Lazy Days in Coral Bay

Child No 2 and I went for a little holiday last week to celebrate her having finished school a few weeks ago. It had been a long time in the planning. Coral Bay is one of our absolute favourite holiday destinations. It’s an isolated and remote little paradise in northwest Australia.

It’s an extremely popular spot to visit and explore the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef. Travellers come from far and wide to enjoy it. It draws families, retirees, tourists and backpackers alike. Situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn Coral Bay gets hit by cyclones sometimes. It boasts the closest coral reef to any landmass. Snorkelling off the beach to see beautiful coral is unrivalled. About half of the coral species found in the world occur on the Ningaloo Reef and a large number are endemic to the reef. There are turtles, manta rays, whale sharks (in season) and an abundance of fish.

The closest towns are Carnarvon (about 200 kilometres) to the south and Exmouth (about 150 kilometres) to the north. It’s a long way from anywhere and after many hours travelling roads in hot, dry countryside the sparkling turquoise ocean is always a sight for sore eyes. Nestled in a bay on the edge of a desert on Cardabia Station (farms up there are called stations for the size of them). For first-time visitors the tropical ocean comes as such a surprise after having travelled hundreds or thousands of kilometres through arid and parched countryside.


View of the bay, taken from the lookout

We certainly don’t mind driving the 1200 kilometres from Perth to get there. It’s well worth it. And an added bonus for me is the fact that the surrounding countryside reminds me of parts of Southern Namibia. Flat and dry country with not much vegetation. Red sand and dunes laying back to back. Just north of Coral Bay on the way to Exmouth there are tall anthills as far as the eye can see. It’s so similar to Southern Africa. Driving that far is almost like a rite of passage to deserve to experience something as spectacular as the marine wonderland of Coral Bay. And I like the open road. It feels like you’re really getting away if you’ve travelled a long way. Out in this spacious countryside I can take deep breaths of unlimited clean air. It feels like I can breathe deeper than in the city.

It’s a small beachside resort. There’s not much there. A hotel, two caravan parks, some restaurants and shops, backpackers’ accommodation and some holiday houses for rent. It’s the kind of place where you spend most of your time barefoot and in your bathers. It’s far from everything but once you arrive you feel like you don’t need anything else. We would spend our days having some breakfast, going for a swim and snorkel, having some lunch and going for another swim and snorkel. The biggest question we would ask ourselves every day is where we’re going to snorkel the next day. You can do as little or as much as you like. It’s relaxed, easy going and laid back. About fifty years ago it was completely undeveloped. This is part of the charm of Coral Bay. The fact that it’s so far away from everything, it’s basic but it still has everything you need. It brings you nearer to nature. Which just shows that you don’t need much more than the basics to be happy.


A different view of the bay, taken from the sand dunes with the reef in the background. Patches of coral can be seen dotted around.

It’s a short walk from the caravan park to the beach or the bakery or little supermarket that stocks all necessities for camping holidays (from fishing gear to long life lactose free milk). The aisles are wide and the shelves aren’t overloaded. It reminds me of a store in a quiet and dusty country town that doesn’t see many patrons. Except during school holidays it’s buzzing in Coral Bay. The tinned food even had a little layer of dust on it this time round, confirming how little traffic there is through the store at the moment. It’s quiet there at this time, just before school holidays. Our favourite restaurant is al fresco and has only outside seating under a veranda. It overlooks a dusty carpark where there used to be some fuel pumps before, and then the ocean beyond. It almost feels like you’ve stepped back in time to an era where things were simple. When food and spending time with your loved ones were the main priorities.

We always see backpackers in hired vans with no aircon and the windows wound down on the roads up there. They pull in and camp at one of the caravan parks for a few days or park and sleep by the side of the road. Some retirees spend the winter months up there in their caravans when it’s cold and wet in the south. Families flock there over school holidays. Other tourists visit all year round.

It’s also popular for backpackers (Australian as well as overseas) to come and do seasonal work, albeit in the bakery, convenience store or as tour guides on the many glass bottom boat or other eco tours. It’s not unusual to speak to an Italian and a French person on the same tour and then hear Dutch and German around you as well.

