We are sad to leave Sal Salis, but fear we will die of over-indulgence should we stay longer. A bit of a contrast to our basic self contained apartment in Coral Bay!
The drive to Coral Bay is scenic, through rolling plains, verdant after the rain and dotted with wildflowers and interspersed with ochre anthills, erupting like pimples over the landscape. I expect to see an elephant appear, it is so like (yet unlike) Africa. The road is straight and continues for 11 hours all the way to Perth. We are thankful we are flying back!
Coral Bay is a typical Australian holiday destination – ‘resorts’ comprising caravan parks, with monstrous mobile homes, tents and 4 WD vehicles parked cheek by jowl, with large (in girth and in sheer number) Australian families sitting on folding chairs, enjoying a chinwag and a stubbie. Rather like the typical British holiday maker having a picnic in a lay-by, or a Butlins holiday camp. The Australians are a friendly bunch, greeting you in the street (G’dday or How you doin’? ) in a way that Brits would never do; one jolly cove hails me on the way back from dinner, ‘Why’s he making you walk on a sore leg, doll?’. Even the Qantas chap collecting boarding passes gives me a cheery ‘Thanks Vick!’. But their reputation as being the second-most obese race in the world is revealed in its full glory on the beach. I spare you the photos!
Coral bay is the Ningaloo Reef centre for whale shark swimming and fishing; its now off-season so the alternatives are to dive and/or swim with mantas. We duly book ourselves on trip for the next day and find ourselves in a boat full of snorkelers and only 4 divers, mostly Australian but there’s also a Singaporean family, some American travellers and a dour-looking Slavic pair.
I am extremely anxious about the water temperature, rumoured to be 21 C, so dress for the occasion in rash vest, 3 mm vest, 3 mm waistcoat, 5 mm shortie, full-length booties and a hood. Even so, the cold is breath-taking on entering the water. Our laid-back dive guide, Jake, seems to think drifting slowly along is the thing, but of course this means it’s hard to get the blood circulating. I survive for 50 minutes before surfacing. The dive itself is not that interesting – we are spoiled after Komodo and Raja Ampat – and it’s a bore sharing a boat with the snorkelers as it’s just too crowded
I feel sorry for the snorkelers as the spotter plane fails to locate mantas, but we are compensated by seeing two enormous tiger sharks, a mum and calf humpy, and a pod of dolphins, all close by.
However, with 20 people on board, how we all could have ‘interacted’, as they call, it with the mantas remains a mystery. I suspect there would have been some disappointed people. Lack of mantas means that I am forced to make the second dive to defend my honour, and for this I am rewarded as we have 15 fascinating minutes lurking by a grey reef shark cleaning station, with four of these 2 m-long creatures circling over a giant cabbage coral.
Two days here is quite enough as we are not thrilled enough to dive again, and the other activities on offer – quad biking, deep sea fishing, glass bottom boat – do not really appeal. We do manage a two and half hour walk along the beach and around the headland – no sharks in the nursery but we do come across the world’s second most venomous snake – the Eastern Brown. We give it a fairly wide berth!
We are gearing up for 2 gourmet days in Margaret River, wine-tasting and touring the vineyards.