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SWIMMING WITH GIANTS At Ningaloo


In her 20's this Highfields resident spent a decade in the United Kingdom, working and travelling through Europe, but on her return to Australia, she yearned to travel her home-country. When her children moved away to go to university, she saw the opportunity to follow her dream. So with a caravan in tow, Jo Rawlings and her husband Mike left Newcastle in February 2016.

With their new-found freedom, the couple hugged the coast to South Australia, headed to Darwin, Broome and onto the Ningaloo Coast Heritage Area. It was here they lost their hearts to the watery wonderland of Western Australia’s Ningaloo Marine Park and the arid land of the Cape Range National Park.

“Ningaloo was definitely the highlight of the trip, which included a visit to Karijini National Park, (between Exmouth and Broome). That was a stand-out,” reminisced Jo.

“I am a water baby, and I love to swim wherever I am. On this trip, I swam in every body of water I could find. At Ningaloo, I could swim all day, every day on the fringing reef, if I wanted – it was incredible.”

It was on a roadside stop on the way into Broome that the couple heard about Ningaloo from fellow travellers, who were on their annual pilgrimage to the spot. They were told the campsites were primitive but worth it for the pristine and spectacular scenery.

Jo then read an article by author Tim Winton that described the reef as a “lesser-known coral treasure. Home to the gentle, photogenic whale shark, and more than 400 species of fish, it’s our [Australia’s] largest fringing reef”. The couple decided to set off on the 1373-kilometre journey from Broome to Exmouth. In June, they arrived with their caravan kitted out for a self-sustainable, two-week stay at two beach-side campsites ‑ Osprey Bay and Kurrajong.

“We were only ten paces to the water’s edge, and the reef became my playground.”

Every morning, Jo rolled out of bed to take a dip with the same turtle before swimming with small manta rays, fish, coral and sponges or floating along the tidal sweep and watching the aquatic show below or walk along the beach or the inland gorge.

One day the couple swapped the fringing reef for the outer reef and to swim with whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish that visits the region from March to August.

Whale sharks are known as gentle giants as they can grow up to 18 metres long and are harmless filter feeders that cruise the ocean in search of plankton.

“I loved being in the water, swimming beside these massive and passive creatures. I had feelings of awe, connection and gratitude for the ability to be on this extraordinary and exciting experience.”

“Ningaloo as a whole was incredible – to be so immersed in nature that is so beautiful and unspoilt and has the space to enjoy it. With no more than 20 other fellow campers to share it and the fringing reef only 300 metres away, it was so worth the effort to get there. We are so glad we did.”

Jo admits her idea of a bucket list has always been pretty loose; however, she has managed to do many wonderful things through yoga, such as visiting India and taking her life from doing to being. A trek to Japan’s Kumano Kodo Trail in Spring when the cherry blossoms are out is on the cards, as is spending the day with a Yamabushi ascetic monk.

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