On Sunday, I had the most beautiful experience – I swam with whale sharks!!
This has been on my list for many years and to finally experience it was magical. I am a huge lover of the ocean at the best of times, but to be in the big blue with these humongous yet gentle animals was simply breathtaking.
Turns out that size does matter!
Ningaloo Reef in northern Western Australia is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world. It stretches 260 kilometres and is only one of two coral reefs on earth that has formed on the western side of a continent. Being a fringing reef, it is very close to shore, making it easy to explore and snorkel on. Ningaloo has a diverse ecosystem with many different types of flora and fauna, but for me it was the animals that really lit me up. It is the playground to some of the largest and most placid animals on the planet.
Between March and July the whale sharks are in abundance alongside the dugongs. The coral spawns in March and April meaning the water is teeming with even more food than usual. The humpback whales travel through this area between June and October as they migrate north to the Kimberley to give birth. The turtles nest between October and February and they can be seen up on the beaches laying their eggs. All year round Ningaloo is prolific with manta rays, turtles, reef sharks and hundreds of varieties of fish.
Being one of the most untouched reefs on the planet, as well as being classified as a protected marine park, means the chance of seeing some amazing wildlife is pretty much guaranteed. Not only that, the hard and soft coral is so beautiful and the water, oh boy, that water!!!
Think pristine, crystal clear, aquamarine perfection!
The Indian Ocean is breathtaking in this part of the world and oh-so-clean. I lost several hours just gazing out to sea taking in the colours and smells that surrounded me. Looking back to land, the water colour when contrasted with the red earth is so unique. Looking at the land from out there, it seems crazy that anything actually lives there because it is scrubby and very barren-looking. But wildlife is resilient and there is actually as much living on the land as there is in the water. We saw dingos, kangaroos and eagles just on the morning drive out to the boat ramp.
The crew on our boat at Ningaloo Whale Shark N’ Dive had so much passion for these magnificent creatures and it was fascinating to learn about them in more detail. Amy, our guide, asked the group “Are they whales or sharks?”. Hmm, good question! They are actually sharks. This means they don’t need to come to the surface to breath like other ocean mammals and they have gills. Unlike sharks though, they feed on plankton, krill and other small fish, hence why it’s safe to swim with them – they won’t eat us! They can live to 100 years old and are solitary animals. Amy shared with us that scientists are now starting to believe that they mate for life and they can have many embryos at different stages of development inside a female at any one time.
My trip was very quick – I literally just flew up to spend a day in the water with the whale sharks – but being in the vastness of this magnificent country I felt as if I had been there for days. Nature has a way of recharging my batteries quickly, and Exmouth and Ningaloo have some of the most pristine nature I have experienced for a while.
So after my weekend of being in remote nature, I have been reminded that my soul really thrives on it. If you are looking for something special to do, go and visit the Ningaloo Marine Park and swim with the whale sharks. Once again, I was in awe of mother nature in all of her rough and rugged glory.
Photo Credit – Jess Hadden Photography, Exmouth