Cape Range National Park: Snorkelicious Australia!
Cape Range National Park
The week we spent in the Cape Range National Park is one of the greatest weeks of my life, I’m so happy to share this extraordinary place and our experiences there with you!
Continuing on with our Aussie road trip from Broome to Melbourne we were now in Exmouth after detouring to Windjana Gorge in the Kimberleys and Karajini National Park inland from Port Hedland. After a night in Exmouth we drove down the western side of the peninsula to Cape Range National Park intending to camp there for a few nights.
On reaching the park entrance we discovered there were no free sites available and that we would need to queue up at 8 am to have a chance of bagging one. Nevertheless, we drove into the park and down to the visitor centre.
Chris phoned the nearest campsite outside the park to book a pitch then we took our recently purchased snorkelling gear (bought in Exmouth) to Turquoise Bay and went for swim.
The Ningaloo Reef stretches down the length of the peninsula just a few metres from the shore, you don’t need a boat to reach this wonderful, wildlife rich coral reef, you can simply walk out to it! A Snorkel is perfect, the water is shallow and the reef is just below the surface.
Fish swam between the corals, we saw our first clown fish! It was a little overcast and there was a chill breeze so we soon felt cold. We camped outside the park that night, rising early to join the queue for camping at the park gates. (I believe this procedure may have changed now and the sites can be booked, during high season through the National Parks WA website.)
Arriving around 6.30 am we were fourth in the queue, the gates opened at 8 am so we ate breakfast and I stitched up my ripped sleep-sheet while the dawn ticked by. The wait was worth it, we bagged a pitch at Pilgramunna, a small beach-side site half way down the park.
Pulling in, we discovered we’d selected well, the site was gorgeous: a sandy bay and a little arc of campers. Pilgramunna had ‘Camp Hosts’: Mac and Denise made us feel immediately welcome, inviting us to the daily 5 pm camp ‘Happy Hour”.
Two pitches down from us, curiously, was a vintage VW Bus with German plates, as a previous Bay Window owner I couldn’t wait to learn the story. Lotti and Hike were indeed from Germany, and I was quite right, their story was amazing!
They had shipped their bus from Germany to the east coast of the Canada, crossing the country to Alaska then driven it down to LA where they had then shipped it to Australia: I was in awe of them, and that old van!
We only intended to stay a couple of nights but the Cape Range National Park bewitched us, we just didn’t want to leave! We ended up staying for 6 nights, that’s quite a long time with no running water.
The camp’s only facility was a bush toilet, everything else, such as water, had to be brought in by the campers. Not expecting to stay as long as we did, we didn’t bring enough water or food and halfway through our stay we had to drive back to Exmouth for supplies (and a much-needed hot shower at the Tourist Information office in town).
A blissful week was spent snorkelling and hiking in the many gorges that lead up in to the hills along the peninsula. The paradise-perfect photos do not show the biting wind that chilled us almost every day though, it really wasn’t as warm as it looks!
We snorkelled Osprey Bay a few times, the crystal clear ocean lapping calmly at the deserted shore, the dark shadows beneath the surface indicating the corals were just too enticing. And the pod of dolphins splashing around near the far reef beyond, where the ocean crashed over into the lagoon, called us into the water.
Our second swim at Osprey Bay gave us a turtle. The large Green Turtle appeared while we were snorkelling, it didn’t seem bothered by us at all, happily going about its turtle business. We watching it for a while, gently floating along with it until it up-tailed and swam off. My heart swelled with happiness, unfortunately, the rest of me shivered with cold: it was a very windy day and I was happy to get back onto the beach!
Our favourite snorkelling spot was The Drift at Turquoise Bay, the gentle current washed us over the low corals the teem with so many different kinds of fish. Large shoals of tiny blue fish swarmed around us as we drifted.
Beautiful parrot fish, with their colourful lips, were definitely my top fish of the week, they made me smile whenever I saw them. I wish I’d had an underwater camera so that I could share some of this vibrant, exciting underwater world with you, rather than empty beaches!
At South Mandu I was happily snorkelling along, back and forth until I saw a sting ray, laying flat and still on the sea bed. I peered curiously at it, floating over it until I got a little freaked and returned to the shore: it looked too still, as if ready to snap at any moment! Ha! I’m such a wuss!
Just after we left the water, meandering down the beach, a reef shark flashed past us in the shallows, we’d been hoping to see one all week and there it was, fast as lightning.
We hiked three canyons: Yardie Creek, Mandu Mandu and the gorge that lead off from our campsite. Each one gave us fabulous views back over the park and we saw lots of wildlife, including black-footed wallabies, wedge tailed eagles and two spectacular, and rare, white bellied sea eagles.
From these high vantage points we often saw humpback whales spraying and splashing beyond the reef, their salty breath catching the light.
Due to our car’s lighting issue (the back lights didn’t work), we never drove after dark, usually reaching our destinations by 5 pm. Within the park we pushed it a couple of times; the sun was already creeping down towards the turquoise horizon and then something magical happened: the kangaroos appeared.
Now, we’d already seen a few kangaroos but this was on a completely different scale, there were hundreds of them, and they lined the roads. We had to drive extra carefully, they could, and would, suddenly leap in front of the car.
Lying in the tent one night, reading my book, I heard a rustling noise outside. At first I thought it was the neighbours but then it happened again and it felt much to close, it was coming from just the other side of the canvas.
I woke Chris, who’d dozed off, and we listened. Then we remembered we’d left our esky (cool box) there, next to the tent. There was a soft thump, then another. Chris grabbed a torch and we peered out.
There, staring back at us from the dune was a big kangaroo with a very guilty look on his face!
He’d been rummaging in our cool box and had found a bag of bread that was now full of holes. The esky stayed in the car after that!
It had been an incredible few days, we left the park on the same day as Lotti and Hike, and their lovely green VW. There was one last treat in store for all of us: on our trip into Exmouth mid-week week we had booked onto a Sunset Whale-Watching tour for the day we planned to leave the park (after we’d decided we were going to stay for the week).
The boat took us out that evening, there was beer and nibbles, and there were whales. Three humpback whales, one was a calf, entertained us with ‘pec slaps’ and ‘tail splashing’ while we watched the sun go down on our final day on the peninsula. As night fell the whales seem to become more playful, the calf was happily tail splashing next to its mum!
What a way to end a magnificent week. These memories have stayed with me clearer than any other of my travel experiences.
Our time spent in the Cape Range National Park, is most definitely, one of the greatest weeks of my life!
Had we visited at another time of year, we could have seen whale sharks and manta rays, ah well, we must return!
We headed south after another night camping in Exmouth after the whale trip: the road trip continued.
Part 3 Exmouth to Shark Bay ancient stone creatures and feeding wild dolphins!
Part 4 Kalbarri to Perth Meeting a Princess and Chad gets pulled over by the police.
Part 5 Fremantle to Albany Heading into the forests and facing my fear of heights.
Part 6 Crossing the Nullarbor Epic crossing into South Australia, and lots of whales!
Part 7 Ceduna to Melbourne The last 2ooo kilometres via the Great Ocean Road.
Part 1 Broome to Exmouth Halfway around Australia, in this car? The beginning of the adventure!
Have you snorkelled the Ningaloo Reef? Is it now on your list?
By Rachel A Davis