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Cape Range National Park, Exmouth

Image: Steve Collins

North West Cape is a peninsula that juts out into the Indian Ocean just north of the town of Carnarvon.  The biggest town on the cape is Exmouth, which swells from a normal population of 2,000 to about 14,000 each winter as many people who live in the south of the state chase the sun.

On the western part of the cape is Cape Range National Park, which covers an area of over 50,000 hectares.  The key feature of the park is the Ningaloo Reef, an amazing close-to-shore coral reef that runs the full length of the park.

Whilst there are 50 kilometres of beaches contained within the park, there are also some fantastic gorges that have been carved out of Cape Range by wind and water, plus a number of ecosystems, including mangrove swamps, flowing creeks, large anthills, beautiful wildflowers and arid landscapes.

Contained within the park on the eastern side of the ranges are a couple of stunning gorges, which include Potshot Gorge and Charles Knife Gorge, which reminded me of a small Grand Canyon.  The colours of the rock are very vibrant, consisting of vivid reds, oranges and yellows and scrawny bushes which help to soften the landscape.

Image: Steve Collins

Mostly, visitors spend the bulk of their time on the western side of the park, where there is the excellent Milyering Visitor Centre and some wonderful small campsites, which are often full due to high demand.  Mostly, these campsites have direct access to quiet beaches, some of which have areas from which you can launch a boat.

There are many sanctuaries offshore, meaning that fishing from boats in banned, although fishing from the shore is still allowed.

There are many types of fish that make the reef their home, and it is also possible to see turtles, dolphins, sharks and dugongs in the shallow waters within the reef.  The deeper waters offshore see seasonal visits by a variety of whales, which head further north during the cooler months to give birth before returning past the park on their journey back to Antarctic waters.

The most famous marine behemoths to visit the region are the world’s largest fish, enormous whale sharks which also hang around during the winter months.

On land, there is a great variety of birdlife, particularly hawks and osprey, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, emus, echidnas and large lizards called bungarras.

Apart from fishing snorkelling, swimming and kayaking are popular activities, and there is a well-known drift at Turquoise Beach which will safely carry snorkelers above the coral for several hundred metres.  One of the best places to visit is Yardie Creek, which is the only permanent freshwater stream within the park.  Here you can enjoy a cruise through Yardie Gorge and also a walk into the gorge, during which you can enjoy fantastic views of the gorge, creek, beaches and reef.