The Journey Home from Port Hedland

We were determined to have another go at visiting Coral Bay , since everyone had told us that is was such an amazing place. So undeterred by our previous experience with the sand storm, we set off from Port Hedland very early in the morning. Our goal to get there in one journey. Unbelievable...300 miles into the outback we were flagged down by a police car coming from the other direction for a breath test. We hadn't seen another car for ages, and it amused me immensely to find these coppers all on their own in the middle of nowhere. He soon wiped the smile off my face though when I noted the gun hanging in his holster. He was taking this very seriously, telling me that a lot of fatal accidents occur out here when people assume they can drink with impunity in the desert, then fall asleep on the road killing themselves and others. Ok...that was me well and truly told. We arrived at Coral Bay late afternoon, thankfully with very little evidence of the howling monster that greeted us there before. Didn't take long to put up the tent, and I soon got stuck in to the barbecue. Pretty much everywhere you go in Oz, electric or gas powered barbies are provided at camp sites and road lay-bys to avoid the possibility of bush fires starting from charcoal fuelled ones. Although they lack the flavour enhancing taste given to the food by the smoke, I can see the sense in it. The next morning we awoke bright and early, and as soon as we had downed the first coffee of the day ventured off to book ourselves on one of the glass bottomed boats that cruise over the coral reefs. Luckily we came across one that was just about to leave, so without further ado we paid our money and climbed aboard. The one we were on was more like a submarine, since as we walked down into the vessel we were actually peering through the glass windows straight out into the water and fish. What an amazing experience...I cannot emphasise enough the wondrous sights that awaited us. Ningaloo reef is the largest living coral reef in the world, stretching out for more than 400 miles along the coast line of Western Australia. The major advantage being it is so close to shore, unlike the Great Barrier reef which is many miles out to sea. The coral gives off an iridescent glow in the shimmering sunlight that filters down through the shallow ocean above it. The colours of the vast array of fish that habituate the reef take your breath away. Like looking out into an exotic aquarium. We floated around for the best part of an hour, which flashed past in an instant. I took many photos through the glass, but they do not do it justice. Nothing can compare with the kaleidoscope of hues that your eyes feast upon during this wondrous 60 minutes. Now hooked, I was determined to have a go at snorkelling over the reef. I've never been very keen at swimming out of my depth in the ocean, but this was a chance of a lifetime and not to be missed. Our boat ticket provided us with free access to snorkelling gear for the day, so I clumsily set off in my flippers and face mask to explore the depths. What great fun it was too. No effort was needed to swim out to the reef, all one had to do was simply lay in the water face down, and let the current do the rest. The entire sea bed of Coral Bay is covered in a myriad of different corals, with a huge variety of really tame fish just cruising around. All one has to do is float about, and take in the unique subterranean scenery. Many times I got so carried away with what I was seeing that I plunged my head down too far into the briny, resulting in a violent coughing fit from the inrush of water plunging down my air pipe. That brought me back to earth with a bump, I can tell you. Especially when the first reaction is to try and stand up, but I was in very much deeper water than could allow that. Gave my friend a worrying minute or two as I disappeared beneath the waves. Coral is also VERY sharp, I can personally vouch for that. Got the scars to prove it. But despite all this, it was a magical day I would not have missed for anything. Something else worth remembering was how tame the fish were in the bay, they would actually swim up to you in the shallows and feed out of your hand. We were warned that many young stingrays tend to dig themselves into the sand by the waters edge during the hotter part of the day, so it was worth stamping your feet to alert them of your presence as you paddled along, hopefully they would then swim off. They can inflict a very painful wound with the poisonous barb on their tail if disturbed. After seeing the chunky Red Snapper swimming around in his own little world, totally unaware of my presence, I felt really guilty about the delicious plate of snapper and chips I'd had only recently. Vowing never to eat fish again (soon broken) time flashed by, only finally stopping when my body decided that breathing only through my mouth was a silly idea and I attempted to inhale through my nose some of the water that had leaked into my mask. It was with a heavy heart that we left this beautiful part of the W.A. coast, for one could easily spend many wonderful days here. The following morning we were on the road by 7am. Not to arrive back home till gone 10pm that evening. 15 hours almost non stop driving. The equivalent distance of driving Lands End to John o' Groats in one hit. Got to take my hat off to my friend for that, don't think I could have managed such an endurance test. All those long years driving about in the bush roads of Africa obviously paying off. She told me her nearest corner shop was hundreds of miles away, so you didn't go unless you really wanted something. Then you filled the car up with everything you could manage to cram in it. It didn't pay to run out of loo paper mid week, I can tell you. Land of the winnits. When we arrived home, all I wanted to do was climb into a nice soft bed and sleep a dreamless slumber after a long cool shower. But no, it was not to be. We knocked on the neighbours door (a smashing South African guy) just to quickly thank him for keeping an eye on the place whilst we were away. Thrusting a tinny in my hand he immediately insisted we come in for a beer or 6 and tell him all about what we had been up to for the last 3 weeks. I suspected he'd already had several himself by the way his speech was so slurred, but it's against my religion to turn down a drink. Thus the evening ended in his lounge at about 1am in an alcoholic haze. Suffice to say we weren't up too early the following morning.

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