Lakeside Sanctuary

Start - Off Yardie Creek Road

Length - 1.5km (Return Walk), 700m (Snorkel)

Grade - Blue

Terrain - Sand, Coral Reef

Max Depth - 3-5m

Time - 1 Hour

Signed - No

Cost - National Park Fees Apply

Date Snorkelled - 5th August 2021

Best Time - All Year Round

Traditional Custodians - Thalanyji People

Directions - Located about 52km from Exmouth, head north out of town on Murat Road and take a left onto Yardie Creek Road. Follow the signs for Cape Range National Park and keeping driving until you see the turnoff for Milyering Visitor Centre on your right. Turn here and follow the road past the visitor centre (do drop in for a visit though) and then turn left onto the unsealed road leading to Lakeside. The car park is at the end and the sanctuary can be reached by following the signs onto the beach and to the beach on the left. 

The Snorkel - With a very enjoyable morning spent exploring the Turquoise Bay Drift Snorkel and seeing a great variety of marine life there, I had scheduled in a second snorkelling spot for the day at Lakeside. As one of the four snorkelling sites listed in an old book on dive sites in Western Australia, Lakeside looked to provide another great opportunity to experience the stunning Ningaloo Reef that is literally metres away from the beach. 

Stopping in at the Milyering Visitor Centre for an ice-cream and cold beverage, we engaged in one of Caris' favourite activities, exploring gift shops. There is plenty here and if you've forgotten a piece of snorkelling gear and don't want to travel back to Exmouth to visit a store there, you can buy or hire flippers, masks and snorkels from here. With Caris a happy bunny, we headed back to the car and drove the short distance from the visitor centre to the Lakeside car park. The snorkelling spot isn't directly accessible from the beach as it's located within a weird little sanctuary zone further to the south. This requires following the signs along the edge of the small lake/inlet and walking along the beach until you reach the well marked sanctuary zone. It's not a long walk and provides some pretty scenes to marvel at while you get excited for the snorkelling ahead. Caris wasn't keen to get back in the cold water again so when we found a quiet spot on the beach, we setup the beach shelter for her to stay under and read her book. 

With the notes from the third edition of Dive & Snorkel Sites in Western Australia by CALM in my head (there is a copy at the visitor centre I had to reference as I forgot to bring my copy with me), I knew the rough layout of the area and how to best tackle the snorkel. Lakeside is well known for the Coral Bombies (large coral formations) that can be found here and the recommended route is to enter the water on the south side of the sanctuary and do a big loop around all the formations before heading back to shore on the north side. Not long after entering the water I came across the first formation and it was impressively large and surrounded by fish of all shapes and sizes. Some of the bigger schooling fish were hanging around the edges with the smaller varieties preferring the safely of the coral just in case the scary man wanted more than just photos. Some early fish finds included a Banded Humbug, a Harlequin Filefish, a Hawaiian Triggerfish, a school of Blackspot Snapper and an Australian Anemone hiding in the wavy coral. 

With excellent clarity and shallow depth of the water, it wasn't hard to bumble around and find all kinds of interesting things hiding near the bombies. Diving down to explore the base usually yielded some shy fish but depending on where the light was and how quickly they moved off, getting a good photo was sometimes quite difficult. I think the next piece of snorkelling equipment I will invest in is a weight belt so I can stay still for longer without having to worry about floating back up to the surface. Continuing to move between formations and following the odd fish that was scooting around in the open waters, it was amazing to see new varieties appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly. Along with a Yellow Boxfish, I spotted a Pufferfish with yellow fins that I can't find in my identification book. The variety of coral around the bombies and in the open sands was quite impressive with some large brain coral, so named because of the intricate pattern that looks exactly like a human brain. Another variety looked like intestines with a fluorescent blue glow to the outer edges that looked quite striking. 

 

Heading further out towards the reef wall (but still quite a distance from it), the gaps between the bombies were full of larger schooling fish that could have been a variety of Bream along with some skinny fish that are possibly Barracudas. More poor identification here but I followed a large red fish that looks like a Grouper for quite a while as it tried to fir in with a large school of similar sized fish but stood out like a sore thumb. As I reached the furthest point of my snorkelling adventures, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye and I turned my head to reveal a turtle gently floating on by. This would be the second turtle I would see after swimming with one briefly on our Whaleshark tour but that was in much deeper water and in murkier conditions on the other side of the reef. I followed it for a brief moment to get a photo before watching it glide off into the distance. Excited with my encounter, I continued on and wondered what else I would get to see while I was out here. The answer was a whole lot more as the number of new finds kept climbing thanks to a Smooth Flutemouth, Black Sea Cucumber, Narrowlined Puffer and a variety of different corals included some colourful Stag Coral and an orange variety with what looked like bright pink popping candy growing on it. 

While the morning snorkel at Turquoise Bay had been great, what I saw there was nowhere near as interesting as the variety I had seen at Lakeside, although a return visit to Turquoise Bay would yield cooler finds. Now exploring the back of the reef and heading along the northern edge as it ventured back to shore, I spotted a Sixband Angelfish, an Orange Cigarwrasse, some hidden Sea Urchins and a Giant Clam that had the most fascinating colours to it. Not wanting the snorkel to end, I kind of went back and forth between the bombies, retracing my whereabouts in the hopes of stumbling across something new. While enjoyable and a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, I realised the pleasure was just being in the water and not worrying about what would appear. How often are you in crystal clear waters surrounded by some of the most diverse marine life on the planet? I had to remind myself of that a few times over the trip and what will come, will come. As I headed back to shore, having spent well over an hour in the water, I was rewarded with one last amazing experience and something I had always wanted to have happen.

I heard some frantic shouting nearby and lifted my head out of the water enough to hear a girl repeating the word "dolphin" to her friends and pointing to a spot in the distance. I zoomed over to roughly where she had pointed and sure enough there were two dolphins checking out a small piece of coral on the sandy floor and I a squee of excitement left my body. I maintained a bit of distance while I watched them poke their noses around the coral before they noticed me and swam over to investigate. I hadn't brushed up on my clicking before we came to Ningaloo so I'm unsure of what they said to me but calmly looked me over and then sailed off towards the outer reef. What a cool experience that was and the girl who had spotted them hadn't been quick enough so unfortunately missed out. To that point I had swum with Manta Rays, Turtles, Dolphins and all kinds of weird and wonderful fish that the only thing I really wanted to see was a shark and luckily that came the next afternoon at Turquoise Bay so I had been quite lucky in the brief time I spent in the water over the course of the trip. I had a good poke around the bombies that finished off my little loop before joining Caris on the beach to tell her all about what I had seen. What a great day of snorkelling and it was above and beyond what I had expected.