Last year, when I was 16 weeks pregnant and *just* over all the vile vomiting, I was lucky enough to be sent to WA's Ningaloo Reef for work. It was one of the most blissful and beautiful times of my life and I feel so privileged to have been to such a special place. Oh to be there now!!
Anyhow, I just came across my pictures from that trip and realised I never actually posted any of them. The story has already been published, in the Getaway magazine. It was a very cut-down version of the original. Which is now here - with the idea that reading it again will transport me there:
In the afternoon sun, a billion dazzling diamonds stud the water of Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. A gentle sea breeze challenges the midday heat as I emerge from my car at South Mandu Beach in the Cape Range National Park, about 70km south of Exmouth. This is the end of road – quite literally. From here, it’s just a short stroll past drowsy wallaroos and over the sand dunes to Sal Salis, the tented resort that’s been touted as Australia’s most innovative eco-tourism model.
Sal Salis is currently the only tourism operation of its kind in Australia to be sited in a national park. A luxury experience is delivered despite there being no electricity, no flushing toilets, no television and mobile reception, and the fact that everything required by the camp must be carted in on a solar-powered buggy.
There are never more than 10 or so guests at a time at Sal Salis, as the accommodation comprises just five tents. The word ‘tent’ is somewhat inadequate. Sure, it’s a canvas construction, but this is more safari-style luxury than the pitch-it-and-pass-the-hammer experience I’m familiar with. Inside, a king-sized bed with crisp 500-thread-count sheets, awaits me. As I flop down onto it I can see the beach, a mere 50 metres away.
Within an hour, I’m in the water with Dani, a companionable guide who is at my service throughout my stay. We drift with the current just metres from the shore, snorkelling above the most spectacular coral I have ever seen. Fish of all colours, sizes and shapes dart in and out of the coral; reef sharks, a shock at first, cruise the surrounds at lightning speed; intriguing nudibranchs and table-sized bombora corals capture our attention; a harlequin sea snake leaves its wriggle marks in the sand. I am spellbound.
If I were to spend my entire time at Sal Salis exploring the exquisite coral gardens I would leave utterly happy. But there is more on offer. Like the faultless meals that are served up in the one fixed structure - the kitchen and dining area. Guests gather here at day’s end to watch the sun sink into the sea while the chef presents trays of drinks and canapés, followed by a three-course meal.
After dark, Dani and I take our torches and walk barefoot along the beach to a spot where, earlier in the week, she’d seen a nest of green sea turtles hatch. We’re not expecting to see anything when suddenly we notice a stirring in the sand. Attracted by our torchlight, one lone hatchling pops its head up and makes its first shaky moves towards the sea to begin its life aquatic.
That night I keep the tent doors open and breathe the tangy salt air. Before dawn, I wake to the sight of a cheeky wallaroo licking the dew from the boards a metre from my bed. Its intrusion is timely, because it means I’m awake to watch the sunrise at nearby Mandu Mandu Gorge. Light hits the gorge’s northern wall so powerfully it glows the colour of embers.
Next day, a leisurely boat cruise along another nearby gorge sees lazy rays glide alongside us while kestrels eye us cautiously from their nests high in the limestone walls.
Back at Sal Salis, the sea lures me yet again. As I swim and drift, I reflect on the way this place has changed my perception of what a luxury holiday can and should be. I’ve stuck (just) to the daily limit of 20 litres of water; I’ve relegated my mobile to the bottom of my suitcase; I’ve used a torch to find my tent in the pitch-black night. But within a day all this becomes normal (not to mention a wonderful salve for the eco-conscience). With so few diversions I have been able to sit reading a book on the beach for hours, without seeing another soul. I’ve eaten exceptional food and slept in perfect quietness. I’ve been privileged to witness a natural aquarium more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. These are luxuries beyond compare.