Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s ‘other’ big reef system. It’s sub-tropical, so not quite as colourful as the Great Barrier Reef but it’s a fringing reef, which means it’s very close to the mainland. The Great Barrier Reef is 40 km’s out for example, while Ningaloo is just metres away. And it’s the largest fringing reef in the world.
Apart from that, Ningaloo is particularly special for a number of reasons. As you realise when you’re driving there, the mainland for hundreds of kilometres around is a flat, isolated desert with nothing but sand, scrub and termite mounds. In other words, nothing to create any pollution or run off. So the waters are incredibly clean.
And once you go offshore there is nothing until you hit Madagascar. The deep ocean starts just beyond the reef – which means that lots of large animals are cruising about, and dropping into the reef for food, a cleaning station, or just to hang out for a while. It’s particularly well known for whale sharks, which are seasonal, and manta rays, which are there year round.
This was our next destination after Karijini, and I couldn’t wait. In addition to being able to give Katie a greater appreciation of the underwater world, I was also going to treat myself to another dive.
‘Navy Pier’ is widely recognised as the best shore dive in the world, and it’s consistently in the top 10 dives of any kind, anywhere. No way I could pass the opportunity up, so I booked a spot, and went along the day after we arrived.
It was quite the experience. Even getting there was a bit different from most dives. It’s called Navy Pier because it is literally, underneath a pier that’s operated by the Australian Navy, which happens to be right next to the Navy’s long range, ultra-low frequency communications station.
If North Korea sent a nuke over to Australia, and the response was a missile from a submarine in the Indian Ocean, this is where the message to attack would be sent from. We had to go through a security check just to drive onto the pier, and I’m actually surprised that we were even allowed there at all, but hey.
We got there, and straight away you could see humpback whales in the distance. There were Manta Rays flapping around about 100 metres away, and right below us over the edge of the pier, you could see hundreds of fish schooling around under the protection of the artificial reef – the pier.
The dive was brilliant. I saw about five or six sharks, hundreds of circling red coral fish, bat fish popping up to say hello, octopus, pipe fish, a giant grouper, and constantly in the background you could hear the whales singing their hearts out. It was amazing, but what was waiting for us an hour down the road, was even better.
Our next stop was the quieter ‘holiday’ village of Coral Bay. Just an hour further down the coast, but still part of the Ningaloo Reef system. We’d kind of forgotten however, that school holidays were almost upon us so it was incredibly busy, and we were stuck right next to a couple of annoying families who played their music too loud. Phil Collins and Cold Play floating through the air every night.
Oh Lord indeed.
Anyway, the divemaster on my trip had said if we were going to do one boat tour with the kids, we should go with Ningaloo Marine Interactions, so we left Phil Collins for the day, and headed out to sea.
Fraser McGregor was doing his PhD on Manta Rays, and as skipper of the boat he found three of the graceful giants for us. We all had a turn snorkelling with them which was pretty amazing.
Then we headed out of the reef and were almost immediately surrounded by dolphins. And then, unbelievably, two humpback whales began breaching right in front of us for about 20 minutes!
They would lie on their backs, slapping their flippers on the surface, then disappear and triumphantly launch themselves out of the water again. Fraser said it was the best day they’d had on the boat all season.
I was so pleased that the girls got to see all of that. It really made it such a memorable day, I think even Skye has a chance of remembering that.
I’d left my camera on dry land unfortunately, but there was a professional wildlife photographer on board, so the pictures you see here are his, and much better than mine would have been anyway!
Manta Rays, Humpback Whales, Dolphins & Sharks.
Thank you Ningaloo, time to boogaloo.