My bucket list just got shorter by one major event; on Friday the 12th of May 2017, I finally fulfilled my wish to swim with the Whale Sharks. These majestic creatures visit Ningaloo National Marine Park every year following the spawning of the coral on the reef that fringes the most western point of Western Australia, along Cape Range National Park near Exmouth.
My first attempt was eight years ago when we were doing out first lap around the block in our Landcruiser and caravan but I had timed it all wrong arriving a couple of weeks too early, evidently I needed to have coordinated my arrival with the first full moon after the Autumn equinox; when the planets were aligned, but we had tickets to fly from Darwin to the UK a month later and could not afford to hang around waiting for these gentle giants to arrive. Ever since then I have had this on the top of my bucket list.
Lucky for me I have a daughter-in-law, Bec, who had her listening ears on when I was telling her we were planning a trip to Ningaloo, this time around, especially to see the Whale Sharks and not long after, on my 60th birthday, low and behold, there was a voucher to swim with the Whale Sharks in my birthday card from both my sons and their wives…what treasures they are.
We arrived on the peninsular a few days early and spent some time camping in the Cape Range National Park, snorkelling in the coral rimmed, pristine bays.
Coral reef along Turquoise Bay
We hiked into the various gorges and the spectacular vistas from atop Yardie Creek Gorge were breathtaking, as was the trek up Mandu Mandu gorge, talk about puffed out! I was hoping to find some emergency defibrillators nearby.
Mandu Mandu Gorge
Having survived Mandu Mandu Gorge, by Friday morning I was well rested and ready for anything. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at 7:20 am I rendezvoused with the bus to take me out to the boat harbour. After several days of very choppy conditions, luckily the sea was relative calm this day but being a poor sailor, I took a couple of pills just in case and only just managed not to hurl burley overboard en-route to the outer reef.
By 10:20 am the spotter plane had located the first Whale Shark of the day and we motored to within swimming distance of it and dropped off our crew member, Sian, who indicated to us the most opportune moment to dive in. Geared up with goggles and snorkels and decked out in stinger suits, due to the recent arrival of Urunganji Jelly Fish on the reef, (just another one of Australia’s life-threatening creatures), we were poised to take the plunge on the cry of, “Go, Go, Go” then swim like the clappers for the 100-200 meters that separated us from Sian’s waving, yellow rashy clad arm.
The visibility was still fairly poor; it was a bit like looking through aqua milk but as we were told to expect, within 2 metres of us the giant fish suddenly appeared before our eyes, all 6 meters of it, as if out of the ether, one minute there was just ocean and the next, there is the largest fish in the sea staring us in the face. It was awesome.
Although the Whale Shark was just idling by, we on the other hand, had to swim hell-for-leather just to keep up with it. After repeating this endeavour 5 or 6 times over a period of an hour and a half, by the last time we returned to the vessel I was about to collapse. It’s a good thing my bucket list is getting shorter.
That’s me on the left, with the whale shark on the right.
Another box ticked.
Travelling around Australia for the past year, I’ve been amazed by so many beautiful things that weren’t even on my bucket list, but certainly should have been. I think the whole trip is one big bucket list.
So what’s the next item to cross off? I’m not sure; I’ve still to see the cherry blossom time in Japan, the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti or the trees change colour in the North American autumn. But I really need to leave something on the list, because, let’s face it, once I’ve ticked every box all that’s left is to kick the bucket, so maybe I’ll leave the bungee jumping in New Zealand to last; my great grandkids can push me there in my wheelchair on my 99th birthday. I like to have something to look forward to.