Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef

As Americans, it should be easy for us to grasp the sheer size of Australia—it’s roughly the same size of the continental United States.   But it still is hard to understand just how big the state of Western Australia is; it’s about the size of all the territory of the United States west of the prairie states.  So, when you set out to drive from a city fairly far south in WA to a city fairly far north, it’s more than just a one-day drive. 

We downloaded several Netflix kids shows, charged the laptops, found a good audio book, and loaded our rental car with our luggage and the fixings for peanut butter sandwiches and hit the road. 

The road generally led along the coast so that you could occasionally see the ocean.  Even though we were on the main north-south highway in WA, the road was only two lanes and had no shoulder. 

On our way to our first night stop, we stopped in at Nambung National Park and checked out the limestone desert.

Then we finished our drive to our partway stop, Kalbarri.  It probably was a great little town, but for us, it was just a stop and a budget motel.  The next morning, we continued on the second leg of the journey north to the town of Exmouth. 

Exmouth was founded in the sixties to host a US military installation.  The US withdrew its presence from the base in the 1990’s and now the population of 2,000 people in Exmouth rely mainly on tourism for income. 

Although the town is hours and hours from any major city in a car, or a short flight away in a propeller plane, it is definitely worth a visit and was a highlight, if not the highlight of our visit to Australia. 

We spent every day snorkeling and playing at the beach, but we did decide to brave the heat and hike around Cape Range National Park. We all thought it was beautiful. We saw a rock wallaby and even a dingo on the drive there.

Cape Range National Park
Cape Range National Park
Rock Wallaby
Nolan is always finding something to catch.
Turquois Bay
Oyster Stacks
Broken Coral and shells at Oyster stacks

Nolan and I were snorkeling one day right off shore and Nolan bobs up to tell me that there are sharks. In my mind all I could picture was a great white shark circling us. I couldn’t even look down, I just frantically swam to shore. Turns out they were just little reef sharks, but I was nervous snorkeling every time after.

Jess and Nolan got to spend one day snorkeling with juvenile whale sharks. The girls and I tried meat pies and wandered around the small town of Exmouth. We had hoped to take the whole family to swim with the whale sharks, but Margaret wasn’t old enough to go.

Nolan on the boat before snorkeling with the whale sharks
Jess and Nolan swimming with whale sharks.

Here are a few of the statues found in the town

The Vlamingh Head Lighthouse where you can see both the sunrise and the sunset. We all think Australian sunsets are the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.
We celebrated Jess’s birthday in Exmouth. We tried a bunch of different Australian treats and found out they were all good!
When we were in Busselton, Jane, Jess and Nolan took surfing lessons, so I decided to take surfing lessons in Exmouth. It was fun, but a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Margaret and Ashley enjoying lunch while Jess, Nolan and Jane went on a snorkeling excursion in Coral Bay.

Toward the end of our time in Exmouth, I found out  about a tour where you could snorkel with Manta Rays, see a shark cleaning station,and  swim with dugongs (like manatees). Once again we couldn’t all go because Margaret wasn’t old enough. I was too chicken to take both Jane and Nolan by myself without Jess so he took the older two, When they got back they had been the only people on the tour. They saw so many sharks, fish, sea turtles, etc but the craziest thing they did was swim with a 12 ft tiger shark.  I definitely wouldn’t have done that. It ended up being the highlight of the entire trip for all three of them and I was sad I missed out.

Jane and Nolan on the boat before snorkeling.
Ningaloo Manta Ray
Shark cleaning station
Shark cleaning station
The tiger shark Jess, Jane and Nolan swam with.
The tiger shark Jess, Jane and Nolan swam with.
The tiger shark Jess, Jane and Nolan swam with.

As I finish this blog post two years later. Yes! Two years. I think Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef might have been the best place we went on the entire trip, although it is a hard call.

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