N is for Ningaloo Reef and bucket lists

a-to-z-letters-nToday we’re heading off to the coast of Western Australia, almost to the south-western boundaries of the map I posted here, and about 1500kms from Darwin (at a guess). We first visited the area over 10 years ago and were stunned by just how beautiful the coastline is, and believe me, coming from a Queenslander that’s a big compliment.

You get your first taste-tempter of the magnificence of red cliffs, white sandy beaches and turquoise waters when you visit Broome and it is just stunning visually. However it’s subject to the usual tropical stinger risks during the months ending in “r” just as Darwin is. How do they know stingers can read…that’s what I want to know. Okay, yes they’re the months when it’s hot, hot, hot! (Did you know that stingers can kill, and even if they don’t they really, really hurt? We’re not talking jelly fish here…so don’t be a “ning-nong” and take chances).

The vivid colours of the Broome coast.

The vivid colours of the Broome coast.

Further south from Broome at Ningaloo Reef, this ceases to be an issue. Sharks (of the man-eating variety) remain a consideration almost everywhere on the coast so there’s no point worrying about them too much.  I suspect Ningaloo Reef is one of those places which may be better known overseas than it used to be in Australia. When we visited in 2001, international tourists were much more in evidence than Aussies, except the ubiquitous grey nomads (retirees touring the country in vans/tents etc).

Ningaloo coast

The crystal waters and white sand of the Ningaloo coast.

Just imagine camping on the beachfront and looking out at this magnificent scene. A cold beer or wine, a book, your loved one, and “Bob’s your uncle”, you’ve got the perfect spot for a chill-out. The reef is relatively close to the beach so you can snorkel out to admire the coral and fish and generally have a wonderful time. At night the skies are smothered in stars, the Southern Cross, the Pointers and the broad dense sweep of the Milky Way, all glittering away from urban lights.

It was quite idyllic -until the wind blew a gale that night :-)

It was quite idyllic -until the wind blew a gale that night…

And that’s not all….there’s natural adventures in store as well, though this one does require you to splash the cash, and more importantly to be at Ningaloo in the critical migration months from April to July. Do you fancy swimming with the whale sharks? Huge creatures but not really dangerous because they’re plankton vacuum-ers not man-eaters, but boy are they big! Again we’d known nothing about them until we arrived and since it was the season it seemed important to “give it a go”.

I didn't get a photo of the whale sharks -too busy swimming -but this one in the Georgia Aquarium gives you a sense of scale.

I didn’t get a photo of the whale sharks -too busy swimming -but this one in the Georgia Aquarium gives you a sense of scale, and its beautiful patterning. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

As with the migration of the whales at Hervey Bay in Queensland, the boats work together to let each other know when a whale shark is spotted. There’s obviously a limit to how close the boat can go, so all fippered and masked up, off into the briny deep you leap swimming towards one of these creatures. Best to contain your imagination rather than think just how much ocean is under you, and what else might be swimming in it. Neither of those things bothered me personally but I rediscovered that snorkel masks make me claustrophobic so head down, boring through the water I very nearly ran into the whale shark! Did I mention how big his mouth is? They are amazing creatures, so huge, and they look like they’re barely moving, but try to swim to keep up and you soon find out differently. You can see a YouTube clip here to get a sense of scale (we also have our video of our swim).

Here comes lunch -fresh-caught Spanish Mackerel.

Here comes lunch: fresh-caught Spanish Mackerel.

This really is a great adventure for anyone who loves nature and I can highly recommend it. I’m unlikely to do it again unless I get past my mask-claustrophobia (I think due to chloroform when I was very young). But even if only one of you wants to do the swim, it’s still worth it. After the whale-shark-swim the team caught a large Spanish Mackeral which was on our plates within half an hour of being caught…the only time I’ve seen prawns ignored at a buffet.

Why visit: for the colourful magnificence of the scenery, for the perfect swimming and snorkelling and if you can, for the whale sharks. This is a bucket-list adventure, as is seeing the whales at Hervey Bay. Do it! You surely won’t regret it.


