“Okay everyone, put your gear on, she’s heading this way. Get in the water as quickly and quietly as you can and follow me, I’ll be keeping near it so you can track it.”
Finned feet began shuffling in all directions to the back of the boat. No one wanted to miss the chance to swim with these graceful underwater butterflies.
I turned to help Kalyra put her snorkel on and she started to have one of those meltdowns. The snorkel wasn’t on to her liking and so the frustration began to vent as wails. She would not listen to my calm, sage advice.
One by one, the others on the boat slipped in the water and started swimming. Soon, we were left on our own.
We came all this way to Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and paid a lot of money to sit on a boat and suffer a tantrum. The others were swimming behind the manta and getting further from the boat. We couldn’t catch up now. We finally got the snorkel sorted and sat on the edge of the boat.
Holding hands we counted to three and slipped in.
We put our faces in the water and there was the manta ray’s face only a few feet away swimming towards us. We both squealed, “manta ray!” It turned and we swam to keep up.
Pretty soon the others had caught up and overtook us and the manta slipped away. Trying to swim fast while holding onto a seven year old is no easy feat.
“Did you see that Mummy? We were so close to it. That was amazing.”
Kalyra, she decided it was too cold and waved the boat down to pick us up. She’d seen the manta ray up close and that was enough. No more chasing was needed, which was wonderful news for me as it meant I could go back in to swim with the manta ray on my own.
Because of the kerfuffle getting Kalyra ready, I forgot to turn the Go Pro on so totally missed that moment when the manta came up to say hi.
We’d joined the tour early that morning from Coral Bay and hadn’t sailed very far out towards the outer Ningaloo reef when the manta ray was spotted swimming the crystal clear turquoise water the Ningaloo Marine Park is known for.
It was just Kalyra and I on this tour as it was expensive so we were reducing costs. Craig had opted to do the quad biking tour with Kalyra instead on another day.
But, we were lucky to be doing it with our friends Nikki and Drew, and their daughter Maddie, who is the same age as Kalyra. It was so lovely for Kalyra to be having such a fun day out with her friend.
I swam around the outside of the pack and bolted towards the front. For the next five minutes I swam behind the manta ray marveling at its grace and delighting in the small fish that swam close to it’s belly.
For some reason, I thought that the manta rays would just come up to the boat and linger around us while we swam with them. I never realised it would involve Olympic style races to keep up with it.
Pretty soon the diesel fumes combined with the physical exertion started to catch up with me and I had to hold down the growing need to vomit. I pulled away and swam back to the boat.
Man they are fast, but it was a lot of fun to swim with them. Next time I hope they just linger!
It was time to let another tour boat in to swim with the rays so we moved out towards the outer reef for snorkeling.
Kalyra didn’t want to come back in the water so again I went exploring the reefs on my own. Schools of hundreds of tiny fish came swimming towards and around me. There were lots of waving blue coral out here and a few large fish poking in and out of them to eat.
The current was really strong and I didn’t stay out long as I was worried about drifting far away from the boat and getting stuck on top of the reefs, unable to be rescued.
Lunch was served. We had cold meat and salad sandwiches, and although yummy because I was starving, I felt the lunch spread wasn’t that great and could have been better for what we’d paid for the tour.
There was a large amount of time spent driving around and at this stage I was trying to decide if the tour was worth it, at $129 an adult, and $90 a child.
It definitely wasn’t for Kalyra. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t take her as she only had that one swim with the manta ray and didn’t want to do anything else. It depends on the temperament of your child.
I wasn’t sold on the value until we stopped at our second snorkel spot.
I was pretty cold by now and this reef was way out the back near the outer rim and the breaking waves. It made me a little nervous to go out and was contemplating sitting it out.
Then our guide said she’d take us all on a guided snorkeling tour and I’m so glad I went. A guided snorkeling tour is the best. You feel so much safer snorkeling in a group and she took us to all the best spots pointing out discoveries along the way.
The only problem was a few kicks to the head as you’re exploring.
We swam in the channels between huge reefs and bombies. It was some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.
We swam above a couple of green turtles and then a loggerhead turtle swam so close to us, which are a lot rarer to see. It was so awesome.
The coral was much better out here, colourful and all shapes and sizes.
We weaved in and out of the reef system for some time delighting in it. One man from the group decided to go off snorkeling on his own and he saw a couple of sharks. So glad I wasn’t snorkeling solo!
Ningaloo is an amazing coral reef to visit. You can explore it from so close to shore and it’s still so pristine, with pretty low number of tourists. We were the only people out there snorkeling.
At the Great Barrier Reef you’re competing with many.
I had a lovely high after that snorkel and enjoyed the beautiful views of the white sandy Coral Bay as we sailed back in.
Kalyra felt she got her money’s worth at the end with all the lollies she kept sneaking in. She was super excited to run and tell her Dad that she swam with a manta ray up close.
So was I.
You can see our swimming with manta rays experience on the Big Island of Hawaii. Press play and go here to read more things to do on the Big Island.