The Ningaloo Reef is regarded as one of the world’s last great ocean paradises. Stretching from Carnarvon’s Red Bluff to Exmouth’s North-West Cape, it’s Australia’s largest fringing coral reef.
I’ve flown to Exmouth to connect with this world heritage wonderland for the next four days. Part of a group of Adventurous Women, who’ll paddle over the reef under the expert guidance of Exmouth Adventure Co.
We set off eagerly, settling into a paddling rhythm with our new female friends. Thirteen women aged 41-68; many are novice kayakers. Our first 6km seems effortless though, as we delight in watching jumping garfish being chased by barracuda, a hammerhead shark and even a dolphin or two.
We pull into Trealla Camp for the night. Through the mesh top of my tent, I gaze at the dazzling, speckled blanket of stars, way up high. The Southern Cross is easily recognisable amongst the litter of distant lights, as space junk and shooting stars dash across the night sky. I’m reluctant to close my eyelids on this stunning scene.
Next morning, we squeeze everything back into our hatches. There’s no sign we’ve been here in this pure, uncorrupted paradise. No food scraps, no rubbish, no human waste. It all comes back out with us, in our carefully packed kayaks.
Our sleek procession surges through the calm, crystal-clear morning, to our first snorkelling spot. We beach our craft at Turquoise Bay and venture beneath the surface.
If the Garden of Eden were underwater, I’m certain this is it!
We spy a giant groper, hiding under a coral-encrusted rock. A sleepy, sand-covered stingray lies innocently on the bottom, but we’re wary all the same. Schools of convict surgeon fish, their black stripes looking pretty on their yellow & white bodies, swim harmoniously with parrot, guitar and angel fish.
Red bell jellyfish are everywhere. Before entering the water, I’d been worried about their stings. Now, I’m in awe of their beauty.
We drift effortlessly with the current, over brain, staghorn and finger coral, teeming with more fish than I’ve ever seen together. The patterns and combination of colours blow my mind. I’ve found my nirvana.
As our group approaches the point where the current grows stronger, we dart to the safety of solid ground. Delirious, we scuttle back to our boats, chattering excitedly.
On the water again, our group sets a joyfully confident pace, sweeping our oars through its clear, cobalt beauty in a now well-practised rhythm. The azure sky above us is perfection. The clean sandy shore keeps us in sight like a dependable friend. The ancient, elevated plateau of the ochre-coloured range watches over us. Aah, red, white and blue, in all its natural glory.
I’m suddenly reminded that we mustn’t be complacent when it comes to the ocean. The water becomes choppier, the swell menacing. Thoughts of Jessica Watson come to mind; her lonely yacht bobbing around untethered in a huge southern ocean. Of course, I am safe. I’m in a group, I’m close to land and the swell isn’t large by comparison. Nonetheless, there’s no more talking for now. Just focus.
As the glamping tents of Sal Salis Eco-Resort come into sight, I relax. We beach our boats around the point, onto a secluded spot at South Mandu. Just us, soaking up this pristine wilderness.
It’s only lunchtime but we set up camp here for the night. We couldn’t be happier, there’s so much to explore. We tread carefully over dry, bleached coral to discover spent turtle eggs, pretty coloured rocks and seashells of all shapes and sizes. Staring westwards, we wonder how many shades of blue can be distinguished within one body of water.
South Mandu is a drift snorkel, so we allow the current to be our guide. And what a guide it is!
I spy a giant blue starfish hugging its rocky home. I marvel at the tiny silver fish that at once look blue as the sky then yellow as the sun. Parrotfish, angelfish, flutefish. Butterfly ray, spotted ray, giant stingray. Little blue neons, pink snapper and cod.
Schools of silver dartfish perform an elegant, choreographed dance as they part around us.
One of the ladies glides majestically beside a turtle.
I’ll never tire of this silent, magical scene.
We relax on the beach as the sun sets, a fiery flame of colour. Thirteen adventurous women, bonding, expressing eternal gratitude for this unique opportunity. I feel so at one with nature in this moment that I never want it to end.
Next morning, after another stunning star-filled night, we snorkel. A new day, a new experience, every bit as incredible as the day before. But we must move on.
We pull our kayaks onto the shore at Pilgrimunna. Here, we head straight out, into deeper water to watch marine life surrounding big coral bommies below. There is so much to observe under clefts and caves, that I wish I were brave enough to hold my breath and dive deep. Maybe next time…
We finish our day at Osprey Bay, where we’re shocked out of our Ningaloo bubble by hordes of people in vehicles and boats. Reluctantly we realise that all good things must come to an end. We spend our last night in a bush camp nearby, where choruses of birds sing melodies of final farewell.
We’ve paddled 25 kms through one of the world’s last great ocean paradises. We’ve connected with each other, ourselves and our miraculous world. Nature’s abundance – the stars, the sea life, the colours – has blown our minds.
Ningaloo is a world-class wonder, and our group of adventurous women has experienced it at its glorious best. We are truly blessed.