The stark and striking contrast of the rugged, arid Cape Range alongside the sparkling white beaches, the clear, turquoise waters with the most spectacular underwater scenery of Ningaloo Reef – this is Cape Range National Park, the focal point of this trip.
There are several campsites in the National Park, none have water, electricity, or phone/internet cover. All are beautiful. Mostly when we travel we have Mr Tilly with us, and as dogs aren’t allowed in Australia’s National parks, it’s not a place we can visit very often. However as we had a house sitter booked for Mr Tilly for the month of May this year, we took advantage of the dog free time to camp in the National park and to do some kayaking and snorkelling along the magnificent Ningaloo Coral Reef. For this trip we chose Osprey camp ground, approximately 80 kms from Exmouth.
All of the camp sites are located close to the water, but Osprey is perhaps the closest. The upside of being almost camped at the waters edge is spectacular views, the downside is there’s no barrier between your campsite and the winds that this piece of coastline are infamous for, and those winds sure can blow. We arrived with our caravan water tanks full, and several jerry cans of water to top up our supply as needed. We were looking forward to nine days of off grid camping at the waters edge, nine beautiful sun rises to see over the ranges, and nine glorious sunsets to watch over the ocean at each days end. Then after the sun sets, balmy evenings to sit under the night sky watching the stars appear in the Milky Way above us. And lots of snorkelling along Ningaloo Coral reef in the daylight hours in between.
The first two days were beautiful, a little windy, but nothing worrying. However, the winds had brought thousands of big, reddish brown jellyfish into shore. We were hot after first setting up camp, and believing these big jellyfish didn’t sting, we navigated through them and out to an area beyond where the thick of them seemed to be to enjoy a nice cooling dip. We were wrong about them stinging though, as Paul did get a small sting – nothing worrying or too troublesome though (that was to come later). We met the camp host in the evening who gave us the run down on the good places to snorkel, including two buoys anchored about a kilometre offshore for kayaks to tie up to. The buoys enable swimmers to disembark and snorkel a particularly pretty part of the Coral Reef. He assured us the Jellyfish would disappear over the next few days.
The second day we paddled out to the buoys but as the water was a little choppy we decided to leave the offshore snorkelling for another day. The snorkelling was still good in close to shore, and the jellyfish were definitely thinning out considerably. We saw some beautiful fish, and a few turtles too. On one occasion a very large turtle swam right beneath us. We followed him for quite some distance marvelling at how he wasn’t bothered by us swimming along above him as he gently went about his business. Apologies, we forgot the go-pro, so no underwater pics to show you.
The third day started out really windy and the water had a lot of chop on it. However the tides were right for us to paddle out to the buoys, snorkel for about an hour, with an anticipated return to shore made easier by the incoming tide to help us along, at least that was the plan. The wind on the previous two days had also been blowing mid morning, but dropped to a gentle breeze before midday. We were expecting similar conditions that day, and the wind was going to be behind us to help us on our outward paddle. Mmmm!! That didn’t go to plan. We set off, and in minutes the wind had taken us half way out to the buoys. The water was getting more choppy, and the winds were gathering in strength and showing no signs of calming down. We decided to turn back. It took us more than 1/2 hour of hard paddling to return to shore. I needed to rest, but any let up on paddling and the wind would have had me back out to sea in no time. I kept paddling. The camp host had seen us struggling to return and was at the shore to see we made it in safely and to help us when we came in to beach. Phew, we made it. Note to oneself, respect the ocean next time! That had been foolhardy and darned right dangerous.
That day the wind blew all day without let up, and more of the same was expected for the next day, a good opportunity to take the kayaks down to Yardey Creek for some safe, peaceful paddling.
What a contrast to the previous day. Tranquil, peaceful, and easy paddling too.
By our fifth day I’d started to think that nine nights off grid was perhaps a little to ambitious. I posed the question of an earlier departure to Paul, and he agreed. We booked into a caravan park at Exmouth for the following three nights, and decided to enjoy our last day snorkelling at a place called The Oyster Stacks. You can only snorkel this particular piece of rugged reef on a high tide. We arrived with plenty of time, and spoke to someone just leaving, “it’s a bit rough to get in, a bit choppy, a few jellyfish still around, and visibility not perfect”, she said. But she assured us there was plenty to see, and it was worth the effort. So in we went.
Yes, it was a bit choppy, in fact, quite a bit choppy. It was a little difficult to get in, and Indeed there were still a few jelly fish around. The visibility wasn’t the greatest, but yes there was still a lot to see. We were enjoying it as much as the conditions would allow, and were managing to avoid the jelly fish, that is, until Paul didn’t! He was a few metres away when I heard him calling me. Expecting him to point out something gorgeous I made my way over to him. “ I’ve been stung, I’m going in” he says. So we cut our snorkel short and headed in. Remember I said it was a little difficult to get in, well that was easy compared to getting out. Paul managed alright, but I couldn’t find my feet at all. The waves would crash me into the rocky shoreline, and just as quickly they’d drag me out again. Between a helpful bystander and Paul, and with a few minor grazes I finally managed to get to safe ground. Then I saw Paul’s back!!
He was in agony.
He had been successfully avoiding the jellyfish, but these ones caught him by surprise. We think the swell must have picked up a couple and dumped them hard onto his back, and foolishly, neither of us had worn our rash vests that day. I drove us back to camp, and we spent the rest of the day with him lying across the bed while I rotated face clothes soaked in near boiling water, wrung out and placed over the stings. Apparently he felt no pain at all as long as the face cloth stayed hot. As soon as it started to cool the agony returned. Several hours of hot compresses, several Panadol, and some powerful night time anti-histamines that treat allergic reactions to bites and stings, and he was out to it. He slept from 7pm to 7am the next day. When he awoke the pain had almost completely gone, as had one of the stings. The other sting has left an almost pain free birthmark like impression on his back, but I’m sure that will completely fade in time.
The next day we headed to Exmouth, where we’re about to spend our third night before heading to Coral Bay. I won’t tell you the type of wave we gave to the Oyster Stacks on our way passed as we were leaving the range. Another note to oneself, ‘don’t snorkel if the conditions aren’t right – give the ocean and everything in it the respect it deserves, and wear a rash vest”.
In summary – Osprey Bay is a stunning place to camp, but for us nine nights was a bit ambitious. Six was good, but remembering it’s approximately 160km round trip to Exmouth to pick up additional water, I think four nights is probably about perfect. It can blow a gale there, and when it does, the ocean needs to be respected. When the ocean”s calm the snorkelling and kayaking is fabulous, and when it isn’t calm, there’s always Yardie Creek. It’s definitely worth fitting into any dog free trip up the west coast of Australia. Perhaps for us, this will be our last opportunity as we expect Mr Tilly will be with us for the rest of kayaking/snorkelling years. For this trip the snorkelling was great, kayaking up Yardie Creek relaxing and peaceful, but I think those Jellyfish stings are going to be the memory that overshadows all the other good things from our Cape Range part of this trip. Next is Coral Bay, one of my favourite places in the whole world. I’m looking forward to that.