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An Ode to the Ningaloo

Sunlight glints off the surface of a tranquil lagoon, its glassy surface the most pure of turquoise, except for the ubiquitous dark patches that hide a cornucopia of life just below. Spangled emperors, flamboyant parrots, boisterous damsels…the fish here are a sight to behold. Snorkelling the inner reef of the Ningaloo is a lot like being dropped in a very rich, very bored ocean lover’s aquarium – you know the type, the ones who just had to have fifty of every species just because they can, except they didn’t stop at fifty. Everywhere you look there is a new fish to identify, not to mention the bounty of other marine life that swims about. Turtles, manta rays, dolphins, reef sharks, rays, octopus, squid, clams, the occasional dugong, and even the king of the sea himself, the majestic spotty beast best known as the whale shark. It’s almost overwhelming, that first moment when you don your mask and dive into the blue, the cool of the winter waves a blessed contrast to the heat of the mid-afternoon sun that scorches the land above into one blur of parched brown. This is the Ningaloo, the place where currents collide to create one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems on the planet and this time Mother Nature didn’t even bother to hide her crown jewels away, no this time she placed her treasures no more that a few kicks from shore, accessible to even the weakest of swimmer. 

Thanks to Three Islands Dive for this amazing experience, there really are no words for the moment when you see that big spotty face emerge from the depths.

However, accessible is a matter of opinion, as one would know if they’ve spent any time hiking this scorched, windswept earth in anything but the most benign of autumn or winter conditions. The Ningaloo reef is at least a two day drive from the most remote city in the world, a drive that is filled with more dead kangaroos than petrol stations and where taking your own water isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. To get to the Ningaloo one needs to first know it’s here (there’s a reason it’s called the forgotten coast), have transport reliable enough to not strand you somewhere in between the middle of nowhere and fly central with an overheated radiator, and want to spend some time “out bush”, as a true Aussie would say. Me, I’m not really a true Aussie, after all two years does not an Aussie make, but it’s pretty out bush to me. Well if you stay in the national park that is, and with views like the one I have while writing this, who wouldn’t? Though make sure to leave your make up and hair straightener at home and prepare for parking lot showers, no running water, and the occasional flying ant bloom. 

kangaroo hopping in cape range national park
When the Dutch first set eyes upon this land they named it Van Demon’s land and vowed never to return. It does take a certain comfort with discomfort to look past Cape Range’s rough edges to see her beautiful heart.

The Ningaloo is not polished. She is not easy to love, she requires sacrifice, acceptance of discomfort, and an understanding of “camp clean”, but once you learn her ways, she grabs your heart and does not let go. The fickle winds, the ferocious currents, the beating sun…she makes her mark on you, but then, after you’ve done your time, she shows you her underwater cathedrals, her sacred coral gardens, her watery soul. It is a glimpse into another world, a world where gills would serve better than lungs, if you were willing to make the trade. 

I cannot fully explain the hold that the Ningaloo has on me, after all I have described a place that some have called “Van-demon’s land”, but, to me, there is so much beauty in this place of underwater bounty paired with desolate land. Sitting here, watching the sun droop ever lower over the lagoon that holds my heart, beer in hand, wind on face, hands on keyboard trying valiantly to create a window into this haven, I feel I have failed. I have failed to describe the feeling of calm that comes with rising and sleeping with the sun. I have failed to describe the wonder of coming face to face with fish more than twice your size on a startlingly frequent basis. I have failed to describe the quiet noise, devoid of human interference, that serenades those willing to seek the Ningaloo. 

Paddle boarding in Kurrajong
An afternoon paddle at Kurrajong with dolphins, reef sharks, and turtles for company – nothing is more calming than this.

The calling of galahs, the lapping of waves, the whistle of wind. The feeling, deep in your bones, that you are in the right place, no matter what your head tells you. There is something in this land, this strange and foreign land, that grabs me and does not let go. Maybe it’s the coastline, a west facing coast, like the one I was born on; that too was a dry land with a bountiful sea. Maybe it’s the ocean. Maybe it’s the people. Whatever it is words fail to describe it, this feeling of belonging, of peace. Maybe I’ve just had too much sun and beer today and this is just the waffling of a wannabe writer…who knows. Whatever it is the Ningaloo is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I’ve been a lot of places. After all, it takes a lot to get these wandering feet to return to a place more than once and my queen the Ningaloo has already got me three times in as many years. So with that I raise my empty glass to the Ningaloo, the Queen of the Coral Coast.

5 thoughts on “An Ode to the Ningaloo

  1. I love it! Your descriptors make me feel as though I have transcended in body and soul into this beautiful place I was postponed from seeing and experiencing first hand.

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