We had heard many good things about Ningaloo Reef on the west coast of Australia and decided to take a road trip north of Perth instead of making a special trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We were excited to go here because there is no need to take a boat out to Ningaloo reef since the reef is swimming distance from the shore, and we could road trip it from Justin’s place. So we rented another mini go-kart of a car, borrowed some camping equipment from Justin and Anya, and made our way north of Perth.
When we looked at the map, it looked as though there would be lots of sites to see along the 1,200 km drive… however, we soon discovered that there was a lot of ‘bush’ between each site. The Aussie term ‘bush’ refers to the area between civilization and the outback which basically consists of very little other than sand and bushes. The road was scarce of any sign of civilization and it was easy to feel as though you weren’t going anywhere as the scenery didn’t change significantly. Along the way, we made stop-ins to several towns that had tourist magazines boasting tourist attractions like the one-mile jetty, beautiful marinas, sand dunes, museums, and lobster processing factories. However, when we stopped into these towns, we were very surprised at how little they had. Kevin’s quote when leaving Carnavon pretty much sums up our impression of the little towns “they have a whole magazine for this place!?”
Kangaroos apparently suffer from the “deer in headlight” syndrome so most cars in Australia (but not our rental) have what is known as a “roo bar” or “bull bar” (which is basically an extravagant version of police car push bumpers) that protect Aussie cars from the inevitable encounter with a kangaroo. We were careful not to drive at dusk and luckily we managed to avoid hitting two emus, wild goats, crazy looking bush cattle, two large eagles, and many kangaroos with only one very close call.
The drive took us about 2 days to reach Coral Bay, which is located at the south end of the reef. Along the way, we found places to camp alongside of the road on hard packed sand with very little facilities. We camped in very remote areas where it was just us, the open star filled sky and the bush. All along our road trip the sunsets and the sun rises were absolutely stunning due to the vast nothingness between us and the sun. Just before setting up the tent we would watch the setting sun grow larger and more oblique as it squashed into the horizon, and then just before packing up the tent we would watch it rise in a similar fashion.
At Coral Bay, we were quick to get into the water and within about 5 minutes in the water, we had seen a turtle and a ray… very cool! The coral was so alive and magnificent, it flowered high above the sea floor with a sort of greenish beige tone. There were small patches of a brilliant purple coral which broke up the monotone of the rest of the coral, although there were fish everywhere, the colors and water temp didn’t compare to what we had seen in the British Virgin Islands. It was here where we learned that it’s quite a good idea to talk to the locals before too much adventuring… after mentioning our idea of where to snorkel next, a lady kindly pointed out that if we proceeded with our plan we’d be heading straight into a tiger shark nursery. Standing corrected, we took a stroll along the beach and watched the sharks circle. We sat on a sand dune and watched (in great anticipation) a family unknowingly approach the sharks that they couldn’t see from their vantage point.
On our way back to Perth we stopped at a few more places of interest including Stromalotites, Kalibari and the Pinnacles. Sharks Bay is home of the 3.5 billion year old stromalotites. To say these single celled organisms are impressive by looks would be a lie, since they appear to be just circular rocks, or pieces of asphalt. However, the fact that these creatures were responsible life as we know it makes them a whole lot more impressive.
We also stopped in Kalibari National Park and hiked down a canyon to a river that was described as “a nice place for a swim”. The canyon was amazing; however by the time we reached the river, the stagnant brownish water had algae covered rocks and was swarming with flies. Even with dreadfully hot weather, Robin’s knowledge of water quality suggested a swim was not advisable (add another point for those clever magazine writers).
We finished our drive down the newly opened Indian Ocean Highway, which gave us easy access to the most incredible ancient rock formations they call pinnacles. The Pinnacles Desert is so outrageous it felt as though we had landed on another planet and highly recommend this as a side trip from Perth near a town called Cervantes.
The only town between Perth and Coral Bay that is large enough to have more than one tourist attraction: a museum, information site, crayfish processing factory, and HMAS Sydney Memorial was Geraldton. We took the tour of the HMS Sydney Memorial, and it absolutely changed the way we look at memorials. It wasn’t so much learning about the ship that sunk, killing 465 people, but more about how each and every structure and plant was chosen for a specific reason. It’s easy to forget how much design thinking takes place in planning things like this. But, it’s the little surprises that make a road trip so fun! Here are a few fun things we saw along the way:
A traveling Aussie bloke having a cup of tea while charging his mini cooler and radio with a portable solar panel.
Race horses being ridden waste deep and then aqua jog on a beach in Geraldton.
A handful of dolphins chasing fish up to the shore we were standing on near Launcelin.
A startling big manta ray gliding by us in a beach cove near Jurien Bay.
Trees growing sideways in strong daily winds just south of Geraldton.
A lake with pink water from overabundance of beta carotene near Esperance.
A 100k beach that was 10meters deep made entirely from small shells near Denham.