Festival rockers have whale of a time
Exmouth celebrated the 2016 Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival last weekend.
The community came together to celebrate the whale sharks’ annual visit to the Ningaloo coast with a weekend jam-packed with events.
There was a gala opening party at the Novotel Ningaloo Resort, live music from bands Caravãna Sun and Kallidad, entertainment from Zap Circus and Natural Wings, a seaside cinema, market stalls, kite displays and a family fun run.
Festival co-ordinator Branka King said it was great to see the events bring the community together. “(It was) definitely very rewarding to see everything come together and all the performers and people involved when they come and congratulate the committee and you know it’s been a success,” she said.
Bobbing about in open ocean roughly one kilometre from the shore, my snorkel mask was slipping off my face.
I kept swallowing salt water and I was trying not to think of what could be lurking between my flippers and the ocean floor 20m below.
I’m not a strong swimmer and don’t have a very close relationship with the ocean, so I’m growing impatient.
I keep looking around the ocean depths, waiting to catch a glimpse of a whale shark when, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, one reveals itself.
At that moment, I forget about everything I was worried about and realise why a town would dedicate an entire festival to these majestic sea creatures.
Swimming alongside a whale shark is something one could never forget and almost too surreal to quite put into words.
The magnitude of their size and strength is evident as I felt the pressure of the water being pushed against me from the shark’s huge tail — and apparently that was a small one.
They look like they’re moving slowly but I’m kicking with all my might to keep up.
Suddenly, it takes a dive, slowly disappearing into the ocean below.
The tour group gathered and waited for the Ningaloo Discovery catamaran to pick us up.
Everyone cheered and laughed, high on the adrenaline from what had just happened.
We hopped back on the boat and came down from our highs as the Ningaloo Discovery team treated us to a generous spread of food for lunch and took us to a lagoon for one last snorkel and swim.
As I headed back to shore, I wondered how the festival organisers could quite top what I had just experienced.
I wanted to get back out there and do it all again straight away but, as it turns out, the festival events kept me fairly well occupied for the next three days.
The Novotel Ningaloo Resort was the luxurious venue for the official festival opener last Friday night.
Drinks were flowing and delicious food was on offer as the crowd buzzed with excitement for the weekend ahead.
Zap Circus was the first in the line-up of entertainers with their spectacular flame and special effects show.
Xena, Queen of the Pilbara Desert then performed a hilarious and very classy adult comedy act, and then it was Sydney threepiece Kallidad which had everyone up and dancing with their high-energy fiesta party tunes.
That wasn’t the last crowds were to see of Zap Circus and Kallidad because they took the stage again at the festival day on Talanjee Oval and the sundowner at the Exmouth Yacht Club.
On the Saturday, Exmouth locals and visitors gathered at Talanjee Oval for the Whale Shark Festival Day.
A family fun run kicked the day off, with participants of all ages completing the 4.2km course and finishing off with a breakfast at the recreation centre.
The 22-piece Australian Army Band was the first to entertain that day, performing songs from the 40s and 50s, right up to the present day.
Other performers included the Stardust dancers, musicians Miss Max and Michael “Tricky” Triscari, acrobatic duo Natural Wings, bands Blacksmith Jazz and the NbC, and stilt performers Pirateman.
There were market stalls and all types of food and displays from Exmouth groups and organisations.
Children were able to get involved with workshops by Cape Range Riders and Kinetic Kits, and a turtle-naming competition by CSIRO and BHP Billiton.
As the sun went down and the market stalls got packed up, people headed to Cadillac’s bar and grill for a night of live music.
Dave Mann warmed up the crowd in the lounge area, then one-man band Jay Hoad took to the main stage.
Headliners Caravãna Sun were the final act and had the crowd dancing from the moment they stepped on stage.
The audience ranged from young dreadlocked surfers enthusiastically dancing right at the front of the stage to retirees with glass of merlot in hand, tapping their feet along to the bouncing gypsy-ska grooves.
Sunday was a quieter day around town.
It was the big day out on the Ningaloo Reef, with whale shark tour operators offering discounted tours for those wanting to swim with the real stars of the festival.
To close the festival, punters headed to the Exmouth Yacht Club for a sundowner featuring food stalls, a bar and entertainment.
Zap Circus and Kallidad did their last gig for the festival.
Zap Circus performers Tara Belle Murphy and Rusty Hammond said they loved entertaining the Exmouth crowd.
“We just thought some people would come and watch shows but everywhere we’ve done a show, we’ve had everyone in the vicinity and everyone’s just been wicked,” Ms Murphy said.
One-third of Kallidad, Tom Raven, said the band had enjoyed being able to stay in Exmouth for a longer time.
“We’ve been to Exmouth for one day in the past, so we’ve spent the whole week here and it’s been amazing,” he said.
“We did the whale shark thing. It was amazing (and) we’ll remember it forever.”
Festival co-ordinator Branka King said she couldn’t pick just one highlight.
“It’s really hard to pick what was the highlight because every day there was something that was just fantastic,” she said.
“Because we’re quite remote where we are, it’s just beneficial to have events like this to bring the community together, to have some culture in town, to introduce the arts and that’s very important for the people that live here.”
As the sun set, the crowd was in good spirits but there was a note of sadness to see the sun setting on the amazing festival that everyone had enjoyed.
Monday was a cloudy day in Exmouth, perhaps the weather gods were trying to make it easier for everyone to leave.
Kallidad thrilled the crowd at the Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival in Exmouth last weekend.
Ningaloo Discovery tour group during the Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival.
Mark Lewis, Georgia Blazevic and Vince Catania. Headliners Caravana Sun at Cadillac’s.
Natural Wings perform at the festival day.