A very popular destination in Western Australia, this northernmost part of the Coral Coast region is far from metropolis and features World Heritage Ningaloo Reef. There are caravan parks and campsites and National Parks all along the west coast. Heading in that direction, we tried to secure a campsite a week earlier, but had very slim pickings.
We thought that 4 days in the region would enable us to see all that we had researched at a pace that lent lots of time to beach combing or sitting around in our deck chairs, but it was not to be. Two nights was all we could get, and driving distance to any of the tourist spots.
The Fortescue River provided a stop for morning tea and then by the side of the road for lunch. It did the trick and we had a walk around, looking at the river and the cattle, goannas and pelicans.
Another traveler responded to my surprise at seeing pelicans by saying that they follow the rain and if you see them fly off, they’d be heading for water. I think this place was called Ashburton River Rest Area.
We arrived at Bullara Station, 80km from Exmouth, around 2.45pm. It was a dirt road in and we were a bit nervous, but the few corrugations were tiny, and the road was very short. We were met at a ‘meet and greet’ spot where we got a brief history of the station and told about the main features. The station had been cattle but now ran sheep and this required an extensive year-long team. That night was damper night, so a guy made damper at 5.30 and we could bring a drink and whatever we liked on our damper, to the area behind the camp kitchen, and he told tales of his wanderings and of coming to this station.
There were some walking paths, and they liked people to have a look at the old buildings and make sure we saw the Lava Tree ablution block.
As our camp was near there, we made it an early destination. The concrete slab floor had a tree growing out of the centre, the toilet was on the right, with a wash basin and soap and paper towels, and on the left was a bucket, suspended high over the floor and two taps nestled in the corrugated iron wall. We had been assured that the water was hot and the pressure strong, so we are both looking forward to trying that in the morning.
Unfortunately, the birds and I wake too early and no-one had lit the fire to warm the water, so I went for a more conventional shower block, with disappointment I confess. The early morning fog was beautiful, though.
Still early, we headed into Exmouth and by 8.30 had a coffee at Mutts Cafe, before my husband wanted to visit the secondhand bookstore across the way, while I took photos of the friendly wildlife.
Heading around the North West Cape, towards Cape Range National Park, we stopped at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse to try and spot whales. It’s very popular, despite the steep climb, and we were rewarded with ‘spurts’ offcoast, visible without binoculars. There were about 8 whales circling and playing in the expanse before us. This is the top of Ningaloo Reef, so a great spot for the whales.
Heading to our next station stay, at Yardie Homestead Caravan Park, it was nearing 11.30, and the grounds were very large but well-appointed. The sites had little shade, but we were not planning to be hanging around, so it didn’t matter. We asked at the office about good swimming beaches and the gorge walk, nearby.
First stop Mandu Mandu Gorge and we attempted the 3km walk that was supposed to be 2 hours, so we set out to beat that. It was pretty demanding at the end, after the first half was walking on river bed stones, with the difficulties they bring. But then, uphill, downhill, loose stones, steep inclines, steep descents for 1.7km and although there were some good views, back into the gorge and out to the Ningaloo Reef, it was taxing. We were both very pleased that it took us less than an hour.
It was definitely necessary to head to Turquoise Bay for a cool down. Aptly named, the bay was such a gorgeous shade of blue/green and the moment we stepped into the water, fish approached us boldly. Some were about 40cm long, all were silver, and they seemed pleased when we turned up the sand at our feet. The nearby reef provides such a huge variety of sealife and we regretted that we forgot our snorkelling gear.
We cooled down for a bit and then went for a walk to see if we could see other fish in other parts of the bay. Near some unusually eroded rocks we found a variety of crabs and a starfish, but no more fish.
The crabs were very skittish and we first noticed them when they scuttled away, over the rocks or under ledges, waiting for a few minutes before peering out to see if we had gone. It took some patience to wait for them to appear in order to capture them.
There was a lookout we had observed on our way to the gorge, and we decided to investigate it. In fact, we thought there were 2, but were only able to identify one of them on our way. This was a bird watching one and there was a bird hide built beside the mangroves, which looked fairly new. A soft breeze blew in the hide, and the scene was peaceful, despite the noisy bird nearby that remained hidden.
In fact, when I went to find it, a cute little bird hopped right in front of me on a branch and didn’t seem too bothered about being photographed, but moved much faster than I could with my phone camera. We returned to camp we were mindful of the comment that someone had put on wikicamps, about people needing to be secretive when they stare(???) so practiced that, we think.
By 7.37 next morning, we were bound for Coral Bay. It was a shock to see how much it had grown and how full and busy it was. The increased traffic could have been that we were visiting at an earlier time of the year, or the restrictions imposed by Covid were keeping Western Australians in their own backyard and swelling the usual tourist population. With some trepidation, we made our coffees and took them to the bay. The shape and colour immediately brought back memories and I wanted to stay, but Alan was put off by the busy-ness and was happy to keep our original plan, so we put our feet in, walked the front beach and then left the Exmouth region, sure we would return in a few years.