Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's hear it for Ningaloo!

There was a documentary on Oasis last night that brought back many happy thoughts.  Jaclyn, now 14, was particularly fond of this remarkable reef in West Australia, where the water is as warm as a bathtub and the fish school in abundance.  Here, she had the amazing experience of gliding with the Mantas.

We hired a day tripper to take us out from the Coral Bay docks up north toward the reef.  This area of Australia is virtually uninhabited, as the desert is merciless and the sun extreme.  We had traveled for a full day to reach this destination, to experience the sense of swimming in an aquarium with the tropical fish like Nemo.  We got that, and more.

The whale sharks are the real attraction at Ningaloo.  The biggest fish in the sea, they open their four-foot wide mouths and calmly swallow everything that swims in their path.  But after we arrived, we learned we were too early.  It was January, and the whale sharks are only visiting Ningaloo from March to June.  The Manta Rays, however, frolic here year-round.  The largest of the Ray family, they grow over eight feet across and though able to sting, they are not aggressive.  Dive boats take tourists out to their "play place" daily.

Our first stop was a brief snorkel to get used to the equipment, at an area abundant in cabbage corals and massive clams, which would close when we cast our shadows.  All six of us jumped in the water, Katie with a floater to help her navigate in the waves.  We partnered up and followed our guide as she pointed out her favorite spots, then had a bit of time to explore on our own.  The two boys came back with a tale of spotting a reef shark off in the distance.  Travis was excited.  Derek was not.

"Sharks?" Jaclyn asked.

"You like sharks?  Great, have we got a treat for you then.  On to Asher's Gap," she called up to the Captain.

Whale sharks are out of season.  Those are the harmless kind.  I'm here swimming in the deep blue sea with my four kids.  Did she just say she is taking us to swim with the sharks?

That is not what we signed up for.

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