Friday, April 6, 2012

Exmouth Days 2 and 3: Coral Bay and Ningaloo Reef

On our first full day in Exmouth (Tuesday), we mostly explored around the edges of the 'big ticket' attractions in the area. The town of Exmouth is really a base for exploring the surrounding beaches and national park, and is situated towards the top of the eastern side of the North-West Cape. This cape is a jutting stretch of land that allows for beaches on the west and the east coasts, and for seeing the sun rise and set, which is quite novel in Western Australia.

At the top of the cape is Vlamingh Head and a number of beaches. Down the west side is the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, as well as the bulk of the Cape Range National Park. The east side has the two canyons we visited on Tuesday, Charles Knife and Shothole. These canyons are part of the Cape Range National Park but are accessed from the eastern side.

If you continue down the North-West Cape, you reach Coral Bay at the bottom end of Ningaloo Reef. This tiny town is on the western side of the cape and about 140km south of Exmouth.

We visited Coral Bay on Wednesday and found the beaches to be absolutely beautiful, definitely living up to their reputation.

We had planned to hire a glass-bottomed canoe to take out over the reef, but the weather conditions were apparently not ideal for that. It was quite windy and if you went more than 150m off-shore - necessary, we were told, for the best reef views at the time of day we were there - it would be hard to control the canoe.

Given that we were keen to avoid being swept out to sea, we left the canoe option behind and swum and snorkelled closer to shore instead. There were fish and a few small rays, as well as some plain coloured coral. We also walked along the beach stretch.

In the end, we didn't need the canoe for an absolutely beautiful, happiness-inducing afternoon.

Yesterday, we drove down the top, western side of the North-West cape. This took us into the main section of the national park, and along most of the beaches set on the Ningaloo Reef.

The furthest south you can drive into the park, at least without a 4WD, is Yardie Creek. The creek is more like a small river, through a gorge, and is the only part of the park to always have water flowing.

It was very hot, but the rocky landscape through the gorge was striking. The surrounding landscape was also impressive, as were the large termite mounds.

We picnicked at the shady picnic area adjoining Yardie Creek (more details on that at the end) and then wound our way back north, past the numerous beaches and snorkelling spots that make up Ningaloo Reef.

Sandy Bay, pictured below, and Turquoise Beach were particularly impressive and we snorkelled at Turquoise Beach. There were lots of colourful fish and coral just off shore, making it easy and very fun.

Now, I haven't spoken much to date about food on this trip - mostly because I've been blogging quickly and partly because with self-catering some meals, there hasn't always been a lot to talk about.

We chose our Exmouth accommodation in part because it offered full self-catering facilities. We stayed in a 'deluxe studio room' (as opposed to a 'standard family room') at the Golden Chain Sea Breeze Resort. This turned out well and the resort was well set-up and well equipped, although it is slightly out of town. We were amused to discover that it is next to the Harold Holt Naval Base, and actually situated on US-owned land. Who knew we would drive north and end up on US territory?!

Golden Chain Sea Breeze Resort, Exmouth

The Sea Breeze resort also has free WiFi, thus allowing for on-the-go checks of what to do in the area, and making my blog reading and blog posting possible. It also allowed me to check work emails, which may have been a less desirable 'benefit', but it's a rare trip away that I don't do some work-related tasks.

If you are looking to self-cater in Exmouth, there are two small supermarkets (an IGA and an IGA Express) and a Brumby's Bakery in the small shopping centre in town. Other food options include:

  • Whaler's Restaurant, highly regarded locally and with an extensive seafood and meat menu. I spotted two vegetarian options, chickpea fritters and vegetarian fajitas, but we didn't eat here so I can't report on their specifics.
  • Pinocchio Restaurant, a popular Italian next to the Ningaloo Caravan Park, with pasta and pizza dishes.
  • Golden Orchid Chinese Restaurant, with a fairly typical (untried by us) Chinese restaurant menu.
  • Blue Lips Fish and Chips, with an extensive fish menu including burgers.
  • Ningaloo Health, open for breakfasts and lunches 7 days and dinner Friday and Saturday (sadly, not nights we were in town).

We ate at Pinnochio Restaurant on our first night and I distinguished myself by leaving my camera battery charging back at our room. Thus, no photos. The pizzas are large and so we ordered one vegetarian to share, along with a garden side salad. The atmosphere was busy and enjoyable, with much of the restaurant on a deck surrounding a pool. Unfortunately, the pizza itself was less enjoyable, although it would be fine if you liked lots of cheese. By the time I tried to pick the cheese off my slices, I lost most of my toppings too. Still, the wood-fired base was enjoyable, and excess cheese is the risk that comes when not asking for pizza to be made cheese-free.

