Playground of whales
Playground of whales

While an elderly man asks yet another question about the inquisitive nature of the humpback whale, a Scottish couple politely argue about the history of their home town and a young child insists on throwing his shoes in the air much to his parents' dismay, a young whale and its mother breach in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean only metres from the boat.
No matter what was concerning the individuals, each stops and stares in admiration at this majestic mammal of the waters.

The calm waters to the left of the boat are disrupted by another pod of whales spurting water from their blow holes and slapping their tails against the water. Sounds of the whales' beastly calls fill the back of the boat through a hydrophone.
As the rest on the boat are drawn to the back where the food is placed, I wait and lean against the railing that is keeping me from the waters to explore the deep. And when I begin to turn to head towards the food, believing that the young calves were too tired for a longer show, a mother's flipper is raised out the water. With the beating sun setting over the water, even an amateur photographer like myself couldn't take a bad photo.

Watching the exquisite, serene animal drift through the waters, our guide, Ant Warner, informs us that throughout the whale calf's first few weeks of life it can gain up to 45kg a day. Tourists on the boat gasp in shock, imagining the sheer size and bulk of the mammal. The sun begins to set over the flat mountains in the distance and the sky turns to stripes of yellow, orange, blue, purple and pink. A distant boat's light shines against the dark stubborn sky.
As the wind picks up, the Ocean Eco Tours boat makes its way back towards the marina, one last whale breaks the surface, slowly disappears and the ripples slowly disperse in the water, as if it was saying goodbye and come again.

> Ocean Eco Adventures continues its whale watching from Dunsborough from November 24 to March 24. See <www.oceanecoadventures.com.au.

Sheep and corals

Three sheep outside a metal gate is not the vision you'd expect after an 86km drive down the North West Cape, but it sums up Bullara Station for me.

Edwina Shallcross meets us and invites us in with open arms. Two of her children practise hurdles for their sports carnival with their teacher from Coral Bay, on the veranda.

As we sit around an old wooden table at Bullara Station, at the bottom of North West Cape, Edwina continues to tell us about her family's history. For 60 years they have called the station their home and have brought changes to the station life, including the introduction of Damara sheep which are easier to care for as they don't need to be shorn, to replace the merinos that required shearing. The spirit of Edwina and the pride that she takes in her family's achievement is truly inspirational.

The 100,000ha station is controlled by monitor pumps on the computer. Edwina shows us photos that were taken more than 50 years ago of the first time her husband's family settled at Bullara Station. Australian history that occurred so many years ago at the station will soon be allowed to be viewed, and visitors are now welcome to come and stay and experience the station life.

After soaking up the history that Edwina engages us with, we are taken around the shearing quarters which are now fully furnished rooms, making a comfortable stay for their visitors. Watching new bulls being tagged is both an exhilarating and frightening experience as Tim Shallcross slams the gate shut before the bull charges its way through. In one blink of an eye the bull is already tagged and let into the larger paddock.

We join the Shallcross family for lunch and are served by their middle child, who has customer service skills unheard of among the typical teenagers working today, not to mention her olive skin, long eyelashes and bright smile that would draw tourists from afar.
The children, eager to show us their school room, drag us away from our lunch. We enter a room full of colour, with drawings and artwork plastered all over the walls.

As time is pressing, we say goodbye to the Shallcross family and leave for the road to Coral Bay, occasionally stopping to photograph the termite mounds spotted around the landscape as far as the eye can see.
After checking into our hotel, Ningaloo Reef Resort, Coral Bay, we head out on to the picture-perfect beach for our glass-bottom boat tour with Coral Bay Eco Tours. Many fish come to greet the bottom of our boat while our guide points out a turtle nestled among the coral, hoping to blend in. The boat passes the "Ayers Rock" of Coral Bay, a huge 6-7m piece of coral.

We make our way towards the end of the boat with goggles and flippers in hand, awaiting the jump into the crystal water. I am immersed into a scene of colour and rare beauty. A fish swims across my goggles and then suddenly it's gone. A large fish of amazing, vibrant colours of green, purple and pink darts in and out of the coral beneath me.

I swim down to the ocean floor and peek through the many corals that carpet it. A lonely stingray sits on the bottom, blending in with the white murky sands, and I can't help but swim away a little faster. The calm waters lap up on the side of the boat as we make our way to the next snorkelling spot, but we soon come to a halt as a young turtle lifts its head out of the water and then turns to make its way out to sea.

As if we only just started our snorkelling tour, we are again walking along the beach, making our way to our quad-biking tour with Coral Bay Eco Tours and soon we are tearing up and down the sand dunes. As the sun sets over Ningaloo Reef and Coral Bay, it brings to a close our Coral Coast adventure. Despite lack of mobile phone reception and long, sleepy, hot car rides, memories and knowledge remain that will last forever. One last whale breaks in the distance and the white water slowly disperses as if it is saluting us on our journey back to reality.

FACT FILE

Bullara Station: www.bullara-station.com.au

Ningaloo Reef Resort, Coral Bay: www.ningalooreefresort.com.au

Coral Bay Eco Tours: www.coralbayecotours.com.au">www.coralbayecotours.com.au

Australia's Coral Coast: www.australiascoralcoast.com.au.
Australia's Coral Coast tourism region were enthusiastic supporters of the project.

Skywest: www.skywest.com.au">www.skywest.com.au.

Novotel Ningaloo Resort: www.novotelningaloo.com.au.

Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef: www.salsalis.com.au.

Budget Rent a Car: www.budget.com.au.

The West Australian

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