When talking about our Australian adventure, non-Australian people tend to respond with some envy and tell us how they would love to live in Australia for a while and what a great country it is. I frequently get the sense that when this happens, two things are conveniently forgotten: #1 – Australia is mindbogglingly huge and, as a result, most of it is about as far away as any typical holiday destination in Europe would be. #2 – we’re not actually on an extended holiday here, so most of the time, Australia is just a strange country with a strange culture in which we work and have our daily lives; not the wonderful beach, diving, outback and jungle experience that the word ‘Australia’ evokes in people’s minds.
However, recently we treated ourselves to a bit of exactly that and chose to ignore the distance for a bit. We headed out to the west coast, through Perth and up to Exmouth for a diving and snorkeling trip that turned out so much better than we’d hoped for. And hopes were high, because we weren’t going out there alone. My sister Trudy and her husband Eric were along for the ride – for them, this was the final leg of a long trip that took them up the east coast, including the Great Barrier Reef and this was to be the grand finale.
The Ningaloo Reef is an amazing place. Remote, relatively untouched and fairly close to the West Australia coast. Exmouth is a town of 2,200 people, although at the height of the tourist season, its population will swell to about 6,000. With a few 100 more in Coral Bay, that’s pretty much all the people in an area 200 km long and 50 km wide, with most of the reef just off its coast. Just the flight in offers views of a land that really resonates with that National Geographic stereotype of Australia we’re familiar with.
We went diving and snorkeling on the Muiron Islands to the north of Exmouth, as well as on the Oyster Stacks to the west and in the Coral Bay, but the absolute highlight of the trip must have been our experience with the humpback whales. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can actually swim with them, something the local diving outfits are trialing for the very first time in West Australia – and we were lucky enough to be on board for a trip that had even the crew jumping for joy at the end of the day. Whales swimming underneath us, next to us and rising to the surface to greet our boat, almost inviting us to swim – we had several opportunities to literally look these wonderful creatures right in the eyes.
After all that, Trudy and Eric left and would soon after return to Europe. Between them and Simone’s parents earlier this year, that was likely the end of family and friends visiting from Europe as well – we’re out here by ourselves and just Australian friends and colleagues for some time now.
Simone and myself weren’t quite done enjoying Ningaloo though – Sail Ningaloo took us on the Shore Thing, a catamaran with a crew of two and up to eight guests. Us and four other guests were taken out onto the Indian Ocean, to parts of the reef that are too far for the day-tripping diving outfits to visit. A diving trip straight out of your dreams, 5 days and nights of every need being taken care of and just great diving on untouched sites with lots of life and variety.
Most days, Australia is just a country, where you need to work, shop for groceries and take care of everyday jobs. But every now and then, we find the time to be reminded why Australia is high on the list of countries people would like to visit. And it can really deliver, if you accept its tremendous size…