On Friday 1st July I packed up the Land Cruiser to drive north to paddle along the Ningaloo reef with 5 other members of the Sea Kayak Club. I seemed to have so much stuff spread out on the floor at home I wondered if I’d get it into the wagon never mind in my kayak. I had paddling gear, safety gear, fishing gear, boat repair stuff, copies of charts, maps and tide charts, binoculars, camera, tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, stove and metho, cooking utensils, food and water for 7 days, clothes, etc, etc. With everything finally packed and kayak on the roof I picked up my artist friend Helen who was going to drive along the coast with us but not necessarily be able to make contact with us. She had even more gear than me, then it was around to North Fremantle to pick up Judy and her gear and kayak. We overnighted at Dongara and Carnarvon on the way up. It was the beginning of the school holidays and the road was busy and Carnarvon booked out. I was glad I had booked accommodation before we left Perth.
Sunday morning we arrived at Ningaloo Station by 1100 and went up to say hullo to Mrs Lefroy and her daughter Jane, the Station owners. By 1200 we were back at the gate into Jane Bay where we met up with Eric who had camped there the night before. Roger arrived at the same time as did Dave and Graeme who had driven up together. When we pulled up my vehicle had a worrying tinkling sound coming from underneath. Everyone took it in turns to climb underneath and see if they could diagnose the cause to no avail. Everything seemed to be working OK so I followed the others in to where Eric had set up his camp on the beach. We didn’t have time to admire the turquoise water in the bay and deserted beach as we quickly unloaded all our gear and set up our tents. We left Helen, Judy and Dave at the camp and the rest of us got in our vehicles and drove back along the 30ks of corrugated dirt road to turn left onto the sealed road and a further 100ks to Exmouth and another 30 around the Cape to Yardie Homestead Caravan Park. Eric, Roger and Graeme left their vehicles there and piled into my wagon for the 160km return trip. Fortunately by now the worrying tinkle had disappeared. It was dark by the time we got back to camp and I, for one, was pretty tired.
The next morning we had to pack up our gear and pack it into the kayak. Now how are you supposed to do it I had to ask myself. Light stuff in the pointy ends and heavy stuff in the middle. By the end of the trip I was in a well ordered routine. Clothes in my triangular air bags stuffed in the ends, two 5 litre bags of water in front of my foot pedals, 2 under my thighs and one in the day hatch behind me. Oh and the important 1.5 litre cask of wine in front of my feet. The rest of the gear stuffed into the 3 hatches. Annoyingly the two smaller hatch covers started to leak on this trip. Fortunately I had everything in waterproof bags.
We said goodbye to Helen and left her to return the keys of the gate to Jane. She then drove up the coastal track to set up camp for three nights where we used to camp with my boys when they liked surfing on the Yardie Creek break. Most importantly she was to drive to our finishing spot to pick us up at the end.
We paddled out to the inside of the edge of the reef where we could see the super structure of a wreck stuck in the reef. According to my map it may have been the “Perth” 1887. We were not able to get close because of the swell. We paddled north along the reef to where Fraser Island, “small sand island, visible at low tide” was noted on the chart. We had to alter course to either surf or avoid waves coming through a break in the reef. On looking towards where the island should be we could only see what looked like large rocks and decided we probably wouldn’t be able to land anyway so decided discretion was the better part of valour and headed to shore. I had no desire to tip over in a fully laden kayak even though we do train for this happening.
While paddling along there was sea life visible all around us. Turtles, some the size of coffee tables, manta rays and shimmering curtains of shoals of tiny white fish in front of us. Because kayaks are so silent the fish don’t realise you are there until you’re close to them. A snook jumped out of the water and walked along the surface on its tail in front of me one day. It looked so funny.
We were paddling back to shore when suddenly there was a loud bang like something hitting some ones boat. I looked sideways to see Roger with a very startled look on his face. While paddling along he had disturbed a 2 metre shark. It hit his boat, dived under it then leapt out of the water before swimming away. That got Roger’s heart rate up a bit I think. I don’t know who got the biggest fright, Roger or the shark.
When we reached shore we were sitting on the beach having our morning tea. On looking through the binoculars back towards what we thought was Fraser Island we could see four or five substantial pieces of superstructure of a wreck. I would love to go back out there again and look at it. If there is a next time maybe if you started from the station shearing shed you just might approach it from a different angle.
We paddled on to Norwegian Bay and explored the whaling station which operated from 1915 to 1957. Enormous rusting vats, boilers and machines dotted the sand dunes. On further exploring we discovered thousands upon thousands of empty beer bottles. The first night’s camp was just around Point Edgar from the whaling station.
