After our week in a camper van around Perth (see my previous post), Steph and I caught a flight up to Exmouth. We’d thought about driving all the way up but it would have been a lot of driving and the one-way van rental fees were extortionate. It turned out that this was a blessing in disguise. It was a lot hotter in Exmouth than Perth (way too hot for van life). A whole 1,250km closer to the equator…Who would have thought, hey?
We went to Exmouth for a particular purpose: to swim with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef. I have wanted to swim with them for literally the past decade of my life, since I did a marine conservation project in The Philippines and I’d heard such great things about whale sharks from the other volunteers. There are only a handful of places in the world that you can swim with them, and not everywhere are they respectful of the animals (such as in The Philippines apparently), so it is worth looking into that before you decide whether to do it or not. Most tour companies in Exmouth offer a free trip again if you don’t see any. Our trip was actually delayed for a few days due to a cyclone (I seem to be a magnet for cyclones at the moment), but fortunately when we did make it out, it was perfect visibility and we saw five whale sharks! They were around 5m long and so graceful to watch. It definitely lived up to our (gigantic) expectations. One whale shark even circled us for around 20 minutes, which is apparently extremely rare. They eat plankton and small fish rather than humans, so it wasn’t at all scary. We did our trip with Ningaloo Whaleshark ‘N’ Dive, who were amazing from start to finish (even coming to our room in person to tell us that the trip wouldn’t be happening due to the cyclone).
We also did the Exmouth Navy Pier scuba dive, which we’d heard so much about from other travellers. We’ve both done a lot of scuba diving, but this was very different to anything either of us had experienced before. You dive from an active naval pier, so you need to follow all sorts of rules and have your passport with you. The dive itself is around the pier. I have never ever seen such an abundance of marine life. There were fish everywhere and we saw 20+ reef sharks, most of which were pretty big (around 6-7 foot). We dived shortly after the cyclone and the visibility was only around 3m, but it made it all the more fun and spooky (can you tell I’m an optimist?).
On the days that we weren’t out on the water, we spent our time meditating, reading and exploring the town. As well as sharing a love for yoga and meditation, Steph and I also share a love for a good breakfast. Our favourite spot was The Social Society (great pancakes, acais bowls and smoothies), followed by See Salt. We spent most evenings eating burgers at Adrift Cafe. We also rented a car for a couple of days and explored Cape Range National Park. Turquoise Bay seems to be the key attraction there, and there is good reason for that. We stopped at a lot of the other beaches, but none that we saw was as beautiful as Turquoise Bay.
After Exmouth, we joined a tour to Karijini National Park with a company called Aussie Wanderers. I usually prefer to rent a car myself than doing a tour. I appreciate that there are many positives with tours and that lots of people love them, but one of the things I value most when travelling is the freedom to do what I want, when I want. Anyway, I’m definitely glad that we did this tour. For starters, the drive from Exmouth to Karijini was around eight hours and on some pretty tricky roads/dirt tracks. We spent our first two nights in glamping eco tents at Karijini Eco Retreat. The national park itself is, without a doubt, my favourite national park in Australia. It is full of red rock and bright blue gorges. Oh, and a load of deadly animals. I was 30cm away from stepping on the most poisonous snake in Australia (a brown snake). It would have been the second time that I had stepped on one within a four-week period. You would have thought I’d learned my lesson the first time. Apparently not. We got a (slightly blurry) photo of this one, so take a look below.
Our two days in Karijini were mostly spent swimming in natural gorges. They actually have trails that are a mixture of swimming and walking. And by ‘walking’, I mean mostly clambering over rocks. We did a number of the trails, with my favourite being Weano Gorge which ends at the Handrail Pool. My favourite gorge to swim in was the Fern Pool near Fortescue Falls. Steph also did canyoning, which she said was amazing, but I got more than enough adventure fix from the trails and the swimming.
After Karijini, we drove to Broome, stopping to ‘camp’ at Pardoo on the way. Neither of us owned a tent, so we had called up before to request one. However, when we arrived it turned out that all of the tents were broken. We were given a ‘swag’ each, which seems to be a tougher version of a sleeping bag, but it was way too hot to use it, so we slept on top of it just with a blanket. After seeing so many spiders and snakes (there was a python wrapped around the base of the loo in the eco retreat as well as the brown snake in one of the gorges!), I was slightly apprehensive (read: absolutely terrified). I whipped up some of the other girls on the tour and got them to commit to staying awake all night with me. However, after a big meal and a mesmerising hour watching a nearby thunder and lightening storm, I felt a little sleepy so decided to rest my head. I then proceeded to sleep for eight hours, waking only to fight off the mosquitos that were the size of small bats and to douse myself in insect repellant.
Our final stop was Broome. Steph had to get back to Sydney to move house, but I stayed for a few days. I happened to be there during ‘Staircase to the Moon’, which is a natural phenomenon which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. It happens two to three days a month between March and October and basically looks like, as the name suggests, a staircase going up to the moon. They do a great food market at Town Beach, at which I may or may not have had two ice creams in a row. I’m not prepared to comment.