We usually camp there during school holidays in October but this time round the two of us flew up from Perth to Learmonth (airport and air force base).  The airport is in the middle of nowhere. You’d drive for a few hours and suddenly see a small airport. Once you’ve passed it there’s nothing again for miles and miles. There’s one commercial flight to Learmonth from Perth per day and as a result, not much traffic through the airport. We arrived, picked up our luggage and made our way outside to wait for our transfer bus to Coral Bay. By this point most of the other passengers had left and the two of us sat outside the small airport building overlooking the hot and dry countryside. We had about an hour and a half to kill and I think we saw three other people during that time.

Once we arrived in Coral Bay we were struck by how quiet it is at this time of year. We expected it to be quieter than during school holidays but were still surprised by how few people were around. Never before had I seen kangaroos on the board walk to the cabins inside the caravan park, and I saw them daily this time. I got chatting to the local jeweller and Billabong stockist who confirmed it. During school holidays the kangaroos come in at 6am, he feeds them and then they disappear until 6am the following day. I even saw kangaroo footprints on the beach one morning. He’s lived and worked here for years, the “Billabong man”, as we refer to him. He drives his beach buggy and parks in front of his little shop between the convenience store and café on the veranda every day. What a lifestyle.


Kangaroo who was eyeing me suspiciously on my morning walk out to the boat ramp.


A little joey (baby kangaroo) next to the board walk in the caravan park

For a week we led a simple life. I went for a walk early in the mornings. We snorkelled. We swam and sat on the beach and after three days I’d read the two books I took along. We went on a glass bottom boat tour to a sea turtle sanctuary area. What an experience it was to watch their heads pop up out of the water to look at us and catch a breath. Twice we snorkelled off the boat, one of those times to a grey reef shark feeding area. We had to snorkel in single file through a gap in the coral where the current was quite strong. Once we were through the gap it was suddenly very deep and it was like a valley of coral had opened up before us. Just ahead were between eight and ten young grey reef sharks (under a metre long) hovering near the ocean floor having their mouths cleaned by the other fish. Not fased by the gawking humans at all. Unforgettable. I went for a kayak out to the outer reef (just over 2 kilometres). It’s amazing to sit in the kayak and look at the coral all around you. We watched the sunset from our balcony some nights and sat down by the beach until sunset on others.


View towards the reef off the glass bottom boat.


Green sea turtle popping up for a look and then to take a breath. Taken on the glass bottom bout tour.


Cauliflower, staghorn, lavender and other coral taken on the glass bottom boat tour. The quality isn’t great due to the reflection of the glass.

I usually make lists when we go away, especially camping. Several lists. This time around I didn’t – this was very out of character – and only a few necessities made it onto a list. If you stay in a cabin most things are already there anyway. Consequently I forgot my beach towel and had to buy another one. I should have made a list – I’m always on at my husband for forgetting stuff when we go away because he doesn’t make lists.

As I was packing in at home I checked all my camera equipment – I’m not likely to forget that! I’m paranoid about my camera and look after it very carefully. It’s one of the top priority items for me to take along on a trip. Suddenly I couldn’t find the spare battery. I looked everywhere but just couldn’t find it anywhere. Then, purely by fluke, after about a day in Coral Bay I happened to notice it at the bottom of the camera bag. I was incredulous – I thought I’d looked there – and also relieved because I didn’t think I was careless enough with my camera equipment to simply lose it. I sent my husband a message to let him know that I’d found it because I was so happy. His reply promptly came back: check the bottom of your handbag for your beach towel. I had no reply to that.

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View towards the reef shark sanctuary and arid coastline about 1 km north of Coral Bay. Taken on my morning walk along the beach.


View towards the south of Coral Bay (and Paradise Beach).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Treat.”

Coffee is as much a treat for me as it is a daily essential. Especially that first cup in the morning sets the tone for the day. When we go camping I always pack a coffee filter and ground coffee to be able to have my delicious cup in the morning, and it gives me so much pleasure to sit back and start the day slowly while sipping that coffee.

