Jumping into a great adventure
Paul Morton and Mogens Johansen freefalling over Jurien Bay / Picture: Paul Morton

The roar of the wind is deafening as the door of the small plane slides open. I'm about to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft 14,000 feet (4268m) over Jurien Bay. I look across to my daughter who bravely volunteered to go first; she flashes a smile, gives the thumbs up and then she and skydive instructor Chris Garcia plummet out of sight towards the spectacular coast below.

Instructor Paul Morton and I swing our legs out of the plane and we somersault out, freefalling at more than 200km/h for about one minute before he pulls the cord for the parachute to open at about 5000 feet.

Almost instantly the roar of the wind eases and we are able to take in the spectacular views of the islands and the bay below as we float slowly towards our landing spot on the beach.

Skydive Jurien Bay's claim that it is the most beautiful skydive in Australia is certainly hard to argue with. It is an absolutely amazing experience and nowhere near as scary as you might think. Sensory overload is one way to describe it, an absolute buzz is another. I find it difficult to put it into words so you simply have to give it a go yourself.

Christine Sparrow and her partner Peter Lonnon have been skydiving all over the world and they came to Jurien Bay three years ago specifically to start the award- winning business.

"With a skydive, it is such a once-in-a-lifetime thing for most people, they want it to be the best, because they might only do it once so they want it to be in the most beautiful place and have the most incredible visual experience as well," she says.

"It's got the adrenaline pumping and the senses in overload anyway so to have these magnificent views makes it one of the most special things you will do in your life."

The couple plan to continue expanding the business. They have a staff of 14, including some part-timers, and plan to buy a bigger aircraft to increase their capacity.

"We have been expanding really quickly - when we started, having 10 people jump in a day was a really huge day, now we can do 70," she says.

Jurien Bay is fast becoming a popular destination with something for everyone, from people wanting a family holiday by the beach to thrillseekers looking for an adrenaline rush.

The town is growing rapidly thanks to the easier access provided by the new Indian Ocean Drive, which opened in 2010.

A new jetty, foreshore development and marina have given the town a fresh feel and construction has started on a boutique brewery and resort development.

I don't want to bore you with fishing stories, but as a fisherman with success limited to the occasional herring or blowfish caught off the groynes at Fremantle, it's a very pleasant surprise when my daughter and I catch several fish including some very nice tailor off the jetty at Jurien Bay.

We watch with some envy as one fisherman lands a large Spanish mackerel.

The Jurien Bay Marine Park is another major attraction. It encompasses the waters between Wedge Island and Green Head and extends about 5.5km offshore. The reef system, which runs parallel to the shore, is popular with scuba divers who can expect to see a multitude of fish and invertebrate species in the caves and grottoes along the reef.

The marine park is also the only major breeding area for the Australian sea lion.

I join Jurien Bay Charter 'n Dive sea lion tours on an interactive tour to Essex Rock for a chance to swim with these inquisitive and playful creatures. Tour guide Deb Harvey tells us that approximately 30-40 sea lions call the rock home and gives us a brief about the do's and don'ts before she jumps into the shallow water to entice the sea lions to join her.

This turns out to be an easy job: some of the most inquisitive animals are already in the water to greet her and the rest of the group waddle in soon after. Coming face to face with the sea lions in the water is quite a contrast to seeing them move about on the beach. They glide effortlessly amongst us, playfully twisting and turning below us. Some of the brave ones come right up and put their faces against our face masks, appearing to give us a smile as they do.

A particularly cheeky one, nicknamed Nibbles, likes to have a nibble at your fins, but they show no sign of aggression and are not at all intimidating. This is one of those unforgettable experiences the whole family can take part in - even if you're not confident snorkelling, there is a buggy board with an underwater viewing window, so there is no excuse for missing out.

Back on board the boat for a quick morning tea, the visitors are abuzz. The Brussel family - Gerry, Sandi and Emily, visiting from Perth - say it's the best thing they have ever done. Merryn Staveley, visiting from the UK, describes the experience as "incredible; I thought they would be scary, I've never swum with anything that big before".

After our tea break we go back in the water to say goodbye to our new-found friends. The sea lions stay with us for ages and they seem to have enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs.

Our visit to the Coral Coast began earlier in Dongara and Port Denison, twin towns separated by the picturesque Irwin River.

