Our trip from the Pilbara into the Gascoyne region first took us to Exmouth and the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Coast. This coastline shows off the beautiful liquid turquoise water of the Ningaloo Reef and we were pleased to be staying at the Yardie Homestead campground which was central to the beaches and bays that are boarded by the fringing reefs. Taking advantage of the 35c sunny days we went snorkelling at Oyster Stacks where we saw hundreds of beautiful tropical fish and the colourful coral that is their home. Sandy Bay had transparent water that looked like melted glass. We spent the day kayaking on these pristine calm waters, watching turtles swim and often popping their head up to check us out. The special white sands and turquoise water of the aptly named Turquoise Bay brought us back twice for picnic lunches under the beach umbrella. In addition this glorious part of Australia had humpback whales breaching and sending up plumes of spray as they passed us on their way back down to Southern waters.
At the base of the peninsula is Coral Bay, the home of the majestic and graceful Manta Rays. We took the Ningaloo Reef Manta Ray snorkelling guided tour and had an amazing, breathtaking but exhausting day snorkelling the reef. The multitude of tropical reef fishes were in the thousands. There were turtles, dolphins and a half dozen reef sharks coasting within reach of our fingertips. However, it was the special experience of swimming above a huge Manta Ray that will remain in our memories forever.
Driving downwards to Shark Bay and Denham we were lucky to see more blankets of wildflowers. The Hamelin Pool Marine Reserve was our first stop. Here there are living Stromatolites which are colonies of microorganisms that are from the oldest and simplest forms of life on Earth around 3,500 million years ago. In fact, because they developed when carbon dioxide was the main atmospheric gas they used it to turn that into oxygen, thus allowing for the evolution of life as we know it and of course eventually, us. Denham itself is a pretty beach side town that became our base for a few days while we ventured to Monkey Mia and Steep Point.
At Monkey Mia the wild Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins have come into the beach for the past 40 years and here they are happy to be hand fed. These days people cannot touch them and only 3 people are chosen to feed them the fish each encounter. We had been told that only young and gorgeous bikini-clad girls were usually selected from the crowd. However, Carolyne was determined, she put herself in front of the Park’s officer, and was chosen. Very happily she placed a fish into the dolphin’s mouth who kept her eye firmly on the fish, taking it gently from Carolyne’s fingers. Seeing dolphins so close was very peaceful as they rolled and jumped and drifted happily along the water’s edge.
The western most Point of mainland Australia is at Steep Point. Steep Point was a 5 hour drive out along the peninsula with much on very soft, steep sand hills. It was exciting with the fabulous 170 metre high, red Zuytdorp cliffs as a backdrop and deep turquoise ocean waters of the Indian Ocean coast below. Afterwards we made a quick trip over to Thunder Bay Blowholes. There are multitudes of blowholes but the largest have extremely deep rumblings likened to dragons breathing under the cliffs. We ventured close enough to take photos but Carolyne was terrified to get too close as it seemed so dangerous with no safety railings.
Near Shark Bay is Shell Beach which is covered in hills of minute little Coquina shell or the Hamelin Cockle shells and nearby the Project Eden Fence which is a rodent fence line, constructed to protect the little Bilby population. From Shark Bay we next head to Geraldton and new experiences.