In April/May 2005 Eve and I visited Ningaloo Reef, a well known Marine Park in Western Australia. This virtually untouched barrier reef of 260 kilometres has more than 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral. It is the only large reef in the world found so close to a continental land mass; about 100 metres offshore at its nearest point and less than seven kilometres at its furthest.
Over 16 days we dived firstly the central region of Ningaloo Reef and then the northern region. We arrived at Coral Bay, a small settlement located 1200 kilometres north of Perth having driven from Perth via Shark Bay. Our first impressions were not favourable. Our accommodation was disappointing, the coral was generally not in good condition and the visibility underwater was poor. During our 3 days based in Coral Bay, the visibility varied from 4 to 12 metres. This was a great shame as they was undoubtedly plenty of exciting fish life present. We did see Loggerhead Turtles, Grey Reef Sharks, Potato Cod, large Stingrays and Manta Rays but generally only glimpses given the poor visibility. Eve and I dived with Ningaloo Reef Diving Centre either from their day boat Manta Magic or their zodiac. We had the good fortune to meet Herbie & Birgit Schmitz from Dinslaken in Germany who were great company. Dive sites visited were The Elbow, The Porites, Asho’s Gap, The Canyon, Lotties Lagoon, Black Douglas Rock and Big Blue. Departing from Coral Bay we then drove 160 kilometres north to Exmouth and Exmouth Diving Centre who had organised dive trips for us to the Murion Islands, Point Murat Navy Pier in Exmouth Gulf and the northern region of Ningaloo Reef.
Our first days diving on the northern region got off to a bad start. Eve and I set our alarm for 6.10 a.m. in anticipation of quickly getting ready to be at the Exmouth Dive Centre at 7.00 a.m. Unfortunately our alarm clock failed to go off and we woke up at 6.45 a.m. We arrived at the Dive Centre just in time to board a coach to Tantabiddi where a zodiac waited on the boat ramp to ferry us out to our boat, Sea Zone. There was a heavy sea swell: we were in for a rough day at sea. Indeed the swell was so strong at Three Fins, our dive site, that the dive was almost aborted. Even at a depth of 18 to 20 metres I could still feel a strong surge and although I hugged the sea bed the swell repeatedly caused my dive computer to warn me of rapid ascents! The visibility was poor, a pity as a large Potato Cod named Oscar followed us around the dive site and on a better day would have a made an excellent subject for a photograph. After the dive, Sea Zone set off for one of the highlights of our Australian holiday, a chance to swim with the largest fish in the ocean. From late March to July each year Whale Sharks converge on the nutrient rich waters of Ningaloo Reef and local dive centres employ a light aircraft to fly overhead guiding boats to the sharks. Unfortunately Eve was seasick but after what seemed an interminable wait, the aircraft spotted a whale shark and we were quickly in the water to enjoy our moment of swimming with a Whale Shark.
Eve decided to pass on the next days diving from Concorde and, with visibility of 15 to 20 metres, missed two excellent dives. Blizzard Ridge runs for a length of about 250 metres and lies a short distance north-east tip of North West Cape and my dive guide and buddy for this site, Layla Gill, pointed out Wobbegongs, Manta Shrimp, a Giant Moray Eel, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Bluespotted Rays, an Octopus and Sailfin Catfish. The second dive was intended as a drift dive from near Blizzard Ridge to Labyrinth although the current proved weak. Marcus Loren was my dive guide and buddy. The undoubted highlight of this dive was a large Bull Ray. After it moved from the sea bed I lay in the depression that it had created in the sand. With my feet fully extended the width of the depression was from the tips of my toes to my shoulder, about 1.8 metres. Other highlights were Moray Eels, an Octopus, several Whitetip Reef Sharks and a Turtle.
Two days later Eve and I boarded Sea Zone for another dive and a second swim with a Whale Shark although Eve declined the dive. My buddy for this dive at The Floats was Bob McKay. By coincidence Bob was our next-door neighbour at our accommodation in the Osprey King Units, Potshot Hotel Resort, Exmouth. This was certainly one of the better dives of the holiday. The visibility was 15 to 20 metres and there was a large concentration of Glassfish in a gully constantly under attack from Jacks.
The next two days diving were lost through high winds and heavy rainfall. The weather had turned rather British. But on the third day it was back aboard Concorde to Blizzard Ridge for a superb dive, albeit in disappointing visibility. The undoubted highlight of the dive for me was an Olive Sea Snake, the first Sea Snake I have ever seen while diving. It looked to be at least one metre in length. Other highlights were Wobbegong Sharks, two Whitetip Reef Sharks, a Bluespotted Ray and Sailfin Catfish. After the dive we cruised the waters around North West Cape looking for Whale Sharks. We were out of luck but whilst snorkelling did briefly glimpse two Manta Rays as well as two Whitetip Reef Sharks, a Turtle and two large Eagle Rays. Our dive guide Carl also had a close encounter with an Oceanic Whitetip.
The following day I boarded The Beast for the first time! We dived North-West Reef, a dive site is located on the very northern tip of Ningaloo Reef. At the beginning of the dive I began to venture into a vertical slot in the reef filled with Glassfish. Hidden from my view behind the Glassfish was a Wobbegong Shark, which upon seeing me decided to immediately exit its hiding hole. As I hugged one side of the hole it pushed past me only to see the group of divers behind me. Changing its mind it performed a u-turn and pushed past me again back into its original hiding place. Then changing its mind yet again it pushed past me for a third time before settling on a ledge next to me. Other highlights of this dive were a Bull Ray, Bluespotted Rays, and a Potato Cod. Our second dive was at Labyrinth, a dive particularly memorable for three close encounters with Green Turtles. As The Beast made its way back to shore, I saw a Sea Snake swimming along on the surface of the sea. Having never seen a Sea Snake before this holiday, I had seen four Sea Snakes in little more than 24 hours.
The following day The Beast again took me to the North West Cape for two dives, namely Gullivers and Labyrinth. Highlights were Whitetip Reef Sharks, a Green Moray Eel, a Green Turtle, Wobbegong Sharks, Batfish, Octopus and Sailfin Catfish.
The next day I boarded Concorde from Tantabiddi Beach and dived The Floats again. As before one of the main highlights were Jacks hunting the Glassfish with a seemingly ever-present school of Snappers and Sweetlips hovering above. My dive guide Dan Brown pointed out a small well-concealed Coral Crab. After the dive we snorkelled with two Whale Sharks before returning to Tantabiddi to conclude our diving holiday.