Cape Range National Park

Friday 4th March 2022
Thanks to not booking anything quickly enough, we were left with few options for this long weekend. So, thinking outside the box, we looked at possibilities further afield. Following some cross checking we realised we could fly to Exmouth, hire a car, book a site and have a caravan delivered to it. Adding a day either side meant we could get 4 long nights and 5 lovely days on the coast to look for turtle hatchlings. So, we booked it all up in January and sat back to wait, with another trip to Koorda in between.
Finally, March rolled around (actually the front end of the year ripped along quickly) but with a week to go, COVID nearly stopped us in our tracks. A close contact of The Piper’s tested positive on Tuesday, sending him into iso in the back end of our house. On day 2 and 3 he tested -ve on rapid tests, as well as testing -ve on day 3 and day 6 on PCRs, so we were free to head off, knowing he wasn’t going to get sick while we were away.
As always, an early flight seems like good idea when you book it, but it’s hard work getting up at 3 something. Our flight was on time though, so thanks to Qantas we were in Exmouth before I would normally get up for work! Hello hot, humid weather. It’s lovely to feel you. Quickly, we were in our hired car and off to find some good coffee and breakfast. I indulged in a cheese-abundant Vegemite toastie, while Mambo Man explored an açai bowl. With time to kill we headed to Town Beach just as our hirer let us know we could get to caravan any time after 11am! Yahoo, let’s get that shopping for groceries, alcohol, pool noodles and fly nets done, and get to the National Park!

We booked site 17 at Mesa way back in January, based on our hirers advice. When we arrived we were not disappointed, with the van all parked up to buffer the wind and enjoy the great view across the bay towards Neds camp. Our hirer, Sascha, was there to meet us at the pretty Avan Aspire 555. So were a million flies and a strong breeze. After unpacking and settling in, Mambo Man had a close encounter with a big lizard in the loo, setting the scene for wildlife experiences over the weekend. Over coffee we refreshed our memory on the coastline, before heading off to Turquoise Bay. Although the water was lovely and warm, it was windy, choppy and not clear. Nonetheless it was awesome to be on Ningaloo!

Thanks to the trusty tap (we used last time we were here), which happens to be at the same turnoff as Mesa campsite, we were able to rinse off before heading back to the caravan for an early dinner of nachos, although based on the time we got up this morning it probably wasn’t that early. After dinner, while we waited for dark, we walked along the bay to suss out Ned’s campground. I’m glad we’re at Mesa, but Neds would be great if you are after more privacy and less sites. On the way I got lucky and had the chance to grab a snap of a Kingfisher. We also spotted a baby turtle, but unfortunately it was dead. We also came across a bunch of small skulls, perhaps from birds.

As it started to get dark we headed off to look for turtle hatchlings. On the way the little car was almost captured by a Bustard! The silly thing almost crashed into the driver’s side, and somehow managed to avoid scraping across the roof of the car. He was a big bird! Despite the attempt on our lives, we made it safely to Wiribandi. This is the place we saw the mummy turtles laying their eggs last time we were here. We wandered up and down the beach in the pitch black, with our torches flickering on and off. We also spent some time sitting in the warm sand, watching the beach to the north and the south. After an hour and a half of absolutely no action, and very weary, we headed back to the car and down the very dark road, disappointed we didn’t see any baby turtles, but hopeful for tomorrow. On our way back, we did see very cute native mice playing chicken on the road (we don’t think they were domestic mice), a skinny looking Dingo and heaps of kamikaze rabbits. Thanks to some great driving, we didn’t hit any of the death-wish animals. Back at the van it was time to enjoy a dark night sky and some awesome star gazing.

