to Charles Knife Gorge. The first one could only be reached with a 4WD, so we didn't bother. The Charles Knife Gorge (not strictly part of the NP, but right next to it), is fine to reach in a saloon car such as ours, but just requires driving with a little care on a gravel road. Inevitably, the river bed in the gorge is dry, but the gorge itself is a pretty impressive sight and it's only about a 20 minute detour from the main road. Coral Bay
- Coral Bay is about 150 km from Exmouth and an easy 90 minute drive. It
Two parrots at brekkie....
is a tiny place, with only two hotels, the Ningaloo Reef (where we weren't staying) and the Ningaloo Bay, where we were. As expected, the accommodation was nowhere near the standard of Mantarays, but we knew that and our lodge rooms were absolutely fine, albeit a bit basic. A bit like the hotel at Yulara, this place catered for a variety of travellers, from campers, caravaners, backpackers and then to lodges like ours. It was absolutely fine for our needs, because this tiny, one street, resort is there for one reason only.........the coral reefs and associated marine life. The main beach was a couple of minutes walk away and was fabulous; the water was clear blue and beautifully warm. The place is short on restaurants, has no wifi to speak of and is swarming with flies during the day, but the beauty of this place makes up for it all.
The highlight of our visit was to be our all day trip reef snorkelling and swimming with Manta Rays and that required an 8.15 am start on day two, at the Dive Shop just over the road from the hotel........to be honest, everything in Coral Bay is really just
.....and one in the tree.
over the road from our hotel!
Now, I don't know quite what we expected, but I guess our thinking was that we would have a couple of nice swims closely around our boat, pottering around the reefs and then find a shoal of Manta Rays and simply swim around with them, a bit like when swimming with dolphins. Well no, this wasn't quite the case! When we turned up at the Dive Shop and were kitted out in wetsuits and snorkelling gear (which were then stowed away in our own hessian bags, so we could identify our gear), while the scuba divers who were on the same trip, sorted out all their tanks and stuff, we suddenly realised that this wasn't going to be any 'swim in the park' so to speak! It had all the hallmarks of some Jacques Cousteau underwater adventure (apologies to those who are too young to remember JC and his legendary ship 'Calypso') and then...........when one of our fellow passengers, a Japanese diver, got out his super duper underwater camera equipment with hi tech undersea lights and stuff, I half expected David Attenborough to walk out and tell us we were about to film
The Bull and us, playing 'chicken'!
an episode of Blue Planet!!
Anyway, nothing ventured nothing gained, as they say and we boarded the battered old minibus (if you want aircon, just slide open the window!), which took us for the short drive to the next bay, where our vessel was waiting; a vessel which sort of confirmed that we were on a 'serious' trip and that this was no luxury cruise! Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely fine and Gregor and his crew were brilliant; very professional and out to ensure that we had a day that we wouldn't forget and trust me...........I never will!!
Our first stop was to do some snorkelling around part of the reef About 2 km out at sea. It was a slightly overcast, but hot day, which was probably ideal in that we didn't get too frazzled! There was a slight breeze and a little bit of swell, but nothing too horrendous; however, when we got to the coral reefs it was a different matter, with the waves breaking over the outer reef, creating some quite strong currents and swells in the bit we were going to snorkel in. There were 10 snorkellers and 10 divers in
Mandy at a termite mound....
the party ('party', ha flipping ha!!) and us four were by far and away, the oldest. Us snorkellers were led by a young Kiwi girl called Eden, who was an amazing swimmer and in the first 'drop' (as they called each swim), she led us through some beautiful coral, seeing loads of fabulous fish and even a turtle. But......this was no gentle swim; 40 minutes or so of really hard work in pretty choppy conditions, probably not straying more than about 100 metres from the boat, but covering a lot of 'water', as opposed to the gentle snorkel around a small area near the boat, that we had in mind! When we got back to the boat I was, not to put too fine a point on it.........knackered!!
We were refreshed with some tea and coffee, with cheese and biscuits, while the crew 'hunted' Manta Rays. There were three other boats out and they all use the same spotter plane to let them know when they see a Ray......not a shoal, not a couple together; no, they tend to be solitary creatures - so much for my theory of swimming amongst a bunch of them! Gregor, our Scot from
....another mound, with loads in the background...
Glasgow, Edinburgh and Essex (?) and crew leader, was a permanently cheery chap who kept us entertained while the searching continued and eventually a Ray was spotted, but.......it was about 30 minutes away and this time, about 3 km out. So, it was 'throttle down' as we legged it across the ocean; you may well remember, from previous episodes, that I am not a good sailor and I was definitely beginning to regret signing up for this 'cruise' in a very tiny boat.......in a a very huge ocean!!
