Ningaloo Reef Diving

In the four or five days that we spent in Coral Bay, we must have gone snorkeling most every day. From our hotel the beach was a short 5 minute walk and once you cleared Coral Bay for Paradise Beach, you pretty much had the whole place to yourself. Offshore the bottom of the ocean was covered in sand and continued out for about 50 yards before you hit the reef. Each day as we swam out to the reef we would see some sand rays and I began to notice this little fellow (above). He stood out because he was quite distinguishable with his missing tail. And after we had fed the Snapper some snails on the first day, they continued following us for the rest of the time that we were here; they tagged along like little puppies, watching as we swam, hoping for an additional snack.

From the shoreline the water grew gradually deeper until it was about 4 meters (12’) at the start of the coral reef. The reef was quite thick and extended out to about a mile offshore where the heavy ocean waves broke creating massive white-wash and waves. Most of the snorkelers just swam in this deeper water and looked down at the reef but after the second day I realized that if you continued swimming further and further out to sea the water became more and more shallow until the reef was just two or three feet under the water. In this shallow water the colors of the reef were bright and vivid and I swam around happily for hours on end watching the fish as they swam between the fingers of reef.

The varieties of coral that we saw were endless; red coral, yellow and blue, tall stag coral, fire coral and crazy looking mushroom and dome corals. I didn’t see too many large fish or sharks inside of this protected coral bay but there were plenty of little fish to keep the eyes entertained.

As I look back on my photos I realize that they don’t nearly capture how beautiful this reef was and I didn’t hardly capture all of the things that I saw. I spent too little time photographing and spent much more time swimming and enjoying the fish and the reef. As I think back to Coral Bay and its Ningaloo Reef I have the fondest memories and I would recommend a visit to anyone traveling on the Western Australian coast.


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Nankeen Kestrel

At our hotel in Coral Bay, Western Australia, we saw some of the other lodgers looking up at the hotel roof, pointing and talking about something in the rafters. We asked them what they were looking at and they said that a pair of falcons were perched below the roof line. We had a look and we could see them; I grabbed my camera and captured a photo (above). We consulted Andrea’s bird-watching book and identified them as Nankeen Kestrels.

Later, after we checked into our room we found that their perch was just outside our window. That evening I slid the window open as quietly as I could and captured this photo of one of the pair as it carefully watched the trash-bin area – it was hunting for mice under the lights of the parking lot.

Over the next few days we watched the Kestrel pair as they perched, hunted and slept. On the eve just to the left of our window, if I hung outside I could see the Kestrels perched behind one of the air conditioning units. From this angle I could see them but they couldn’t see me; they were farther away but with my DSLR zoom lens I could get decent photos of them through the little porthole (below).

As we watched this pair of birds they provided quite a bit of entertainment for us. One day we saw one of them on top of the scuba shop’s radio antenna; it had captured a small mouse and it was ripping it to shreds making a nice afternoon meal of it. Each evening we would look through the window blinds and see the Kestrels snoozing, holding one foot up as birds do. I decided to try to capture a photo of one and had to slide the window open to get a shot. Of course, this woke the bird up but it kept one of its landing gear retracted as it carefully watched me (below).

Watching these magnificent falcons was a pleasure and really made us feel closer to nature. I was surprised how many tourists were so busy kayaking and swimming that they didn’t stop to notice all of the birds, lizards and fish that were around them. Next time you are traveling, take 15 minutes to sit quietly and see what wildlife comes your way.


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Coral Bay: Sun and Sunsets

We had visited Coral Bay a few days earlier on the way up to Exmouth but unfortunately it was rainy and dreary. On our return we were graced with bright blue skies and warm weather. We went back to the same hotel that we stayed in our bus tour and just as soon as we had dumped our bags we headed to the beach. As we crossed the street and the grass of the park near the main street we could see the ocean coming into view. We crested the small bluff at the beach edge we were greeted with a beautiful beach of white sand, baby blue water in the shallows turning to a deep blue azure further out at sea (top photo).

Nearby children played, families basked in the sun, retired couples paddled around in kayaks and the seagulls ran back and forth along the shoreline snacking on small crabs and snails. The entire beach was quite and peaceful and a cool breeze blew in from the ocean. Aside from these pleasant sounds the beach was quiet and still. We had a few days here and I was already getting into a “laid back” beach mode.

