LOVE TO WANDER
We arrived at Sal Salis in good time for a 2pm check-in and were blown away by it. This really is a very special place to stay indeed. It is a digital detox zone (no wi-fi), so forgive me, but I am going to say little more about our stay here beyond the accommodation review. The photos can do the talking and if you want to know more, then add this place to your bucket list and come and discover it all for yourself - I promise you, you will not leave disappointed.
NB: Access is via South Mandu Car Park Road only - they come and pick you up in a buggy from here as the road to the camp is not driveable and it is a 15 minute walk. The 15 spacious tents all look out onto the ocean and you can walk directly from them out onto the beach where the spectacular coral reef awaits you. Your slice of paradise - guests only. No need for boats, just walk slowly into the water, sink into it, start using you snorkel to breath and float over miles of pristine coral reef alive with shoals of gorgeous, brightly coloured fish and blue fringed stagshorn coral. It is a whole other world under there and it is all yours to explore at your own pace. The staff cannot do enough to help you - we had an hour long snorkelling lesson to get us going, which is just what we needed to build up some confidence. Hikes are organised too at sunrise and sunset which gives you a chance to observe the antics of the agile rock wallabies up close. The cuisine is excellent. Creative menus are prepared with the freshest of local ingredients. The breakfast menu is very varied and lunch is a real highlight with three choices. There is a set menu in the evening with a couple of glasses of paired wines included. The tents are very comfortable (complete with outdoor hammock) and the bar is open (all inclusive). Very friendly staff work well together as a team to do everything they can to ensure that your stay is enjoyable. There is a very efficient composting toilet in the little bathroom at the back of the tent. Water is restricted to 20 litres a day per person, but we found that more than adequate if you respect the guidelines and are water wise. If you mind the sound of the sea, you might want to bring your ear plugs. You won't be able to use your hairdryer here, but the vibe is so relaxed, that you really don't need to worry. Very highly recommended for a truly memorable experience - a real treat. No wi-fi - this is a true digital detox zone - just kick back and enjoy it!
We didn’t have much time to explore Coral Bay as we were only staying one night and had a drive the next day. I would have liked to take a snorkelling trip, but there were no tours running as it was close to the end of the season here and a Sunday. I am beginning to appreciate just how quiet Sundays can be in WA. Many shops and tourist facilities close up - just like England 20 years ago. It can be difficult to find places to eat on a Sunday too.
Although we were staying right on the beach, I didn’t fancy trying my hand at snorkelling here for the very first time as there was no-one around to show me the ropes and we weren’t sure where it was best to go. A friendly Aussie we met near the =beach advised it was better to go on a boat trip anyway - “it’s very deep out there and there are big things in the water”. I didn’t need any more to put me off. I think a glass bottomed boat trip would be the best option here.
Flora and Fauna:
Whale sharks - Ningaloo is one of the few places in the world where the largest fish in the world arrive each year between March and July. They are 3m to 12m long and have up to 3,000 tiny teeth in a mouth one metre wide, but they are harmless to humans. Upload your amazing whale shark pics to Wildbook for Whale Sharks which will identify and track your whale shark.
Photo I wished I had taken(?)
A whale shark. I had to make do with the one on the road train in the servo.
It isn’t really that far to our next stop (the tented wilderness eco retreat of Sal Salis) as the crow flies - but there are so few roads on the North West Cape that you have to drive all the way around it, via Exmouth, to reach Sal Salis. Exmouth only really got started out as a town in 1962 when it was a naval site and submarine base for Australia and the US during the Cold War. It has a massive 320 days sunshine a year, hot, dry summers, mild winters and no wet season. Not surprising then that its main business now is tourism (apart from the prawn farming they do here). It isn’t just the climate that draw visitors here - it is a perfect place to explore the fringing coral reef which you can reach right from the beach without any need for a boat.
On the way to Sal Salis, we pulled into Trealla Beach - a truly beautiful beach with crystal clear water, purple sea urchins and some very pretty flowers. There are sharks in these waters, but they are harmless (so we were told?!). Signs on the road to Sal Salis warned of dingos and gave advice on how best to deal with them if you encounter them (see photos) - ah well - another danger to put to the back of our minds. The marvellous Tourist Information Office in Exmouth had details of how to deal with cyclones too as the cyclone season is just about to start here. All these dangers, but everyone seems to survive OK and be extremely good humoured too. If you can’t solve a problem straight away, they usually seem to make a joke out of it here - not at all a bad recipe for approaching life, I think.
Ningaloo Reef Resort - Lose your Shoes!