For four days we had perfect weather for paddling. The sun was shining and the wind was behind us or on our starboard back quarter. Judy and Graeme had their sails up a lot of the time and cruised along. Judy’s V shaped sail was faster downwind but Graeme’s smaller triangular sail with mast and boom was more versatile. He enjoyed himself tacking and reaching back and forth. (I must get myself a sail). On the second morning out Graeme, who liked to chat to everyone we came across, went near the shore to chat to a fisherman. Unfortunately he got his mast caught in the fishing line and over he went. This caused a bit of excitement on the beach for the fishermen. He soon extricated himself from his boat and recovered from this little drama and we paddled on camping somewhere near Sandy Point (I think).
The weather wasn’t so great at night. It was probably about 8-10 degrees C which wasn’t too bad but the wind seemed to blow off shore all night every night. That is all except the last night when there was no wind but then it blew all day from the north east / north right on our nose.
On day three we had our morning tea break with Helen. She had set up her camp on a ridge overlooking the bay where we have camped numerous times before. She had brought painting gear, quilting, books etc to fill in her time but she was so busy making friends with other campers and accepting dinner invitations she only got time to do some quilting and one painting which she gave away.
We paddled on to Yardie creek. The tide was right for us to paddle in and later there was just enough water for us to paddle out after we had explored the gorge as far as we could go. The tourist boat had just started its tour. If you paddled slowly behind the boat you could catch some of the interesting information the operator was telling the tourists. The magnificent red ochre cliffs on either side of the water provide homes for countless pairs of birds that could be seen sitting on their nests watching us. We had a late lunch on the beach just past the Yardie Creek opening. Helen had driven up to the creek crossing, left the Land Cruiser on the south side and waded over to join us then later returned to her camp. We camped somewhere before Sandy Bay (I think).
On day four we paddled out near the reef for a while then returned to the shore line. Dave would have liked to stay out and catch a few more waves. Eric liked to paddle close to shore so he could observe the birds. We stopped south of Mandu Mandu creek and took photos of the Ningaloo Reef Retreat which has luxury accommodation in tents near the beach.
We were now paddling over a variety of corals including purple mauve staghorn. I got to have a short snorkel at Turquoise Bay at our lunch stop. We had planned to have a lay day the next day to have a break from the routine of unloading our kayaks every afternoon, setting up camp then breaking camp every morning and re packing the kayaks so I thought I would come back and snorkel the next day.
We set up camp not far past Turquoise planning to stay there 2 nights. On dusk an officious volunteer CALM fellow came and told us we couldn’t camp there. As we were already set up we stayed the night and moved on the next morning after deciding we’d paddle to the finishing point. Judy and I said we would have our “lay day” at the caravan park and drive back to Turquoise Bay with Helen in the Land Cruiser for a snorkel the next day, weather permitting. The fellows said they would drive home a day early. As I said before we had a really hard paddle with the wind on the nose all day. We found a nice sheltered beach surrounded by mangroves on the north side of Mangrove Bay for lunch but that was the only respite we had. It was head down and paddle, paddle paddle.
After having the water to ourselves for 5 days it was a shock to arrive at the Tantabiddi boat ramp. There were queues of vehicles with trailers waiting to launch or retrieve boats from one ramp. There were a couple of Marine Safety Officers hanging around at the top of the ramp. Their presence probably kept the lid on any tempers that might have frayed. Graeme hitched a ride to the caravan park with one of the boat retrievers and came back with his car to collect Eric and Roger to take them back to pick up their vehicles. Fortunately they ran into Helen at the caravan park booking office. She was not expecting us until a day later so was surprised to find that we had already arrived. We were a very tired group of kayakers by the time we had loaded the boats onto vehicles and heaved our gear on board. We set up our tents at the caravan park and wallowed in the luxury of a hot shower that night.
The next morning I heard the blokes leave early. The sky was grey and cloudy and threatening rain so we decided we might as well pack up and head south as well. After seeing a few of the sights of Exmouth we drove to Dongara for the night then back to Perth the next day. All up the Land cruiser clocked up 3,090ks for the round trip.
It was a great week. Thanks for organising it Roger.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Dave, Eric and Roger landing – photo Helen Cooksey
How clear is that water? – photo Judy Blight
Helen’s camp – photo Judy Blight
Old whaling station at Norwegian Bay – photo Helen Cooksey
Judy and Graeme with sails up – photo Helen Cooksey
DEC’s Ningaloo Ecotourism centre – photo Helen Cooksey
Roger, Dave and Judy at Yardie Creek – photo Helen Cooksey
Yardie Creek – photo Helen Cooksey