Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Sea kayaking off Rottnest Island
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020
Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Les in Surf Zone
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020
Shark Bay Shallows in September

Shark Bay Shallows in September

Russ Hobbs

The idea of a 5-day kayak trip at Shark Bay conjures up images of lazy afternoons spent fishing or snorkelling. Those of us who had this in mind at the start of the trip were going to be out of luck.

There were 10 paddlers on this trip, and we all arrived in good form to stay overnight in cabins at one of the caravan parks in Denham. The sunset was beautiful from the town’s beach and the cameras went into overdrive. The weather next morning was fine for the 9am start, and luckily the snorers had not been so noisy to put us off a good night’s sleep. Leader Phil Evans divided us into 2 groups of 5 for the day and we set off in fairly calm conditions with a little high cloud and smooth water. Visibility in the water was excellent so we all saw lots of rays and the occasional shark. Laurie saw a yellow-bellied sea snake. Our destination was Big Lagoon, 23 km from Denham.

Close to the lagoon, the tide was going out so the flats were becoming shallow. This slowed us down somewhat, but the shallow water did not seem to worry the sharks, some of which appeared to use the approaching kayaks to help herd the prey fish within range. We all had close encounters with these sharks but none were big enough to worry us as long as we stayed upright.

Finding the deep channel into the lagoon was not too difficult but there was some very shallow water near the mouth. We all succumbed to the temptation to cut corners inside the lagoon rather than taking the long way around in the channel. However, we paid for our sins by having to drag our boats back out into deeper water just before arriving at the campsite. Helen and Russ went for a dip in the channel in front of the camp – the water was clear and refreshing.

Those of us who went for a pre-dinner walk were rewarded by close sightings of emus and red kangaroos, and the camp layabouts were visited by a small pod of dolphins fishing in front of the camp. It was a warm and calm evening, and we all fitted under the shade of the communal tarp for a very pleasant dinner.

The wind picked up overnight so on Day 2 we started out against a moderate southerly until we rounded the corner to exit Big Lagoon. Eric cut the corner a little too close to shore and although the tide was far more favourable than the afternoon before, he still got himself caught among some rocks. Pretty soon though, we were all out of the lagoon and heading north with the wind behind us. Kevin and Helen had their sails up and didn’t need to paddle. Even without sails, according to the GPS we were drifting at 4-5 km/hr. At one stage Kevin had to drop his sail so that he could stay back with the paddlers in the group.

The sky looked decidedly threatening in the early afternoon. Visibility was not as good as it had been the day before, but we were treated to schools of sharks in the shallow water again. Some of these sharks were well over a metre long and there were some with attitude. Phil saw one nearly 2m long pass beneath his bow. The idea of a swim in these waters had somehow lost its gloss. Although the water was shallow in the afternoon, there was enough depth at the campsite to paddle right to the beach. It had been an easy 26km day of paddling.

On reaching camp, the afternoon cloud had dispersed without dropping any rain on us at all. However, the wind had not abated and after 2 attempts at erecting the communal tarp, we had to give up. Eric’s beachfront villa became the social focus of the late afternoon, but by dinner time most of us retreated to a slightly more sheltered site among the dunes. Dinner conversation again centred on food and we all seemed to be obsessed with what other paddlers were cooking. Roz and Phil outdid us all and cooked steaks. This was day 2, and nobody else had expected fresh meat to last that long.

There were just enough clouds in the sky to give us a beautiful sunrise on Day 3. Then the wind came up to blow them away, but it was ESE so we were sheltered for the paddle to the Cape. Roger had promised some spectacular red cliffs before the Cape and we were not disappointed. Nathan, the serious photographer among us, was desperate to get some shots of the cliffs at Broadhurst Bight but was not game to use his camera from his kayak. In he went for a perfect beach landing in a gentle swell while Phil and Roger hung about in support. Meanwhile Helen took the opportunity to test out her tacking skills with her sail.

Up until this point we had been in shallow water, but rounding the Cape we at last had some deep water and since we were coming into the wind, there was quite a sea to contend with. We now had the prospect of a long paddle with the wind in our faces, so it was a great time to break for lunch.

After lunch it was back into the shallows and shallow it was indeed. At least in the shallow water there were no waves to punch through, but the wind made it hard work. The wildlife seemed to be less common on this side of the Cape, but there were still some sharks, rays and turtles. We slowly made our way south to our preferred campsite only to find that it was too shallow to get in close. Roger knew there was a good site further south so on we went. We finally made it to that site and Roger paddled in as close as he could before leaving his kayak stranded in the shallows to walk in to shore. It didn’t look far at first, but after Roger had walked for some time he seemed to be just a speck in the distance and he still hadn’t reached the dry sand.

