19/9/09 – 24/9/09
Due to the timing of the West Australian Greyhound service, this was the second place I arrived at in darkness and, much like my first morning in Denham, waking up and realising that I was in a tropical paradise was pretty cool. Coral Bay seemed to be a better Denham in most ways – even more idyllic, beautiful and warm, the water appeared clearer and that was after I’d gawked at the brilliant sweep of beach that opened up in front of me as I walked down from the Ningaloo Club. Unavoidably, this meant there were quite a few more people kicking about, but it wasn’t crazy busy, just not the peaceful, sleepy village that Denham was.
After a quiet first day, the Germans, Dutch and Japanese that I kept bumping into since Kalbarri arrived on the Easyrider and got me in on a $10 pizza deal, thanks partly to the friendliness of the Dutch bus driver. As much as I quite like cooking and feel good after I’ve cooked something wholesome and nutritious and all that, I’m not going to pass off on cheap pizza, especially a meat-feast with a bbq base. There’s a sheltered supermarket block in Coral Bay and, after an evening of circumventing the strictly no B.Y.O. policy at the hostel, there were always folks hanging around there, sometimes for long enough to sample the baker’s freshest produce next morning.
I only spent 2 nights at the Ningaloo Club, it’s not the cheapest hostel (although if you’re willing to do a couple of hours cleaning each day they’ll give you a bed for free) and my uncle’s friend from Walpole, Dave, happened to be up in the village for a fortnight’s holiday and had a spare bed. The next few days saw me trying snorkelling for the first time – it took quite a while for me to actually get my head under the water for more than a few seconds as, for those first few ducks under the surface, every instinct in me was expecting water to rush into my lungs if I dared breath in. After that though, I was hooked, even though I’m neither a strong, nor confident swimmer.
Although Coral Bay is an extremely popular for beach-goers, it has – at least when I was there – enough beach to let you have your own patch all to yourself, especially if you head round from the main beach towards Paradise Beach. Just at the point where the two beaches meet, below the lookout, there are some cliffs which loom over the sand and offer shelter from the wind and or the sun, depending on your preference. Sheltering from the wind but in full view of the sun meant we didn’t fall foul of burning without noticing.
Later on in the week, after the Easyrider crew had left for Karijini (which I was more than a little bit envious of, since my Greyhound ticket gave me virtually no chance at getting near, what I’ve heard is, the highlight of the West coast from Perth to Broome) I was spending a bit more time getting used to snorkelling and met an Aussie couple who let me have a go of their kayak, so now I’m hooked on kayaking and snorkelling.
What makes Coral Bay great is that the reef is so accessible, with outcrops lying literally a few meters off the shore in the sheltered waters of the main bay, allowing people to wade in and have a look around at some interesting sea stuff then jump back out and lie on the beach, all in a couple of minutes. The reef extends about a mile off-shore, its border with the high seas clearly marked by the swell that it kicks up – the waves are pretty big and, from the shore, look quite strange as there is nothing to be seen that should cause them to break so far out. It’s out at that point that the reef is a lot more diverse; talking to a few people has led me to believe that the reef beside the shore has suffered somewhat, possibly due to the amount of people that come into contact with it and, sure enough, it does look quite grey and lifeless.
So, on my last day, thanks mainly to being signed up for it by Rachel and Emma, I embarked on a 2 hour kayak and snorkelling trip from the beach to the outer reaches of the reef. A few days before I’d had never dreamt of doing this and even on the day I was very much out of my comfort zone – I was, after all, about to sail well out of (my) swimming distance from the shore on a little plastic boat and was then going to jump out of it into deep (once again, by my standards) water and swim around with the fish for an hour. It turned out to be a totally brilliant experience, giving me at least some confidence in my ability to float in open water and a whole new appreciation for the amount of life in the sea. During the swim we saw a couple of turtles, a wedge-tailed ray, flute-fish, reef sharks and a whole load of colourful fish that had virtually no concern for how close they got to us.
In other news, I got turned into a mer-man for about an hour – it was mid-thirties in the searing sun, but under all that wet sand, I was not far from hypothermic.