Week 10 - May 21, 2018 - May 27, 2018

Still in Coral Bay for a couple of days and making the most of this one-horse, no light town.  With its one main street that extends for about a kilometer (one mile) and exists to cater to the tourists, you would think it an annoying, carnival-barker loud enclave when in reality, it is a mellow, quiet, time-saunters-along kind of town.  Just enough of what we needed (grocery store, caravan parks, holey restaurants, etc.) and an abundance of  happy people.  But then, who could not be happy when you are out swimming with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and the like and then on shore, everyone is enjoying the 'cheers' spirit one way or another. 

    BBQ at our caravan park - Lara Endlich (Austria), Frank and Patricia Fung (Adelaide) and us preparing for our next day's Manta Ray swim.

We stayed an additional day in Coral Bay so we could take a bit of a swim with one of the most graceful creatures we have been blessed to see, the Manta Ray.  These enormous rays can reach up to five meters (about 15') across and although, like the whale shark, they can look quite intimidating, they only scoop up plankton/krill and very small fish.  There is no 'sting' in their tail and the front lobes serve as a giant funnel to direct the food into their gaping maws. 

We started off with a typical snorkel so people could familiarize themselves with their gear and more so, so that the boat operators can determine the level of comfort each of us have being in the ocean.  We usually just get waved at to come closer to the boat or go back to the group rather than any other attention ;-).

     Look at that water!  We are so excited!                                        A bit of a snorkel to start
     Frank, Patricia and Louise are ready                                  Incredible blue-tipped staghorn coral and being surrounded was cool

While we were snorkeling, the crew was waiting for the signal from the spotter plane announcing the finding of a Manta Ray.  As the Manta Rays stay relatively close to the shore and in clear(ish) water, catching a glimpse of the immense undulating black shadow within the turquoise water can be quite easy.  In no time, a large Manta Ray was spotted and excitedly we went for a swim.

     Gerson did not waste any time cruising alongside the Manta Ray. 

We got to swim with the Manta for quite awhile and although we only spotted the one, it was all we could ask for and more. 

As the onboard photographer's pictures were so superior, I have used his instead of our cloudy shots. 
     My moment with the Manta Ray - surreal.             Isn't he magnificent?
                          (Gerson was above taking a photo)

We finished off the day with another snorkel and we had one of those special, unique moments of almost no wind and crystal clear water.  The reefs were teeming with life and turtles and sharks (small black tips, harmless really) were keeping our cameras busy.

     Never tire of turtles                                      Spotted Ray on the move and when you think you have seen blue...

     This is as 'snelfie'                        Again with the blue!  Giant Clam (about 18" or .5m)

     When fish meet up                      Sailfin Catfish

     A spotted ray, a very bright parrot fish and a crazy spotted fish

       Black tip shark - it was 'like whatever'                           Our framable pose with the photographer and a turtle

Phew, what an experience Coral Bay was for us and we could have easily stayed many more days there just exploring the Ningaloo Reef.  But alas, we were off for the few hour drive north and landed in Exmouth, a small shire near the tip of the peninsula that borders the reef.  Exmouth is another town that caters quite a bit to tourists; however, it is inhabited by more year-round residents and has virtually all the necessary businesses to support a thriving little community. 

     Gerson was really hungry                           Just a typical day driving around Exmouth

Exmouth, in partnership with Australia, was a town developed primarily by the United States.  In the late 1960's, this little nondescript finger of land caught the eye of the United States as they realized that they could use the tip to keep that eye on the activities of cold, not-quite-allies at the time.  As the U.S. had superior technology, they offered to build a VLF (Very Low Frequency) antenna base which would allow them to monitor the comings and goings of various sly watercraft (submarines was the significant concern).  With the help of the Australians, the U.S. built the roads into Exmouth and brought with them soldiers, buildings, businesses and later, to the excitement of car enthusiasts, brought over 100 left-hand drive vehicles.  Australians would go to Exmouth to see the camaros, mustangs, corvettes, broncos and the like and you can still see some of those coveted 'classics' being driven around Australia today.

     VLF antennas make a statement on an otherwise flat landscape                    Classic Cinderoo enjoying the view
     View to the Surfers Beach                                                               Observation tower to keep an eye on those pesky ruskies

We also took the time to visit the remains of a famous shipwreck.  Although primarily a cattle boat, the ship cut the coast too close and ran on the reef, losing lives and livestock.  A rusted skeleton is all that remains today.

     SS Mildura - 1907

The shire of Exmouth was just a bit of a stop-off point for us and we were happy to restock and refresh for our next place to stay for several days, a place called Yardie Creek within the Cape Range National Park.  The Cape Range National Park is on the western side of the peninsula and parallels the Ningaloo Reef along its entire western coast.  The camping areas are very popular and we felt fortunate to secure three nights at Yardie Creek campground, albeit, we had to move spots a couple of times (due to reserving whatever was available for each night). 

Driving the hour or so through the park did not disappoint as we were gifted with seeing two iconic Australian animals: the Dingo and the Kangaroo.4 We also popped onto the Mundu Mundu Gorge trail for a quick 3km hike through the dry gorge and up and around the perimeter for some spectacular views of the many shades of red rock in stark contrast to the blue, blue ocean.

     A very lean (not unusual) Dingo                                               Mundu Mundu Gorge hike views
    A 'just chillin' Kangaroo                                                                                 Sunset from our camp
Although we were staying at the southern most camping area, we ventured back up north to enjoy a bit of snorkeling and just some 'awe' moments at several of the stunning beaches along the coast.  I will say this, Hawaii, you have little on what Western Australia has to offer in the way of beautiful beaches, extraordinary snorkeling, easy swimming, NO mosqitoes and all this with the lack of people !  Priceless!

    Beautiful contrast between the lagoon, the plants, the algae and the ocean           Snorkel at Turquoise Bay.  Which of the other                                                                                                                                        two pictures do you think is Turquoise Bay and which one Sandy Bay?
We came back to a lovely gathering if sunset worshipers, a bit of wine and a lot of adventure-sharing.

     Sunset anyone?


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