When leaving Carnarvon Paul graciously allowed me to jump behind the steering wheel of the car. He had done all of the driving up until this point so I though it only fair that I drove the 220 or so km to Coral Bay. It took a little while to feel comfortable behind the wheel. With the windy conditions and large road trains coming the other way, there were a few white knuckle moments but soon Paul relaxed enough so that I could finally peel his hands off the wheel!
Coral Bay is a place I have heard so much about and was really looking forward to finally getting there. To me it is synonymous with sun, sand and the gorgeous Ningaloo Reef so it was a little disconcerting to watch the dark clouds roll in as we got closer.
As we arrived I felt a really nice vibe, the street was busy but everyone looked happy. This feeling continued everywhere we went. There was a small shopping centre that we went into and the staff in all of the shops were upbeat and polite. It was so different to other touristy destinations we have visited where customer service can be hit & miss. I mentioned this to Paul and he thought that it would be hard not to be happy if you spent every day in Coral Bay. I guess a large proportion of people would work there seasonally depending what is happening in the water – whale shark season etc. There was just a vibe about the place we really liked.
This remains true even though Coral Bay turned on the worst weather we have had since we left Perth, even throwing in a few thunderstorms and torrential downpours! Everyone and thing in the caravan were perpetually damp! What made this even worse was the fact that NONE of the dryers in the park were fully functioning, making for a few grumpy wet people! We had been unsure about taking the annexe with us before leaving Perth, ultimately deciding to take it. This turned out to be an absolute godsend, here we could keep things out of the rain and also hook up a clothes line to try and get things dry.
Every time the rain let up we were content to head down to the beach and do some exploring. We managed to get some snorkelling done, did a little school work, played games and generally hung out. On the second night we were invited to a birthday party on a boat (thanks Frehley!), the kids though it was great, there were party lights, a concrete encased pinata and a disco ball and Emma got brave enough by the end of the night to break out a few robot moves!
It was smack bang in the middle of Whale Shark season while we were there and we had toyed with the idea of going on a tour. Paul will give anything a go, I am a scaredy cat and the kids fall somewhere in the middle. We decided instead to try a snorkel with Manta Rays. We (I) thought that before we tried a Whale Shark swim in open water perhaps we should test the kids out on a boat for a day on the inside of the reef.
We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and it didn’t seem like the rain was in a hurry to go away so we put off doing a boat tour until our very last day. I must admit I was a bit nervous lying in bed listening to the rain bucket down outside the caravan knowing that in a few hours I would be in a boat. But like magic as we got up the clouds parted and the sun shone!
At 8.30 we headed over to Ningaloo Reef Dive for our Manta Ray Interaction Tour, met our crew, were fitted out with wetsuits, snorkels and flippers and were transferred to the jetty to board our home for the day ‘The Bay Escape’. After a safety briefing we were off! Our first snorkel was over a canyon in the reef. One of the three Dive Masters on the boat led a group over to the reef after explaining what we could expect to see, including possibly Matilda the Grey Nurse Shark. With this exciting news Ben, Emma and I did not venture too far from the boat, happy to check out the closest coral and fish!. Paul and Reardon, however, took off like rockets! True to form good old Matilda was in her reef hidey hole but poor Reardon lost a lens from his goggles and had to return to the boat to get a replacement, so missed out on seeing her. After an hour on the reef everyone boarded the boat again and we set off in search of Mantas.
A spotter plane was sent out to try and locate a Manta or two for us to swim with and we couldn’t believe our luck when we heard over the radio that 8-10 Rays had been spotted nearby. Before getting into the water Vicki our Dive Master gave us an informative talk about Manta’s, what we could expect, where to swim and that we were to get no closer than 2 metres to them. Well, someone should have told the Mantas that! We slid into the water and followed Vicki who signalled there was a Manta and we should look down. It was amazing! Right underneath us was a beautiful Manta Ray and because there was lots of food around, it was rolling, right under us, rounding up its food and I mean RIGHT under us! We could have reached out and touched it! I think it got a bit too close to Emma because she got a little scared and wanted to get out, but we all loved it and I am so proud that the kids gave it a go and actually swam with Manta Rays.
Reardon especially impressed Paul and I. He spent almost the entire day in the water and after having a yummy lunch on the boat went back into the water at a place called Lottie’s Lagoon for another snorkel. He even held the Dive Master’s hand as she took him under the water to check out a Triton Conch (really big sea-snail) down on the reef. He seemed totally at home in the water and has decided that he wants to get his dive ticket. Unfortunately the poor bugger got stung by a jellyfish right at the end of the day, which the skipper soon coated with vinegar.
So, in all, we had a fabulous day. The weather was perfect, the crew fantastic, the Mantas were rolling and we all snorkelled Ningallo Reef (even me!). What a perfect ending to our stay. If you are heading to Coral Bay, please do yourselves a favour and visit Steve and Tonja’s crew at Ninglaoo Reef Dive and let them organise a truly amazing experience for you. Oh and just a note – on the day that we saw the Mantas the boat with the brave people who went on the outside of the reef saw not one but THREE whale sharks!
Coral Bay, we had a rocky start but we WILL return!