Coral Bay was one of the best days of my Australia trip. I honestly think I could live there some day. The ocean is incredible, which a beautiful reef literally right off the beach. The only downside is that it can get pretty cold in the winter. The plus side is that there are whale sharks an humpback whales passing through, so I think I could manage.
I wrote this blog post while I was still in Australia, I hope you enjoy it! The underwater photos are mostly by Alex Kydd because I haven’t had time to go through mine and edit them.
Today might has been the best day of my life. But I won’t be talking about today in this post, you’ll just have to patiently wait to find out what happened. This post is to tell you about the day before, which was probably the second best day ever. I am in my happiest place here in Western Australia, and Ningaloo Reef has proved to be my heaven. The landscape is an arid and dry desert-like scene with low shrubs, termite mounds, and kangaroos hopping about. But once you head to the sea you understand how truly spectacular Ningaloo Reef is. We started off with one night in coral bay. This is a bit south of Exmouth. As soon as we arrived we threw our suitcases into the hostel and walked to the beach. Apparently you can snorkel from shore and see a lot of cool marine critters! But we wanted to see the shark nursery, which was a shallow little bay a 15 minute walk down the beach. We walked along the exposed rocks that were surrounded by water and I was immediately blown away by the healthy coral I could see from where I stood.
We even saw a massive sea hare and beautiful fishes. David was excited by the pelican that was resting on the rocks, so we went closer to get a better look. That’s when I noticed a fin sticking out of the water causing ripples, which was caused by the easily identifiable black top reef shark. David ran to the sandy area to try to get a better look. By the time I got to him he had his mask and snorkel on with his head submerged underwater with a hand holding his backpack straight up in the air so it wouldn’t get wet.
It was a hilarious sight to see, but I was happy he was so excited about the sharks. Three of the baby sharks swam right past him! I came closer to investigate, when I realized that the shallow sandy bottom was covered in so many rays. Juan and Alexis came over to investigate, and we watched as rays of all sizes zoomed around in the water. The first ones we noticed were the blue-spotted sting rays, there were probably 15 or more on one small area. I also saw two shovel-nosed rays, which were the first I had ever seen! There were a few medium sized cow-tailed rays, but my favorite was a massive speckled one that resembled an Eagle ray but with a more spotted pattern and more grey than blue, I’ll have to look this one up because at the moment I don’t have internet and I’m not 100 percent sure what it was.
Anyways, by the time we were done watching these awesome animals, the sun was about to set so we walked to the beach to enjoy the views. It was the first night that the sky had a few clouds, which made for a beautiful sunset as they changed colors and turned pink and purple. After the beach we returned to the hostel to make dinner (grilled veggie burgers and vegan sausage, grilled eggplant, salad). I had to chat with some girls at KAUST for my work as a Resident Assistant, so I headed to a nearby pub after dinner to get WiFi and a drink. I was able to connect for a bit before it turned off because it was closing at nine so we headed to another pub for a bit and returned home by 10.
The next morning we woke up around seven for our half day snorkeling adventure. I have been following this incredible photographer, Alex Kydd, for quite some time. His underwater pictures are incredible, seriously look him up he’s amazing. Anyway, he works for this marine interactions boat company in Coral Bay and I constantly see the incredible photos he takes. This made me so stoked for the trip and when I found out we had a free day in Coral Bay I knew I wanted to go out on their boat for a snorkel adventure. This isn’t whale shark season so their main attraction is the manta Ray. They find them year round in the shallow waters of the bay, feeding on plankton and larvae from spawning events. So the tour we were on was called “the manta interaction tour” which had two snorkels on the reef and then seeking a manta day. It’s really cool because the boat has a spotter plane that flies above the reef looking for megafauna (whales, sharks, turtles, mantas, etc) and will tell the boats where to go with a radio. So the day trip including lunch was pretty pricey, around $120 but it was so worth it. It was such a great day because I convinced everyone from the bus tour to come along. The day was incredible with sunny skies, no wind, and no currents.
The first snorkel site we went to was awesome! We saw so many turtles that were just lazying around enjoying life. There was a juvenile green sea turtle and a few larger ones as well. While swimming out, we went over a ledge with a massive fat tawny nurse shark. As all the snorkelers gathered to take a look it swam away so we could get a look at how huge it is. It was so fat (probably pregnant) that it struggled to get out of the rock ledge it was under. We also saw an octopus which was hanging out for a while. In the end while everyone else was heading back to the boat Alex (the photographer) was showing me a little turtle sleeping when we noticed two more sharks under a ledge! I love sharks and finding a healthy population of them on a reef is good news and makes me happy to see.
We hopped back into the boat and warmed up with some tea before heading about 20 minutes North to where the mantas are found. It took a while for the spotter plane to find one but eventually they did and the first group hopped in the water. Fortunately for us, this beautiful day was super chill and was not spooked at all by the presence of people. So everyone on the boat got to have a good amount of time watching the manta swim and cruise around.
After we got out of the water we headed back to the last snorkeling spot. We anchored and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. I had a veggie burger and it was so warm and yummy. The last snorkel ended up being the highlight of the entire day, I was so excited. We got in the water and it was high enough tide that we could swim over the coral to a spot where cleaner fish hang out. On my way out I saw some squid which were very cute. But once we went through this little passage between the coral and the deeper water, we took a quick swim along the coral crest until we got to the cleaning station. For those of you know “cleaning fish” like little wrasse will clean/eat tiny little parasites off other sea animals. So fish of all sizes will come visit these cleaning fish and you can see them with their mouths wide open allowing the small fish to go into their mouth and give them a good little teeth cleaning. Well this attracts larger fish as well, including sharks! And in our instance over a dozen grey reef sharks! It was my heaven, seriously I was so excited. I’ve never seen this many sharks on a reef at a single time so I was stoked. The best part was that these sharks were sticking around so we got to spend a lot of time with them. They would pass by with their mouths wide open waiting for the fish to clean them, then the current would push them too far than they would circle back and do it again. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. David was also very very excited, we couldn’t believe when half the group was getting tired/cold and wanted to head back. I wasn’t ready so I stuck around marveling at all of the sharks around us. I took so many photos and videos of these gorgeous animals. Eventually it was time to head back before the tide went out so far that we wouldn’t be able to swim above the reef back to our boat. On the way back we saw a couple of turtles who were actually pretty friendly and just hanging out. We got to swim around with them for a while before it was time to return the boat. For both snorkels we were the first in and last out which is pretty typical for me. But overall we saw so many sea creatures so I was really happy that we all did the tour together.
The rest of the day was spent driving to Exmouth, about 1.5 hours north of coral bay. I went away thinking I could definitely move to coral bay and be super happy. It’s pretty tiny without a lot to do, but that reef is freaking amazing! They also have whales, whalesharks, dugongs, tigersharks, and more. I would be a happy girl if I could spend my days just adventuring around the reef.
In Exmouth we unpacked into our hostel, went to the bar for happy hour, then returned home to shower and prepare dinner. We had a pretty gross and spicy green curry, wasn’t my favorite meal. But it’s okay the next day totally made up for it… stay tuned!