Australia - Exmouth

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Day 1

The drive to Exmouth from Coral Bay was a fairly quick and enjoyable one, especially as we had spent most of the day casually snorkeling around the Ningaloo reef and baking in the warmth of the sunshine, so we were pretty relaxed.

Reaching the campsite we checked in and, still being in our swimming costumes, we took a quick sunset dip in their pool before retiring to Gizmo for the night.

Day 2

After a lazy morning we plodded along to the campsite office to find out about snorkeling with Whale sharks. Exmouth is the only place in the world where these fish; the world's largest cold blooded animals, congregate on a regular annual basis. From April to July the Whale sharks enter the waters of the Ningaloo reef surrounding Exmouth to feed on the plentiful supplies of plankton.

Of the many companies in the area that organize whale shark tours, three in particular were recommended to us; 3 Islands, Ningaloo Blue and Village Dive. Essentially they all offer the same experience at roughly the same price, but some are evidently better than others. After visiting all three we opted to go with '3 Islands'; not only were they highlighted as having the best feedback but they were also slightly cheaper (we negotiated a 10% discount bringing the price down from $330 to $297 - (120 GBP each)).

All of the whale shark companies offer a no-sighting policy whereby you can return on the next available tour for free. Most companies only offer this on a once-only basis however '3 Islands' had recently taken out a group of Irish girls out on three separate occasions until they finally swam with the whale sharks.

Having arranged our itinerary for the following day we were free to explore the rest of the Exmouth peninsular, starting with the lighthouse at the northern point (PICS). Our next stop was the visitor centre further down the coastal road to find out the best beaches to snorkel from and their tide times and currents. Armed with this information we headed for Lakeside beach (just around the corner from the visitor centre) and spent half an hour strolling along the waters edge (PIC).

The most popular beach in this area, both for snorkeling and bathing, is Turquoise Bay. There are two sections for reef exploration; one known as a drift snorkel where you enter the water at a designated point and allow the current to take you along the reef until a different designated point where you can get out, walk back down the beach and start again - very little effort or swimming required. The other section was in the bay (PIC) where you have to swim 100m out to the reef and then swim against the fairly mild current to get back. Surprisingly we opted for the bay snorkel.

We didn't stay in the water for too long and chose not to venture out too deep as the coral and marine life were not as abundant as we had hoped and we had also overheard a conversation in the visitor centre about a tiger shark being spotted in the area. We didn't fancy ending up as fish food that afternoon.
After a brief spot of sunbathing we had a late lunch courtesy of Gizmo's kitchen and then made our way back to town. En route we stopped off at the Mildura wreck; a cattle ship that was carrying Kimberely cattle south and was destroyed in a cyclone in 1907 when it clipped the reef. The hull sat on the reef until World War II when allied planes used it for bombing practice (PIC).

Back at the campsite we again took advantage of the pool to cool down before chucking on the laundry, jumping in the shower and then heading out for dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. Amazingly, even though the laundry had been hung out in the dark and only been left for about an hour and a half, it was all bone dry; Aussie warm evenings have their advantages.

Day 3

A 6am alarm penetrated our sleepy eardrums and lethargically we readied ourselves for a 7:30 pick-up. As we boarded the bus we were greeted by the nine other tourists who would be joining us for the snorkeling adventure. A half-hour drive later and we were at the boat ramp and ready to get aboard the 'Draw Card'. On board the boat we met the five crew members and were given the customary safety briefing before setting out to sea and the first snorkel site of the morning. As the spotter plane wasn't due to go up until 10am we had some time to explore a lagoon in the inner reef known as 'Turtle rocks'.

The lagoon had an outstanding array of fish, some of which we hadn't seen on any of our other snorkeling and scuba trips combined, including Puffer fish, Catfish and Cornet fish.

Having just got back onto the boat we received an unexpected early call from the spotter plane to say that they had already located a whale shark. Flippers off, anchors raised and bums on seats we raced out to find the whale shark before the other tour boats. We arrived at a similar time to four other boats and proceeded to join the queue in second place. In no time at all we were being told to don our equipment and perch on the end of the boat waiting to follow one of the crew into the water and into the path of the whale shark.

The whale shark suddenly emerged out of the dark depths in all of its 5 metre glory, forcing us to dart out of the way of its gaping mouth before turning on our heels to follow, flanking it on both sides. We had to stay at least 3 metres away from the shark at all times, both for our safety and the sharks piece of mind, although they are purely filter feeders and eat nothing larger than krill, their tails could do a fair amount of damage if they decided to turn suddenly.

We swam with the whale shark for three five-minute intervals; the short duration is not only required to give other people a chance but also to catch our breath as the whale shark moves pretty quickly. Before we knew it another, bigger whale shark had been spotted so as this one dived down out of site we left in search of the bigger fish.

Again we were in the water quickly and almost swallowed a gallon of sea water as we saw the size of the whale shark heading towards us. This one, although a huge 8 metre creature, was moving slower than the previous one so allowing us more time to gaze in contemplation of its sheer enormity and grace.

All of our effort and concentration was focused on attempting to stay alongside the majestical titans of the sea so there was little time to even contemplate taking any photos. Luckily there was a videographer with us throughout the six swims that we enjoyed; capturing each turn, raised eyebrow and amazed expression. This video is now winging its way back to the UK for the folks viewing pleasure but it also means that we do not have any photographs of our own to put on the site so we have found a few that resemble our encounter (PICS).

The only slight dampener on the day's enjoyment was the four jellyfish stings that Verdi picked up on two separate swims; one excruciating one on the chin. Luckily, apart from the sudden electric shock type pain that soon subsided with the application of ice and vinegar, they were pretty comparison to the lethal box-jellyfish and deadly irukanji that can be found elsewhere in Australia.

Another injury Verdi sustained during the swims will remain a source of long running amusement to Andrew. After one particular swim with the whale shark we were collected by the tender boat (Verdi hauled on board as elegant and ladylike as ever) and taken back to the main boat where we were supposed to jump back into the water to climb on board. Flippers and snorkel on, legs dangling over the side of the tender ready to jump in, Verdi jerked herself forward but instead managed to fly backwards INTO the boat, down on to the deck and left dazed and confused staring up at Andrew with legs akimbo.

The resulting thud left a mighty mosaic bruise on Verdi's posterior that changed colour and shape like a kaleidoscope for the next week. Pictures have been taken...but are not on this website - the human psyche (or rather Verdi's humility) is not ready for such viewing.

After a great lunch aboard the boat we returned to the inner reef and a different part of the lagoon for some more leisurely snorkeling. Setting sail for dry land we thanked the crew for their fantastic efforts. Swollen chin and throbbing butt aside we reflected on a highly rewarding and thrilling day.

Having caught the mini bus back to the campsite we took another dip in the pool before showering and having dinner. At which point we were greeted by another insurgence of ants. We spent the rest of the daylight hours trying to locate the ants nest and exterminate as many of them as possible.
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