Coastal paradise

Ningaloo Reef in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef should be on the must visit list for everybody travelling in Australia. It stretches for more than 200 kilometres down the west coast of the continent from the North West Cape above Exmouth to Red Bluff not far north of Carnarvon. Much of it is a marine park and there are plentiful and beautiful fish and corals which can be seen by snorkelling straight off the beach. 

We’ve visited the reef, staying in the Cape Range National Park, on every previous visit to the west and this year was no exception. Bookings in the park can be hard to get, especially in the prime season from mid May when the Whale Sharks arrive until late September when the temperatures and the winds are both rising. Apart from odd days here and there the campsites are usually filled as soon as bookings open 6 months in advance. This year all bookings were cancelled when national parks closed when the covid restrictions were enforced and then reopened when the restrictions were eased. We were lucky, and quick, enough to get a two week booking in a small camp ground near two of the prime snorkelling spots. 

On the afternoon before our booking commences we reach the eastern side of the national park and took the road up to the top of the range next to Charles Knife Canyon. There’s no camping allowed but we find a spot to stop where we can set up late and pack up early and Paul can take some sunset and sunrise photos. 

After the photos were taken we stopped in Exmouth to make sure we had enough supplies for two weeks and our gas and water were full then drove around to the coast on the western side of the range. We set up camp on our site in North Mandu Camp, taking the camper of the back of the Ute and putting out our big awning and all our mats and got ready to enjoy two weeks of paradise. The weather was warm to hot, winds variable but only ranging from calm to moderate, and only a couple of days with clouds.

Days were spent snorkelling, swimming, walking in Yardie Gorge and relaxing in camp. The Yardie Gorge walk is not terribly long or difficult with only a couple of slightly tricky descents into gullies and there are some lovely views along the way and at the end. Paul also visited Pilgramunna Gorge at sunset one evening.

The beach in front of our camp was rocky and there was a southerly drift so our favourite swimming spots were Sandy Bay about 10 km south or Turquoise Bay a few km north. Turquoise Bay is also one of the prime snorkelling spots with either a relaxing swim and snorkel in the quiet bay or a snorkel on the other side of the point where the current allows you to drift over wonderful corals and colourful fish.

The best snorkelling however was at Oyster Stacks. These are only about a kilometre north of our camp and there is a significant southerly drift so we could walk up the beach over the rocks and enter the water and just drift back to camp. We had some days of great visibility and the coral is truly remarkable. It’s a fish sanctuary zone and they are prolific with amazing colours and shapes. We also spotted several rays and a turtle.

After our wonderful days we would usually sit at the top of the beach to watch the sun set into the ocean and chat with the other campers. Truly paradise.

Sunset from the top of North Mandu Beach, Cape Range National Park

The Red, Red Dirt of Home

Kennedy Range NP

If you travel in outback Australia the red dirt, which blankets much of the interior of this country, invades your vehicle and, no matter how well you clean your car, you will still be finding pockets of red tucked into crevices and hinges for years to come. The red dirt settles into the blood and soul of some people and I’m happy to be one of them. 

For many years I relished city and urban life then grew to love living surrounded by bush or near the ocean. I still love the bush and the beach and the occasional visit to the big smoke but if I’m away from the red dirt for too long I get a yearning to return.

Winter is the easiest time to travel in the outback when temperatures are more comfortable. Our last few winters have been spent either overseas or on the east coast so as covid restrictions eased and we were allowed to travel within Western Australia my first request was to head inland, camp in the bush and enjoy a good campfire, and see some of that red, red dirt.

Kennedy Range National Park is a couple of hundred kilometres inland of Carnarvon on the west coast of Australia. Rather than follow the highway up from Geraldton where we had spent the covid lockdown period we drove inland and travelled for two days along mainly dirt roads through the tiny settlements of Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Traffic was scarce and it was great to be out of town and away from civilisation.

We found a pleasant overnight spot to camp at Bilung Pool. It’s a permanent water hole which was used by the early settlers and before that by generations of Aboriginals. Paul enjoyed catching the late afternoon and early morning light on the magnificent white gums at the edge of the pool.

We reached Kennedy Range by the middle of the next day and found several other groups in the Temple Gorge camp ground. The range is an eroded plateau and the camp and most walks are at the base of spectacular cliffs that rise 100m above the plains. The best way to appreciate the range is from the air and Paul flew the drone early in the morning, well away from camp, and captured some of the beauty.

Some walks enter the gorges and you pick your way through the rocks and admire the formations and patterns in the gorge walls. Others take you along the face of the escarpment and past huge rocks which have fallen in years past. A Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermal currents above us.

There are no individual fire pits at the campsites but a large communal fire was a great place to cook dinner and to sit and chat with other campers each evening. After months of travel restrictions everyone was happy to be back in the bush and the conversations, as always, turned to previous adventures and experiences and future plans.