The Ningaloo Reef Resort is fairly small - all apartments and no caravans etc. It has a really great location - all apartments look out onto the ocean and you can walk out straight to the beach from them. The apartment style accommodation is very spacious - we could have fitted another three in ours easily. There is a cafe style restaurant where you can order burgers, fish and chips etc. which is also open for breakfast from 7.30. There is a guest laundry, if you need it, and wi-fi - although it is exceptionally slow. Avoid Sundays if you are travelling out of the main Summer season as the tours don’t get sufficient numbers to operate.
We made an early start today and took a pre-booked scenic flight with Shark Bay Aviation. Their “bargain” flight is 40 minutes long and is a really great way to get a different perspective on this vast and largely inaccessible wilderness area. You get superb views of the huge salt works, lagoons, Dirk Hartog Island, Steep Point (the most Westerly point of mainland Australia), sea clliffs and the wondrous crystal clear blue spectrum of the Indian Ocean.
The road to Exmouth is just too far to tackle all in one go. Stopping off at Coral Bay still means a six hour slog up Highway 1. The only way to do this is to make the journey a fun part of the holiday ... and ... guess what Tim cleverly spotted sitting right by the side of the road, posing for a photo ...
CLICK ON READ MORE TO SEE WHAT WE SAW ...
A great coffee is always a good way to start the day and Australia is truly expert at it. The flat white at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort is particularly good and the ocean side restaurant is a lovely spot for breakfast. A pod of dolphins pops in reliably at 7.45 each day - pretty amazing as they are wild and have no watch. A carefully controlled feeding operation is staged every day at this time. The dolphins are fed a small amount of fish (1/3 of their daily requirement) to prevent an unhealthy reliance on humans.
Tips for Future Travellers:
The crowd of tourists builds quickly from 7.30 onwards - be there early to avoid seeing nothing but other people’s heads. Maximum crowds reach 700 - there were about 200 there this morning.
There is a $15 per adult per day charge to enter the marine park.
If you want to be one of the chosen few who are allowed to feed the dolphins, stand on the beach by the water’s edge, wear shorts and no shoes so you can wade into the ocean if called and wear something eye catching - invitations are issued by a description of what the lucky visitor is wearing.
There are three feeding “experiences “ a day. The other two take place during the morning and are much quieter, but the timing is unpredictable.
The best time to visit Shark Bay is May - locals call it “May in the Bay”. April and June are busy (school holidays) and November to February is way too hot and windy - it’s pretty well dead then (except for Christmas/New Year). apparently.
We spent two days at Monkey Mia. The first morning, I was keen to see the dolphins, but a bit frustrated by the crowds. The second day, I was actually more interested in the emus who popped into the cafe and had an early morning shower in the resort’s sprinklers. Interestingly - Emus do things differently. Dad rather than Mum sits on the nest and cares for the chicks for 18 months after they are hatched.
Click on READ MORE to find out what else there is to do at Shark Bay and see more photos. There is SO much more to it than the dolphins! ..
A great beach front location with dolphin feeding three times a day on your doorstep. The restaurant is extremely good for dinner and serves a good breakfast and coffee in the morning too. There is a good laundry facility and a swimming pool.. We had a garden view room which looked out onto the back of the chalet in front though (?) - if you want a good view, you have to request a superior beach view chalet and pay a bit more for it. There is also a $15 per person per day charge to enter the Monkey Mia Marine Park, which is a pretty steep addition to your budget. You can get fuel on site, which is useful.
There is a big emphasis on mental health here (particularly for men). You often see trees painted bright blue by the roadside. These are the symbol of the RUOK? campaign which encourages men to talk out problems with a mate rather than bottle everything up. A great campaign - the UK could learn something from this? You frequently see men’s sheds too, which encourage men to get together and hang out a while. A really great idea - and a very cost effective one to boot- way better than drugs and psychiatrists. Men’s sheds are great - but what about the women I wonder - a bit chauvinistic?
Western Australia is a very BIG state - and that’s an understatement. There is a huge amount to see, but in between, long drives without much to distract you. It is how it is - but the driving distances are a bit of a downside.
The road from Geraldton to Monkey Mia (pronounced Mya) is a long 443 kms - 4 hours 40 minutes if driven straight. We took a brief 44kms (return) detour at Northampton to visit Horrocks Beach because it was billed as a world class beach and won the best mainland beach in Australia award in 2018. I thought it was OK, but not my idea of a world class beach because it had houses built up right on the beach and waves that stopped a very long way out. Swimming here would be OK, but not surfing.
A good stopping point en route to Monkey Mia was the Billabong Roadhouse. Established in 1962 and still proud to serve weary travellers today. If you are on a budget they have reasonable looking rooms for $80 AUD a night and you can get a steak here for dinner too. If the fancy takes you, you can get a roo burger which - “puts lead in your pencil and a spring in your step”. It’s a no brainer?