5th March
Saturday morning we woke to no flies and no wind! Perhaps the gusts from yesterday blew the flies to kingdom come. After breakfast we headed off to have a morning snorkel. On the way we spotted a pair of wedge tailed eagles in the low trees close to our camp. The wildlife is already more prolific than the last time we were here. There are a lot less people here now than the last time, although it will likely get busy today, the start of the long weekend.
Our snorkel at turquoise bay was a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. We erected the sun shelter (eventually) and then headed into the crystal-clear water and out to the reef. We drifted with the current to the north, spotting all the gorgeous fish we saw last time. I still love the parrot fish, especially any with a dash of purple. After a couple of snorkels and a float with the dart, we enjoyed some water watching, watching it come straight into the sun shelter! Time to move. Just as we were getting sorted 2 lovely black rays swam to and then along, the beach! Oh my Lordy! What a wonderful site to see. Such a shame we weren’t in the water when they came through, but then I probably would have pooped myself!

After a late lunch we decide to head to Jurabi about 3pm. Loads and loads of evidence of mummy turtles having come onto the beach, but no hatchlings. Too early anyway. With sand up the wazoo from sitting in the waves, we really wanted a swim, so after a quick lookout (!) from the lighthouse we headed to Bundegi Beach for a swim. The water was really lovely. Really lovely. We could have stayed there forever, but I swear I heard baby turtles calling us, so we washed the sand out of the wazoo, grabbed a juice from the cafe and drove around to Hunters Beach. We wandered the beach in both directions until it was too dark to see the edge of the drop off and the rocks. Still no baby turtles, but our lovely dinner and some gorgeous stars across the sky, went some way to making up for their absence. Maybe tomorrow…

6th March
Ningaloo is a little busier now, with the long weekend in full swing. Still no flies or wind though! We decided to try out the snorkelling at Lakeside, a spot we have snorkelled before, with lots of great fish and coral. It’s a 500m walk from the car park to the snorkelling spot, so we took enough water and the sun shelter, and off we went. The little bay near the car park was full of baby sharks (do do do do do), that weren’t here or we didn’t notice, last time. They were waiting patiently for the little fish coming out of the lagoon, along with a few red capped birds. Like the sharks at the Coral Bay nursery, they were extremely timid, scooting off as we entered the knee-deep water.
Around at Lakeside we popped our stuff on the thin strip off beach and entered the water way down the south end. We had a couple of lovely snorkels, enjoying the fish and the corals. They were very good, with a big brain coral at the northern end, with loads of fish hanging around. Great for the GoPro!

After snorkelling we hung out in the shallows again, slung across our noodles, getting our monies worth out of them. Reminded me of that great song / lyric “easy like Sunday morning”. Hard to leave, but time for coffee …

As we walked back to the car Mambo Man decided to try to film some of the baby sharks in the nursery. I noticed a pretty bird and decided to put our gear in the car and grab my camera. With one broken thong, I hot footed it (literally) about 200m to the car. When I got there though I couldn’t find the key! I turned the bag upside down and inside out, but there were few places for it to hide. It took a while to get the attention of Mambo Man, but once he saw my waving he figured something was wrong, assuming that the car had been broken into. I haven’t seen him move that quickly in a while. When he got to the car, he of course turned the bag upside down and inside out, realising as I had, that the key was not there. What to do?
We decided to retrace our steps back to the spot where we spent the morning, 500m along the beach. We set off at different speeds (one urgent and one thorough), meeting at our spot, where I combed the sand for the key, to no avail. We headed back to the car and without mobile phone signal, we had to send Mambo Man on an adventure to the Milyering information centre, hopeful someone may have found the key and handed it in. Of all the places we could have lost the key along the coast line, we were fortunate it was the only place within walking distance of the info centre! For an hour and 40 minutes I had no idea if Mambo Man was ok and he had no idea if I was. Of course, he had made it safely to the info centre but alas, no key. He did get phone coverage though, so he was able to call the 1800 number of the car company. They then contacted the local person who had to go to the airport to see if there was a spare key, locate said key, contact Mambo Man (who stayed at the info centre to ensure reception) and confirm said key was available, and bring it to us! Knowing the spare key was on its way, Mambo Man walked all the way back to me with some water and 2 hours after our adventure started, we had a replacement key! Fishy, I need coffee!

