Mawson’s Guardian, Mark, and the Guardian-ess had the good fortune last November to swim with 3 manta rays off the North West coast of Western Australia in the waters of the Ningaloo Reef. You can read about our snorkelling experience here and particularly about the big manta rays here.
This year the Guardian-ess had a Big Birthday. ‘What would you like for your birthday?” asked the Guardian. “To swim with whale sharks”, she replied promptly. Whale Sharks migrate up the coast of Western Australia on their way to Indonesian waters and come close to Ningaloo Reef. We were able to book for early June, quite late in the Whale Shark migrating season, and there was a risk we could miss them altogether. There was also a risk that the winter weather would not allow safe vessel operation beyond the outer reef, but we chanced it anyway.
We drove some 1400 kilometres north of Perth to the township of Coral Bay, turning off to Kalbarri on the way to see the amazing Murchison River gorge. I will talk of that in another post, but for now, here is a picture of the Skywalk jutting out over the lip of the gorge, or ‘canyon’ in American-English. You cannot capture the spectacle in photos. Millions and millions of years of layers of rock all eaten down by the flow of the waters in the bed of surrounding land.
During our long drive up we fortunately missed the worst of the bad weather which struck the coast for days. No charter boats or tour vessels had gone out in that time. Would we also strike bad weather on the very day we had booked to go out with Coral Bay Eco Tours on the good ship RV Thunder?
The morning before The Big Day, we trooped to the booking office for fittings ie we squashed ourselves into wetsuits of suitable sizes, which Eco Tours requires snorkelers to wear when in the deep water beyond the outer reef. By the time I had finished not falling over as I hauled on the leggings and got my chest to function again after I was zipped into the suit, I believed I’d had all my aerobic exercise for that day.
That afternoon the weather began turning. The sunset was spectacular but the heavy clouds a concern. Those of our party who had wifi connections (something not always the case beyond the big Australian cities) peered at weather forecasts. Another front was definitely coming in on Our Day. When? ‘Late in the day’ observed the weather people. Would the operator therefore cancel for safety reasons? They didn’t. But as it turned out, the on the following 2 days they did; and every tour and charter vessel stayed at moorings as rain surged in. We only just managed just to squeak into the window of opportunity.
At 8 am we boarded RV Thunder and steered out over calm waters under a sky cloudy but bright to a spot in the Ningaloo Reef featuring ‘coral bombs’. These clusters of all shapes of coral rise from the sand floor nearly to the surface. In fact, you have to be careful to not get over the top of them in case of injuring both oneself and the coral.
Here we practised being comfortable in our wetsuits and goggles as well as enjoying the swim. More about that in the next post! Meantime, a sneak preview of a whale shark.
Don’t miss the next exiting part of our Whale Shark Day.
Note: All under water pics shown here are by Daniel Browne of Coral Bay Eco Tours.
You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a dark coffee tragic, bibliophile and Guardian of Mawson Bear, a Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.