Where are we now?

Where are we now?
Where are we now? Tahmoor, NSW. Updated 7th December 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 115. Coral Bay

"This is the best day of my life"

These are the words that best describe how we all felt after our adventure today! Scarlett said them after her amazing swim with the Whale Sharks at Coral Bay, and never has a truer statement been said.

Back to the start of our day. We woke to a grey sky; but there was no wind and the seas were relatively smooth. It looked like it was going to be a day for special things to come, as we were all excited about what the day might bring.

On the way out
We headed across the road to 'Ningaloo Reef Dive"; the company who were taking us out today on our encounter with Whale Sharks, and they fitted us out in wetsuits and snorkeling gear before taking us down to the boat that would soon fulfil our wildest dreams!

After the safety brief, we headed out to a part of the inner reef to practice our snorkeling skills, and to learn the hand signals that the swimming guide would be doing while leading us with later in the day for our special meeting with a gentle giant of the deep.

During this swim, we were spellbound by the natural beauty of the reef, but we soon found two sea turtles that totally captivated Scarlett (and us). She loved the water, and she loved the sea life (to both Bec and my relief - as we were soon heading out to the open ocean to search for whale sharks; and we were still very apprehensive about taking Scarlett swimming with the whale sharks. We still had no idea how she would react to being 'out there').

A Dugong surfacing to take a breath of fresh air
Before we knew it we were heading off in search of 'bigger fish'. While waiting for the 'spotter plane' to find our whale shark, we found a family of four Dugongs that were busy feeding on the local sea grasses. This was a special moment for all of us, as we missed seeing the Dugongs back in Shark Bay, so to see them here was a bonus that we weren't expecting. Although they spent most of their time underwater, we witnessed them breaking the surface for air on a number of occasions, and they even came so close that they practically swam under the boat. It was a rare treat that we all enjoyed thoroughly.

Wendy and Rebecca

During this encounter, morning tea was served by the crew on the boat. We had hot tea and coffee, as well as biscuits and savoury chips. Yummy! Just what we needed after our earlier swim. It certainly warmed us up from the inside out.

As we enjoyed our morning tea and Dugong spotting, there was a flurry of activity up on the bridge as the spotter plane had located a Whale Shark! A cheer went up from all of us, as we gunned the engines and sped off to the location that the plane had sent to us! It was time to see what we had all come here to see - our very first Whale Shark!

Scarlett, Bec and Shane in the water and looking for our first ever Whale Shark

Jo, Jace, and Maya
15 minutes later, and the first group of ten swimmers (which included our friends Jace, Jo and Maya) were in the water. Wendy, Bec, Scarlett and myself were in the 2nd group of ten swimmers, and we soon followed! Up to this stage we were worried about Scarlett, but she was the first in the water and Bec and I were soon in hot pursuit. Wendy was already off and chasing 'our' group.

Unfortunately Grace and Jai (Jace, and Jo's other two children), didn't go swimming with the Whale Sharks today, as Grace didn't feel comfortable swimming in the open water, and Jai was to young (not to mention not a very strong swimmer yet). However, they did watch all the action from the comfort of the boat.

First look at 'our' whale shark

there he goes...
Within seconds we had our first encounter with what could only be described as the most amazing animal we have ever had the good fortune of meeting. Approximately 7 metres below the surface was a 7 to 8 metre male Whale Shark. He seemed to swim with no effort at all, however we were soon all swimming like crazy to catch up to it.

Before we knew it he had disappeared into the deep blue; and the boat was coming back around to pick us up and take us up ahead of it so that we could jump in again and repeat this magical experience.

Rebecca and Wendy. Thumbs up!

I must say that the water was a bit choppy at this stage, and the swell certainly made swimming difficult. Even I found it difficult to swim as my snorkel kept filling with water and my mask felt as though it was being torn from my face. I think even Bec and Wendy struggled a little bit with this first encounter. However, Scarlett never complained and was amazed at what she had just seen. All she kept asking when she finally got back on the boat was 'why did we have to get back on board so quickly for? Why?'

The seas did take its toll on her though as she didn't want to go straight back in, so I stayed with her on the boat as Bec and Wendy soon disappeared over the back of the boat to meet this gentle giant again!

They soon returned, and Bec was 'buzzing'. She was in total awe of this denizen of the deep, and couldn't wait to get back in the water again. Wendy however had had enough. She had swallowed enough seawater that it started to make her feel sick, so she opted to stay on board while I readied myself to return to the water with Rebecca.

Our best photo of 'our' whale shark 

A Gentle Giant
My next encounter was much more surreal. The shark seemed to of slowed down its swimming pace a little, and the seas had started to ease. This time it swam straight towards me, so I quickly got out of its way and followed at its side for what seemed like forever; however in reality it was probably only a minute or two. I felt like nothing else mattered as I swam beside it, like it was just the Whale Shark and me out there. However I soon came back to reality as it quietly swam away again and left me behind on the open seas.

