Western Australia: Ningaloo Reef – Part 2

After our rugged adventures in Karijini National Park (Part 1), it was time to hit the road. After all, the main thing that lured us out to Western Australia was the possibility of swimming with whale sharks, literally the biggest fish in the sea. They are sharks the size of whales! But unlike with the sharks of French Polynesia, I didn’t have to do any convincing to get Erin on board to jump in the water with these gentle giants. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as we were nowhere near the ocean. We had vast stretches of empty road ahead of us!

Long empty road, Nanutarra Road, Western Australia

Out here, the majority of the few vehicles on the road were mining trucks, like the one on the side of the road above. In fact, due to a mix-up at the car rental company, that truck is the very truck we used for our journey through Western Australia! It was fun camping and driving around in a mining vehicle and feeling a sense of camaraderie with every mining truck that passed us by.

Mining Truck, Camping, Kirijini National Park, Western Australia

As we approached the coast, the landscape began to change from dry deserts to grasslands. The dirt became less red and less dry and we saw more signs of the rains that recently drenched the landscape.

River bed near Nanutarra Road House, Western Australia, Landscape Photography

And where there’s rain, there’s bugs! We spotted this beautiful praying mantis on our tent one morning near the Nanutarra Road House where we camped. In fact, these guys were absolutely everywhere, along with millions—if not billions—of grasshoppers and dragonflies.

Giant praying mantis in Western Australia, Nature Photography

On some stretches, the grassy fields besides the road were littered with termite mounds as far as the eye could see. The density of termite mounds conjured images of an alien landscape.

Landscape of termite mounds, Western Australia, Nature and Landscape Photography

Unfortunately, not all bugs survived their encounter with us. As we drove down the road, huge numbers of these giant insects leapt and flew out of the grasses and in front of our truck, battering our windscreen in a continuous mesmerising whirl. The grill of our truck was splattered with some of the biggest grasshoppers and dragonflies we’ve ever seen! And of course, no adventure to the Australian outback is complete without a horde of flies to annoy the heck out of you at every corner.

Dead bugs and flies in Western Australia

We drove for hours and hours due west into the path of the setting sun. The sun was so intense, even near the horizon, that it became so difficult to see the road that we had to eventually pull over and wait it out!

Sunset on Nanutarra Road, Western Australia

Nearly 900 kilometers away from our entry point into Western Australia, we began to see signs of civilization again! We got to tick the Big Prawn off the random list of Big Things that residents in Australian country towns have erected for the delight of tourists the world over.

The Big Prawn near Exmouth, Western Australia

We zipped through Exmouth and over the tip of the cape to Cape Range National Park and found secluded beaches like this everywhere.  It was quite unique to see a beautiful, tropical turquoise sea lapping onto desert sand dunes. We took a dip at this beach here, along with some playful (but shy) turtles! Unfortunately, they were too shy for the camera… but it was pretty neat.

Beach landscape in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia, Ningaloo ReefBeach landscape in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia, Ningaloo Reef

We got to set up our tent just right over the sand dunes near the beach.

Beach camping in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia, Ningaloo Reef

Some amazing snorkeling awaited us the next day! We spent most of our time at beautiful Turquoise Bay, where the drift snorkel proved to be quite possibly the best snorkeling spot we’ve ever been to.  You walk all the way to one end of the beautiful beach, hop in the water, and let the gentle currents slowly take you down the beach.  When you get to the sand bar at the other end, you hop out and run up the beach to do it all over again!  There was no shortage of beautiful creatures, including nudibranchs (that colourful slug you see below) and turtles. Erin did get zapped by a harmless-but-still-stingy orange-coloured jellyfish like the one you see below—the first jellyfish sting either of us have gotten in 5+ years in Australia! But even with that, this snorkel spot was awesome. We must have done the drift snorkel at least six times!

Underwater Photography while snorkelling in Ningaloo Reef, Western AustraliaUnderwater Photography while snorkelling in Ningaloo Reef, Western AustraliaUnderwater Photography while snorkelling in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

The next day was the highlight of our time in the Ningaloo Reef! I had long ago dreamed of swimming with whale sharks thanks to my endless obsession with nature documentaries. But I never thought it would be a real possibility until we learned of their very predictable and reliable arrival every year just in time for the coral spawning in Ningaloo Reef. But even then, it still seemed like a far-fetched possibility. Would we even glimpse a whale shark, let alone swim with one? Well, there was only one way to find out.

We booked an all-day tour with Ningaloo Blue Charters, which we would highly recommend. They even had a whale shark research specialist on board the day we went out, who told us all about these gentle giant fish.  Once the spotter planes in the air caught a glimpse of the whale shark, our boat would zip over to the area and a “tracker” would jump in. A “tracker” is a person with mad swimming skills whose job was to follow the whale shark whilst holding one arm into the air so we knew where the whale shark was headed. As we soon learned, the whale sharks were deceptively fast. The boat would then position itself in the tracker’s path while us snorkelers sat on the back all geared up and ready to go.  Then someone on board would shout, “Now! Now! Go! Go!” We’d all jump in, look around aimlessly until we spotted the giant, get the heck out of its way, and then swim like mad to try to keep up! All while trying to film it on my little point-and-shoot so we could share it with you guys! It was AMAZING!!!


Now do you see why I just used three exclamation marks? The first time I saw one, I nearly lost my snorkel as I gasped in excitement. If you know me you know I’m no swimmer, but I’ve never swam so hard in my life! If you want to learn more about these endangered creatures, check out this whale shark clip from the epic Planet Earth series, narrated by the master of nature documentaries, Sir David Attenborough.

Sunset at Coral Bay, near Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia

Having both grown up on the west coast of the United States, Erin and I both miss sunsets over the ocean now that we live on the east coast of Australia. So we definitely seized the opportunity while in Western Australia to catch the pretty sunsets over the water. The photos above and below are from the beautiful (and tiny) town of Coral Bay. We caught a glimpse of life in this remote and relaxed beach town on the edge of the desert. I love the way these locals think!

Lounging in the water at Coral Bay, near Ningaloo Reef in Western AustraliaSunset at Coral Bay, near Ningaloo Reef in Western AustraliaCape Range Lighthouse, near Cape Range National Park and Exmouth in Western AustraliaAstrophotography, Star Trails, Western Australia, Southern Sky

We only got to scratch the surface of what Western Australia had to offer (after all, it makes up more than one third of the Australian land mass), but boy was it an adventure! We can’t wait to go back. Leave us a comment to tell us what you think of the Ningaloo Reef and tell us where we should visit next!

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Tracy Condidorio - I am oh so jealous of your trip! Your photographs are just fantastic!!

Daniel Cruz - WOW!!! I went through all of your recent traveling posts. Beautiful photography and experiences. That’s how we should live life: By experiencing something new every day. I can’t wait to get out and do this!

chatti - what a trip! i want to do this sometime. okay I want to just go to australia.

Holly - Beautiful shots!! LOVE the praying mantis shot. Amazing.

Crystal Bui on Facebook - This is amazing. And terrifying.

Butterfly Philosophy Flowers & Styling on Facebook - Wow. What great images from your trip! The whale sharks are incredible!

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