When winter sets in, residents of Margaret River head north to the warm, peaceful bays of the Coral Coast. The landscape changes suddenly and dramatically: dense forests peter out, the grass becomes sparse, and the earth becomes a vibrant palette of ochre, salmon and rust. The giant, roaring surf of the southwest morphs into a gently lapping sea that flattens out into an endless, shining mirror in the late afternoon. Then magic happens: as the sun sinks into the Indian Ocean, coral skies light up the horizon and a patchwork of lagoons and shallow inlets reflect a rainbow of delicate, wispy clouds. The symmetry in the stillness is so beautiful – for a few minutes, the sky and the ocean are in perfect sync. Then it’s all over – the sea retreats into the shadows, while the sky keeps blazing for a few minutes longer, from gold to vermillion, and then a translucent turquoise and indigo that ushers in the stars.
By pure chance, we arrived on the Coral Coast at the perfect time: after the Easter holiday goers had left, and before the winter season had begun. We’d whizzed through Perth, stopping just long enough to visit the state parliament, buy a drone, and enjoy a lovely lunch with some friends who serendipitously were also passing through, and then headed north, content to be heading back into the heat and out into the wilderness.
Bailey and Saffy were arrested outside parliament (for being far too adorable):
Sunset in the Mandurah wetlands. The stripy sky:
It’s about a day’s driving from Perth to Shark Bay, which is one of the jewels of the Coral Coast, and a further day from there to Exmouth, where the Ningaloo Reef attracts scuba diving enthusiasts from around the world.
The amazing dune-scapes of Wedge (near Cervantes):
The dune-scapes of Southgate, Geraldton. (Spot the moment Bailey and Saffy notice the drone):
We spent a few days among the bottlenose dolphins at Monkey Mia, on the edge of Francois Peron National Park, Shark Bay and then headed north to dive with whale sharks, manta rays and turtles of Ningaloo, the world’s largest fringing reef. For us, the main draw was the Coral Coast’s famous marine wildlife, so to discover that it’s also a wonderful spot for night skies and landscape photography was an unexpected gift.
Bushland near Geraldton, which is home to a bull called Pig:
Pelicans and pied cormorants. (Last photo – looks like the cormorants want to adopt the young pelican):
Shell Beach (Shark Bay) is composed of white shells, which are 9 metres deep:
We saw loggerhead and green turtles swimming in the shallows at Monkey Mia:
And bottlenose dolphins in the bay. They’re fed by Department of Parks and Wildlife staff):
We stood in the shallow water and watched blue-spotted rays swim around us:
We stayed in Denham, a popular fishing destination in Shark Bay:
We’ve fallen in love with so many places on our Australian adventure, but there are only a handful that have bewitched us to the point that we’ve already started planning our return. The Coral Coast and Pilbara regions of northwest Australia (more about Exmouth, Ningaloo and the Pilbara in our next blog entries) stand out as places that have captured our imaginations and far, far exceeded our expectations. They’re seriously undersold as tourist destinations, possibly because they’re so remote, not particularly child-friendly (think sunstroke, snakes, desert, wilderness), and expensive. But as we’ve marvelled at the weird and wonderful landscapes, the abundant wildlife, and the resourcefulness of the local people, we’ve been thinking through the practicalities of coming back next year. It will be hard to tear ourselves away on this occasion, but the painted skies will still be here to enchant us next time. We wish we could say the same of the wildlife, so much of which is endangered.