Exmouth is remote; at least the Western Australian version is. Stuck up on a hot, dry, cyclone prone peninsula it was ignored by the indigenous people as a place of punishment. Only the military showed any interest, firstly during World War II and later as a satellite communications hub.
Now, however, Exmouth is the centre of a thriving adventure scene. Situated on a finger of land on Australia’s western coast it is washed by the Indian Ocean on one side and the quieter sheltered waters of the gulf on the other side.
Much of the North-west Cape is protected. The Cape Range National Park covers the western half of the cape and the Ningaloo Marine Park the whole of the Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s ‘other’ barrier reef. In addition, there are also smaller reserves and protected areas along the coast. Although this means there are plenty of restrictions in place there is still plenty of activities available. The whole area has UNESCO World Heritage status.
These are just some that are available either as a commercially operated concern or something you can organise by yourself.
Despite the restrictions on where and what to fish this is still a very popular pastime. Exmouth has a marina and there are several public launching points along the coast. Game fishing is very popular and while I was there a Blue Marlin of over 1000lbs was caught – a record for Australian waters.
There is little opportunity for shore fishing, though it is allowed in some areas. Most fishing is along the Ningaloo Reef and in the Gulf to the east of the cape. Fishing in the calmer waters of the lagoons from a kayak is also a possibility. The most popular places to launch a boat are Bundegi Beach close to the Naval Communications Station and Tantabiddi Sanctuary Zone on the west coast.
It is important to become acquainted with the restrictions and regulations as they are different for different stretches of the coast. In some areas, it is forbidden altogether.
Snorkelling is a very popular activity as it requires minimal equipment and there is an abundance of things to see. In addition to the coral gardens, there is a wealth of marine life to observe. It is like swimming in a giant aquarium with colourful fish and strange sea creatures all around.
It is not uncommon to see stingrays, manta rays and mask rays either singly or in shoals. Reef sharks and other large fish are other common sights.
You can spot turtles who come to lay their eggs on the protected beaches of the Ningaloo Coast and will feed on the algae in the lagoons. Swimming with a turtle is such a wonderful experience and one I can now tick off my bucket list.
Whale Shark and cetacean spotting
The largest fish in the ocean, the Whale Shark, congregate along the Ningaloo Reef at a certain time of the year. It is possible to dive and/or snorkel with these leviathans. This mostly done as an organised tour as it is tightly controlled and they know where to find them.
Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also make the reef their home. They may only be migrating through or stopping in the sheltered waters of the gulf to raise their young. Often it is possible to spot them from the shore but to get up close and personal you will need to take an organised tour. Like the whale sharks, their presence is often seasonal.
Explore the Cape Ranges – on foot and 4×4
Leaving the marine park heading inland to the Cape Ranges brings its own rewards. This is the landscape in its rawest. Heat, naked rock and scrub form the basis of the environment. Flash floods and intermittent streams and creeks have carved out deep canyons in the soft sandstone. Few roads head into this wilderness and for most, you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Two roads head into the Cape Ranges from the east. The Charles Knife Road takes you up along the lip of the gorge of the same name. This is quite a spectacular drive and ends at a lookout point from where you can explore the ranges on a marked hiking trail.
The second, unnamed road, takes you along the bottom of Shothole Canyon. At the end, there is a small picnic area where you can admire the spectacular layered walls of the canyon.
From the Yardie Creek Road along the west coast, there are several marked hiking trails of varying difficulty that explore the Cape Range. Often these will pass through areas where you will see some of the wildlife of the area. There is no water on any of the hiking trails so you will need to carry your own. On the notice for a 4.5km hike, it recommends carrying 3 litres of water. A wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen are also highly recommended.
Sunset at the lighthouse and turtle reserve
At the northern tip of the North West Cape perched on the last of the Cape Range is the Vlamingh Head lighthouse. What better way to end a stay in Exmouth than to watch the sun setting in the west as you look south along the Ningaloo Coast. It was once Australia’s most isolated lighthouse until World War II when an early warning radar, part of the defence against Japanese invasion, was sited there.
A short distance from the lighthouse is Jurabi Beach an important turtle nesting site. This and the Turtle Information Centre provide an insight into the life of these creatures. Arrive at dusk, after viewing the sunset and you will be rewarded with observing turtles laying their eggs or with hundreds of turtle hatchlings emerging from the sand and heading down to the sea. The full moon is the best time to see either of these events.
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