Tuesday 28th August

There was a lot of early morning activity as the young people left to swim with manterays and whales or snorkel around the coral reef. Lacking the swimming skills to take advantage of these activities, we had a restful morning as our only committed activity was to take the rather pedestrian glass bottomed boat out to see the coral, which can be found only meters from the shore. After taking advantage of the resort bakery to have breakfast we did our laundry and hung it to dry with a colourful array of other people’s washing…….

Having nothing more pressing to do, we decided to use the morning well by walking to the next bay along, Skeleton Bay. This is what you might call a shark nursery, where shark Mums bring their young. Sort of an early learning centre for sharks I guess…… the most notable in these parts are the whale sharks, the largest known fish. The tide was up, so there was just a small strip of sand between the water and the spiky vegetation that sparsely covers the sand dunes that rise up behind the shore line.

We picked our way along the sea short, initially along the sand and then the flat rocks that straddled the way. The water was totally clear, bar the ripples caused by the tide and breeze. Further out the water was blue before changing to indigo and then there was the white surf breaking over the reef. We wandered along, walking in and out of the shallows.

We met few people but watched the water keenly for shark life. With our usual inimitable timing we were of (of course!) a few days out of time to really expect any sightings – sharks use the area from September to March. No surprise then that we did not see any! We did see a couple of dark shapes moving through the water which we were led to believe were sting rays. We also saw an eel like creature dart away from the shore as we approached and a couple of leaping fish. Despite our lack of shark like sightings, it was a very pleasant stroll and we only turned back when dark clouds gathered over head.

After a fish and salad lunch we set off to learn a bit about coral. There were only a few us on our glass bottomed boat, but we spent a very interesting hour in the shallow water looking at the amazing coral beneath us.

It was fascinating! The Ningaloo Reef stretches from south of Coral Bay up to Exmouth, the most westerly point of Western Australia. There are thought to be over 200 species of Coral in the Ningaloo Reef area. They were all sorts of shapes and surfaces – some like oversized cauliflowers and others had spiky fingers with blue tips. The whole seabed was covered with coral. Most of the coral here is described as ‘hard coral’ and relies on sunlight to survive. Some of the coral started life 35,000 years ago. Occasionally large fish appeared briefly – but there was a constant display of small, colourful fish darting in and out of the coral of the sort found in tropical aquarium shops at home.

The excitements of glass bottomed boats over, it was back to base to pack up our kit on to the bus and a shortish drive to our next destination, Exmouth (pronounced Ex Mouth here!). The terrain was low vegetation with frequent large anthills.

It was becoming dusk as we reached Exmouth. A military town, it is now primarily an Airforce base. We did not in fact stop in Exmouth, but continued on to a campsite at Yardie. We had reached the North West Cape. Here our tented accommodation was already erected (bliss for us seasoned tent putter-uppers!). The tents were also quite tall so you could stand up in them, another appreciated feature after our sometimes tortured experiences of the Peninsula on the Silk Road. They had other useful additions – a 2 inch thick sleeping mat (luxury) and for some a low camp bed ( the height of luxury!). On returning to our tent I was accosted by an Australia bustard (I am reliably informed) that was determined to get into our tent at all costs. I spent some time trying to dissuade it from this course of action and in the end had to abandon my tent visit until it had evacuated the area!

Camp life centred around a central catering hub, very well equipped with barbecue space and tables and chairs and a fire pit. As the evening wore on the wind gathered momentum and it was an extremely turbulent night. All night long the wind whipped around the tent and everything that could, flapped. Not the most restful of sojourns!!

I also discovered with some dismay that my sleeping bag, opened up for the first time and chosen from an array at home on account of its size was ‘for tropical use’. Great when you are in a desert that gets very cold at night. By morning I was found to have socks on, a fleece and Keith’s towel. It was still cold!

Please note the red dust which was to become a long term feature and constant companion of the trip and caused the demise of some favourite items of clothing…….

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