Finally we made it home for a very late coffee and lunch. Thankfully the keys weren’t together, so the caravan keys were safe! I think if these things happen at home, they tend to spoil your day and maybe your week. Here in paradise, it’s hard to be upset or disappointed for long. The view from the van across the bay is enough to lift anyone’s spirits! In fact, the bay looked so good, and it was so hot, that we grabbed the sun shelter and some supplies and wandered down to the beach for a float. There were a few people from the camp site there, some with their 4wds and boats, some with jet skis, and most in the water. I floated at the edge while Mambo Man walked out to the moored boat, swam around the bay and floated, drink in hand. We also spent quite some time watching a bogged 4wd with boat trailer. There was way too much testosterone among those trying to retrieve the vehicles, and not enough thoughtfulness. Eventually they got out, but not before making a big mess of the beach. Fortunately a high tide will erase all trace of them.

Still slightly shattered from our morning capers, we decided to walk along our own bay, past Neds Camp ground and have a look for baby turtles. We walked a fair distance along, past the 3 people having sunset drinks in the water (we toasted them with our beverages). As the sun set, we kept an eye out for turtles. Unfortunately, there was still no sighting, but not for lack of trying. Perhaps we can see some pre-dawn tomorrow morning. We have set the alarms and crossed our fingers. In the meantime, the night sky is amazing. Better than television every day!

7th March
Are you surprised that we didn’t get up? We did wake up, but our estimation of an appropriate time was slightly out! The sun was already rising. Given that turtles hatch in the dark, with moonlight, it was highly unlikely we would see anything. We remade the plan for tomorrow, at an earlier time. Back to sleep.
At a reasonable hour we got up for breakfast then headed out to Osprey Bay. We stayed here last time we were on the coast and loved it! This time it was just as good, although it did seem to be the home of all the flies! Within minutes of arriving we were in the water, just to try to escape the flies and the heat. The water was superb and moments into the swim we were cruising with a turtle. I almost don’t care if we see babies now! This lovely turtle allowed us to swim around behind it for ages, filming it surface and feed. After sharing our excitement on the surface, we were lucky to see another turtle, with an obvious deformity in his right rear flipper and shell. Didn’t seem to stop him from getting around.

Cooled off from our swim we sat for a while watching the turtles surface and a huge Osprey in the sky. This bay is so beautiful and such a great place, although not as good for colourful corals as other spots (Like Turquoise and Lakeside). On the way back to the caravan we stopped in a Pilgrimanna boat ramp for a look and then again at Oyster Stacks. I have always been nervous about snorkelling here, given the warnings about how shallow it is. But there were many people in the water and it looked safe enough (no different to other places), so we decided to give it a go. It proved to be tricky getting in and out (but not impossible), but was definitely worth the effort. We entered to the south, at a spot with some sand and were immediately snorkelling with the parrot fish, feasting on the critters in the sandy water’s edge. I would definitely have another go at Oyster Stacks in the future.

Another trip to the tap in an attempt to rinse off the sand, but the water was just too hot!! Back at the van we enjoyed our lunch and found we had a missed call from information centre. With the caravan battery rapidly draining our hirer delivered a generator to top them up and we headed off to the information to collected a salty sandy key! Someone had found it and handed it in. A day late, and only able to open and start the car manually (obviously the chip was destroyed), but returned all the same. I knew that would happen! Seeing as we were so close, we decided to have another look at the shark rookery and see if I could spot the red capped bird or black heron I saw while sitting waiting for Mambo Man yesterday (without my camera). Not to be. Both the sharks and the birds were camera shy today.
Back at the caravan we grabbed an afternoon beverage and headed to the bay for a swim. We also had a walk over the dunes and a swim in the more open water. It’s so nice to sit in the water and cool down. On the advice of our hirer, we headed for 5 Mile beach to see if we might be lucky enough to see hatchlings on our last night for this trip. With many others, we waited patiently, enjoying the sunset. We weren’t fortunate enough to see any hatchlings, despite many, many tracks showing mummy turtles have been all over the beach! We did get to see a big turtle come out onto the rock platform for a rest before returning to the ocean. Perhaps the sight of all of us there on the beach was too much for it.
On the way back to the car we waved at the space station, before enjoying our last night of star gazing. Our hirer assured us that getting up early to try to see turtles would likely be futile so we didn’t bother to set an alarm. It seems like we will need to come back another time, when the moon is full and the tides are high, the complete opposite to how it is now.