After we dropped our towels and sun tan lotion we decided to go in for a dip as the weather was quite warm. The only disadvantage of the warm air is that it makes the ocean feel quite cold even though it wasn’t. There is no surf to speak of as it breaks up off shore about a kilometer out. The coral reef rests just at the surface at this distance and it takes the pounding of the surf leaving the beach looking more like a pond than a direct line to the Indian Ocean. Straight out to see is nothing but blue water until you get to Sri Lanka or India.

Coral Bay is in a remote location in Australia and not many people make it out this far. We had to endure a long drive to get here and high prices once we had arrived but the payoff was worth it: serenity and a view to die for.

Andrea brought her mask and fins with her but I had to hire some. I found that if I rented some for three days I could get a discount and I ended up paying $15 AUS for the three-day rental. It was probably one of the cheaper things to do in Coral Bay; hotels STARTED at $50 a night for a dorm with shared bath, private rooms were upwards of $250 AU, a beer would set you back at least $6 and a burger was about $12. There is no grocery store in town, just one or two little mini-marts & the only place to buy alcohol is at the local bar. If you are coming in from out-of-town, bring all you can – Coral Bay is a little monopoly, everything is trucked in and everything is expensive.

We had a swim around Coral Bay but learned that the reef was much more accessible from Paradise Beach just a few hundred meters to the south. We walked from the area of children and families and senior citizens in their kayaks and float boats and wandered down the shore. We ran into another couple and asked them to shoot our photo and as I look at the pictures now and compare them to the photos of my mind, I see that they are close to showing how beautiful it is here but they don’t really do it full justice.

There is a large rock that extends into the sea, just below the observation deck that is frequented by so many tourists. In low tide it is possible to walk to Paradise Beach from Coral Bay and keep your feet dry but during mid to high tide you have to wade across in ankle to waist-high water. This is a good thing I suppose as it filters out the lazy tourists and those carrying too much junk. Paradise beach is only a few meters of sand but its narrow depth is a small price to pay for owning your own little slice of heaven.

There are large rocks along the beach and if you wedge yourself between two you don’t see anyone else, they don’t see you and you can enjoy the view and the sound of the ocean and the breeze and you feel like you’re on a deserted island all by yourself. In the photo above I’m looking up the beach towards Coral Bay and the rock that separates the two beaches. In the photo below I’m looking down the beach towards the south. Just off shore, about 3/4 of a kilometer (1/2 mile) out you could see the waves breaking on the outer reef; the ocean swells looked quite massive but once they were dissipated by the reef there was almost no swell at the beach were we were resting.

And so, with my hired fins and mask we set about to explore the unknown under the water. As we swam out we could see all sorts of varieties of little fish. And after the initial rocks by the shore there was about 100 meters of sand and a few snapper fish followed along looking for a treat and after that the reef started. When you first encounter the reef it is about 4 to 5 meters (12-15 feet) deep and looking through the water everything takes on a kind of green color. But as you swim further and further out to sea, the reef rises higher and higher until it is only about a meter deep and the colors are brightly reflected in the sun and your eyes are washed with the color of the reef. It was one of the most beautiful reefs that I have dived on and we spent the better part of a few days swimming around just looking at the reef and the fish that lived there.

I remember looking out over this bluff one afternoon thinking to myself that it was so beautiful; it almost made your head hurt to absorb in the beauty of this place. I tried as hard as I could to make a mental image of it because I knew that after some time it would pass, my journey would continue and then I would eventually have to go home and return to work.

Sunsets are like fingerprints and no two are the same. And with a digital camera it is so easy to take a hundred photos and then selecting one or two can become the work of an entire afternoon. And as I look at these photos I am reminded of the warm breeze, the beautiful sights and the conversations with Andrea as we chatted about politics and travel and everything and anything else that we could think of.

And each evening the sky would turn orange and red and then after the sun set it would turn blue with such beautiful pink and pastel colors. The horizontal line of the ocean reflected back a thousand million little ripples and as you think about each one you realize how big the world is and then you look up and see the first stars and you realize how big the sky is and feel so small and insignificant on this little beach in the middle of nowhere.

Having looked at the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere my whole life I am accustomed to seeing the constellations in a certain order and that goes right out the window when you’re down under. Every night at sunset I could see Orion just above the horizon with its belt, Orion Nebula and the big red giant Beltaguese on the shoulder. Each night I would look up and see Scorpio and the Southern Cross – two constellations I’d never seen before. It was a nice change to see the sky so different and it added to the mystique of this land down under and I thought again, how I wished my vacation would last forever.


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