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Exmouth is part of Western Australia’s underwater playground, situated on the Ningaloo Reef on the North West Coast. Known as the gateway to the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area which encompasses the Ningaloo Marine Park and the Cape Range National Park, Exmouth has an interesting history.
It was barely a township until 1967 when the Naval Communication Station was built for the US to spy on their rivals during the Cold War. The base which still remains today, has been renamed Harold E Holt Australian Naval Communication Station, but is a little like a ghost town with the bowling alley, swimming pool and housing estate all abandoned by the US when they withdrew from the area.
The world’s largest VLF transmitter and the second tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, Tower Zero, dominates the skyline west of Exmouth, and is surrounded by 12 other towers which weigh 800 tonnes. These transmitters are still used to relay messages between Australian and US command centres, submarines and war ships.
Renowned as one of the most treacherous coastlines, and following the wreck of the SS Mildura in 1907, a lighthouse was built at Vlamingh Head and although no longer in use, it offers panoramic views of the coastline, the transmitter towers, Ningaloo Marine Park and the Cape Ranges. There is interpretive signage placed on the viewing platform near the lighthouse which provides information about the area’s history and the marine life of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. A great place to watch the sunset at the end of another perfect day!
The Exmouth coastline offers visitors an endless array of stunning unspoilt, deserted beaches which cater to everyone’s needs. There is Town Beach for walking and swimming on high tide only and Bundegi Beach for swimming, snorkelling and fishing which is 12 Km out of town.
On the tip of the North West Cape, 17 Kms north of Exmouth, there is a reef break which is popular amongst local surfers called Surfers Beach. If you drive out along the Mildura Wreck Road into Lighthouse Bay there are a variety of beaches suitable for fishing, surfing or swimming. At the end of the road you will discover the SS Mildura, a wrecked cattle ship that came to grief on the reef in 1907.
The Jurabi Coastal Reserve also provides a number of beaches and marine habitats, from low scrubland down to pristine white beaches, rocky shorelines and scattered reefs. Visit the Jurabi Turtle Centre which houses a creative range of interpretive materials and provides information on turtle biology, threats, conservation measures and protection of their nesting sites.
During the Summer months the Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles nest on mainland beaches at Ningaloo on the beaches between Hunters and Mauritius. These rookeries are extremely important for the survival of these three threatened species of turtles.
Home to an outstanding variety of marine life, the Ningaloo Reef provides some of the best diving spots in the world. There are a variety of diving sites on the North West Cape and on the Murion Islands, which are located 9.8 nautical miles offshore. Lighthouse Bay, West side of the North Cape and Navy Pier are excellent. Navy Pier consistently ranks among the Top Ten Dive Sites in the world.
40 Km from Exmouth are spectacular rugged limestone ranges, breathtaking deep canyons and 50 Km of pristine beaches, known as the Cape Range National Park. Wildlife is abundant with a variety of birds, Emus, Euros and Red Kangaroos. There are also over 630 species of flowering plants which provide an amazing palette of colours in late Winter when the wildflowers bloom.
There are several coastal camping areas within the park which are ideal as a base to explore the 50,581 hectares of the Cape Range Peninsula. Possibly the highlight of the National Park are the beaches such as Turquoise Bay, which really does have the most beautiful turquoise water, and Sandy Bay which has shallow clear waters ideal for swimming. You can also snorkel at Turquoise Bay – where there is a particularly good drift snorkel; Oyster Stacks – which is best accessed at high tide because of the sharp rocky oyster shelled areas; and Lakeside – a great snorkel spot for swimmers of average fitness and capability.
If you are into bird watching visit Mangrove Bay which is a sanctuary zone including a bird hide and overlooks a lagoon area. There are also several gorges in the park including Mandu Mandu Gorge, Yardie Creek, Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon which provide razor-backed ridges of the ranges and breathtaking downward views into stark multicoloured gorges. There are walking trails and lookout points at all of the gorges that provide great access into the gorges and fantastic photo opportunities.
At Yardie Creek there is a boat cruise that takes you on a very relaxing and scenic cruise along Yardie Creek, winding its way through the steep gorges. A great alternative to hiking as the temperatures can be extreme in the canyons.
Probably the biggest drawcard to the Ningaloo Reef is the opportunity to snorkel with the gentle giants of the ocean, the Whale Sharks. Every year from April through to July, following the mass spawning of coral, the Whale Sharks congregate in the Ningaloo Marine Park to feed on zooplankton. There are many cruise boat operators in both Coral Bay and Exmouth that take Whale Shark cruises on a daily basis during the season.
It was an awesome experience to swim alongside these majestic creatures and view a myriad of other marine life such as Turtles, Dolphins, Minky Whales, Sharks, Manta Rays and Coral Reef Fish. It wasn’t only a day full of fun and adventure, but from an educational point of view, it provided a great insight into the marine life of the Ningaloo Marine Park and how scientists are integral to ongoing research and conservation of the area.
The Whale Sharks, the world’s largest fish, can reach up to 18 metres in length fully grown, but more commonly, they are between 4 and 12 metres long at the Ningaloo Reef. A 12 metre Whale Shark may weigh as much as 11 tonnes and have a mouth more than a metre wide. Extraordinary!
There are strict rules for swimming with these gentle giants, such as: absolutely no contact is to be made with the creature, do not swim any closer than 3 metres from the head or body or 4 metres from the tail, no flash photography and only 10 people in the water at a time with one Whale Shark.
I felt privileged to be able to swim with these magnificent animals and found it to be an exhilarating and truly memorable experience. Definitely one to tell the Grandkids about!
I can’t think of any other place that I have been to in this world that has compared to the natural beauty and biological diversity of the Ningaloo Reef. Its label as one of the last great ocean paradises resonated with me. I could not imagine a place more abundant with nature’s gifts and my advice to all would be to “dive into the Ningaloo“! I certainly did.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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