Ningaloo Coast - Overview of Preparations

Monday, Jun 26, 2006 at 10:19

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

For those that have read our Tasmania Trip Journal covering the events of our 2004/2005 field research trip, you will fully appreciate the reasons why the ExplorOz Field Research Trip for 2006 was planned somewhat differently. This trip had a single destination. This trip was to be restful, a true family holiday shared with another like-minded family.

Towing Trailers

As our regular readers probably know, since having our kids (Leah 5 yrs and Chardae 2yrs), we have continued to travel every year camping out in swags and/or tents. We do not own or use a camper trailer, although if you read our earlier Trip Journals from 1998 - 2000 you'll see that BC (before kids) we did have a trailer. So we have had plenty of experience in all sorts of terrains both with and without a trailer.

This trip saw us once again towing - however this time it was a 4.8m motorboat, but it wasn't ours. The owners were our friends who were towing their camper trailer in convoy with us from Perth. Our destination was a 2 day drive along bitumen highway from home to the Ningaloo coast, requiring only an hour of dirt road and then a short 4WD sand section to a beach camp where we had planned to spend almost 3 weeks aiming to indulge in rest, fishing sports, water sports, very little driving but most of all some quality family/friends time.

Powering the Camp

After all these years of travelling and camping there were still many trip-specific packing alterations and purchases to make. Indeed the very fact that this was not a 4WD trip was the cause of most of the complications! Most importantly was the consideration of how to keep our fridges cold for 3 weeks camped on the beach with temperatures in the high 20°s C. Not being fond of the noise of generators, and already well provisioned with 12v lights and an inverter, we opted to purchase a foldable 100w solar panel comprising of 2x50w panels and a regulator and our friends likewise bought a portable solar panel ensuring that each of us could be power self-sufficient.

Fridge & Icebox

Not content with just a 40L fridge for each family, it was decided that a 62L icebox would be used specifically for storing and cooling drinks. A week before trip departure, 4 x 2L milk containers were filled with briny water and frozen solid. These were used as icebricks in the bottom of the icebox and filled with 2 cartons pre-chilled beer and a few casks of wine. During the trip, the solar panels were wired to our vehicles' main batteries and we were very impressed to find the batteries fully charged at all times. In fact at no time over the 3 weeks beach stay did the fridges or other accessories (invertor, coffee grinder, 12v fluro worklights, mobile phone car kit, camera battery charger, laptop, etc) take a load off the battery that the solar panel couldn't keep up with. So, towards the end of the trip when we'd caught so much fish that we had to turn one of the fridges up to freeze the excess fish fillets we also refroze the briny water bottles and then transferred the icebricks back to the icebox. Our solar panel setup cost around $1000 and although initially hesitant to spend such a large amount for a once-off trip, we couldn't have enjoyed our trip without it and are totally converted to using solar panels for future trips.

I had been fortunate enough to acquire a TwoZone (sits ontop of an Engel fridge to increase storage capacity) but was unable to take it on this trip due to packing constraints. I had really wished to use it to test the various methods of fruit and vegetable longevity. I normally put most of my fresh produce in the fridge inside Tupperware®, although in temperate climates I also keep certain produce out of the fridge. I take a lot of food on any trip and our family prefer gourmet meals requiring a wide range of ingredients especially fresh produce. So, since the decision to leave the TwoZone at home was made about 2 hours before we left, I had to find an alternative place to pack the excess vegetables I had purchased - each variety was wrapped in green long-life vegetable bags and packed into a 35L esky. Fresh roma tomatoes, baby zuchinni, baby eggplant, Lebanese cucumbers, corn cobs, carrots, avocadoes, whole rockmelon and whole watermelon.

Shading the Camp

The $89 purchase of a cloth gazebo (pop-up type, no poles) from HomeArt solved this problem ideally, however without the boat to store it in on the road trip to reach the camp, it would have been too bulky to pack in/on a vehicle. I made a set of 4 sand draw-string bags and filled them with sand to weigh down the 4 corners to avoid it blowing away and that turned out to be a wise idea as we had almost a full week of near gale-force winds that stopped all the boating and fishing but didn't tear down the gazebo! This formed our communal area - mostly used for the kids to give them a protected place where they could be during the heat of the day.

About Ningaloo

Just about every West Australian has heard of Ningaloo, but surprisingly, its an oddity to most other Australians. Located between Exmouth and Coral Bay about 1200km north of Perth, Ningaloo is about 300 km long and is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia. Camping is permitted in the Cape Range National Park (see Yardie Creek Run Trek Note) and Ningaloo Station (new Trek Notes to come).
Ningaloo is the only large reef in the world found so close to the mainland. It follows 260 kilometres of coastline and in total the marine park covers 4000 square kilometres. In places, the reef's lies as close as100 metres from the shore, whilst its furthest point is only seven kilometres offshore. It is an ideal place for fishing, diving, snorkelling, swimming and simply relaxing on pristine white beaches in a region that enjoys year-round summer conditions. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can swim with the world’s biggest fish – the whale shark.