Camp coffee being made at Brandberg bush camp, Namibia

Camp coffee being made at Brandberg bush camp, Namibia

If I happen to wake up to views such as these while camping and drinking my morning cup of coffee, it’s pure bliss.

Early morning at Brandberg bush camp, Namibia. A blissful start to the day: drinking coffee and taking photos.

Early morning at Brandberg bush camp, Namibia. A blissful start to the day: drinking coffee and taking photos.

“It’s no use all of us getting wet” (until a River Runs Through It)

The setting is Okaukeujo campsite in Etosha National Park, Namibia; the timing is night-time a few years ago in 2011 during a strong La Niña season with above-average rainfall even well into autumn in that summer-rainfall area; the scene is two four-wheel drive vehicles with two rooftop tents each and our family fast asleep in two of those tents until Child No 2, who shared a tent with me, woke me up and said: “There’s water dripping in my face!” and indeed there was water dripping into our tent, and not just a little bit of water either, it was a steady little stream. It quickly started dripping in my face as well and the rain storm wasn’t showing any signs of abating and I realised that something had to be done as the rain wasn’t going to stop coming into our tent by itself.

A bit of background information may be necessary at this point to fully appreciate the scenario. Earlier that afternoon when we drove into the park we drove through a hail storm, which cleared after a while but there were still some threatening clouds about and it was quite clear that the weather had not yet relented and there was some more rain to come. It was just a matter of whether it was going to come our way and if it did, how much of it we’d have to endure. The campsite was so wet (with puddles of water everywhere as the water doesn’t recede quickly in that limy soil) that the park management was struggling to find suitable spots for campers as some sites were uninhabitable and in fact the entire park measuring just over 20 000km² had puddles of water all through it, some roads were impassable and the actual 130km long and up to 50km wide Etosha pan looked like an ocean with only water visible as far as the eye could see. I’ve never before or since seen the pan filled with water like that year.

The hail storm we drove through before entering the park

The hail storm we drove through before entering the park

Etosha pan in April 2011

Etosha pan at our visit in April 2011

Etosha pan at our next visit

Etosha pan at our next visit

That evening after dinner we were sitting around the campfire with our friends all feeling slightly apprehensive over the weather when the wind picked up and the cover of our (mine and Child No 2’s) tent was flapping quite wildly in the breeze so I asked my husband why that was since he and Child No 1 had put up our tents for the night and none of the other tent covers were flapping and they all seemed secure but he just dismissed it and said that it was fine so I trusted him and left it at that. Not long after it started raining though and we all ran for cover thinking the rain would soon pass but when it didn’t we decided we might as well call it a day and went to bed. Next thing, Child No 2 woke me up when the water was dripping in her face and my immediate reaction was to call my dear husband to come and help because there was clearly something wrong with our tent cover (after he’d assured me that it was fine) and in reply he sent Child No 1 to help me; I got out the tent, climbed down the ladder in the pouring rain and went around to the side of the vehicle where the water was running into our tent but since it was dark and there was a deluge of rain and I had no idea how the tent covers were supposed to be secured I wasn’t able to fix it. Child No 1 stood next to me half asleep and looking at the tent in dismay with no idea what to do either. By the time we were both wet through like drowned rats and my calls for my husband’s help were becoming more and more urgent his reply came back from the depths of their (dry) tent: “It’s no use all of us getting wet.” Oh my.

I exploded to such an extent that I probably added a fair amount of electricity to the stormy weather which didn’t seem to move him either but he finally decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest (including his own wellbeing) to come and sort out the problem. It didn’t take him long (and I think it would have taken even less time had he done it earlier in the evening before it started raining) and we could all get back to bed albeit in a wet tent for some of us. Thankfully that was the last rain we had whilst camping on that trip and the sun did come out nicely the next morning so we could get all our bedding dry but for a while the air around me was like a minefield that couldn’t be defused, especially not by the teasing banter which only seemed to charge the air even more!

