Ningaloo Marine Park
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.