Lunch on Tuesday, as shown in my last post, was at Ningaloo Health. This has a wonderful menu and lots of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free meals and cakes.

I ordered a salad wrap, theoretically without onions but onions did appear, and a coffee.

Mr Bite had a vegetarian toasted foccacia and a berry 'slushy', referred to on the menu as frozen fruit (a choice of up to three from banana, pineapple, mango and mixed berries), fruit juice, and ice. My image of slushies involves the artificially coloured, over-icey drinks that appear at ice cream kiosks, so I wasn't sure whether to trust the menu description. I was glad Mr Bite tried it so I could see if the drink really was mostly fruit, and I was quite delighted when it was.

I would refer to this as a non-dairy smoothie rather than a slushy, but appreciate that people who like milk smoothies might not apply that term to this. I drank a third or so of Mr Bite's drink (!) and went back for a pineapple berry version of my own another day.

For our picnic lunch yesterday, by Yardie Creek, we also had take-away sandwiches from Ningaloo Health. These were made on sourdough bread and featured plenty of salad, as well as tuna for Mr Bite's version.

If we'd been able to go here for dinner, they had a veggie burger that sounded appealing, as well as various stir fry dishes and hot and cold salads.

We did try Blue Lips fish and chips one evening, despite my intention of not having fish. I had a piece of grilled Sweet Lip Snapper with salad (later followed by an English muffin with jam back at our room, in a sort of dinner postscript) and Mr Bite had a fish burger that he rated 10 / 10.

And that, for now, concludes our time in Exmouth. Today we are driving all the way back to Geraldton - quite a disconcerting thought, but I'm thinking of it as a challenge! - and then back home to Perth on Saturday.

It's certainly been an amazing week.

Do you have any plans for this Easter long weekend (if you live in Australia and have an Easter long weekend)?


  1. That 6th picture has the most incredible blue water! I am definitely a little jealous.

    The definition of "smoothies", "slushies", and "milkshakes" seems to change cross culturally and often doesn't even have a solid definition within any one culture!

    1. So true - for slushie-drinks they are perhaps suitable fluid in their definition :)

      The water really was incredible. It's almost hard to believe now we're back home!

  2. What a gorgeous bunch of vistas you've had. That looks like an excellent getaway destination for Perth-ites. A bit far for everyone else! But I am determined to get there sometime, hopefully while there are still corals and whale sharks to see!

    We've got no plans really for the weekend, though I have already made a batch of hot cross buns, an apple crumble, and we're having an ethiopian feast tonight - complete with Injera, following Mel's recipe. I'm pretty excited about that!

    1. Definitely a bit far for most of Australia - but so like Australia in that regard! You can fly, though, which would make it a bit closer.

      Your meal and dessert options sound wonderful. I'll look forward to hearing how your Ethiopian feast turns out!

  3. Thank you for these gorgeous photos. My plans involve our family's usual trip into the country somewhere for Easter lunch, catching up with friends, spending time with my brother, and the funeral, although technically that's on Tuesday. Stay happy xo

    1. I will be thinking of you this weekend and on Tuesday. I hope the lunch and friends and time with your brother help lift the sadness a little xox

  4. Those beaches look stunning - makes me want to swim in such clear blue water - love the pic of your toes! We are looking forward to catching up with family tomorrow but my plans for the weekend are so vague that I am not really sure what I am doing - other than eating hot cross buns and chocolate :-)

    1. Hot cross buns and chocolate sound like good plans to have if the rest is vague :)

      The water really was incredibly clear. I think I'd like beaches more if they were all like these ones!

  5. Looks absolutely stunning Kari - thanks for sharing :)

  6. Wow - looks like an amazing place! That water is crystal clear. So jealous!

    1. It really did make me realise where the expression 'crystal clear' came from!

  7. It all looks so wonderful. The water colour is amazing. And for such a vast area with a relatively small population, it's great that there are some varied dining options. Happy Easter! xx

    1. Happy Easter to you too :) And yes, the food options were a really pleasant surprise!

  8. Those pictures are stunning! And the food doesn't look too shabby either :)

  9. Don't you think it is a bit ironic that there is a Harold Hold Naval base? I mean Harold and the ocean weren't such a great combination.

    Looks like you had a fantastic time. Makes me all the keener to visit WA.

    1. That's what Mr Bite said too :-) (Regarding the naval base.) We figured they probably named it before the ocean disappearance!

  10. Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post. Thanks so much and let keep on sharing your stuffs keep it up.

    Sailing Ningaloo


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