Day 9 on our Darwin to Perth road trip saw us have a little bit of a sleep in before hitting the road. Since we arrived late to the Ningaloo Caravan Park and Resort without the right cash, we had to go to reception in the morning to get our change after they opened. That meant waiting until 8:30 am before we could head off.
Unfortunately, we had a small hiccup. As we were packing the van up to leave we noticed one of our rear tires seemed to be down a long way, almost flat.
Fortunately, Exmouth Fuel Supplies is just around the corner, so we pulled in and checked it. It was down to 18psi. Way down by any standards, but the van instructions said it was meant to be around 50psi, so it was WAY down. The helpful attendant at Exmouth Fuel Supplies filled the van up with petrol for us and also helped me check the tyre for any noticeable leaks. The caravan park reception had given me a voucher for 5c/L off fuel here as well, so it was the cheapest fuel in Exmouth. Add to that the service and it’s definitely the best place to get fuel.
We decided since we weren’t driving long distances today we would just see how the tyre went.
Next stop, the visitor information centre.
Exmouth Visitor Information Centre
Outside the visitor centre is the “big” prawn, which is actually tiny compared to Ballina’s big prawn, but it does make the information centre very recognisable.
Inside, there is lots of info on Ningaloo National Park including tide timetables, maps and so on. You can also hire snorkelling gear here if you don’t have your own.
While the hire gear is simple, the prices were reasonable and it is good enough to save you transporting your own gear if you don’t want to or can’t. At the time you could hire at the following prices for 24-hour blocks:
- Snorkel equipment – full set: $10
- Fins: $7
- Mask/Snorkel: $7
- Viewing board (See-Scope): $10
- Umbrella: $7
- Skim board: $10
We stopped in at the IGA in Exmouth to pick up a few supplies for lunch before we continued on. There isn’t a big supermarket in Exmouth, but the IGA is really well stocked and competitively priced. While we were here we also got out some extra cash and broke up a larger note because the visitor centre confirmed the information we found online, that the fee for entry to the National Park was $12 per vehicle, cash only. After our irritating experience at the caravan park with the incorrect money, we made sure we had the right amount
Ningaloo National Park
At the gate to Ningaloo National Park stands a ranger collecting vehicle entry fees, so we paid our dues and headed on in. It wasn’t far before we reached the Millyering Discovery Centre, so we stopped in for a look to see what snorkel areas were open and if there was anything we should be aware of. It turned out that Oyster Stacks (apparently the best snorkelling area) was closed, but otherwise, everything else was open, just to be aware of the current at the Drift Snorkel area and also at Lakeside Sanctuary.
We were also warned to keep an eye out for Red Bell jellyfish as they had been seen in the area.
The first place we stopped in the park was Lakeside.
Lakeside Sanctuary Zone
It’s a beautiful spot with a lake separated from the ocean by sand dunes.
It turns out that it is a bit of a walk to get out to the snorkelling area though.
From the car park, you walk past the lake, out to the beach, follow the snorkelling signs, go around the dunes to the left (South) as you walk out and then head South about 50 0m until you get to the sign that indicates the Northern boundary of the Lakeside Sanctuary zone.
You will want to be wearing flip flops or reef shoes, as you do cross some rough rocky areas in addition to some beautiful white sandy spots.
The Northern boundary is the area you probably want to leave anything you aren’t taking into the water, then you don’t have to carry it the whole way. Continue your trek South. Depending on time, you can go as far as you want until you reach the Southern boundary signs.
You want to snorkel anywhere between the North and South boundary signs, but be aware that while the current here is not like the one at the Drift snorkel area, there is still some current, and that current will push you towards the North. So keep an eye out for the boundary signs and buoy’s so you know you are still in the right place.
Since we only had one day to spend here, we didn’t go all the way to the Southern boundary of Lakeside. I’d say we went about half way before we got in the water. It’s a fair distance out to the edge of the reef, and from there it’s a pretty easy swim and float, watching the fish and coral. It was a very beautiful spot out of the water, but we found that because of the current, and because you have to swim out a fair way to really get into the reef, we were constantly watching for the boundary sign and reluctant to go out too far. That took away from the enjoyment a bit, but it also made us unwilling to swim out too far into the reef. We could definitely feel the current pulling, so be careful. That said, there is some beautiful coral and fish here if you swim out far enough to see it. Closer in to the beach there isn’t much to see.
For a bit of an idea of what to expect at Lakeside, including some snorkelling footage, check out my video below:
If you are limited on time, have limited mobility, or aren’t a confident swimmer, I would skip Lakeside and go on to one of the other snorkelling spots that are easier to access and don’t have any currents, namely Turquoise Bay.