No worries/no problems: the ubiquitous Aussie response to being asked to do something or being thanked for doing something. “Think nothing of it” on the other hand is invariably sarcastic ie it really was a lot of trouble.

Nick: steal (kind of appropriate since Australia was founded on convicts who were banished for seven years or life, often for nicking something, not infrequently quite small).

 Narky: cranky, aggravated and somewhat bad tempered.

 Nana: No, not your grandmother, but “doing your nana” means “doing your block”, having a “hissy fit” or losing your temper. It’s pronounced like na-na.

 Ning nong: an idiotic or stupid person.

 I wonder where O will take us tomorrow.

2013 A to Z Challenge: Travels through Australia’s north

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9 (1)It’s only a couple of days until 1 April when this year’s A to Z challenge commences. It takes determination to persist with the 26 posts, not to mention visit others who are blogging along with us.

As I’m something of a travel obsessive, the 2013 series will  have a travel theme, but this year I hope to introduce you to places you may not know, or even have heard about: Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) with skirmishes across into the top half of Western Australia (WA) as well. All the places will be ones I’ve visited and I’ll be including at least one photo of each place.

Like many places, Australia has its own language peculiarities so you’ll need to take along a little knowledge of our colloquialisms, which I’m going to call Aussie-isms. Each day I’ll give you a few catchy words or phrases that are needed if you’re not to be bewildered when you visit.

Map for A to Z

There are some distinguishing features common to the places I’ll be talking about and which differ from the rest of Australia:


Most of the time in the Top End (the top half on the NT and WA), it is HOT. Unlike other places we have two seasons, the Wet (December to March/April approx) and the Dry (April/May to August). Actually we have three seasons, though we try to ignore the September to December zone, as that’s the Build Up, sometimes known as Mango Madness because (i) that’s when the mangoes flourish and fruit and (ii) people go nuts because of the heat and humidity.

The humidity is the key difference between the two main seasons and temperatures which may look similar based on numbers can be very different on the ground.

And when we say, Wet, we do mean wet: cyclones, monsoons, and lots and lots of rain. Roads flood and become impassable and many tourist sites are inaccessible because of this and also the even higher risk of crocodiles. Lightning is a feature of the Wet as are monster storms with crashing thunder.

An aerial view over Darwin c2001. A Wet Season storm is brewing.

An aerial view over Darwin c2001. A Wet Season storm is brewing.

Dry means just that: brides-to-be can plan their outdoor wedding months in advance in the almost certain knowledge there’ll be no rain. We can go for months without a drop of rain.

Our temperatures are in Celsius which won’t be familiar to some people so here are some clues: 35C=95F;  20C=68F (and sees people reaching for Ugg boats and jumpers!) 0C=32F.


There’s an awful lot of wide open space out there and it’s a “long way between drinks” once you head out of Darwin. To reach two other capital cities, Brisbane and Adelaide, it is approximately the same distance as London to St Petersburg or San Francisco to Missouri.

Another factor of the distance is that Bali and Singapore are closer than, or as close as, other major cities in Australia, making them regular holiday destinations. As a result the Top End has a very Asian flavour.

Darwin area close


Australia has a bad reputation for having a lot of things that can kill you. Unfortunately they’re a less obvious than brown bears, for example. The northern half of the country is especially prone to hazardous wildlife: crocodiles and stingers outweigh the fear of sharks in the water so that few people swim in those beautiful blue waters; underwater there are  poisonous shells, deadly stonefish, particular tropical fish and sea-snakes not to mention lethal snakes, spiders and scorpions on land. Oh, sorry, that’s right I’m trying to encourage you to come visit our wide brown land!

On the other hand we have wide skies, vivid colours, stars dense in the sky and some pretty quirky mammals.

I do hope you enjoy your excursions into Australia’s far north and Red Centre. Thanks for joining me!

My A to Z series for 2012 was about the important places to my family history, both historic and recent. The 2012 series was on my family history blog, Family History Across the Seas. If you’re interested in reading any of the stories (V was very popular), you can find them through this link.