Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A couple of days in Coral Bay

We arrived in Coral Bay on Saturday and will stay until Friday making it our longest non-house stay of the trip so far.

*The sun goes down on the west coast.

*Sunset at the beach, Coral Bay.

We had been hyping ourselves up for this stay as we loved it when we were here about the same time of the year in 2007. As we approached the township (?) we started to get a little anxious about any big developments or changes that might be for the worst. Apart from some new staff quarters and a new jetty it all looks just like it did 2 years ago. We are back in paradise.

As Payniac mentioned in the previous blog we have #1 position in the caravan park, just a skip to the beach and the pub.

*A campground friend, some kind of dragon.

What makes this place so special? Ningaloo Reef is the simple answer. The reef is accessible from the beach which I can see from where I am sitting. When things get a bit hot, as it has been the last few days (max of 37-39C), I just pick up my mask & snorkel and go for a swim among the fishes. One of the major draw cards, and it was for us on our first visit, is it's one of the few places in the world where whalesharks, the biggest fish in the ocean, show up pretty routinely each year after the coral spawning which coincides with the March and April full moons. People flock here in their thousands to swim and snorkel with these gentle, plankton eating, spotty and so, so beautiful sharks. More on that later. Ningaloo doesn't just have whalesharks. There are green turtles, sea snakes, reef and tiger sharks, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays and humpbacks migrate past in the winter months. And your usual collection of hard corals and associated critters.

Our first full day in Coral Bay was spent swimming, reading, having a much needed wash (hadn't washed my hair since Kalbarri as I lost the shamp & cond), and doing loads of washing. A good thing about this dry heat is the washing is almost dry before you finish hanging it out. Enough of the domestics.Ended the day in the Coral Bay Hotel for a few obligatory cold ones and some fried seafood before getting an early night for Manta Ray Day!
Andy & I booked ourselves on the Manta Ray interaction tour plus a couple of scuba dives. I could barely sleep. I think I was awake by 530am worried I was going to miss the whole thing. We didn't need to be at the shop til 830am. We began the day with a really easy, gentle dive. Lucky, cos Andy's computer failed (again) and we had to swim back to the boat and change his regulator over to one of the boat ones. We then found the rest of the group and continued our tour of 'Lotties Lagoon'. Andy's moustache also created some mask leakage issues but as you'll see from the photo he soon adjusted and became Andyfish of yore.
*Ugly? A frogfish by WA nomenclature. I had never seen one of these as we don't get them on the east coast or they're better at hiding themselves.

*A free swimming nudibranch, Elizabeths chromodoris I think. Sea slugs are one of my favourite little ocean animals and much easier to take pictures of than the fast moving animals like sharks. Ningaloo reef is a bit of a nudibranch hotspot so you'll likely be seeing many more slug pictures.

*Scuba Andy giving me the AOK...finally. If you haven't dived in a while there's a bit of pre dive anxiety and it usually takes about half of the first dive to get over the fact that you're still alive ( a bit like the first 20 dives after you learn) and then you can start to look around and enjoy the scenery in your weightlessness.

*A very cute little white (albino?) moray I found in a coral growth right under the boat. They have bad eyesight apparently and sort of come out at you to see if you're food or not, which makes for happy snappy. They're generally not aggressive so like most marine animals providing you don't antagonise them they're quite happy and a little bit curious.

After the first dive the skipper was in contact with the spotter planes who directed us to a nice shallow spot next to the drop off where about 15 mantas were feeding. Cool! Things on the boat then became quite hectic with people gearing up and awaiting the Go, Go, Go order. On which we all slid neatly into the water without splashing (yeah, right) and over to the swimmer who had his/her sights on a manta. The mantas were feeding which is why the images are so fuzzy, there was heaps of manta food in the water. What an experience! These are coastal mantas and are smaller than their oceanic counterparts with max size from wingtip to wingtip about 4.5m. Still a big fish! We had three pretty decent snorkels with them and I used up most of my camera battery and memory on the first when the water was at it's gloopiest. The third swim was incredible, I had a big girl swim right under me in less than 4m of water. She was so close I could clearly see the stripes on her attendant pilot fish - a tear was shed as I was completely and utterly overwhelmed by her.

*One of the better shots! You get the idea. I could have got a clearer image from google but this is our one, we were there, our memory.
Coral Bay also unique in being one of the few, if not the only, place in the world you can swim with manta rays year round in calm,coastal (as opposed to the big blue) waters. In most other places where mantas do their thing it's scuba only as you generally have to hang out at cleaning stations in the middle of the big blue - unless you get lucky of course (Dave & Jan). And so this experience is opened up to all comers, if you can float you can swim with manta rays.

*A little manta movie for your perusal. I called this one darth vadar. These guys can really motor when they want to and keeping up with them is quite hard work so please excuse the heavy breathing.

Tomorrow we (Wednesday) whaleshark so stay tuned for more big fishy adventures. We love Coral Bay!

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