It is around 152 kilometres from Exmouth to Coral Bay so we arrived around lunchtime at our camping destination, ‘Coral Bay Bayview’, our home for the next two nights as we explored the next major town on the edge of the Ningaloo Reef. There didn’t appear to be much to Coral Bay itself, the major business seemed to be the two camp-grounds and all the other businesses seemed to be devoted to supplying food, equipment and services to the tourists visiting the camping grounds, both of which appeared to be full of customers in mid May 2021.
We settled into our site at Bayview and then headed out to have a look at what was clearly the main street of Coral Bay. The image below is taken from a large sand dune overlooking the ocean beside Sandy Bay, the main ocean access for the town. The tides have a wide range on this part of the coast and the large sandy area beside the water was covered with locals and visitors taking advantage of the late afternoon sunshine. By the morning, the incoming tide had almost covered it completely.
I am a little conscious that when writing of our travels in this area of Western Australia that I am concentrating on snorkeling as our key approach to enjoying the Ningaloo Coastline. It was very clear that the many other visitors who shared our caravan park were more interested in the fishing, swimming with Whale Sharks, Scuba diving to see turtles, dugongs, manta rays and hopefully sometimes to spot the migrating Humpback Whales. There were even those folk who liked the idea of going dune buggy exploring over the huge sand dunes at the back of some of the beaches. We did consider going whale watching while at Exmouth so we made inquiries to see if there were any available tours available for our dates. The answer was ‘No!”, there were no vacancies for a month, such was the demand by Australians seeking adventure after Covid Lockdowns. If available, it would have cost us over $400 each with no guarantee of actually seeing a whale shark.
So it was snorkeling the edge of the Ningaloo Reef that we were looking to do on our first morning in Coral Bay. The map to the right here was what we used to plan our excursion. Rather than suggest Sandy Bay which was in walking distance down the road, the map to the right clearly shows, by the words “Good Snorkel” at the bottom of map, that it is recommending we drive round the headland to a place inaccurately called ‘Paradise Beach’. There wasn’t much of a beach as can be seen in the first photo below; a rocky shoreline that continued into the water making entering with flippers fairly tricky. There was some reasonable coral to be seen here but we were quite disappointed with what this site had to offer us in terms of fish life. Despite this, drying out in the sun afterwards with great sea views almost made up for it.
The car-park south of Paradise Beach was clearly built for the deep sea fishermen and for tourist boats taking guests further out from the shore to check for dolphins and manta rays.
On our return to Bayview Caravan Park to hand back our hired snorkeling gear, I asked the friendly guy behind the counter why their map talked about ‘good snorkeling’ at Paradise Beach. He immediately took a pencil and crossed it out on my map and said he didn’t know why or who put the note on the map. He then said there was great snorkeling down in Sandy Bay, directly in front of the main drag. I regathered the snorkeling gear and we went down for a late-afternoon snorkel immediately in front of the main beach. It was great! To top our day off, we had one of the great sunsets of our Western Australian Tour.
We enjoyed the snorkelling here so much we decided we would go for an early morning swim in the same spot the next day. It was a beautiful stretch of water and the only problem it caused was that it made us a bit late with our departure for our next stop, Denham, 556 Kms down the coast!
The map on the right provided by the other Camping Ground in Coral Bay is a little more detailed than the one we were using. One of the issues that is always in the news is that of the danger of shark attacks on the Western Australian coastline. It was interesting to note on this map that it shows a ‘Reef Shark Nursery’ at the other end of the long stretch of beach in from of Coral bay called Skeleton Bay. There is a sign in this area that is printed below promoting the ‘minimising human impact’ approach to ensure the harmless Reef Sharks are protected. Reef Sharks are not usually considered dangerous to humanity but are vital for the biodiversity of the environment.
Our two days in Coral Bay looking for snorkeling spots was brought back to us a few weeks later when we saw in the News that a 10 year old boy had been bitten by a Bronze Whaler shark at Coral Bay.
“A boy snorkelling at one of Western Australia’s most popular holiday locations is due to be flown to Perth for treatment after being attacked by what was believed to be a two-metre shark. The 10-year-old was swimming about 75 metres offshore with his father at Five Fingers Reef, near Coral Bay, when he was bitten by the bronze whaler in the foot on Friday. Fisheries officers patrol the site of the shark attack south of Coral Bay. The remote swimming spot is only accessible by four-wheel-drive and is popular with snorkellers.…Emergency crews were called to the beach about 11.14am and the boy was taken to the Coral Bay Nursing Post for treatment in an ambulance. His injuries are believed to not be life-threatening.” (https://www.watoday.com.au)
If you look at the map above-right of Coral Bay, Five Finger Reef is well south of Paradise Beach where we had our less than satisfactory first snorkel in the Coral Bay area. It is only accessible by 4 WD or rampaging Dune Buggy Safaris. Given that I am not familiar with the spot, I can only presume it wasn’t a lagoon fringed by a reef and thus open to all forms of sharks and not just reef sharks. The message on the board at Skeleton Bay is good advice for us all, no matter the shark species…
“Shark Care…Reef sharks are wild animals and their behaviour unpredictable. They have injured humans. Inappropriate interaction with sharks may result in serious injury.” It was great news that the 10 Year old boy snorkeling at Five Finger Reef survived his frightening experience with the shark.