Monday, April 25, 2011

Coral Bay Days

People had said to us that we shouldn’t bother with Coral Bay, that it was just like a Club Med but with no facilities. After believing a similar story about Monkey Mia, which proved to be totally untrue, I wasn’t going to be sucked in a second time. And so we booked in to the Coral Bay caravan park for four nights. We would have booked in for all of Easter if we could have, but it was jam packed and there was no room at the inn. So four days it was and it was bliss. Snorkelling every day on the Ningaloo Reef. After the first day we received some good tips from the regulars and so managed to have better and better snorkelling trips with each venture into the water. “Walk around to the second point and swim out about 100m past the 5 knot sign. Then you’ll come to coral that is a beautiful lavender colour. Totally purple, just like you’re in a field of lavender”. The first trip out to the second point was at high tide and the 100 metre swim across to the 5 knot sign was a serious effort. The current was very strong. Tori was bouncing up and down on her floating noodle. Jazzy was a little overawed. They decided to head back to calmer waters and only Finn and I made it significantly past the sign and out to the reef. We had a good snorkel and saw a great variety of amazingly coloured fish. But it was quite a lot of work. I guess I hadn’t snorkelled for some time and it took me a little while to acclimatise to being back in the deep with all that it holds. It was all pretty new to Finn, but he did well.

That afternoon we had visitors. Tammie was across from Sydney with her sister Wendy, who was over from Canada. It’s such a warming feeling to have friends drop by to visit us in the van. And it was with Tammie that I truly discovered the coral that everybody had been talking about. Up until that point, all the superlatives I’d heard delivered about Coral Bay seemed a little overdone. How spectacular, how beautiful... they just didn’t seem to reconcile with the coral that I was swimming past which seemed largely dead. I’d touched upon the real deal with Finn but didn’t really get there until the afternoon with Tammie. We went at low tide and so were able to walk out almost entirely to the 5 knot sign that had been such a difficult swim in the morning. It was still a bit of an effort past that point to get to the reef and there was the added factor of avoiding the stingrays on the walk out. Wendy didn’t make it much past the sign. It all became a bit too much and so we helped her back to the shore. With her safely back in the calm, Tammie and I returned to the reef. Gliding through passages of coral that would open up into their own private gardens full of vividly coloured fish. Neon blues. Striking yellows. Long skinny flutemouths. Huge angel fish. Bright green parrot fish. Coral that formed like a large rose, blossoming invitingly upwards towards us. I guess we were probably around 200 metres from the shore, but drifting with the current gently around to Coral Bay. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

It was fitting that Tammie should come and visit us. And fitting that it was in this part of Australia. Soon after finding out that Tori was pregnant I was on a work trip in Sydney. At that stage the plan for our Australian odyssey was in slight disarray. Tori and I were both freaking out a bit with the recent discovery and trying to work out how we could salvage our trip with a baby factored into the equation. The thinking then was that some time around the beginning of May, probably from Ningaloo Reef, we would need to race across Australia and get back to Melbourne for the baby to be born in late June, early July. It seemed a rush and both of us felt dissatisfied that our plans had been derailed to this extent. Our twelve month trip had been sliced to six months. It’s not so easy to create a space in your life where you can take a year out from the norm and do something different. Setting the expectation of family, work colleagues, school, friends. All of the bonds and commitments that exist in life and tie you to one spot and to your current situation. They are not so easy to break. So having created the environment and the expectation where we could take this year long voyage, it seemed disappointing to be cutting it short due to an unexpected change in circumstances. And this was how it seemed to be heading until a late night/early morning conversation with Tammie and Stu in a 24 hour bar in Sydney. I think I told them some time around 3am that Tori was pregnant. Partly I raised the topic because I knew it was sure to fuel the conversation and extend the night by another hour or two, but also because I hadn’t actually talked about Tori being pregnant to anybody yet at this stage. Tori and I had decided to keep it to ourselves and I believe we’d even promised each other not to tell anybody else. But I just couldn’t keep it a secret. I needed to talk to somebody. And these guys, both of whom started as my customers but had already transcended this relationship to become my friends, seemed like the perfect people to have a discussion with about my impending fatherhood. Both were totally supportive. Importantly, the drinks kept coming until around 5am. But despite the haze of intoxication, it was really on the back of Tammie’s positive approach of “anything is possible” and her slightly Candidesque outlook of whatever happens, it will work out fine, that I started to question why we really needed to race back to Melbourne. Why couldn’t the baby be born on the road? Surely there are hospitals in other parts of Australia apart from Melbourne. And so the idea of the baby being born in Broome, was itself born. Thanks Tammie. Thanks Stu.

We had a lovely evening in Coral Bay with Tammie and Wendy. A barby, some beers, some great conversation. Then they hit the 150km night drive back up to Exmouth, dodging the red kangaroos on the way. A visit fittingly to the place, that if it wasn’t for Tammie, may have been almost our last destination before heading back to Melbourne.

The next day with Jaz, was snorkelling perfection. The water was more turbulent so I swam hand in hand with my beautiful daughter, guiding her around the reef. I knew totally now where I was going. She was a perfect companion, being up for it all. We found the lavender coral in all its glory. We swam through the coral corridors and stopped regularly to admire the schools of fish. Coral Bay is a beautiful place. I’m glad though that it’s just a stop on my journey and is nowhere near the end point as we make our way around Australia.

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