The Ningaloo area was declared a Marine Park in 1987 in an attempt to protect and to control public access to this large living reef. Much debate and controversy has continued with the Save Ningaloo Campaign fighting to seek a balance between ecological values and human visitation; an extension to the Marine Park in 2004 seeing an increase in sanctuary "look but don't touch" zones; a rejection of the proposal for a resort marina to be built at Mauds Landing; and pastoralists in the area campaigning to keep their leases after the 2015 expiry date (covered by the Four Corners Program on the ABC a few weeks ago).

Camping on Ningaloo Station

The Ningaloo Station is just one of the parcels of land that is negotiating an exclusion to the 2015 end to their pastoral lease.
We stayed at South Lefroy Bay, just one of 5 approved areas set aside for camping within the Ningaloo Station. We found it well managed as well as exceptionally good camping for a low fee. The caretaker at Ningaloo Homestead not only greets guests, collects camping fees, monitors campsites, and encourages campers to minimise disruptive ecological activities, he also monitors the radio for distress signals from boaters and campers and performs all the usual duties of a pastoral station worker. A UHF repeater enables the station to assist in the co-ordination of visitor health and safety throughout the area. Although this was our first visit to South Lefroy Bay, most of the other campers were repeat visitors, some told us they'd been coming each year for 16 years! Like anywhere, visitor numbers swell in school holidays and our trip commenced a week before the WA school holidays so although we almost had the beach to ourselves when we arrived it was only a matter of days before we were almost camped in by neighbours.

The most important part of organising our trip to Ningaloo Station was purchasing a Porta Pottie. If visitors do not bring their own, they are required to hire one from the Station.

Ningaloo Station are very conscious of their obligations to provide a safe and enjoyable camping experience and hope that by setting a few rules they will be able to demonstrate to the Government that they are capable of managing a pastoral property that is both viable and ecologically sustainable. Ningaloo Station is strongly opposed to losing their lease in 2015 (it would most likely be handed over to CALM for management) for they suspect that camping will be either radically managed (as it is further north in Cape Range National Park) or it will be closed indefinitely for "rehabilitation".

Incidents & Illness

Yes - there were 2 incidents to talk of, and we've learned from them both. The first incident involved a fishing hook - the type with a triple barb attached to a lure. The two mums were out fishing together (trolling) and both rods went off at the same time. The fish (mackeral and flathead) were the best catch of the day so there was a bit of excitement to bring them in - in the fuss, the mackeral was grabbed around the body so it wouldn't get away but in doing so the two exposed triple-barb hooks hanging off the lure lodged into the hand. One of the triple-barbs embedded deep into the soft fleshy part of her palm near the wrist causing extreme agony, the other triple-barb fell free but the third was in the fish's mouth. As the fish wriggled the embedded triple-barb lodged in further and although they removed the fish and saved their catch, it was apparent that better tools and some local anaesthetic would be needed to remove the hook from the hand - this was going to hurt! Back at shore (note that the injured person was the only skilled boat driver), the husbands could not stomach the necessary removal of the fish hook and the UHF was used to call for any medical personnel nearby. And here's the amazing thing - camped just 1km up the track was a pair of paramedics in their caravan. Fully equipped with local anaesthetics, medical instruments and skilled in simple surgical procedures, the hook was swiftly removed with minimal pain and little to no tearing or damage to the hand. That was just pure luck - and it makes you realise how easy you can hurt yourself.

The second incident happened on Day 8 - the other mum was enjoying an afternoon of ski-biscuit fun when a particuarly big crash put her out of action for the afternoon. A few hours later it became apparent she was headed for an ear infection so she became self-medicating with available pain-killers. After a few days of codene based painkillers the pain was still unbearable and now she was feeling the effects of too much medication and knew she needed medical help. A half day's drive to Exmouth (the only hospital in the region) was very painful, as was the hour long wait to see a doctor but finally she was prescribed antibiotics (non-penicillin based as she is allergic to penicillin). The course however was short - only 5 days and the infection was still prevalent by the end of the course, so she travelled to Coral Bay to see if she could more anitibiotics there. The Nursing Post in Coral Bay is not always attended so it took many hours to get treatment, which was done via HF to the RFDS base who agreed to prescribe more antibiotics. By the end of the 3 week trip, the ear had not fully recovered and it greatly affected her enjoyment of her stay on the beach with wind, etc all causing earing and balance difficulties and of course alcohol was off limits so it was little fun.

The lessons learned were: for any remote trip, whether be it to Desert or Beach regions you should have a suitable first aid kit that includes prescription and a filled course of suitable antibiotics for each person in your group along with local anaethetics. This may be not easy to obtain, so well before your trip departure talk to your GP who will give you the best advice and resources.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Always working not enough travelling!
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