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Giant Spotty Fish

Diving off Australia?s Ningaloo Reef

Bundegi Beach is the start of the Ningaloo Marine Park and from here you can easily reach the popular Lighthouse Bay sites: Blizzard Ridge, The Labyrinth and Gullivers Reef.

When whale sharking off Tantabiddi, divers have the option of scuba diving on a coral reef, before the whale shark snorkeling. The spotter plane does not go up until 10 am, so there’s plenty of time to dive “The Floats”. This shallow dive offers parrotfish, blue angelfish and a resident potato cod, as big as those at the famous Cod Hole on the Ribbon Reefs.

The Muiron Islands was one of our best day trips. Situated 9.8 nautical miles off the tip of North West Cape, the Muiron Islands are like red islands floating in a turquoise sea. Our first dive was at Fraggle Rock, a little wall dive with broken bommies to 14 meters, where we explored its many overhangs and swim throughs. Green turtles, six-banded angelfish, blue-lined sea bream, gangs of moses sea perch, blue angelfish and golden-lined spinefoot kept the photographers busy.

East Side Bommy, a shallow, two to eight meter dive, proved to be a stunner. Coral bommies reached skyward, with bannerfish, snappers, coral cod, yellow emperor and blue-banded whiptails. East Side Bommy is a superb photo dive with good macro and wide angle subjects, such as painted crays and yellow soft corals.

Blizzard Ridge is possibly Exmouth’s most popular dive. The fishlife has to be seen to be believed: white-tip reef sharks, striped catfish, ring-tailed cardinalfish, yellow-stripe snapper, gold-banded fusiliers, two-lined monocle bream, six-banded angelfish, mantis shrimps and green turtles.

Gullivers Reef has large anemones with orange anemonefish. Black and white striped, reticulated dascyllus dart nervously into the delicate corals at this shallow dive site.

Gordo is the fun-loving hub of the team at Exmouth Diving Centre (EDC), the only one that can make you laugh at 7 a.m. after you’ve had a big night at the Potshot Hotel. I remember Gordo surfacing at The Labyrinth, his head lathered with sunscreen. “I’ve got to keep that sun off my head,” says Gordo.

Gordo worked at Coral Bay, 155 kilometers south of Exmouth, for 3 1/2 years before moving to Exmouth.

“It took me 2 1/2 years to fall off a boat, named ‘The Beast’. My students couldn’t believe their eyes. It happens to all of us, sooner or later.

Another day, we had a big green turtle trying to mate with one of our lady divers. Well, she didn’t really know what was happening, except for the weight on her back”.

“The most amazing time was when I had some students on their first open water training dive at ‘The Elbow’, Coral Bay. We were in for less than five minues when a humpback and calf swam over to see us. I was making funny noises through my regulator and pointing to the whales, only eight meters away. My students were stoked!  What do you show your students after something like that.

“The funniest thing I saw was when ‘Dive Shop Dylan’ thought h e spotted a whale shark. He leapt off the boat, right next to a 14ft tiger shark!  Back on board in seconds, he had a most worried look on his face. I must give him credit, he went back in for another look,” he said.

There’s been much written about the Navy Pier. With up to 200 species of fish – trevally, snapper, barracuda, anglerfish – it’s one of Australia’s best dives.

I hope this has given you a little insight into diving on the Ningaloo Reefs. In ten days, I barely scratched the surface of what the area had to offer.

I would recommend seven days at least, for diving Exmouth. This will let you dive the local sites and do a couple of whale shark snorkeling trips (April to July). Do a self-drive tour of the Cape Range National Park or better still, spend a day with Neil McLeod on a Ningaloo Safari Tour, winner of the “Western Australia Tourism Award.”

Neil is a genuine outback character and knows the hinterland and its amazing canyons like the 4WD “Oka.” Shothole Canyon and the Charles Knife Gorge will take your breath away. Giant shark teeth have been found and fossils are many at “Shark Tooth Ridge’ “You will love his mum’s famous boiled fruit cake, billy tea and hamper lunch.

Wildlife abounds in the Cape Range National Park, with red kangaroos, blue flyers, sea eagles, emus, bustards and unique wildflowers. At Yardie Creek Gorge, you can see rare black-footed rock wallabies and osprey nests, high in the cliffs.

Turquoise Bay is the most popular snorkeling spot. Here snorkelers are greeted by green turtles, leopard sharks and a melting pot of tropical reef fishes. The procedure here is to walk about 300 meters along the beach, left from the carpark, before entering the water and drifting with the current back to the sand bar. White-tip and black-tip reef sharks are seen.

During November to March, Neil runs tours to the turtle nesting beaches, where you can see the females dig their nests, lay eggs and, if you’re lucky, see them hatch.

Neil’s tours include the historic Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Lighthouse Hill offers 360 degree views of the Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth Gulf, Cape Range National Park and the 13 famous NCS HEH very low frequency towers. We often saw the towers reaching into the clouds, an other-worldy scene.

The Potshot Hotel Resort is a good place to stay for visiting divers, as it’s next to the dive shop. Other places to stay include a large caravan park in town, another at Lighthouse Bay and several small motels/units.

The Ningaloo Reef Retreat (a luxury tented camp) is a wonderful option, where you can swim, snorkel, sea kayak or hike to the top of Mandu Mandu Gorge.

For me, the Ningaloo Reefs and its giant spotty fish have been one of life’s greatest experiences. 

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