By Michael Abbott
In May 2021 between Covid19 lockdowns and border closures Janet and I managed to take Ningaloo off the Bucket list. It is a very long trip to Exmouth in Western Australia so we elected to take the two flights and cut the travel time to flying 7 hours. Really it is much easier to get to the Pacific Islands if you want a diving holiday.
We stayed at Escape Resort, Cnr Welch & Murat Roads, Exmouth. This is a new resort with corrugated iron huts built around a swimming pool and restaurant. Quite comfortable and self-catering is available with a kitchen and BBQ in each hut. It is however a long walk to the shops.
We dived with Dive Ningaloo DN (Dive Ningaloo 0456 702 437 INFO@DIVENIGALOO.COM.AU) who were an excellent operation. Very professional, safety conscious and friendly staff. We were at the height of whale shark season so the town and ramps were extremely busy. We did manage to see some whale sharks from the boat but alas none underwater. Due to the ever-changing weather at this time of year we managed to sample all their diving areas.
If you have dived in the Indian Ocean e.g. Maldives etc you know what to expect. Lots of topicals but different to the Pacific. Many more Angel fish and many less butterfly fish. Apart from that and the odd indigenous fish to the Indian ocean you will recognise most of the tropical fish.
All dive days were double dives except the pier. The DN bus picked us up from our accommodation and dropped us back. Paperwork was completed on the bus and all gear is stored on the boat. BBQ lunch is provided, and the boat is large and roomy taking around 20 divers all up. Generali 1 guide to 6 divers.
The first day was at the Murion Islands. Water temperature 26 degrees and viz around 10 meters. The water temperature remained fairly constant throughout the trip. Diving here was easy with depths of 5 to 12 meters. We particularly like a spot called “Whalebone” with dramatic canyons and a large school of very small chevron barracuda . We also got to self guide on this dive which is always a preference. Sixty minutes dive times and 50 bars were to be observed at all times.
Day two saw a southerly come through due to a west coast low off Perth. This meant we dived Lighthouse Bay on the north tip of the peninsular. Depth here to 14 meters and this was our favourite site of the trip. Fist site was called “the Blizard” which summed up the area with clouds of glass fish and small yellow striped fusiers blocking he 10 meter viz to zero. Hunting amongst the schools were smooth flutemouth, small barracuda and mackerel, emperors, lionfish, olive sea snakes and a whitetip reef shark. Hiding under every ledge we found cod and gropers.
The usual tropicals throughout the trip included moonwrasse, batfish, humbugs, teardrop, chevron, dash and longnose butterfly fish, parrotfish, bannerfish, spangled emperor, blue and emperor angelfish and black dartfish.
Day three was the Navy Pier which I covered in an article last month.
This was the end of our self-guided dives. Most guides were very good but as is the norm everywhere they all tend to have a circuit and swim at speed to complete the planned dive. This was because day four saw the southerly pick up dramatically and turn SE. This had us move to the western side aka the open side and dive on the outer edges of Ningaloo Reef. We spent 3 days diving out there between breaks in the weather. Depths get down to 30 meters, but dive sites are all in 8 to 20 meters. Scenery is much more dramatic with better corals, steep walls, and deep narrow canyons to traverse. Visibility also improved up to 20 meters. Water temperature was cooler at 25 degrees. Not many pelagic fish here as fishing pressure is high. There were some extra tropical fish in blue lipped and 6 bar angelfish, blue damsels, surgeonfish, yellow trumpet fish, Indo Pacific sergeant, freckleface hawk fish, and 3 spot rabbitfish. There was also a brief sighting of a manta ray.
We also spent a lovely day on a tour of the land sites and snorkelling in the lagoon. The diving was nice but works out much more expensive than our normal Pacific ocean dive locations e.g. Fiji, Solomon’s, or Vanuatu etc due to the distance and mainland Australia prices. If it is on your bucket list you really need to concentrate on the whale shark swims which are different operators to Dive Operations except Exmouth Dive and Whaleshark which I do not recommend. My tip is to book multiple whale shark swims in case one day is cancelled and forgo a few dive days to mitigate the cost. One dive day or double dive at each of the 4 different dive areas would suffice to experience the diving in the area.
In summary diving is very nice cool tropical diving and is a good example of the differences between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. If you get the opportunity, cross it off your bucket list.