Day 56 13/08/2013 Cape Range NP to Lighthouse Caravan Park, North West Cape.
Today has been an AMAZING day!
It was not too windy in the night. Hurray! We were up at dawn and on our way soon after 7am. We had to be at the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp, no later than 8am. Of course we got there early!! On our drive through the NP we saw lots of kangaroos....most likely because of the early hour of the day. I mentioned in a previous blog how difficult it is to get a campsite in this NP. Well, as we passed the park entry station at around 7.30am, there were already 12 vehicles lined up waiting for available campsites. These are allocated on a 'first come, best dressed' basis, and we had heard about the queuing system, but had not really believed it! We got to the boat ramp where we were meeting our tour, in plenty of time! Others had been driven there from their accommodation in Exmouth. We were about equidistant from the boat ramp, but in the opposite direction. We were heading out on a Whale Shark tour. Dubbed the 'gentle giants' of the sea, whale sharks visit the waters of the Ningaloo Marine Park between March and July each year to feed on plankton. Sometimes they stay a bit longer! Fortunately for us, some are still around! During this time it is possible to swim alongside these magnificent animals. Fully grown they can reach up to 18m in length, although those usually encountered in Ningaloo are between 4 and 12 metres long. The one we saw today was only around 5m long...he was a baby, and he swam reasonably fast.
There were 20 people on the tour and we were ferried to the boat in three groups via a zodiac. Once on board, we motored to a part of the reef where we could snorkel...giving the crew a chance to asses our capabilities! Although the wind had dropped considerably, there was still a 1.5 to 2m swell, but the water was clear and we saw lots of fish. By 10 am the spotter plane was in the air and trying to locate the big spotty fish that we had all come to see! In the meantime we saw lots of turtles swim by and several whales were sighted, including a female and her calf. The baby was frolicking around, doing a lot of tail-slapping! We were divided into two groups and briefed on what to do once the boat got close to the whale shark.
Then we got the call from the spotter plane. A young whale shark had been sighted in quite shallow (15m) water, not far away. Off we went! There are strict rules in place for interacting with these sea creatures....one of them being only10 people in the water at a time, (and there were three other boats in the vicinity), and it is not allowed to follow and swim with the same whale shark for more than an hour.
We jumped into the water off the marlin boards at the back of the boat and waited for the creature to swim past us. He was so fast the first time that Dave and I just saw his tail disappearing into the distance. We had two more 'drops' and it was just amazing! The whale shark has an enormous gaping mouth, huge gills, lots of white spots on its blue/grey body and a beautiful tail fin which moves from side to side as the fish swims through the water. We snorkelled alongside for a few metres, but he was moving quite fast, which apparently is more typical for young whale sharks.
Once our allocated time was up, we had to move out of the area. We cruised to calmer waters and anchored there for lunch, followed by some more snorkelling. The current was very strong, and the swell was increasing so I didn't stay in the water too long. It was very enjoyable, nonetheless. Once everyone was back on board, we were offered a glass of champagne to round off the day! Our tour was very professionally run and first and foremost had everyone's safety in mind. What else you could we expect....the Skipper was from the Newcastle area (Stockton) and one of the crew was from Bar Beach! We cruised back in and once back at the boat ramp Dave and I got back in our vehicle and drove to the Lighthouse Caravan Park where we had booked a site for one night. It was great to have a shower and do some laundry. We availed ourselves of the mobile phone reception at the lighthouse itself, while watching a lovely sunset, and several more whales passing by!
We are exhausted ! Off on the road again tomorrow.
Note: I did not take the accompanying photo, but it shows what we did!