ningaloo reef, western australia

by Christine Piper August. 01, 2012 11079 views

Back in 2006 I organised an ill-fated weekend trip for a group of girls to go whale watching in Port Stephens. It was in the middle of the whale watching season so our chances were high. When we rocked up for the cruise on the Saturday the operator gushed about how many whales they'd seen that week. “We've had sightings every trip this week!”
Unfortunately, our trip that day broke their run of good luck. Aside from a few dolphins, we saw nothing. But I did get seasick. The tour operator kept saying how unusual it was, and offered us a 50% discount to return the next day. So on the Sunday, fools that we were, we showed up again and endured two more hours of cold wind and choppy seas. Still nothing. For years, I thought I was cursed. Maybe I was destined to never see whales up close?
Thankfully, last week in Ningaloo Reef I finally broke that curse. It was literally a whale superhighway – we saw about 30 humpback whales on their way north to warmer waters to give birth and chill out. One breached endlessly, as you can see in the picture above, another one came within 7 metres of our boat and rolled onto its back and slapped the water with its fin. Two more did a strange manoeuvre in which they went vertical nose-down and slapped the surface of the water with their tails. The captain of our boat said he'd never seen them do that before.
Satisfied customer? Hell yes.
(We went on a Sail Ningaloo live-aboard cruise aboard the catamaran Shore Thing. See: [])

The friendly whale that came so close to our boat (7 metres away) we almost ran into it. He rolled onto his back and slapped the water with his fin, as you can see above. Notice the strange symmetrical hole in his fin. (In all likelihood it's a female, but oh well.)

Spouting humpback.

Unusual tail-slapping manoeuvre the captain said he'd never witnessed before. Playing? An attempt at communicating with us? Or a warning signal for us to get the fuck away? Hmmm…
Update: Just read here [] that the “lobtailing” is thought to be a temper tantrum, or otherwise an attempt to dislodge barnacles.

This is the classic “whale watching” shot. Glad I got to take one of my own! Humpback tails have such an amazing shape. Listen to me – I see a few whales and suddenly I'm an expert!

The humpback that came really close to our boat. Lots of scratches. Must be an old whale.

The same whale breaching again. It did this so many times it got to be ridiculous.

Humpback tail in the afternoon light.

Me and Kris in a turquoise-coloured bay… actually, I'm pretty sure this bay is called Turquoise Bay. (Note my Big Eighties Hair.)

Scuba diving with humpbacks: Kris, Sarah and Rob, being the only licensed divers in the boat got to dive (along with dive master Vicki) with about four whales swimming past.

Catamaran jumping shot. Had to be done.

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) Briony turned out some amazing dishes from such a cramped kitchen.

Here we have the tangy roasted tomato soup…

… and the chocolate pudding complete with melty centre and ice cream.

Kris with his catch of the day – a “spangled emperor” fish. Tasted a lot like snapper. Yum!

Me and Kris on our only stop on land during the 5-day trip.

Captain Luke in the outboard against moody skies.

Sarah and Robert

Dolphin friend

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) Me and Kris snorkelling above the coral reef. Ningaloo Reef is considered less colourful but more pristine than the Great Barrier Reef. Another big plus is that there are far fewer tourists around – we went for days without seeing another boat.

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo)

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) Albino eel? I'm not sure. Definitely freaky.

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) The huge manta ray we swum with for about 20 minutes. It did five “barrel rolls” in a row in front of us (supposedly quite a rare feat), so we got to see its underside too.

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) With my double layer of wetsuits, it was amazing I could get down this far!

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) Stingray

(Photo by Sail Ningaloo) Our group of seven intrepid travellers: Me and Kris, Jenny and Fred, Maeve, Sarah and Rob.

Ningaloo palette

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Astrid 9 years, 1 month ago

amazing set! so lucky you!

9 years, 1 month ago Edited
Christine Piper 9 years, 1 month ago

Yes way, Knopman, YES WAY!!

9 years, 1 month ago Edited