Jason Dundas loves the outdoors but loves the comforts of home as well. When he visited Western Australia's Coral Coast he experienced some of the best of camping but with a touch of luxury. At Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef he found that just because you're sleeping in a tent you don't have to rough it.
The camp is run by Wild Bush Luxury, and the "wild bush luxury" concept means there is no television, minibar or phones. But accommodation is fan-cooled and bathrooms feature native herb soaps, eco-sound shampoos and composting toilets.
Cape Range National Park has rugged limestone ranges, deep curving canyons and red earth set against the turquoise Indian Ocean. It's where you will find Sal Salis, a safari eco-camp of five wilderness tents just metres from the white sands of Mandu Mandu Beach.
Once you've settled into your tent, which by the way, has a comfortable bed, fluffy towels and an ensuite, it's time to head out on a guided walk through the gorge.
Twenty million years ago, Cape Range was an isolated island, so the gorges are full of ocean fossils. Archaeological findings show it as one of the earliest Aboriginal sites, so it is an area of significance. Just 10 years ago a necklace of shell and human hair was found in a cave. It is one of the oldest pieces of Aboriginal jewellery ever found.
A guided kayak tour involves paddling 800m to the lagoon and then enjoying a wonderful snorkel above the coral reefs. The lagoon is a 5m-deep natural aquarium holding huge schools of fish, reef sharks and turtles. There are around 500 species of fish, 250 of coral and 600 of molluscs, so there is plenty to admire. Life below the surface is much busier than that on top!
Ningaloo Reef is a 280km-long pristine coral reef and is one of the best places on earth to see and swim with whale sharks and manta rays. It is also a major breeding area for hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles which are spotted every day in front of the camp.
Mandu Mandu Gorge
Only 2km behind the camp there is four-wheel drive access to the gorge, or if you fancy, walking it takes around 40 minutes. It's a trip back in geological history with fossil-bearing limestone formations, caves and of course stunning views. Rock wallabies living there are so cleverly camouflaged they are hard to spot, but keep your eyes open for long, black, bushy tails and bingo. They are part of a national monitoring program and are fiercely protected.
The gorge was carved by an ancient river and is marked by numbered metal posts with arrows, the last finishing in the gorge bed. From there you make your way along the base through shady clumps of bloodwood trees.
Summer heat is intense and the walk is best taken between April and September.
Once you've worked up an appetite, a gourmet meal in a shady spot will soon sort that out. Seafood is high on the list and there are hints of bush food and native produce.
Sal Salis on Western Australia's Coral Coast, an hour south of Exmouth.
Accommodation at Sal Salis costs from $685 per person a night twin share with a minimum two-night stay. All meals, beverages from an open bar, guided and self-guided sea-kayaking and snorkelling, guided gorge walks, a cruise on Yardie Creek and national park and camping fees are included.
From March to June 30, the whale shark season, three-night packages, including a private excursion to swim with them is $2970 per person.
They operate year round.
Prices correct at May 7, 2009.
For further information
Ph: 1300 790 561 or (02) 9571 6399
Fax: (02) 9571 6655
Exmouth Visitor Centre
Ph: 1800 287 328
Fax: (08) 9949 1441