The clouds that dropped so much water on us

The clouds that dropped so much water on us later in the evening

Funnily enough our very first camping trip together many years ago we also had to deal with a cloudburst after I’d said to my husband many a time that I didn’t want to camp in the rain with the tent we had at the time (it had two sleeping compartments on either side of a communal area that had no groundsheet and you couldn’t stand up straight anywhere in the tent, so there was nowhere to keep anything dry except in your bed). We’d driven all day watching dark ominous clouds, reached Upington where we were camping for the night, put up the tent, I went for a shower and it was at that point that the heavens opened. Everyone in the ablution block was trapped there for about half an hour because the rain was torrential. When it finally let up a bit and I made it back to our tent there was literally a river running through it. My husband thought it all quite funny because he hadn’t realised that there was water in the middle of the tent – it was dark and in our early camping days we hadn’t yet invested in the luxury that is camping lights  – until Child No 1 (a little boy of two at the time) started kicking at something on the ground which turned out to be an attempt to stop the river! In some strange way my sense of humour failure only added to my husband’s amusement.

We’ve had a few other camping mishaps over the years such as forgetting to pack the tent pegs, but one that I’ll remember for a long time was the first time we went camping with our current tent. Note to all campers: never put your tent up for the first time after dark on a camping trip, always do it at home or at the very least in daylight hours for the first time. I realised very quickly that my input was best kept to myself and proceeded by just following instructions, but it still took us a few hours with Ironman in desperation resorting to reading the instructions by the light of a torch and one of the tent poles falling on my head twice at which point I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself but we managed in the end. At least it didn’t rain so there was no question about who was going to get wet and neither was there a river running through it. Thank goodness for small mercies.

On The Road Again

We love going on road trips, whether it be for a day out, a weekend away or a holiday break, it’s great to escape the city for a bit, take the open road and breathe some fresh air, and there’s plenty of open road in this vast country. I remember our first trip to Esperance, some 800km from Perth on the south-east coast of Western Australia, when I looked at the map after we’d travelled for more than 8 hours and saw that we’d covered but a fifth of the distance that Western Australia measures from north to south, and even less of the distance from Perth to Sydney, which made us feel quite small by comparison. It’s great to see the lie of the land and get a feel for it though – something you’d never be able to experience if you travelled in a big aeroplane – and some places we’ve seen in Western Australia are remarkably similar to southern Africa.

Our kids are used to it – have been since they were babies – and modern technology such as iPods and iPads help make the journey shorter for them (when they get tired of reading).  As they get older they try and avoid the daytrips (long car journeys that start and end at home in the same day and have no objective other than looking out the window in their minds, even if there’s a nice lunch being promised at the halfway mark) and make their own plans for the day while we go out and appreciate the scenery and a day out.

As a child we used to spend some of our winter holidays in Namibia which meant about a 2-day drive from Cape Town and I still remember driving along in our yellow VW Kombi with the windows rolled (yes, manually rolled, my children) down as we headed north into the warmer weather, reading, looking out the window or sleeping, eating naartjies (mandarins) and biltong, and not getting bored (or maybe I forgot that part). My ironman husband did the road trip thing a bit differently in his youth and cycled from Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town (some 1500km) together with some mates and his dad in a backup vehicle – that’s ironman addiction tendencies showing up quite early but strangely enough this story was only regaled after we were married – but at the end of the day we both enjoy taking the open road. It’s a great feeling when you leave the city behind, head north and start reaching the warmer weather and wide open spaces and it’s almost easier to breathe the further you go and leave the stress and concerns of your normal routine behind.

If the trip involves a camping holiday it means, by default for me, a series of separate lists of things I have to buy/pack/prepare/remember as I can’t stand the thought of forgetting something I’ll need, for instance my coffee filter like that one fateful time! Before we set off on a long trip I usually run around like a road-runner bird with about a hundred last-minute things to do like pack the frozen meat into the camping fridge, check that the boys have packed everything that they’re responsible for, make a flask with coffee for the road, prepare snacks – good old (Afrikaans) “padkos” or road food, directly translated, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it – and check all my various lists!