As we progressed down the coast from Lakeside, the next snorkel area we came to was Turquoise Bay. Here, you have a choice, on one side of Sandy Point, you have the Drift snorkel area. On the other sid, you have Turquoise Bay snorkel area. Drift has a strong current that will pull you along and take you out to sea if you don’t exit at the indicated exit point. Turquoise Bay, on the other hand, has no current as long as you stay inside the protected Bay Area.
Turquoise Bay is an absolutely beautiful snorkeling spot that people of all ages and swimming capabilities will enjoy.
The water is clear blue and there are fish all the way up to the water’s edge with easily accessible coral.
The access here is much more practical with a short dirt path leading from the car park to a board walk that then puts you straight onto the beach.
It is easy to get to the beach if you have limited mobility but something to be aware of is that the sand is incredibly soft.
In the water the temperature was beautiful, and because the bay is protected, the water is very calm.
There are just small, barely noticeable waves that lap at the waters edge. In the sandy waters closer to the beach are bigger fish that aren’t at all worried about people. You don’t have to swim out far though to find coral, and depending on the tide it can be very shallow.
A little further out and you can find a lot of beautiful coral with a wide variety of reef fish.
The water is quite clear, so combined with the calm water, it is easy to float along with a snorkel and enjoy the view.
Just remember the sunscreen because it doesn’t take long to burn either and enjoy the video below to see more of the underwater beauty at Turquoise Bay!
Continuing down the coast, next up is Oyster Stacks.
Unfortunately, it was closed, so that led us to Sandy Bay.
On the day we were there, a kite surfing company was set up on the beach with some surfers in the water.
It’s a short, easy walk to the beach, and it’s a beautiful beach with clear blue water. However, there is no coral here, so don’t expect to see much in the way of fish.
We snorkelled for a little bit and we did spot some seaweed and sea cucumbers, but that’s about it.
There really isn’t much of anything else. If you just want to swim, it’s a quieter beach than the snorkel beaches while still having calm water. Interestingly, we did see some unusual rock formations that look a little like they could be fossils of some sort.
There are some other beach access points along the way that we didn’t stop at on the way down, the last major point to stop is Yardie Creek.
This is as far as you can get in a two wheel drive vehicle on a sealed road. Any further requires a four wheel drive to cross the creek and presumably navigate a rougher road on the other side.
From the carpark at Yardie Creek, you can cross the dunes to the beautiful white sand beach, you can head inland following the creek to the gorge, or, if they are operating you can also do boat tours up the creek and into the gorge.
We didn’t have time to do too much here, but if you do, there are two walking tracks. The first is the Yardie Creek Nature Walk. It’s a 1.4km return walk with a suggested time of 40 minutes and it will give you views of Yardie Gorge. Then there is the Yardie Gorge Trail which is 2km return with recommended time of 2 hours. This trail will take you up above the gorge and follow it along for a while.
Due to time, we just went down to the creek jetty and across the dunes to the beach.
You can actually see the start of Yardie Gorge from the wharf area, and it is a really beautiful spot. If you have time I’d say it’s worth doing the walk to check it out more.
Osprey Sanctuary Zone
As we headed back from Yardie Creek towards Exmouth we noticed more of the cliff formations in Ningaloo National Park and we were starting to see more wildlife. On the way in and out of the Osprey Sanctuary Zone, we spotted a number of local kangaroo’s and an emu.
The Osprey Sanctuary Zone does have a boat ramp and campground, so it is somewhere you could setup for a longer term stay.
Just remember you have to book the campgrounds in advance through the WA National Parks website.
If you happen to have a kayak and a few hours to spare, there is a kayak trail from here that leads you to another snorkelling area. The signs suggest allowing 3 hours for the 3km return paddle.
Drift Snorkelling Area
It was almost sunset as we came back past the Drift Snorkel area, and we decided to stop in and have a look.
The beach area itself is a long, relatively straight stretch with calm waters. It doesn’t look dangerous at all, but the signs do make it clear that it is a high-risk area due to the strong currents.
There is actually a separate access point to this area than from Turquoise Bay even though they are just on opposite sides of Sandy Point, and here we found an information area with lots of information on the fish, coral and other sea life of the area.
Sunset and Dinner
As the sun began to set, we found a beach access road to turn off onto, and to be honest I’m really not sure where exactly it was.
However, we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the ocean before making our way back to Exmouth where we decided to get chips and souvlaki for dinner from Blue Lips Fish and Chips.