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Ningaloo Adventures

In our last post we left you with the story of our encounter with Tripod and his owner at Wooramel River Station – about 100km south of Carnarvon…

After short stop for supplies in Carnarvon and a trip to the Space and Technology Museum, where we got to dress up like Astronauts (or Elvis in his fat phase, if you look at me), we headed to Gnaraloo Station. Pronounced ‘nar-loo’ and located some 180km north of Carnarvon, 3 Mile Camp sits at the very southern tip of the World Heritage Ningaloo Reef. The road to Gnaraloo was the first major test of our van on dirt roads –the first 90km was bitumen then it spanned the full spectrum of off-road: from beautifully graded to deeply corrugated then descending into soft sand. Fortunately, the van handled it all really well.

This stretch of coast passes Quobba Station and Red Bluff; campgrounds perched on red cliffs and famous for balloon fishing and surfing. At the end of the road is 3 Mile Camp and I won’t sugar coat it, the last 5km was pretty rough going. But it was all worth it as we spied our spot on the headland; where red cliffs and sand dunes met a large turqoise lagoon.

3 Mile Camp is a surfing mecca – with a famous spot called ‘Tombstones’ just down from the camp. Consequently, it attracts surfers year after year. One old fella came over to us for a chat riding his rusty old bike. He said he’d been coming to 3 Mile Camp for 11 years staying for a couple of months each time, but this year the road was the worst it had ever been and as a result, he had broken his boat trailer on the way in. The guy was as wide as he was tall, but told us with no hint of irony that the only reason he wasn’t surfing this year was that he had a “bad knee”. I asked what he would do for a couple of months. “Fix my boat trailer”, he said. Each afternoon he would ride his bike down to a group of surfers and have a chat, but when they cracked out a beer, he would jump on his bike and ride back to his tent. He told us that he had been “dry for 9 weeks” and didn’t want to be around drinking. Although he quickly confided that he still had the odd watered down glass of red in the evening.

We had a great site at 3 Mile Camp – positioned overlooking the beach and sand dunes, with a tree for the kids to climb in and a fire pit for a bit of bush TV and toasted marshmallows in the evenings. We spent the days exploring the sand dunes, swimming in the lagoon and watching brave surfers paddle out to massive waves. We took a day trip further north to Gnaraloo Bay, considered by some to rival Coral Bay for it’s snorkelling. We pretty much had the bay to ourselves for the day. Days were sunny, although the winds were strong and nights were cool. As one local said, “what do you expect, WA stands for ‘Windy Always!’”.

Our next stop was Coral Bay – the popular holiday spot for West Australians from cooler climes. Someone had told us – ‘everything changes when you cross the Tropic of Capricorn – it gets a lot warmer, more sunny and you will forget what rain feels like.’ Really, only a couple of hundred kms north? Yep, they were right! We arrived into Coral Bay where it was a few degrees warmer and the cool evenings of Gnaraloo Station were replaced by balmy nights.

It just happened that Mark, Karen’s cousin, and his partner Maja were also in Coral Bay. They were nearing the end of a two-year 50,000km adventure around Australia and were soaking up the last of the tropical warmth before heading back to Sweden.

We had a great couple of days with Mark and Maja, who were very knowledgeable on the area having explored it for over 20 years. We snorkelled at Five Finger Reef – seeing a great diversity of corals, fish and turtles.

With a taste for 4WDing on sand, we headed north of Coral Bay to Oyster Bridge. Oyster Bridge was unique in that a reef runs parallel with the beach just 30m offshore, creating a small natural lagoon with a myriad of fish. Accessing Oyster Bridge was a little more challenging with some very soft sand. We took comfort in travelling in convoy and I’m pleased to say, no winch was required.

Sienna and Thomas also loved doing some beach fishing with Mark. The fish were biting literally as soon as the bait hit the water, and both caught a couple of small fish which made the BBQ that night.

From Coral Bay we continued north to Osprey Bay in Cape Range National Park (near Exmouth and in the heart of Ningaloo Reef). Cape Range National Park is similar to Gnaraloo Bay, with short red rocky cliffs meeting pristine bays, which are protected from the pounding waves by Ningaloo Reef. Osprey Bay was a picture postcard location. Our campsite overlooked the bay, which was great for swimming and snorkelling with turtles. We spent our time snorkelling at the nearby Oyster Stacks and Turquoise Bay – great spots with easy drifts.

Having had a full day in the water, we were relaxing one evening watching the sunset. The kids had constructed a ‘secret base’ out of our beach shelter and were plotting an overnight sleep-out. While they were playing, someone walked past our van and said hello. I stopped and looked up and to my surprise, it was Jim Galvin - a teacher from Coledale Public School who was on long-service leave! Given the vastness of WA, this was a very strange coincidence and naturally, we turned it to our advantage – telling the kids the school had sent Mr Galvin to check that they were doing their school with Mum and Dad (of course, they didn’t believe us). Mr Galvin joined us for dinner, which the kids thought was great - Thomas even prepared a fruit platter for him!

On our last day in Osprey Bay we were joined by Larry and Janine – Karen’s Mum and Dad, who had flown across from Sydney. We spent the day snorkelling at our favourite spots around the National Park. The next day we headed back to Exmouth. The kids loved seeing their Nan and Pa. Sienna had been counting down the days!

Swimming with Whale Sharks was on Larry’s bucket list and given Janine isn’t a fan of the open ocean, we had the perfect excuse to keep him company. So whilst Nan spoiled the kids, we headed out in search of the biggest fish on earth.

Whale Sharks are technically sharks. They have gills, cartilage and a vertically oriented tail. They get their ‘whale’ description due to their enormous size (between 7-14m) and the fact that they are filter feeders – feasting on huge quantities of krill. Nevertheless – there is something a little unnerving about jumping into the open ocean with a 9m animal with an enormous mouth; teeth or no teeth.

The conditions for our swim were challenging. The wind had picked up and there was a 3m-4m swell. The boat of 20 is divided into two groups, as regulations dictate that only 10 people can be in the water with a Whale Shark at once. The Whale Shark can move quite quickly, so there is a lot of getting on and off the boat, swapping the two groups in the water and keeping up with the Whale Shark. So picture this: 10 people lined up on the dive deck shoulder to shoulder, holding on tightly as the boat rolls up and down, then all stepping off together as a spotter yells “Go go go! Eyes on the Whale”. The idea is that you leap into the blue and swim hard and hopefully…you will find yourself alongside that enormous striped grey body. Well that’s the usual script, but our shark didn’t get the memo. So, instead, I leapt off the back of the boat and as the bubbles cleared, found myself square in-front of an enormous mouth! This 9m giant chose to swim around us for almost an hour. He even went up to the boat and rubbed against it – something none of our guides had witnessed before. I can honestly say, that is an experience I will never forget.

We had a great time with Larry and Janine exploring Cape Range National Park, Coral Bay and Yardie Gorge. After a fantastic week in Exmouth it was time for Larry and Janine to head back to Wollongong and for us to head East towards Karijini National Park.

Gnaraloo Station

Coral Bay - Five Finger Reef and Oyster Bridge

Fishing - Five Finger Reef (Coral Bay)

Cape Range National Park

Snorkelling Cape Range National Park


Whale Shark Experience

Coral Bay with Nan and Pa