Tuesday 8th March 2022
Time to go home to Perth, but we can’t complain. We are so lucky to have been able to squeeze this cheeky getaway in and we have had an awesome time! In order to have the van aired before pack up, we needed to be out 9am, which wasn’t hard, given we just needed to pack everything we brought with us. After loading the car, we were hot again, so we wandered over to our bay for one last swim. It was absolutely deserted today, so we had it to ourselves, soaking in the warm water. Mambo Man again trotted out to the boat. Turns out it is owned by the camp host, who came down to the beach to give it a scrub. After swimming I wandered over to grab a few bird pics.

As we were doing that the camp host called out to us to have a look at what he thought may be dolphins in the shallows a few 100 meters up the beach at Neds. We could see the fins but they didn’t look like dolphins and we soon realised it was a HUGE shark, in very shallow water. Through the lens of my camera it was clear that the distance between the dorsal and tail fins was at least as long as me (1.62cm), so the beast from head to toe must have been mammoth. The camp host couldn’t believe how large it was, convincing us that it is the largest he’s ever seen it the bay. Mambo Man quickly realised just how close he came to being shark bait (who ha ha)! Over the last few days we have spent hours in the bay water, with Mambo Man walking out further than the shark was (in terms of how close it was to the shore). Perhaps it likes the quiet bay. I am not sure how it got in over the reef, but it must have scrapped it’s belly. Shame I didn’t have the drone on the beach.

Totally shocked, we decided to scoot around to Neds to see if we could get up closer to it. By the time we got there, it was well and truly gone though, so we said a final farewell to the bay and started back to town. We did stop to watch a lovely big wedge tailed eagle and have a look at the Mangrove bird hide, before leaving the park.

Hungry for breakfast we stopped for a feed at Adrift, then went on for a shower and to change into travel clothes at Town Beach. Having consumed or drained all our drinks and water we dropped off plastics for recycling in town, fuelled the car up and barely made it to the airport in time for our 1.55pm take off. The flight home was quick and quite picturesque out the window, over some dry but pretty land. Soon enough we were in the Uber and home.
There were of course some highlights and some interesting times. We spent as much this time for 4 nights and 5 days ($3500 + $66) as we did last time for 17 nights and 18 days ($3700), but we didn’t have to drive for 4 days, add many kms to our vehicle or take as much time off work. We did get to experience a caravan, something we have both wanted to try for ages, but it didn’t convince us to sell our little camper (yet). If you want to try this out for yourself make sure you give Sascha at Unplug Rentals a hoi. Here’s what we said about the experience of hiring from them:
Home away from home. We just finished an awesome extra long weekend in the Aspire 555. The van is super comfortable for 2 adults and has everything you could possibly need. It really is a home away from home. Sascha took the van to our pre-booked site and set it up for us, even parking it in anticipation of the direction of the wind and the view. The fridge was cold and ready for our groceries and drinks, and everything we needed to cook for ourselves was readily available. The bed is way more comfortable than we anticipated, and with the fans on and wide open, screened windows it was lovely and cool, day and night. The ensuite, hot water and complimentary toiletries kept us rinsed and fresh. We can’t think of any way our stay could have been better. Sascha made sure we wanted for nothing, except more time to enjoy the experience. Do yourself a favour and book before the word gets out and you miss out!
We did drop the water-logged car key in the drop box, with the spare key. Mambo man tried to let them know, but no one answered his calls or responded to his messages. A charge of $66 came off the holding deposit, and that’s the end of that. A cheap and lucky escape from what could have been a costly disaster. We didn’t get eaten by a shark, but we did see more stunning fish and colourful corals, just days before a mass bleaching and fish kill event. We didn’t see any baby turtles hatching, but we did swim with a couple of gorgeous turtles. So now it’s time to plan the next trip over Easter 2022. Lookout Bunbury, here we come …

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