Once we’re on the road the kids (have to) take care of their own in-car entertainment on our trips but since my husband is not a good passenger – doesn’t like sitting still at the best of times – he ends up doing most of the driving (by choice) and insists on choosing which music we’ll listen to. This in itself is not a problem but when he starts to sing or whistle along off key and tone deaf I have to beg him to stop. Some people can’t stand the sound of a fingernail being pulled along a blackboard. I can’t stand off key singing along to music. It feels as if it goes straight through my spine, so then he stops singing for a bit but after a while he gets bored and starts singing again without realising and I have to remind him again of the ban on singing. If I’m in luck there will be a football or cricket match on while we’re driving and we can listen to the commentary, which eliminates the need (and impulse) for singing should boredom set in.

As a result of my compulsive list writing habit I haven’t forgotten many things over the years but I did once forget my little make-up bag, or rather I remembered it late just as we were about to hit the freeway and we had to turn back home to get it. It’s not that I wear a lot of make-up but there are a couple of essentials I couldn’t do without for a whole week without some sense of humour failures but oh boy was I unpopular that particular time for adding 10 minutes onto a 10 hour drive! In contrast my husband never makes any lists and always packs at the last minute (like a packing superman) but usually forgets something at home and we’ve had to turn back to fetch a running-GPS charger or make a separate trip to the closest town to where we’re camping for him to buy a pair of running shorts because he left his at home and other times he’s had to buy a hat or a tourist-type singlet in Coral Bay to use as a running shirt but the most important thing that ever got left behind was the tent pegs. Yes, kind of an essential item.

The "Running Shirt" bought in Coral Bay one year

The “Running Shirt” bought in Coral Bay one year

Now I never pack the tent and its necessary paraphernalia – that’s man-land in our house – but everything we need is listed and before we leave I read everything out that the boys had to pack and it gets ticked off the list but somehow the two boys in our house managed to assume that the tent pegs were inside the tent bag without checking and the previous time it got put away it clearly wasn’t put away in its rightful place (man-job) and we got to Coral Bay (a 12-hour trip and 2 hours away from the closest town), started to set up the tent and then realised that we had no tent pegs. There was some furious (and loud) searching for a few minutes at which point I quietly sat down in the shade and decided that this problem was not mine to solve! The boys set off to the local shop and thankfully some other poor family probably had the same problem sometime in the past and the entrepreneurial shop saw it as an opportunity and they were able to buy some tent pegs. Holiday rescued!

All the planning, preparations, packing and possibly forgetting something is well worth it when we get to our destination though – which will soon be warm, sunny and laid back Coral Bay  – and we love to be on the road again…

Just give me my Coffee

I’ve jokingly been called a coffee snob many times, but I’m actually quite proud of it and see it as a compliment. Have done so for many years, and at least I can say it’s not a recent band-wagon that I’ve jumped on.

I started drinking strong black filter coffee from an Alladin flask visiting my sister and brother-in-law and being out for the day going around their farm some 25 years ago. From that point on there was just no going back to instant coffee and it quickly reached the point where I saved up and bought my first filter coffee machine and took it to my university residence room so I could have a decent cup of coffee first thing in the morning. After I got used to that, instant coffee just never cut it anymore.

What started out as something I really enjoyed, slowly but surely turned to something I love and over the years started to depend on, as caffeine tends to do to you. Especially since I’ve never really been much of a tea drinker, which basically meant that having filter ground coffee in the house was just as important as the other daily staples of milk and bread. Years later whenever we go camping, I still take a plastic filter cone and filter papers along so I can have my decent coffee first thing in the morning. The day just won’t be right if I haven’t had it, it doesn’t matter where I am. My brain just won’t wake up and I will not be a happy camper at all. Some of my friends thought it quite funny, this quirky little habit of mine. My family just quietly went along with it – anything to keep mum sane! It’s a bit like that bumper sticker – Just give me my coffee and no-one gets hurt.

