Saturday 25th March 2017
Another excursion today, riding over the Ningaloo Reef in a glass-bottom boat.
It's been blazingly hot today, reaching 34 Centigrade. We went ashore at 8am by tender – Exmouth is a tiny place (population around 2,000) with no dock facilities for anything larger than pleasure boats. It sits at the tip of the North West Cape in Western Australia and is really quite remote, completely dependent on tourism. The area was used in WW2 as a forward base for replenishing submarines in the war against the Japanese.
The town was established in only 1967 to support the US Naval Communication Station. In March 1999 Tropical Cyclone Vance devastated the town, with the highest wind gust ever recorded on the mainland of 267kph. In April 2014 Exmouth was hit by a massive flash flood that seriously damaged the town's infrastructure and its tourism industry. As we've already seen several times on this cruise the Aussies ride these blows and re-build – there's still a pioneer spirit here!
We were picked up at the quay by mini-buses that took us 25 miles across the peninsula to Tantabiddi, where we boarded the glass-bottom boat. As usual, we were warned that 'wildlife sightings are not guaranteed' :o) However, skimming only inches above the coral reef was, in itself, very exciting, with the boat owner, Alek (born in Poland) giving an excellent commentary.
We saw a turtle swimming below us early on, and later we saw a shark. The small, brightly-coloured fish darting in and out of the coral were fascinating. There were a few larger fish that looked as if they'd make a nice meal for two, but Alek said that their meat was 'horrible'. He added that he'd once seen a shark bite one and then spit it out!
This is the beginning of the Whale Shark season, as these massive fish return to these water. If you want to see them you have to go further off-shore on larger boats, where you can swim around them. They look like giant sharks, but they're completely harmless as they're filter feeders, living off plankton. From June the area is visited by large numbers of humpback whales. All of this sea life draws in large numbers of tourists – up to 10,000 are accommodated at the peak.
The life-style here is incredibly casual and relaxed. Alek said that he only has one pair of shoes, and that's simply because he has to wear them to visit a bar! As we walked around the tiny town centre after the excursion, observing the locals, it struck me that there probably wasn't a suit anywhere for a thousand miles in any direction!
As we left the minibus at the quay after the boat trip we bumped into an English couple that we've spoken to several times, and they told us that in town there was a lady with two small rescued kangaroos. The shuttle bus was waiting nearby, so it was off into Exmouth itself. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was midday and she'd left. Word was that she'd be back at 1.30pm, so because Gill had been told that she let people hold the 'joeys', we found a cool, shady place to sit and read while we waited. Disappointingly, she didn't return, but we found out more about the sanctuary that she runs.
It seems that 'roadkill' results in quite a few orphaned joeys, so the sanctuary takes them in and rears them until they're about two years old. In the latter stages they're fed in an area open to the bush where they can supplement their diet with food that they find for themselves, and eventually most of them leave and lead independent lives. Those who stay are still cared for. Bringing them into town today was to raise funds to support the sanctuary's work. Frankly, we'd have been very happy to contribute, especially if Gill had been able to add a joey to the list of creatures she'd cuddled ;o)
By 2.30pm we were back on board and at 4pm it was Afternoon Tea again. We always plan our dinner around one of the string quartet's 45 minute performances, and we're already realising that we'll miss them greatly at the end of the cruise. We've bought their CD, which is really excellent, and we've got to know them, especially Tamara, their leader.
After their performance we usually go to the 9.30pm event in the Lounge. Last night it was the Irish magician that we saw a few days ago. His first show was very slow, and the 45 minute performance produced very few tricks indeed. Last night it was different, with incredible card tricks pulled off in close-up on the screen behind him. Tonight, it's another familiar face – a guitarist who plays, seemingly, with every finger on both hands simultaneously. I'd call him a novelty act, because I'm not at all sure he could submit to the discipline of playing exactly what's on the sheet music – he's more 'bling' than anything. Still, he seems popular with our fellow passengers, and I imagine we'll give him another go tonight ;o)
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