After several phone calls a few days earlier and learning neither Caravan park was chockers, we weighed the risk and decided to turn up to Coral Bay on spec to check out each caravan park before choosing. As always, Wikicamps was our omnipresent friend, with current pricing and notes on everything from the attitude of camp staff to cleanliness of bathrooms, current fly status, and even the noise made by unruly neighbours (it’s like Olympic scoring – you have to dump the highest and lowest scores, and treat the rest with a cynical eye). However, some fellow Lappas, the Whitemans – had told us about THE spot, site R1 at Peoples Park Caravan Park, which is right across from the beach, but because it’s overflow camping – technically cannot be booked. So, we turned up, spoke to the itinerant English backpacker on staff, and deftly requested ‘site R1 please’. The view was amazing, easily equal best in the park. Just a road separated us from our first exposure to the famed Ningaloo reef.
After a quick set up, we grabbed a boogie board and snorkel gear and jumped into the 26 degree water (curiously warmer on the outer reef). Whilst a little damaged close to shore, the coral was excellent. It’s no exaggeration to state that the coral is meters from the sand. There are gardens of various hard and soft corals, including plenty of ‘cabbage coral’ and the more well known staghorn varieties.
Being a sanctuary, the fish life was good too, with schools of dinner plate sized spangled emperor swimming around our feet – it turns out they are fed three times a week, and hang around the feeding spot seemingly in anticipation. We were happily feeding the ‘spanglies’ a piece of bread (doesn’t everybody?), when a tour operator smartly told us not to feed fish bread as it plays havoc with their livers and their poo then apparently kills the reef – so now we know!
The next morning, on advice from the local tour shop ladies, we walked a few hundred meters south to a ‘5 knot’ sign marker, jumped in, and drifted back towards Coral Bay. The water was a little murky, probably because of the two recent cyclones, but the coral was excellent and we did spot plenty of fish, as well as a little green turtle.
We also swam a few hundred meters out to a coral bombie – apparently complete with resident octopus! We think we found the right bombie, but could not find the octopus. Further out in the bay, the coral and visibility improved, but the fish numbers dropped right off. Certainly worth the effort though.
On Wednesday, we were up at the crack to jump on a bus and be taken out to the Kurni Ku, to do a ‘Manta Ray Tour’. The first initiation snorkel was much further out on the reef, and the coral here was pristine and plentiful. We swam with a few turtles (which James alerted me to via an excited squeal though his snorkel).
James, our turtle spotter.
Next up was our Manta ‘interaction’. The shared spotter plane told El-Capitain where to go, and after we had been debriefed on Manta in-water ethics, in we jumped. I must say, it was a bit of a farce, the manta was easily 6 m below us, moving away quickly, and in poor visibility. Still, we ‘swam’ with a Manta Ray. I couldn’t help feeling that the staff were just ticking the box, rather than being passionately invested in their product.
The tour ended with a snorkel over a massive mound of cabbage coral – easily 5 to 6 m across. This area is also a shark cleaning station. And on cue, a reef shark arrived to be pecked clean by little fish. This, and some time with the turtle James had spotted, was the highlight of the day for me.
All in all a fabulous four days. We enjoyed our little beach holiday, Frisbee on the beach, daily snorkelling, amazing sunsets and lazing on the sand. We had great weather and even better still Cyclone Quang seemed to have blown most of the flies away!! It’s great not having to view the amazing scenery through black mesh.