A few years ago we went camping over a long weekend and low and behold, I forgot my plastic filter cone at home. As a compulsive writer of lists who has a list for camping gear, a list for food to be packed (and sub-lists for food to be bought from different shops and markets), and other little lists of last-minute things to be remembered, I hate forgetting or leaving something behind that I imagine I can’t do without.  I’d remembered the actual coffee as well as the filter papers, but left the cone at home. This was a disaster. I was devastated! (Such first world problems.) The filter papers without the plastic cone are useless!! I made such a miserable, pathetic sight waking up the first morning there and not being able to have my usual, dependable morning-caffeine-perk-up-fix that Ironman decided that intervention was required and he fashioned me a filter cone from aluminium foil (which I had thankfully not left at home). I loved that cup of coffee so much, thanks to my husband who claims he’s no good with DIY (which makes me think I should find myself in a miserable and pathetic state more often). It saved me and my (and his) camping trip as order (and my sense of humour) was once again restored.

As time went by I realised that my favourite coffee is still that first one in the morning. Coffee pods never really held much appeal to me, I just love my espresso strength filter coffee, and equally my filter coffee machine that has a timer so I can prepare and set the machine every evening for the following morning’s coffee. What a treat! Great is my disappointment when I have, for some reason or another, messed up the process and put water in the machine and no coffee, only to wake up to a brew of hot water waiting for me, or the timer is out and the perculator is still counting down the time to start, while I’m standing in front of it having stumbled out of bed and unable to do anything else until I’ve had my first cup, or if (after careful calculation the previous night of how many cups will be needed in the morning, taking the other coffee drinkers in the house into account) I get to the coffee machine in the morning and Ironman has had more than his fair share. Instant sense of humour failure! He clearly hasn’t read that bumper sticker…

And then I lost my precious plastic filter cone (the camping solution). This was very concerning and with a camping trip in Namibia coming up (with no freshly brewed morning coffee available unless you made your own), there was really only one solution, and that was to get hold of another one before the trip. I searched the shops, from grocery store to grocery store to homeware store; my sister searched in shops in Namibia and I finally tried Google (of course), and found a lovely shop in Perth that had one in stock, and would keep it for me. I made sure I went in on my first day off work and got it and was so relieved! Surprised also, that this particular form of coffee making is not popular enough for stores to sell this filter.

Morning coffee in the making at our campsite at Brandberg, Namibia, April 2014

Morning coffee in the making at our campsite at Brandberg, Namibia, April 2014

The filter cone has gone along on every camping (and other overnight road) trip we’ve done since, until we did our first interstate Australian trip to Tasmania with the kids last year by plane, and there was no space to take it along! I wasn’t too worried as I thought I’d be able to get a fresh coffee every morning, but we drove around a fair bit and I never got that first cup in the morning, until my dear son bought me a one-cup plunger in Hobart for mother’s day (probably by that time in desperation to reverse my caffeine-withdrawal symptoms), which once again saved me. That little plunger has since been forgotten to be taken to Broome – horror! – (yes, I was told by my youngest in no uncertain terms that she was very disappointed in me for forgetting it, to which my reply was that I was even more disappointed in myself), but been to Melbourne, Canberra and Orange and made me very, very happy!

I didn’t think my dependence  had gotten any worse until a coffee van stopped outside work a couple of weeks ago, and my first reaction was: YES, thank you! I got myself a cappuccino and walked back inside, announcing that I cannot afford to buy one every day, and I should most definitely not get used to this. The only problem is that that cappuccino was perfectly to my taste, and the next time the van came around I got another one, and the next day, and the next day, up to the point where I now find myself sitting at my desk every day agitatedly wondering when the coffee van is going to come around as I really, really need that coffee, and the thought of a cup of instant coffee is about as appealing as some coffee-flavoured dishwater, and when it arrives I just about skip out the door I’m so excited! And then the coffee van didn’t come around the other day, and I was at a complete loose end feeling quite sombre and sorry for myself without my dependable cappuccino but at no point did I waiver and even contemplate having an instant coffee because it would just not suffice.  So I have to admit that I’m definitely a coffee snob, and a very dependent one at that and can’t see it changing any time soon! I’d better go and prepare the machine for tomorrow morning’s coffee…