Ningaloo Reef, six day kayak trip out of Exmouth, WA — 31 July 2022
By: Kaye & Stephen Parnell
NINGALOO REEF – 6 DAY KAYAK TRIP OUT OF EXMOUTH WA
The Ningaloo Marine Park is located on the north west coastline of Western Australia and is designated a World Heritage listed site due to its incredible biodiversity. On this trip we spent five days paddling and snorkeling between the reef and the beach and it was planned that we would land at pre-determined beach sites. The weather had other ideas.
DAY 1 – EXMOUTH ADVENTURE KAYAKS THEN CAMPING AT YARDIE CREEK
We were picked up at 3.15pm from our hotel for transfer to the Cape Range National Park with a detour to the Exmouth Adventure Kayaks depot to collect the camping gear along with wet suits, hats, rashies and other snorkeling gear plus dry bags for our personal gear. EVERYTHING – food, water (in bladders) had to be carried on kayaks. We filled the hatches at the front and rear with our gear, put the communal food and sundries in the centre hatch and then strapped down more gear on the top of the centre hatch. The group numbered 11 keen paddlers plus our two guides to travel in the five double Sea Bear Packhorse kayaks and three singles. The double kayaks were big and heavy and took a minimum of 6 people to carry unloaded.
The first night at Yardie Creek 86 kms from Exmouth was a permanent camp site of tin shed shelter with rustic sleepers made into a large table with bench seating with a luxurious “drop dunny” facility! Tents were pitched and after a delicious dinner of baked fish and salad we disappeared into our snug sleeping bags lulled to sleep by the booming of waves breaking on the Ningaloo Reef.
DAY 2 – CHALLENGE OF THE INDIAN OCEAN
The day started with us carrying the kayaks through the sand dunes before loading them and heading into the waiting challenge of the Indian Ocean. The plan included an “average” day with 3-4 hours of paddling and with time for snorkeling. But our first paddling day had very strong head wind of 25 knot. White-capped waves greeted us as we launched off the beach. After 2.5 hours paddling and rain clouds rolling up from the south we had covered a grand total of just over 2 kms before the guides called a stop on a narrow beach fronted by sand dunes for a rest and rethink. It was a very tough paddle and we were very grateful for the experience of our Sunday morning peer paddles with Matt at Semaphore. Our guides managed to get a weather report that predicted wind and rain increasing until midnight so tents were hurriedly pitched in the little shelter provided by the small dunes and after a quick lunch of wraps and salad with heavy rain arriving we spent the rest of the day “holed up” in our little tents. We emerged briefly at dusk for a delicious meal cooked and eaten huddled under a canvas shelter held up by paddles before we all quickly retired to sleep out a night of driving wind and rain.
DAY 3 – A STUNNING DAY PADDLING WITH TURTLES AND WHALES
Miraculously the next day we awoke at 6 am to find all peace and tranquility with a southerly blowing up the coast. We had everything packed up and ready to load before breakfast at 7am and an early start on the water to make up for yesterdays’ lack of distance. What a difference a following wind makes! Our guides were very pleased with our progress, with the same distance covered as yesterday but in just ¾ hour. After stops for morning tea and lunch we were able to make up all of the lost time and distance arriving at the planned campsite after 16 kms of paddling. Being back on schedule made for happy kayakers and even happier guides and the chance to drift snorkel was an added bonus. There were plenty of turtles popping their heads up along with fish jumping out of the waves ahead of us as we paddled along. There was even the sight of a whale breaching to make everyone gasp with wonder. Thoroughly exhausted we sat on the sand hills and watched the sunset before staggering off to our tents.
DAY 4 – ON TO TORQUOISE BAY
The destination for Day 4 was Torquoise Bay which proved quite a paddling challenge. We were given strict instructions on precision paddling in close double column formation with our guide drawing a detailed sand map for going through the gaps between the breakers of the reef where strong currents could see us whisked off in the wrong direction if we weren’t careful. Torquoise Bay is a beautiful and popular tourist spot with safe swimming and also provided an opportunity to restock supplies driven up from Exmouth. Another chance for a drift snorkel with a nice slow day with a leisurely lunch before setting off further up the reef to another well chosen camp site.
This site entailed quite a tricky landing in a little cove with a strong cross current and tidal pull. The tide drop is quite marked here, with the water disappearing on us as we were landing. To safe guard the kayaks they had to be emptied and hauled right on the top of sand hills for safety. The actual reef was further away than for our other stops but the pounding and booming of the surf still provided a notable backdrop to the otherwise complete isolation of the campsite.
DAY 5 – MANGROVE BAY THEN BACK TO EXMOUTH
We were granted a lovely sleep in until 6.30am then yoga on the beach with El (our young guide from Seattle) and a cooked breakfast from Dave (our guide from NSW) before setting off to lunch at Mangrove Bay which was full of stingrays skimming through the shallows along with pelicans and little schools of fish plus the odd frolicking dolphin or two to entertain us as we casually paddled up the coast with Ningaloo Reef on our left and the beach and Cape Ranges on our right. While checking out the mangroves we took advantage of the opportunity to run aground – just to prove it’s not just a Phil Doddridge thing! Well away from the mangroves a previously unknown and yet to be named campsite was carefully chosen amongst dense scrub. More unloading and lugging of kayaks to higher ground before settling into our last night of pitching tents.
Another restful start to the last day of our expedition as the tide was out at least 100 metres and the big packhorse doubles are not something you want to drag fully loaded. We all enjoyed walking and fossicking along the beach. Finally underway around 11am with a short paddle to Tantabitti for a final snorkel, this time directly off the kayaks moored to a buoy proved a challenging method of getting in and out in flippers and full gear! A late lunch after unloading kayaks and hauling everything to the trailer ready to load. Arrived back at the depot in Exmouth (at this point only 36 kms away) where a chain gang formed to unload the van and sort our gear before finally and thankfully being dropped off at our respective accommodations for hot showers. Such a luxury! We found the Ningaloo paddle a very physical but enjoyable trip and we are very grateful for the “training” paddles with the Club particularly those at Semaphore and on the Port Augusta Spencer Gulf trip. This was our first “expedition’ and the first time we have needed to carry everything with us. It is astounding what can be squeezed into these big NZ kayaks although there were occasions on that first rough day when we wondered at our wisdom in paddling a heavily laden kayak sitting so low in the water.