As a ‘coast-hugging easterner’ who had never been further west than Adelaide, I had preconceptions about Western Australia. If you’ve driven Australia’s East Coast from Cairns to Sydney and on to Melbourne the scenery remains the same; gum trees, some mulga, grazing cows, grazing sheep and roos that play chicken.
Don’t get me wrong, there are stretches of great and sometimes breathtaking beauty – think Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Byron Bay, The Hawkesbury, The Great Ocean Road – but beautiful as each of these locations are, they fit the same script. The ‘Wow factor’ is dialled up every 200 kilometres or so, between the endless gum trees and patches of either green or brown pasture, depending on the local fire warning level.
So, from my East Coaster point of view, Western Australia would be more of the same; just like everywhere else, with moments of splendour along the way.
That’s a preconception being a misconception.
On Australia’s Coral Coast, Exmouth and its surrounds are a journey into the past, the very ancient past. It’s also a journey to another planet, a foreign place where the landscape is as intriguing and kind of unsettling. It’s also perhaps the only place where an emu might just walk into the IGA.
It’s a place where you can stand a few hundred metres on top of a Devonian era coral reef, that’s now an expansive inland ridge, and look out at an ocean so blue it the sky to shame. Cape Range is the range by the reef created by limestone filled with fossil remains from prehistoric marine creatures.
This is an uncompromising landscape with rugged and breathtaking canyons working as a perfect backdrop for some of Australia’s most stunning coastline. Australia’s largest fringing reef sits in impossibly clear turquoise water that makes way for brilliant white sand. All surrounded by deep burnished orange ridges. This is where a marine park snuggles up to a National Park in a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
It’s a place that, even for an Australian, someone used to the oddities of our home, is new and invigorating. It is too visually interesting to be called stark. It’s more otherworldly with every direction competing for your attention.
We arrived a few weeks after Cyclone Olwyn had torn through the area and the locals apologised for there being ‘so much green everywhere’. The red dirt popped from beneath the revitalised saltbush and Spinifex grass. A lasting memory, that was so sudden and breathtaking, was the enormous flock of budgerigars that rocketed past us. Their green bodies and wings so neon it was if Mother Nature had accidentally hit the ‘saturate button’ on Photoshop.
‘Big Sky country’ has become a cliché, but until someone comes up with something better, it will have to do.
Exmouth is right in the middle of Big Sky Country, whether you’re driving back from a mind-blowing day at the Cape Range National Park canyons or a life-changing day swimming with Whale Sharks. You feel so small and almost insignificant, that it is positively liberating.
Bob Dylan once wrote that if you want to find God you sit at the Grand Canyon at sunset. I’d add that you could also snorkel with Whale Sharks.
Between March and August, Ningaloo Reef becomes home to the largest gathering of the world’s biggest fish – whale sharks.
Thanks to the professional, amazing and uber-friendly crew at Charter One, we had a life-changing moment. There is nothing on earth to prepare you for that instant when the world’s largest (up to 12metres or 40ft) and gentlest fish, appears out of the depths and calmly glides past you.
The biodiversity of Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area means the waters are teeming with countless species of coral, fish, crustaceans and more. Between March and August, Ningaloo Reef becomes home to the largest gathering of whale sharks. Little is known about these giants of the deep but they migrate to Ningaloo to feast on tiny planktonic creatures. It is estimated that 300 to 500 whale sharks make this annual migration which coincides with the mass coral spawning in the area.
It’s a place where the coral reef is a short walk off the beach. A beach that at first slowly drops away and then dramatically plummets into a turquoise darkness. Needless to say, this is nirvana for snorkelers. Ningaloo Reef is a revelation. Yes, almost biblical. An underwater wonderland just a short drive from the town of Exmouth.
Exmouth is a place that shatters your preconceptions.
…your preconceptions of sleepy country towns and stereotypical laconic Aussies. This is a town that was built on the back of a US Communications base, started in the 1960’s but is now virtually dormant. It’s a place where an emu might just walk into the IGA. Today, Exmouth is growing and thriving thanks to its own natural beauty and the biggest fish in the ocean.