Monday, 1 August 2016

Half-lap Day 85: Cape Range National Park

I thought I’d be awake all night with the wind again, but actually slept pretty well. I was up early, not quite before sunrise but early enough to go to the beach and watch the ocean gradually get lighter. It was a beautiful spot. I saw lots more of the schools of silvery fish, and many whales out beyond the reef. Watching those huge waves break beyond the reef had me mesmerised – they are so big, and the extra spray created by the wind makes them look wild and exhilarating. Back at the tent the others were waking up and we had breakfast and played around our campsite, with trips back and forth to the beach to see the view.

Caitlin, LiAM and I went for a short snorkel, the water level was pretty low and it was tricky to get out beyond the rocks. There were lots of fish and some coral and it was quite beautiful – we thought it would be really great to come back in at high tide when the water was a bit deeper. LiAM wore my reef shoes as we only had 4 pairs, so I wore Tony’s, which meant we couldn’t all use our shoes at once. This probably wasn’t an issue cos some of us could use flippers, but we decided it would be easiest if everyone had their own reef shoes.

Tony was also finding it difficult without sunglasses (he’s missing a hat and sunglasses since Karajini) so we decided to go back to the visitors centre and get some shoes and glasses, and also a book on local fish, so we can identify what we are looking at in the water. While we were getting ready to go, a couple set up their annex off the side of their 4WD in one of the camping bays, and the wind blew it completely over the top of their car. I was impressed with Tony’s tie-down job on ours because even though it had buffeted, nothing had blown away.

Just before we left we walked back down to the beach, it was almost high tide and the water looked SO inviting – we wanted to get our things though and snorkel at some of the more popular areas, so we didn’t go in. We drove up to the Visitors Centre and Tony found some glasses he liked, LiAM found a pair of reef shoes that fitted, and we looked and looked for a local book on fish. We figured we’d be able to get one like the little whales and dolphins one Millie has, or the Western Australian Birds one the ranger gave us at Geikie Gorge. There were hardly any fish ones, and all specific to other areas of Australia. We looked around and talked to the lady at the desk and eventually decided our best option was a guide to Australian fish – it was $20, so more than we’d planned to spend, but hopefully will give us the information we are after.

We were hoping to see our friends from Kings Canyon here, they were staying at a different campsite, not far from the Visitors Centre. We drove up there to see if they were at their van, but they’d gone out for the day. It looked like a nice spot (Neds Campground) with a much more beachy beach than at our spot. Not sure what the snorkeling would be like from here though. Tony had a chat to the camp host about his solar set up.

We decided to go from here to Turquoise Bay – even though the wind was still blowing, the sun was out and the water in the reef was decidedly Turquoise, so it seemed appropriate. There are 2 areas to snorkel at Turquoise Bay – the bay area, which is easier and better for families, and the drift snorkel, where there is a current that takes you over the coral, then you need to swim back to shore before the point. We parked at the drift carpark, then walked around to the bay, along the shoreline. The water was so beautiful to look at, and we had to walk through it occasionally as it came right up to the fence at times. We could see lots of swirling currents at the point, as the water met from two sides and then attempted to leave the lagoon through a gap in the reef.

Around at the bay we got all our snorkeling gear on (I decided to use flippers today). The swell was not huge but was breaking quite hard on the beach, and it was a bit tricky to get everyone past it. Once we were in the water it was cloudy, and we couldn’t see much. Millie saw a few white fish, I didn’t really see anything. We stood up and looked around, it was a long way out to get to the coral, and swimming against the swell was hard. We decided to go back and give the drift snorkel a try – the swell was less there, and we figured Millie and LiAM would be holding our hands anyway so we could protect them against the current. I was impressed with Millie already though – she had gone in the water easily, using her mask and snorkel and flippers, and swam around confidently while holding my hand – I wasn’t sure if she’d manage to snorkel at all while we were here, so this was exciting.

We walked back around to the drift area, playing a bit in the waves as we went.
We swam around in the shallows for a little while, and saw lots of silvery fish, and Millie was quite confident. I took Millie out further into the water and Caitlin came with us. We swam straight out to the coral and saw an incredible number of fish, of all colours. The water was much deeper here, and we could swim over some large areas of coral, and the sea life was abundant. There were tiny little blue fish up to huge silvery sweetlips, 60cm long or more, and everything in between. Millie had enough at one point and popped her head up, swimming back into shore with her, against the current, while trying to hold her up out of the water, was quite difficult and just slightly scary.

Tony went out for a drift snorkel, swimming out to the coral and then drifting down towards the point and then swimming out. The other kids went with him a little way then came back in. He said he saw heaps, then I took the other 2 out, holding LiAM’s hand, with Caitlin swimming next to us. Again we saw a huge number of fish, sea cucumbers, coral – it was great going together and being able to point things out to each other, because we all noticed different things. Swimming back in was easier with LiAM still having his head in the water, so I felt more confident again. We went out 2 more times, this time walking a long way down the beach and then walking out in the water quite a long way, so we only had a short swim across the current to get to the coral, and then we could drift quite a distance before having to swim back in (and I came in quite early, rather than risking the current getting stronger as we got closer to the point). Each time we saw different fish and we soon discovered we could turn around out there and swim against the current if we wanted to show each other something, so we really explored the area well. We saw massive parrot fish and lots of angel fish, anemones, sea urchins, clams, it was incredible every time and so peaceful and beautiful. Whenever I was in the water I just wanted to stay there for hours.

I took Millie in again, this time I was more confident and again took her in from further down the beach so we could drift over more of the coral. She held my hand but was also able to kick and steer herself to see things she wanted to see – she was confident and handled it all easily. She saw so much while she was out there, and getting back to shore was much easier this time with her snorkeling the whole way. For her first day snorkeling she was amazing, this was supposed to be for experienced snorkelers only and she did it like she’d been snorkeling for years.

I went in for a snorkel by myself – amazing how much easier it was when I had 2 hands free for swimming, and then Tony went in again. The kids and I went for a walk further south along the beach, and thought we could see our beach from where we walked too (we checked later and we were right). The sun was getting lower in the sky and the light was beautiful, the water was a deep blue now. We could see whales from time to time our past the reef, breaching or blowing water or just surfacing.

We wandered slowly back up the beach (Caitlin discovered that her footprints are exactly the same size as mine now, and that she takes longer steps than me. Not surprising since she’s nearly my height now, and her legs are slightly longer than mine…), packed up our stuff and headed back to the car. I discovered a couple of blisters on my toes, from my flippers, which might make snorkeling tomorrow a bit interesting!

Back to camp and went down to the beach to spot more turtles and the silvery fish, and to watch the sunset. We talked to our new neighbours, a family Caitlin had seen in Exmouth, who had a 9 year old girl and a boy about Caitlin’s age. We watched the sunset together and talked about what we’d seen so far, what we planned to do over the next couple of days. Tony cooked an egg and bacon pasta for tea, and the girls played with the girl next door until it was ready. We ate our tea and Caitlin browsed the fish book, putting post it notes on the fish that we’d seen. Once again it was chilly and the wind was picking up a bit – it had stopped through the afternoon. It was still warm in the tent, so we headed in there and read for while. Everyone was pretty worn out from so much snorkeling, so we were happy to get to sleep as soon as we could.

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