Wonders of Ningaloo and Exmouth, Western Australia.
After 18 years of being a diver, with the past 14 years working in the Dive industry, I have finally been to dive the jewel in my own back yard (not that far, just 1200 km’s north of Perth) in the Ningaloo area.
It’s one of those places that I have been ‘going to’, for a long time, but my other hobbies or work, overseas dive and motorsport/photography trips have always over shadowed. So I have finally made it to Exmouth, diving and snorkelling the waters of the nearby Ningaloo Reef, Muiron Islands and the Gulf. After a bit of a change in my life I finally made the trip to Exmouth and had a chance to see what the fuss is all about.
This place has just amazed me ‘big time’, with its colour and beauty both on land and underwater with so many unexpected treats thrown in. How could you not be amazed when just the simple thing of going to and from dive and snorkelling sites by boat, you get entertained by Humpback whales playing or just cruising past, many females with nursing calves, sometimes Dolphins or Manta Rays for the eager eyed tourist to spot.
On land you have the rugged beauty of the Cape Range and Yardie Creek Gorges and the ‘numerous bays’ in the Cape Range National Park. A favourite of mine, Mangroves Bay, where when I visited, I was lucky enough to have the tide on its way out and it was about knee deep. The place is like a huge nursery for marine life with plenty of young Blue Spotted Ray’s and juvenile sharks (White tip reef sharks and Tawny’s), ranging from half a metre to just over a metre just innocently swimming by. If you stand in the water long enough you will feel this strange ticklish sensation of cleaner fish, taking time out from their chores with real fish, doing some free treatment on your legs.
As for diving and snorkelling out on the boats, I have had the opportunity to dive the Ningaloo Reef side plus the Muiron Islands as well as the dive sites off Lighthouse Bay, all with the sweet music of close Humpback whales talking and singing to each other.
The ‘Ningaloo Reef’ - is along the outer reef on the west side of the cape, with the dive sites controlled by the open ocean. The continental shelf is very close to the reef, so with lots of food in the water, pelagic and other large fish are always around. Some sites are close to sandy areas, having coral bombies scattered along the reef, while others have big swim thru’s, the weather needs to be quite good to dive there. On the day I visited, the first dive site was called the ‘West End’ it was just coming off some swelly weather, so the visibility wasn’t fantastic but once we descended we were greeted by two Manta Rays playing and doing rolls over each other, I could have stayed there all day and watched them. Moving along there was the reef to see and more Manta’s, this time getting cleaned by little cleaner fish darting in and out of their gills. I just found a sandy spot, let all the air out of my BCD and just watched them gliding past and over me, passes coming within centimetres of me. I think I took a hundred photos. Then while doing a safety stop a turtle swam by for a perfect finish to the dive, just magical.
At the second site ‘Nick’s Lumps’ the visibility was a whole lot better, having a lot more rock/reef formations with a couple having nice deep swim throughs under the formations and plenty of ledges to look under to see what was hiding out. A really good fun dive.
‘Muiron Islands’ – lying just north of the mainland where the Indian Ocean and the Exmouth Gulf meet, you will find a good choice of dive sites. The day I went out to the Islands the weather was perfect so I got treated to some good diving. The first dive site (Jaws) is a reef in a horse shoe shape, pretty simple navigation, unless you’re like me who likes to explore swim throughs and passage ways. The reward was 2 dive sites in 1 dive and a smorgasbord of different types of tropical fish and a couple of Reef sharks – the down side was a bit of exercise swimming back to the boat, but well worth it.
The second site (Key Hole) was in about 9 metres of water coming up to 4 metres. Not a lot of fish on this site, but what made up for this was a huge field of soft and hard corals that are quite different to what you see on the dive sites closer to the main land. The colours and the amount off corals were just spectacular. Both dive sites are good dual sites for both diving and snorkelling. We finished the day with a gentle drift snorkel along a sand drop off that has bombies littered all the way along it. A very nice way to finish the day.
‘Lighthouse Bay’ – lies on the North Western side of the main land not far from the Harold E Holt communication towers. All the sites lay within the sanctuary zone so they all have permanent moorings for the dive boats. Three of the main dive sites are ‘Blizzard Ridge’ – ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Gulliver’s’, all laying in 11 to 15metres of water but all with their own individual character. ‘Blizzard Ridge’ is a 2 metre high ridge at 15 metres that runs along for at least a couple of hundred metres. The marine life on this site was just unbelievable – several different types of ray’s including the odd Manta coming in for a clean, Reef Shark’s, Wobbegongs, Sea Snakes that glide by, big numbers of large Cod, thousands and thousands of Glass fish and so much other fish action. The glass/bait fish are so thick and abundant; you can’t even see what else is around. You have to move your arms slowly to gently push away the tiny soup of fish, to see what is hiding behind them. With literally hundreds of fish species scattered along the ridge, if you are not looking hard enough you might not notice a Frog Fish, or crocodile fish camouflaging along the wall.
‘Gulliver’s’ is an arrangement of two circular reefs, with a 3 or 4 metre drop off in the centre, with a selection of hard and soft coral’s around the edges. For those that like Nudibranches, I counted 7 different species of different colours and sizes. Then you have the bigger species like rays, a healthy variety of fish with some sea Snakes here as well. The main thing I remember from the last dive here was the surprise of at least six or more White Tip Sharks just lazing about on the sand chilling out.
As for the ‘Labyrinth’, this nice dive site is made up of a series of oversize ridges, that have some very colourful soft coral’s lining it, every dive having Turtles resting or dropping in and again a very good range of tropical fish. This site holds an unforgettable soft spot for me, where I had one of the most amazing moments of my life. When I was diving there, at about 13 metres deep, I had two huge adult Humpback whales and the cutest calf swim straight by me and circle the boat; just a mind blowing moment, just unbelievable. I had them with me for, what seemed an eternity, yet I fumbled my camera and was too in awe to get a picture.
While in Exmouth, I also had the opportunity to go out on the Whale shark boat and have some swims with the big fish. It is something I recommend everybody to do at least once in your life; they are just the gentle giants of the ocean and so graceful making you feel very insignificant. This tour was just so informative and fun; I just swam and swam with Whalesharks until I was done.
The newest tour I went on was the Humpback Whale Swim. I was on-board as a whale watcher, getting some great action shots, watching others enjoy the magic of Humpbacks. The fuzzy, tearing up feeling of being with these giants of the ocean, could be seen on even the toughest of men, as they returned to the boat in absolute amazement.
All in all Exmouth/Ningaloo has a lot to offer on both land and in the sea, whether you’re a diver or just a snorkeler, a birder or photographer.
A jewel in our back yard.
Big thank you to Exmouth Dive Centre for looking after me and making this such a memorable experience.
More info can be found at www.exmouthdiving.com.au or email: firstname.lastname@example.org