We enjoy a couple of easy walks in Dongara, including the Dongara Heritage Trail, a 4km walk which features some of the town's charming historical buildings and landmarks. Perhaps the best known is the Royal Steam Roller Flour Mill, which was built in 1894, but the Dongara Post Office, which was the centre of economic life in the town, is still looking fantastic despite dating back to 1866. The old police station and courthouse is home to the Irwin District Museum and is equally well maintained. Many buildings are private homes and in the process of being renovated.

One of the best examples of what can be achieved is Pearse House, which was built in 1870 overlooking the Irwin River. The large home was built in two stages with terraced gardens down to the river's edge and was the home of Francis Pearse, a merchant, farmer and grazier in the area for more than 30 years.

We also do a couple of coastal walks, one in Dongara with views of where the Irwin meets the coast and another in Port Denison, the Shipwreck Trail, which commemorates shipwrecks and mishaps along the coast. Port Denison has also become a haven for kitesurfers and each February it hosts Kitestock, which attracts kitesurfers from all over the world because of the consistently strong winds.

Local kitesurfer Troy Davis took up the sport 12 years ago and is a regular at South Beach where we watch him and a few other locals perform spectacular aerial jumps off the waves.

Heading south towards Jurien Bay, we stop in at Green Head for a refreshing swim at Dynamite Bay, a beautiful little half-circle bay, perfect for safe swimming and a great spot for a barbecue or picnic.

We drop in at Blue Ocean Gallery across the road. The gallery is also the home to artists Irene Powell and Adrian Toomey. They moved to Green Head about three years ago from Geraldton, and it contains their works and pieces by Carolyn Marks and Peter Cant. All four artists find their inspiration from their coastal surroundings, in Irene's case Green Head.

"I really enjoy working from found objects," Powell says. "My artwork is about the coast and the ocean, which is what I love and when you live in a place like Green Head it is hard not to love the ocean."

Toomey has also created a sculpture garden featuring some of the unusual sea creatures, many of which he has made from recycled materials.

Before returning to Perth, we stop at Cervantes to see an interesting new tourism venture. The Lobster Shack is the brainchild of the Thompson family, who have been catching western rock lobsters in the area since 1966. At the Lobster Shack you will see how the western rock lobsters are sorted by weight and size, then placed into live holding lanes before being prepared for live export in the live pack-out room.

The family have been very successful in adapting to changing market conditions, selling live lobsters to emerging markets such as Japan, Taiwan and, most recently, China. They have developed a technique of stunning the lobsters in cold water before packing them in eskies and air freighting them to their destination, where they are transferred directly to restaurant holding tanks to recover before finally ending up on dinner plates.

The family's latest acquisition, the Shack Attack, is a state-of- the-art lobster vessel which can take up to 70 passengers to look at how they catch the crustaceans. As well as watching the crew pulling pots, you can follow what is happening underneath the water thanks to underwater cameras and on-board screens.

While on board you are able to tag a lobster, then when you return to shore you can follow its journey through the factory before having it cooked at the Lobster Shack restaurant.

Tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of the Thompsons' business, having begun approximately three years ago when David Thompson was asked whether he could accommodate people at the factory for a tour and lunch.

Word quickly got around and from humble beginnings the business grew quickly.

"At the moment we are running lobster tours five days a week and two days a week are allocated for deep-fishing charters," he says. "When the whale season starts, we are able to modify our schedule so we can take people out whale watching as well."

Perhaps one of WA's best-known tourist attractions, the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, marks the end of our trip along the southern part of the Coral Coast. These limestone pillars have been sculpted by nature for eons. Strong coastal winds removed the surrounding sand leaving the pillars exposed and providing a strange contrast to the surrounding landscape.

The Pinnacles would have to be one of the most-photographed sites in WA.

I got lucky and spotted an emu with a couple of young chicks walking among the ancient pillars. Another memorable moment in a great trip.

FACT FILE

For more holiday ideas, itineraries and accommodation, go to australiascoralcoast.com. Skydive Jurien Bay is at skydivejurienbay.com. For Jurien Bay Charter 'n Dive, go to juriencharters.com. The Lobster Shack is at lobstershack.com.au.

There's a good range of accommodation in the Coral Coast region. The Dongara Tourist Park has a great location at South Beach with air-conditioned cabins and powered and unpowered sites for caravans and tents. See dongaratouristpark.com.au and phone 9927 1210.

Jurien Bay Tourist Park is fronted by a long, safe swimming beach and has cabins, ensuite caravans and powered and unpowered sites. Go to jurienbaytouristpark.com.au and phone 9652 1595 and 1800 052 577.

Mogens Johansen travelled as a guest of Australia's Coral Coast.

The West Australian

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