Turquoise Bay Drift Snorkel
Start - Off Yardie Creek Road
Length - 500m to 2km (Loop)
Grade - Blue
Terrain - Sand, Coral Reef
Max Depth - 3-5m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - No
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Snorkelled - 5th August 2021
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Thalanyji People
Directions - Located about 65km 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 Turquoise Bay on your right. Take the sealed road all the way to the end where you will find two car parks, one for the drift snorkel to the left and one for sheltered bay on the right.
The Snorkel - The Ningaloo Coast is a world famous stretch of Western Australia that is home to an abundance of marine life, stunning turquoise waters and some of the best beaches on Planet Earth. With a record breaking amount of rain falling in July down in Perth, I was looking forward to escaping up north and getting out into the water for some fun in the sun. One particular activity I was excited about the most was snorkelling and one of the best spots is the Turquoise Bay Drift Snorkel located about 45 minutes from the centre of Exmouth.
With the weather on our arrival being a little on the cool and windy side, the third full day of our trip seemed to be the warmest and least windy we would get so I made plans to explore some of the snorkelling spots along the coast. Loading up the CH-R, Caris and I headed out of town and began the now familiar drive around the cape towards the national park. With a nice playlist pumping out some tunes, it was a great drive to the well sign-posted car park where we nabbed a spot among the other tourists. There are two parts to Turquoise Bay with the drift snorkel on the southern side of the sandbar and a protected bay on the north side. Both have excellent snorkelling opportunities but care must be taken on both because if you get dragged into the currents that flow outward from the sandbar then you will get carried out to sea. This is made clear on all the signs there but it's something to be aware of when out in the water. I had brought our beach shelter with us from Perth as Caris isn't very fond of UV rays and we found an empty space on the beach to setup.
There were already a few people in the water and so with all our gear ready, we started walking down the beach to find a good entry point. Being a drift snorkel, the current naturally pulls you from south to north so to maximise the benefit it's best to walk down the beach before getting in the water. How far is up to you but the exit point has to be before the sand bar so you don't get sucked out to sea. Getting in the water, it was a little colder than I was expecting but once I was in and had the mask on, things were more bearable. It doesn't take long before you reach the coral reef and there is a garden of formations, bombies and open sand to explore that is just teeming with life. With my Olympus TG6 in hand, I floated along, racing from one coral formation to the next as I saw something that caught my attention. Caris was nearby and would frequently wave me down to point something out but there was so much to see that it wouldn't take long before there was something new to look at. Within a few minutes I had seen a Bluespot Butterflyfish, a juvenile Black Damsel, Blue-green Puller and one of our favourites, the Hawaiian Triggerfish that looks a bit like a clown with long yellow lipstick.
The clarity was crystal clear and it was a joy to swim around and see so much after my last few snorkelling outings in Perth being very murky. The new varieties of fish kept on coming with all sorts of shapes, colours and patterns just patrolling the reef. Getting good shots was difficult for some fish as they either quickly retreated to the safety of the coral formations or darted off at speed to get away from you. Some were less phased by my presence and I was happy to get clear shots of beautifully coloured Wrasse and Parrotfish, along with a Stars and Stripes Puffer that would be as close to a Whale Shark in colouring that I would get on this trip. While editing the photos I was amazed at the colours of its eye with what looks like an entire universe contained within it (5th photo in the above gallery). Caris and I continued to drift towards the sandbar as expected and it made life a little easier unless you spotted something interesting and wanted to stop and inspect it further. The current isn't super strong but enough to put you off course if you don't put in any effort. Spotting lots of new fish including Moorish Idols, Angelfish, Darts, Convict Surgeonfish and some very protective fish that liked to charge at my camera with their dorsal fins raised in anger.
Reaching the end of the drift snorkel and exiting the beach before the sandbar, I found Caris already back at the shelter and we swapped stories of all the different fish we had seen. While the water had felt cold all throughout the last hour or so, I didn't think it was too cold compared to Perth water but I was shivering for a while, even with the sun trying to warm me up. Candy and Hal had arrived after their various Zoom meetings but we weren't sure where they had plonked their gear. Caris decided to stay in the beach shelter while I went for a bit of a wander with my DSLR to get some beach shots. We eventually found them and I was keen to get back in the water for round two. Given you are just drifting aimlessly, there is always the chance you will see something you didn't on previous snorkels and this turned out to be the case. I came across several large patches of different coloured Stag Coral and a few bombies close to shore that I had somehow missed the first time around. The new fish sightings continued with a Violet Soldierfish, a Lemon Damsel, a Blackspot Snapper and plenty more brightly coloured Wrasse and Parrotfish. With another 45 minutes or so in the water and the next snorkelling spot to explore, I decided to head back, happy with what I had seen and vowing to return another day.
The Return - With some dodgy weather forecast for the final two days of our trip and the likelihood of good snorkelling conditions not looking fantastic, I decided to head back to Turquoise Bay the following day to check out the sheltered bay. With a lovely morning spent hiking the Badjirrajirra Trail with Hal, I made plans to visit Turquoise Bay in the afternoon with Caris and Candy deciding to join me. When we arrived at the northern end of Turquoise Bay, there were a large number of Red Bell Jellyfish in the area north of the sandbar and washed up on the beach. It looked like avoiding them was going to be impossible and I thought back to our boat tour at Yardie Creek where the guide mentioned that jellyfish were usually the first sign of incoming storms so that wasn't ideal for our last days in Exmouth. Having driven all the way out here, I decided to check out the drift snorkel section to see if it was any better and thankfully the waters seemed relatively clear. Caris didn't want to snorkel but was happy sitting in the shelter so Candy and I walked back to the sandbar and decided to tackle it by going against the current. This wasn't too hard once you were among the reef structures and visibility was still pretty good and the number of jellyfish was minimal.
Within minutes of being in the water and exploring a few of the bombies, I found a nice surprise hanging out at the base of one of these giant structures. A Green Sea Turtle was just chilling out on the sand and was quite happy to stay there. Candy wasn't very far away so I flagged her attention and pointed to where the turtle was. Diving down to get some photos, it was pretty calm and didn't move off for quite a while (I maintained a good distance). It did eventually decide to swim off and I followed it for a while as it gracefully glided through the water. Happy with my third turtle sighting of the trip, I continued to swim around looking for interesting things I hadn't seen before. There seemed to be a greater abundance of marine life around on this visit with large schools of various different species racing around and I had some good finds including a Sixband Angelfish, a bright blue Brain Coral, Threadfin Butterflyfish, more Convict Surgeonfish than you could poke a stick at and possibly some schooling Striped Barracuda. Venturing out further towards the outer reef, I had really hoped to see some Reef Sharks and it was special moment when I spotted one from a distance and got a little excited.