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