How to See Ningaloo Reef and Surrounds Without GettingWet
At Ningaloo Reef, I assumed it would be all about the ocean.
The area is famous for its undersea adventures, from swimming with whale sharks to snorkeling among its colourful corals. Yet once I arrived at this coastal paradise, I found plenty of activities that can be done without slipping on a swimsuit. Here are some of my favourites.
The river-carved canyons of Cape Range National Park, less than an hour from Exmouth, remind me of the dramatic landscapes of the Kimberley. One of the most spectacular places to hike is Yardee Gorge, where the soaring rust-red cliff faces offer a startling contrast to the blue water that fills the floor of the canyon, and kestrel and osprey wheel overhead. We spy a couple of shy wallabies, but none of the euros or emus that also inhabit the area. Other popular walks in the National Park include the hike through Mandu Mandu Gorge and the Charles Knife Canyon trail, a high path from where you can get great shots looking down into the starkly beautiful canyon.
Even landlubbers can share the excitement when the humpback whales come to town. Their annual migration lasts from July to November, and popular lookouts including Bendegi Beach and the lighthouse. Or do as we did, and chill out on Town Beach: it didn’t take long before we saw a spout out in the ocean. You don’t have to settle with a view from afar. There are plenty of cruises that take you close to these amazing animals without actually having to get in the water, including a popular sunset cruise option. Cocktails, canapes and whales: sounds like the perfect way to end the day.
Ready for something a bit more rugged? With bush tracks, deserted beaches and rocky plains, there is plenty of wide open land to explore around Exmouth, and no more exhilarating way to do so than on a quad bike. There are a number of tours to choose from, including Ningaloo Argo & Quad Tours, and Quad Treks, and you don’t need any experience to join in the fun. Each tour has a different itinerary: depending on which one you choose, you can explore natural sinkholes, try your hand at an easy creek crossing, or make tracks on a pristine white sand beach. So strap on a helmet and enjoy an adventure with a difference.
Have a turtleencounter
If you are looking for something completely different, grab a torch and head out at night to get a rare glimpse into turtle breeding behaviour. Ningaloo Reef is known for its populations of green and loggerhead turtles, and early summer (December) is breeding season. The females come ashore with the high tide at night and lay their eggs in nests they dig in the sand. Six weeks after the eggs are laid, the hatchlings start to emerge and make their way to the sea – at night, to protect themselves from predators. Guided tours from the Jurabi Turtle Centre are the best way for you to get close to the action without disturbing these endearing creatures.
Many visitors to Ningaloo Reef come here specifically to admire the underwater view. Few of them realise the view from above the water is just as spectacular. On our scenic flight, we marveled at the panorama of the reef laid out beneath us, shimmering in many shades of blue – from aquamarine to turquoise to teal. Another surprise: our birds-eye view also lets us spot whale sharks and manta rays as they move through the water. With flights starting from just 15 minutes, this is an unforgettable adventure.
Michael ‘Tommo’ Thomson has probably seen more of the Kimberley that most. As a local helicopter pilot, he spends his day showing people the wonders of northern WA. Writer Lorna Hendry asked him which part he enjoys most.
Neville Hernon has called the Kimberley’s iconic Gibb River Road home for 22 years. Back in the day, he worked as a station mechanic on a local cattle station. Now he runs his own business, Over the Range Tyre and Mechanical Repairs. Here are his tips for tackling the Gibb, and the ultimate pit stops en route.