Anyway, all was ok, we found the Ray and after one other boat had their turn, it was our opportunity to get in the water. Gregor explained how this would work. Basically, we would be divided into two groups, Eden would lead one and Matt (another crew member), the other. Eden would go in first, spot the Ray and then indicate which way it was travelling so that the boat could get in position, then we would follow her into the water, fanning out behind the Ray so as not to spook it! In we all go and blimey......what a struggle! Tim and Mandy managed to see the Ray, but only
.....the picture doesn't really show it well, but there were literally thousands of termite mounds around!
a glimpse. Sue, who had found that swimming generally helped her knee, struggled to keep up and wisely got back in the boat. As for me, the only thing I saw was..........my life flash before my eyes!! I did my very best, but I realised that my swimming ability and technique with the flippers, just wasn't anywhere near good enough. Ten minutes or so of me struggling (and failing) to keep up and I gave up on the flipping Manta Ray and we all returned to the boat, to let the other group have a go. I was knackered last time......this time I was completely and utterly...........beyond knackered!! Each group had three more 'drops' with another, larger Ray that we found, but Mandy, Sue and I basically said 'Sod this, for a game of soldiers', but our 'resident athlete' Tim did all four 'drops', seeing the Ray on two and missing it on the other two. Whilst the rest of us didn't go back in, we did see the final Ray from the boat and a 'big boy' it was too,
After the 'Manta Ray Experience' the boat headed back across the water at some speed and Mandy, Sue
Cape Range 1
Charles Knife Gorge.....
and I sat up top with our skipper Simo, while the crew prepared lunch and Tim stayed below chatting with his fellow 'four droppers'! In addition to feeling exhausted, the motion of the boat, bobbing up and down while we were phaffing about with the Rays had not helped my sea legs, but sitting up top, with the wind blasting my face did seem to help a tad, coupled with the fact that a nice young Swiss woman called Simone, came and sat next to me and our good old chat, helped take my mind off 'other things' for half an hour or so. After lunch of cold meats, salad and bread, which was very nice (although, I took it easy!), we had one more coral reef swim to do. Eden ran through the plan, which was to swim through the nearest edge of the reef via a narrow gap, into a section between the far and near edges of the reef, known as the 'cleaning station' where lots of smaller fish, effectively clean the bigger fish (including reef sharks (harmless......apparently!) of scales, parasites, barnacles, etc.
After our rest up and lunch, we were all feeling up for another
Cape Range 2
try and into the water we went. This was another tough swim and getting through the gap in the coral was particularly challenging, especially as we pretty much had to go through single file and by the time we made it through, I was finding it tough to keep up - Eden had a float with her in case of need and I gladly accepted it when offered, giving me the chance to rest up. The waves were now really pretty choppy and Sue felt that she had had enough, so Eden agreed to take her back to the boat (about 100 metres away, back through the gap in the reef) and Mandy decided to go too, as she simply wasn't enjoying the conditions. Now, here we have Mandy, by far and away, our best swimmer, deciding to return to the boat..........what on earth possessed me to stay out there......but I did!
Eden got back to us fairly quickly, but I was still so pleased that I had the float to hang on to! We pressed on and while I had no trouble staying afloat, I just couldn't keep up and in addition, while I was still able to
Cape Range 3
......and yet again.
see some amazing coral and marine life at the shallower depths, as we got deeper and deeper, without my specs on, I struggled to see much at all! Tim saw the reef sharks, but they could have been Great Whites as far as I was concerned and I probably still wouldn't have seen Them! We must have been out for nearly an hour in total and as we came back through the gap in the reef once again, I thought this must be the end, but instead of turning left towards the boat, we turned right so Eden could show us some more beautiful star fish coral - at least, that's what I think she said, 'cos by this time my ears were clogged up with water! By the time I reached this, I just had a quick look (which was fantastic), before finally heading back to the boat and clambering aboard, wrecked to within an inch of my life!! Never was I so pleased to get on to a boat as I was then! But I had done it, albeit with the help of a float I hasten to add and..........also the help of my own personal mermaid in
Cape Range 4
Eden, who was absolutely brilliant with Mandy, Sue and especially me, throughout!
Swims done, we headed back to shore, all a bit shell shocked by the experience we had been through. There were many parts of the trip that were fantastic, but there were also quite a few times that all of us felt a bit unnerved, to say the least, even Tim. To be perfectly honest, I think we bit off a bit more than we could chew on this one, but at the same time were also probably a bit 'missold' so to speak. We described ourselves as 'reasonable to confident' swimmers when we booked, but I think you definitely need to be a 'strong' swimmer and experienced snorkeller to get the most out of the trip. After getting back to our hotel about 4ish, I slept for a couple of hours, before we all ate dinner like a bunch of zombies and then fell into bed! Most definitely a 'day to remember'!
So that's it, my summary of our escape 'up north'. A beautiful time in a quite stunning area. Ningaloo does offer a very good alternative to the Great Barrier Reef, especially if you
Cape Range 5
......and again, but with Mandy this time.
go a little bit later in the year (after March), when you can get the chance to swim with Whale Sharks, but goodness only knows what that 'swimming experience' would be like! One thing we would say about the reef is that whilst it is very healthy (unlike the Great Barrier Reef, which is said to be suffering badly), Ningaloo comprises 'Hard Coral' as opposed to 'Soft' and as a result, although the beautiful reef has lots of amazing shapes and structures, it does not have the range of pretty colours that you would get with 'soft' coral.
I loved the rugged nature of the NP, with the remoteness of the whole area and the beaches and clear blue seas are to die for! I doubt that I would do the same sort of snorkelling boat trip again, but nevertheless, I'm glad I did it.......certainly something to share with the grandkids!
After 5 days, we drove back to Learmonth, to catch our flight back to Perth and on to the final stage of our adventure.....but, that's gonna have to be another episode! But, as I know you're all so enjoying the quiz questions, here are today's entries:
Snorkelling Trip 1
Our bus and trailer of gear.....
* The Fokker 100 was the last aircraft manufactured by Fokker before the company went bust in 1996 but, what nationality were 'Fokker'?
* I mentioned Jacques Cousteau and his ship 'Calypso', but which country music singer had a hit with the song 'Calypso' (a tribute to Jacques and his work) in the 1970s?
That's all folks! TTFN
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