When we were back on the boat, I took another break from re-entering the water, but Bec was off again. She was in her element, and was savouring every minute of it. This was a once in a life time experience, and she was not wasting anytime out of the water.

I again joined Bec back in the water at the next opportunity, and we were both loving it. We enjoyed this encounter even more this time, as the seas were not as rough.

The deckie soon announced that this would be our last chance to swim as our time with the shark was up, so Bec, Scarlett and I slipped into the water for the last time. This time the whale shark was just below the waters surface, and cruising along at a nice easy pace. We really got to enjoy this last time in the water, as it was a magical moment spent as a family. The shark was absolutely beautiful, and being able to swim with it in its own domain was something very special indeed.

Jace, Jo and Maya were waiting for us as we returned to the boat, and as
That's my girl!
we climbed out of the water we all cheered and did high fives! We all felt a bond as we had experienced something very unique that I'm sure will live with us for the rest of our lives.

Even Bec said it was the best thing she had ever done! I questioned this as surely swimming with the Great White Sharks off Port Lincoln would have to be better; but she explained it was a completely different experience that doesn't compare. In Bec's words; "Today was made more special as I got to experience it with my family. To be able to share such an amazing encounter with the ones you love just doesn't compare". I can understand what she means, as although the Great White Sharks in South Australia was a life changing encounter for her; to not have someone their you love to share it with would certainly make one feel as though something was missing.

A special mention must go to Wendy. She has now ticked off another thing that was on her bucket list, and she did it with a smile on her face! To fly all the way over to Perth and endure 4 weeks with us on the road 'just' to swim with Whale Sharks is a great achievement. Bec is so proud of her mum! Go girl!

Wendy enjoying our cruise on the inside of Ningaloo Reef

I must point out at this point that by law, once an operator has made contact with a whale shark, they have a 1 hour time limit to swim with the animal. And depending on the state of the sea, the speed at which the whale shark is swimming, and the fitness of the people in the water trying to keep up with the shark; depends on how long you get to swim with the shark. All up we did a total of 6 swims with the shark and each encounter lasted for at least 5 minutes. So all up we had the chance to swim in the open ocean with this gentle giant for about 30 minutes in total (give or take). Considering Bec was the only one who went in every time, she did an amazing job! Well done honey! I went in 4 times, Scarlett and Wendy twice each.

This wasn't the end of our day by no means. After this amazing encounter, we headed back inside the reef to have a fantastic lunch that was put on by the crew. There was a platter of cold meats, a myriad of salads, a fruit platter and bread and drinks. It was a great meal and we all digged in! Yum Yum. During lunch we encountered more Dugongs and I took the chance to take a few photos. They are called the 'cows of the sea', and its hard to see how any 'sane man' could ever get these wonderful creatures confused with beautiful mermaids of myth and legend.

After lunch it was back in the water to explore the reef by ourselves. We were moored out in the middle of the reef and it was amazing. Just after entering the water, we followed a white tip reef shark for a short time, before Scarlett found her first of many sea turtles. There are Loggerheads, Hawksbills and Green Sea Turtles in this area, and I'm sure we must of seen all three species. Again the fish life and reef was amazing - I still think Ningaloo Reef in WA beats the Great Barrier Reef; there is no comparison.

Our 1st Turtle after lunch

Scarlett and 'her' turtle

On returning to the boat for the final time, we were greeted by a crew member handing us a free beer and stubby holder - you bewdy! We also had a bit of afternoon tea, before heading back to shore. We used this time to dry ourselves off, get changed into some dry clothes, and shared our experiences with other 'tourists' like us who ventured into the unknown today. It was a great feeling. We were all 'on a high' and you could feel the electricity and energy within the group. I think not one person left with any regrets.

Enjoying a beer after a great day of amazing experiences

On returning to shore, we were all awarded a certificate as a memento of our encounter; and the crew were very impressed with Scarlett as I was later informed that she is the youngest person to ever of swam with a whale shark! That's my girl!

Scarlett receiving her certificate

Before I go, I just want to say a big thank you to 'Ningaloo Reef Dive" who operate out of Coral Bay. Bec contacted them by email a few weeks ago to ask what type of a deal they could do for us and our friends as we wanted to swim with the whale sharks. Since then, they have been in constant contact with Bec and have done an amazing discount for all of us. Their professionalism is second to none, and they certainly made us feel welcome. They were only to eager to help if asked. Even the food and the little things like a beer at the end of the day with a free stubby holder was a nice gesture. We were all very happy with the service this company provided and would highly recommend them to anyone.

Wendy, Scarlett, Bec and Shane onboard "Encounter II'

It certainly has been the 'best day of my life'. (Thanks for that line Scarlett).

Tomorrow we leave Coral Bay for Exmouth, as we continue our journey around this great big land of ours. We'll be sorry to leave, as I think I can vouch for everyone in saying that this place has certainly been the highlight of our travels so far, and it will leave an everlasting impression on all of us.

And thats a big call as we have seen some amazing places...

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