Trip of a Lifetime
Shortly after Friday’s glorious sunset in Carnarvon, we walked down the road to meet the other guests and boat crew for dinner. There were 8 other paddling guests, paddling instructors Dean and Oscar, and 5 crew, for a total of 17. Needless to say it was a fun, rowdy time, and it became clear that the trip would be a hoot. We hadn’t yet seen the boat, the K2O, but were amazed to think that 17 folks could fit comfortably.
On Saturday morning Dean shuttled us from our motel room to the boat. We had some help loading our bags over from the wharf, and then were shown to our stateroom. We weren’t expecting a stateroom! It was a nice sized room with a great ensuite bathroom. We could live like this!
After some final preparations and a safety meeting, we started out of the harbor. Our route would take us up the Western Australia coast to Exmouth, most of which is bordered by the Ningaloo Reef. The Ningaloo Coast is a World Heritage Site due to its incredible biodiversity and unique aesthetics. We would travel both inside and outside the reef at various locations, depending on conditions and what we wanted to do.
The wind was really blowing, and before long the boat was rocking and rolling. K2O is a 60 foot long catamaran, so it isn’t much affected by small waves. This was the ocean! Shortly somebody spotted something large in the water. The boat swerved over for a closer look and it turned out to be a massive manta ray, perhaps 10 feet across. This ocean was alive in more ways than one.
The conditions were good, so it was time for a paddle. The process for launching and paddling was a little tricky. The surfskis were stored on the top deck. The crew lowered them down to the middle deck so the paddlers could sit in them and make necessary adjustments. Then they were lowered to just off the swimstep off the stern, trailing in the water. The bow was given to the paddler, and paddle in the other hand, the move was to jump in the water. Keep in mind that that boat would keep motoring forward to maintain control in the rough water. The paddler would then move to the center of the surfski and jump on and get situated, and then start paddling after the boat. It took a little while, being our first time, but we finally got nearly everybody in the water, paddling alongside K2O. In addition to the single surfskis, there were two doubles that Dean and Oscar would drive, and different people would swap in and out of the back seats. The recovery process after paddling was even more challenging, but we’ll leave that to your imagination.
The waves were really good, so we were surfing immediately. Don got to paddle a Fenn Elite SL, and found it to surf quite well. A camera was mounted to his head via a helmet so some action footage could be shot.
The paddling was fantastic and went very smoothly. Stina opted out of this first session because the seas we bigger than she was used to, and she was getting her seas legs. Late in the session, Don got off the single surfski and got in the Epic double with Oscar. Conditions had actually improved, and they caught some very big, fast rides!
Before going any further, we must mention that one of the crew was the cook. Not just any cook, either. The joke was that he looked and talked just like Jamie Oliver, but it was true!! And the food was amazing. We got three square meals per day, occasional snacks and hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and plenty of beer and wine to fortify us for salty water adventures. This was one of the amazing desserts we had to suffer through.
Each night the K2O would anchor in a bay or some other more sheltered location close to shore. Our first anchorage was probably the most spectacular, a cape lined by massive, crumbly cliffs. That evening Stina was ready to get her toes wet, so we took a short paddle around. This is what it looked like.
Our days continued with paddling, technique sessions, eating, reading, napping, swimming and snorkeling, more eating, and amazing sunsets and moonrises. By the third day Stina was ready for some big water action, so she got in the double with Oscar. These were the biggest conditions we’d seen, and Stina experienced some whiplash-inducing surfs! Twice during the trip we competed in unique races with handicaps and other challenges. In the “World Championship Relay,” Stina’s team took the win on time, but Don’s team got the technical win after penalties were assessed.
Each day brought fun sea life sightings. We saw dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, sea snakes, flying fish, corals, and many other fish. A whale shark was spotted, but due to the conditions most of us didn’t get to see it. In addition, we did a couple of hikes on shore and saw several species of kangaroos and wallabies, lizards, and cool birds. There were an incredible number of massive ant hills, and they were the only examples of wildlife that were easy to capture with the camera.
The wind blew hard every day except the last, which was great for downwind paddling, but difficult for technique practice. One day we were able to paddle up a little canyon called Yardie Creek, which was both gorgeous and protected.
By Thursday night we reached our final destination of Exmouth. We did quite a bit of paddling that day, and then headed to the one bar in town for some celebratory beers. It was weird to be wearing shoes, and around other people not on our trip. Fortunately we were able to go back to the K2O for one more night of blissful sleep on a gently rocking boat.
On Friday we packed up and said goodbyes to the crew and some of the other paddlers who were departing Exmouth that day. We put tips in a sack and gave it to the crew, for their outstanding work keeping us safe, comfortable, entertained, and well fed.
Due to some airline shenanigans, several of us were staying in Exmouth for another day. We checked into the Potshot Hotel, and generally laid low through the middle of the day because it was extremely hot. In the late afternoon, we took a tour of the area, seeing some great canyons to the south of town, and then the lighthouse, some old military stuff, and an old shipwreck north of town. After sunset we went back to the Potshot for a tasty dinner and retired to our (thankfully) air-conditioned rooms. On Saturday we had a mellow morning, and then caught our flight back to Perth. The Trip of a Lifetime had lived up to its billing – in fact, completely blowing away our expectations. It seems like we share a lot of sunset photos, but for us – and hopefully you, too – they never get old.