Ningaloo Reef Escape
Part 1 – September 2020
Unfortunately, due to coronavirus many people’s travel plans have currently being put on hold. As a silver-lining this has provided us with the opportunity to get out and explore what is in our own backyard. We are so fortunate to live in W.A. and to have so many great places to visit, but none can rival with the magnificence of the Ningaloo reef and its coastline.
The Ningaloo reef is one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world stretching an incredible 260kms along the Western Australian coastline. It is home to a plethora of life including over 500 species of fish, 300 species of coral, 600 species of mollusks, along with many other marine invertebrates including different species of dolphins and whales.
Although some of the reef is easily accessible from shore, due to the remoteness of its location the best way to get out and really explore the reef is on a liveaboard. Introducing Shore Thing, currently the only liveaboard on the Ningaloo reef. Shore Thing is a beautiful 51ft, purpose built liveaboard sailing catamaran with enough room for up to ten guests. As it is a catamaran, she is extremely comfortable and stable on the water.
Our trip consisted of eight people, and we were all welcomed aboard by our lovely hosts on the first day of our adventure in the early afternoon. For the next six days we would be looked after by Luke, our skipper, Dave, our dive guide, and Sophie, our amazing hostess. The crew were very welcoming and immediately made us feel at home by showing us to our cabins, giving us a boat orientation, going over the all-important safety brief, and before we knew it we were on our way sailing over the crystal waters of the Ningaloo reef.
Our first dive of the trip was at a site called Lottie’s Lagoon. It is a nice easy site, which helped everyone get accustomed to their gear and to get a feel for how the rest of the trip’s dives would be executed from the boat. As expected, the site was teeming with fish and was just the dive to whet our appetites for what was to come.
After our dive, we watched our very first Ningaloo sunset for the trip, which was very closely followed by a beautiful full moon rise. We then showered up, settled in for the evening, and then we were treated to the first of many amazing meals to come. Quite fittingly it was Gold band snapper, a delicious, much sought-after fish which inhabits the Ningaloo reef. All feeling both full of food and anticipation for what lay ahead, we all retired for an early night ready for our next amazing day on the reef.
The morning format for the next five days was to get up at 7am for breakfast, tea, and coffee, with the boat pushing on to our next dive site by about 7.30am. If you were not up by 7.30am then the boat’s engines were enough to give those still in bed a gentle nudge to come up and greet the day. It was now our first full day on the boat and we really did get a taste of all things to come.
By 8.30am we were kitted up and ready to go explore our next dive site. The name of the site was Coral Castles, and as the name might suggest it was strewn with beautiful towering coral formations throughout. Once out of the water, out of our gear, and a nice warm shower on the back deck of the boat we were treated to some delicious homemade cookies for our morning tea.
After a bit of R&R, we had arrived at our next dive site for the day, Asho’s Gap. Asho’s is a popular dive site in Coral Bay as it is home to a shark cleaning station. There have been reports of more than thirty grey reef sharks being there at the same time, however on this occasion we only saw the one. This is likely due to the time of year as the sharks tend to favor the warmer months, but nevertheless we were still excited to see the shark coming through, mouth open, allowing the little cleaner wrasses to get in between its teeth and through its gills for a clean.
Once again back on the boat, gear down, dry off and warm up and get ready for some lunch. Luke was tipped off about a manta ray cruising the inside of the reef just near by as we were getting dry so we had the option of a manta swim or to settle down for some lunch. A bit of a no brainer decision amongst all was made, and lunch went on hold. Unfortunately, on this occasion the manta was extremely fast and difficult to keep up with, but we did all manage to have a quick look. Now the prospect of lunch seemed even better after burning a few extra calories.
After a very tasty lunch, we made our way to our third dive site of the day, The Aquarium. A very appropriate name as this site had fish everywhere you looked. A big highlight of this dive was getting completely enveloped by massive schools of Gold spot trevally. We decided to stay here for a night dive as it was already getting late, so after some snacks and another beautiful sunset, we were kitted up and back in the water.
The site took on a whole new appearance by night and was still a haven of activity. Almost everywhere you shone your torch the glow of shrimp eyes would bounce back at you. There were lots of sleeping parrot fish finding refuge in their mucus bubble for the night, moray eels, turtles, a cuttlefish and even a huge Spanish dancer.
Up from the dive, we all got showered and had our delicious dinner, a couple of bevvies, and recalled the excitement from the day’s dives. We were well and truly shattered from such a great day on the water so off to bed it was for a well-deserved sleep.
The wind picked up a bit overnight and so had the swell, so in the morning after breakfast Luke made the call to stay on the inside of the reef for our first dive. No one was disappointed when the call was made to head back to Asho’s Gap. We took a different route this time which was nice to see the site from a different angle. Once again, there was one shark on the cleaning station but there were also some big schools of trevally hanging around. We even found a solitude baby great barracuda hanging out on the reef.
After morning tea, the wind and swell had dropped enough for us to get to the outer reef. On the way out we saw some humpback whales, and in no time we were at our next dive site, The Elbow. Wow, what a dive. As soon as we descended we were greeted by a huge oceanic manta ray, followed shortly by two more. We found a large turtle having a rest in a corner of the reef right next to a massive moray eel, saw a wobbegong shark, a grey reef shark, some huge mackerel, and some of the divers saw a bull shark. All whilst listening to the distant songs of humpback whales. Ningaloo really was putting on the goods.
Once up from the dive, the wind and swell had come up again, so we made our way back to the inside of the reef, had some lunch and went for our next dive on a site named Lannie’s Lumps. This site was a nice shallow site with lots of species of reef fish, nudibranchs, and some big painted crayfish.
In the late afternoon we went for a snorkel at a spot called North reef nursery. This was a spectacular site that had an abundance of life everywhere. We saw white tip reef sharks, a tassled wobbegong, some big schools of trevally, and a big resident marble ray called Wally. This was all complemented by the golden glow of the late afternoon sun.
After dinner, we spent some time on the bow stargazing before watching the moon rise over the horizon. Another beautiful day in paradise.