Back home after the trip, a close scrutiny of Google Earth and some GPS coordinates revealed that he’d walked about 400m to shore. The prospect of lugging 3 full loads of gear each (or 6 loads for Eric), plus the kayaks did not look all that attractive. However, dusk was approaching and we had already paddled a long way into the strong wind. Roger and Phil went into a huddle with Kevin and Rod, and it was decided to push on to the western side of Guichenault Point. There was no guarantee of an easy landing there but Roger reckoned it was much more likely than where we were. So on again we paddled. To our great relief, the paddling was much easier because we were not paddling into the wind, but across it. The decision turned out to be brilliant and we took the kayaks right into shore between some mangroves. We had paddled nearly 34km, most of it into the wind, so in failing light but rejuvenated spirits we pitched our tents and started into dinner preparation.

It was a cool night and Day 4 began with a strong breeze from the southeast. We must have all been pretty keen to get moving because we were ready to go 30 minutes before start time. The tide was high so we were confident we could find our way around Guichenault Point despite Roger having previously experienced shallow water in this area. Sure enough, the Point was a piece of cake but then we had to contend with constant wind in our faces; 16 knots gusting to 24 and our progress was down to 3-4 km/hr before the morning break. It seemed to take forever to make it past the impressive cliffs of Herald Bluff. The wind dropped off after the break, but unfortunately so did the tide. We then had to pick our way through leads in the shallows below the beautiful red cliffs.

Once again we had trouble finding access to a good campsite due to the timing of the low tide. Eric found a good lead and Roger followed him in, but they were stranded about 80m offshore. It was close to Cape Rose and about as good a campsite as we were going to get, so we determined to carry the gear in. Helen and Kevin decided to go sailing instead, experimenting with how close to the wind they could run. After everybody else had unloaded and pitched in to carry each other’s kayaks we felt pretty smug about leaving the 2 sailors to carry their own gear in, especially since by this time, the closest they could get to the beach was about 150m. In the end however, they outsmarted us all and just left their kayaks anchored until the tide came in far enough to drag them in.

On Day 5 we awoke to a magnificent sunrise, except for Eric who had been up well before sunrise to organise his gear for packing. This was the last day and we only had 11km to go, having already covered 102km. Although it was cool and breezy, we all savoured our last breakfast in the wilderness. We hit the water early with Cape Rose providing protection from the worst of the wind, which was blowing at 18 knots, and gusting to 25 from the SSE. It wasn’t long before we rounded the Cape and lost that protection, but as long as we stayed close to the shore we kept up a pace of 4km/hr. Since it was at our estimated time of arrival at Monkey Mia coincided with feeding time for the dolphins, we stayed out wide for the last kilometre or so, and it was here that we really started to cop some strong offshore winds. Finish-line fever took over and it was a hectic pace against the wind for all. Sure enough, just as we arrived, the dolphins came in. Also on time at Monkey Mia were Carolyn Coogan and Helen Cooksey’s artist friend Helen to return the drivers to Denham to pick up the rest of the vehicles.

It was perhaps just as well that we’d paddled so hard in the morning, since by mid afternoon the southerly was running at 23 knots, gusting to 30. The only accommodation at Denham that night was the tent site at the caravan park. It was not easy to put up the tents in those winds, which increased again in the early evening. Some of us wondered if our tents would still be there when we returned from dinner at the pub. Sleep is not easy when being beaten around the head by flapping tent walls, so several gave up and tried their luck in their cars.

So was it worth all the effort and pain, considering that not one of us caught a fish or donned a mask and snorkel? Absolutely! It was a great trip. For some of us, the experience of cruising along at speed under sail without even dipping a paddle made it all worthwhile. For others it was the chance to test out new gear, being able to check out the possibilities of alternative camping cuisine, or just being together with a bunch of like-minded friends, and having the confidence of knowing that there was always good leadership and support if anything had gone wrong (which it didn’t). The scenery, wildlife, clean air and wide blue skies were just a bonus. Thanks to Phil Evans for an excellent job as Leader, and to all the other paddlers for their friendly support throughout the week.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Denham Sound from near Big Lagoon – photo Russ Hobbs

Threatening weather but favourable winds – photo Russ Hobbs

Eric’s beach front villa at camp 2 – photo Russ Hobbs

Red cliffs of Broadhurst Bight – photo Russ Hobbs

Lunch at Hopeless Reach near tip of Cape – photo Russ Hobbs

Camp at Guichenault Point – photo Russ Hobbs

The water is a long way from the beach! – photo Russ Hobbs

Sunrise at camp 5 – photo Russ Hobbs

The whole mob of paddlers – photo Russ Hobbs



Helen Cooksey

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