Iced coffee. Great in a warm day (26 degrees) in Oz. If bought one on a cold, wet day in the UK though, I’d be asking myself “what WAS I thinking?!”
Flora and Fauna:
Galah - members of the cockatoo family. Easily identifiable by their rose-pink heads, necks and underpants.
The Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool
The first life on earth - living fossils over 3 and a half billion years old. These organisms breathed the first life into the world by releasing oxygen. Hamelin Pool is one of only two places in the world where you can still see them. This is a very harsh environment indeed: temperatures rise to 45 degrees in Summer (between December and March); the water twice as salty as normal sea water and the UV light is of fierce intensity. This ensures that the stromatolites have this precious piece of earth all to themselves. Best viewed at low tide - allow half an hour or so. Free to visit with a National Parks Pass.
Shell Beach is made up entirely of millions of tiny white Fragum cockle shells. The shells are up to 10 m deep in places and it takes 4,000 shells to cover 1 square metre of the hyper saline water here where little else could survive. This dazzling white mass of shells stretches for over 60 kms. It is so white that it is actually very hard to photograph - even if you fiddle with all your settings as much as you camera will allow. There isn’t really much to do on this beach except stand and just admire it. You just can't help marvelling at the chromatic power here - the stark white of the sand juxtaposed with the turquoise blue of the ocean. The shells are sharp on your feet and the water is hypersalty so if you swam in the sea here, you would float easily, but be covered in a layer of salt when you came out.
In Denham, you can see emus walking along the street. They don’t nip into the cafés for a coffee break but they have been known to take a dip in the ocean on a hot Summer’s Day.
This hotel wins the award for the most welcoming reception. Apart from giving you a quick friendly round up of all you need to know to make your stay great, you also get a couple of complimentary drink vouchers so you can enjoy a beer/wine in the bar with views out to the ocean. There is a secure car park around the back of the hotel with a lift to the rooms. The room has everything you need for a very comfortable stay. The hotel has no restaurant, but is easy walking distance from half a dozen restaurants they have an arrangement with so you can have your bill added to your account if you want to. Or, you can opt for a room service delivery from the Provincial (closed Sundays and Mondays). Breakfast starts from 6.30 - great if you are an early riser. Two eggs on toast $11 - perfect.
We are about at the half way point now - it feels great to still have two weeks to go - almost as though we are starting out on an entirely new holiday altogether. I feel less nervous about all the dangers there are around too now - the thing that has caused us the biggest problem so far has been the hotel soap which brought Tim out un a rather alarming looking all over red rash which took a few days to disappear. You can hardly be scared of a bar of soap though can you!
The road from Perth to Geraldton is 414 kms - 4 and a half hours. We took all day over it though, allowing for two stops on the way:
Yanchep National Park
1 hour out of the Perth on the road to Geraldton. You can see koalas sleeping high up in the swaying eucalyptus trees here just a very short distance from the car park along easy boardwalk trails. They are hard to spot at first as they are so well camouflaged. Koalas spend 14.5 hours of every day sleeping and another 4.5 hours resting. They eat only eucalyptus and it takes them five whole days to digest their food. We also saw a kookaburra, but he didn’t sing for me this time. If I'm lucky enough to have a second life - I think I’ll come back as a koala.
Lancelin Sand Dunes
There is a lot of good value fun to be had here. Head to Desert Road at the end of town and hire a sandboard from Mr. Xtreme for just $5. If you want a DIY option, just bring along a big cardboard box and GO FOR IT!
You can tell when you are getting close to Geraldton - just look for the leaning trees of Greenough growing flat along the ground.
Dinner: L'Italiano - easy walking distance from our hotel. A cheerful Italian with great pasta and pizza menu and gelato, m if you have the room. You can't go wrong here!
A well located, luxurious hotel with everything you need for a comfortable stay in Perth. The free bus to King's Park and the Elizabeth Quay area stops right outside the hotel. The atrium is delightful - complete with a live pianist in the early evenings - but the downside of that is that it is a long way to walk around to your room. You can get a trolley to take your bags though. Finding your car in the car park if you need it is a bit of an effort too as some of the lifts are closed to guests in the evening. Parking is $30 AUD a day. There is a good sized swimming pool and great Wi-Fi. There is also a restaurant although all the dining choices that Perth has to offer are within easy walking distance anyway, so we didn't try it out. Also, there is s coffee bar - La Strada - in the basement just below the lobby where you can get good coffee and a quick breakfast for about 20 $AUD. It's not easy to see from the lobby and they don't point it out very well because there is a much more expensive breakfast buffet in the lobby ($39) which I guess they would prefer you chose.