No wor­ries, no hurry

The hard­est part about this Cape ad­ven­ture will be leav­ing

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - With Brent Dav­i­son

EX­MOUTH, Western Aus­tralia. It's the land that time for­got, a place where clocks are op­tional, shorts and t-shirts manda­tory, snorkellin­g gear oblig­a­tory and the word “hurry” banned from com­mon use.

Seafood is fresh, meals hearty, fast food chains non-ex­is­tent and the World Her­itage-listed Nin­ga­loo Reef is so close to the coast you can walk off the beach in most places and touch it.

Ex­mouth is also one of the few pop­u­lated places on the en­tire planet that in­ter­sects the whale shark travel route and any­one with a dive mask, snorkel, fins and the abil­ity to swim a bit can com­mune with the big crit­ters.

Did I say big? Think mas­sive be­cause there is ap­par­ently no such thing as a small whale shark. We saw five on our day in the wa­ter and the small­est mea­sured four me­tres.

It's agood thing then that whale sharks lack se­ri­ous chop­pers and live by suck­ing plank­ton through their sieve-like mouths, ren­der­ing them com­pletely harm­less to hu­mans. Un­less you hap­pen to swim across their path and get bumped by one be­cause whale sharks ap­par­ently do not like chang­ing course.

Com­muning with whale sharks is rel­a­tively sim­ple. You book with one of the 10 or 11 tour com­pa­nies, it sends a bus to your ac­com­mo­da­tion, takes you to the Tantabiddi boat ramp, puts you on a com­fort­able cruiser which takes you out be­yond the reef, finds a col­lec­tion of whale sharks and drops you in the ocean to play “spot the fish”. Not hard when the fish is as big as a bus.

Boat crews are ex­pe­ri­enced “whalers” and great swim­mers so whale watch­ers who find the go­ing a bit tough can get a help­ful tow to where the big crit­ters are wan­der­ing in the briny.

The big­gest whale shark we saw dur­ing our day on the wa­ter? About nine me­tres. Very im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially when you con­sider it is still classed as a ju­ve­nile.

North West Cape, that fin­ger of land of which Ex­mouth is the nom­i­nal cap­i­tal, has more to of­fer should swim­ming with the world's big­gest fish be­come too much like hard work.

A day in the Cape Range Na­tional Park re­quires noth­ing more than a pic­nic lunch, your snorkel gear, swim­mers, towel and sun­block.

There are loads of beau­ti­ful ocean beaches be­tween Light­house Bay in the north and Yardie Creek in the south with most giv­ing in­stant en­try to Nin­ga­loo Reef.

Yardie Creek, about 90km from Ex­mouth, has a gorge tour that is es­sen­tially a na­ture walk on steroids. Tur­tles and st­ingrays live near the creek's mouth and colonies of rock wal­la­bies pop­u­late the cliff faces ei­ther side of the creek fur­ther up the gorge.

Head­ing back off the coast into the moun­tains that form the cape's spine takes you in­stantly from the sand of the beach to the sand of the desert and gives amaz­ing views west to the ocean and east to the in­land.

All that snorkellin­g, ad­ven­tur­ing, swim­ming and sight­see­ing can work up an ap­petite and Ex­mouth caters for such even­tu­al­i­ties. Funny thing, no restau­rant or cafe in the wild west knows the mean­ing of the word “small” when it comes to meal sizes but they do know what “hearty” means.

Quite sur­pris­ingly, this wild west town caters for all food tastes from the hum­ble fisho all the way through to five-star din­ing.

Ex­mouth ac­com­mo­da­tion also caters for all tastes and ranges from bare-bones camp grounds to five star and, at the top of the tree, the $1500-a-night Sal Salis re­sort for those who like glamp­ing in the peace and quiet of the na­tional park.

Vis­it­ing Ex­mouth also means a side­bar visit to the amaz­ing Co­ral Bay, about 150km away, which ex­ist en­tirely for tourists.

Two huge car­a­van parks, a re­sort, a mod­est shop­ping cen­tre, at least two sur­pris­ingly good restau­rants and a cou­ple of eater­ies, some tour book­ing agen­cies and a back­pack­ers' hos­tel is pretty much the ex­tent of Co­ral Bay but what it of­fers is im­pres­sive. Town beach is a mere 100 me­tres away from any­where and not only has good swim­ming and snorkellin­g but also three manta ray spot­ting tour op­er­a­tors.

Keep in mind though that, un­like the big fish, man­tas are amaz­ingly quick and ac­ro­batic so chas­ing them can be tir­ing. Good thing then the boats have cof­fee, soft drinks and food aboard. If you want to stay dry for a while there are beach bug­gies for hire but if you want to be more Steve McQueen than Light­ning McQueen an­other com­pany rents quad bikes.

All of them have a range of tours into the desert or along the coast to se­cluded beaches with reef snorkellin­g in­cluded.

And this year, for the first time, Ex­mouth is ex­per­i­ment­ing with hump­back whale tours, not just watch­ing the ma­jes­tic crea­tures as they travel the reef but ac­tu­ally giv­ing ev­ery­one a chance to get in the wa­ter with them and get up close. Re­ally close. The worst part of all this swim­ming, drink­ing, eat­ing and hav­ing fun? Leav­ing.

Funny how most peo­ple on the flight back to Perth seem to have the match­ing whale shark and manta ray stuffed toys and the al­most-oblig­a­tory tourist t-shirt.

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