Australia - Coral Bay

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Day 1

Arriving into Coral Bay we were at first startled by the miniscule size of the town...or maybe - ok its basically a short street with a couple of caravan parks and a few shops - that's it! Secondly we were startled by the huge number of people in the area; it was the first place that we had been to on the west coast, Perth included, which felt more like the east coast. The street was packed with families and twenty-something's wandering around in their beachwear.

We had arrived at Coral beach at the most popular and busy time of year, the Easter holidays, when school children and their families joined the constant flow of tourists and travelers and flocked into the popular bay; its proximity to the Ningaloo reef being the main draw.

Upon checking into one of the caravan parks we popped into the nearby tourist office and booked a snorkeling trip out on the Ningaloo reef. This was to be no ordinary snorkel though - after all you can do that straight from the beach in Coral Bay and avoid paying the $110 each (45 GBP) we had just forked out. This trip was all about snorkeling with Manta Rays, huge winged sea-beasts that can grow up to 5m in width and 5m in length (as big as a room). We would be going on the trip the following morning and couldn't wait!

After preparing fajitas for dinner in the stifling heat we attempted to have a cooling shower before bedtime, only to find out that Coral Bay has no fresh water supply and takes its water from a saltwater bore under the ground. This means that not only is their water disgustingly salty but they run out of cold water, not hot water like everywhere else! Our showers were hot, even with just the cold tap on, and so were we - for the rest of the night!

Day 2

After a restless, sweaty night we woke up early to get ready for the snorkeling trip, only to find a number of uninvited guests crawling around the van. The guests were hundreds of ants, scurrying along the ledge that runs down the side of the van and marching from somewhere in the front to somewhere in the back, and vice versa.

After the initial panic subsided we eventually found the source of the ants interest, a half eaten packet of dried fruit, slowly getting more and more eaten as the minutes went by. Discarding all possible sources of ant attraction we checked out of the campsite and moved the van to a car park near the beach.

Hoping that the ants would just get bored and go away we joined the other snorkelers and made our way to the boat for our Manta Ray experience. There were only 9 of us on the boat, luckily a very small group, especially based on how crowded the area currently was, and we were soon enjoying a morning cup of tea and cruising out over the coral to the deeper areas of the reef.

The company's spotter plane was up in the air and on the lookout for our first Manta Ray. The reports came in that one had been found and we set out to track it down. Within 15 minutes we were in the vicinity of a 4 - 4.5m wide Manta and no sooner had we spotted it we were donning our snorkeling gear and sliding into the water alongside it.

We swam alongside the enormous creature as it line fed along the sea bed, only 5 or so metres below us, sailing gracefully back and forth for stretches of about 25 metres. It was hard work trying to keep up with it but well worth the effort. The huge fish was truly breathtaking, not only because of its size, and the close proximity to us, but because it looked as if it were flying through the water - each flap of its 'wings' propelling it serenely through the ocean.

After two 10 minute sessions in the water with the Manta, the second allowing us to dive down alongside it, we were both exhausted and spellbound. Unfortunately we didn't have an underwater camera, but the pictures attached give a very good idea of what we saw (PICS).

Back on the boat we moved further into the reef and over to a turtle sanctuary, an area of the reef where green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles come to gain protection from the numerous sharks in the surrounding waters. We were told after our first swim that the sharks would not have been too far away from us when we were with the Manta Ray - information we could perhaps have done without! We saw a number of turtles but as the area was a protected sanctuary we couldn't jump in and take a closer look.

After lunch the boat proceeded to take us around to a different part of the reef, where we could snorkel around a few coral formations and then over to a known shark cleaning station, where sharks come from all around to be cleaned by smaller fish known as cleaner wrasse. 2 White tip reef sharks and a grey reef shark swam underneath us as we suspended ourselves over a huge coral formation. We both dived down to get a closer look but the timid sharks sped off when we got closer. We didn't actually see any being cleaned but it was still a great, if slightly nerve-tingling experience.

Back on the boat we returned to Coral Bay and had a swim in the shallow waters of the bay (PICS) before drying off and finding our infested Gizmo back at the car park. We picked up some ant killer from the local supermarket and laid some down in the most active spots.

We then got on the road and pointed Gizmo in the direction of Exmouth - another 160km away.
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