Sunday, 26 October 2014

Trip Report - Sea Kayak Ningaloo Reef

Trak Performance Kayak - Trak Seeker 16T Adventure

It all started with a random comment over a quiet drink: “how about we paddle Ningaloo this Easter expedition?
Over the last few years we had been heading off on paddling reconnaissance trips around the world at this time, with the intention of developing a list of 5 to 10 great paddling destinations, which we would then bring to the public. Jervis Bay, Indonesia, Alaska, Vancouver and South West Tasmania had all been ticked.  Ningaloo Reef, in Western Australia, was next on our list.  
The response from the team was an agreeable nod, although no-one really knew where it was, how to get there, how much it would cost or anything else about the place.  Some research was necessary.
How good is Google? Damn good! A couple of quick searches, some detailed study of Google Earth (about 2 minutes), a phone call to mate who works somewhere in WA and we were in business. It was distinctly possible. In fact, better than possible, it was a goer.
The tipping point was booking flights - to get to Exmouth, the launching place for Ningaloo Reef, you have to fly via Perth, and then to Learmonth airport, which is actually a RAAF base. Our plan was to go before WA School Holidays, which, thankfully, start a week after Victorian holidays. This would allow some advance booking on flights and some good connections at a fairly decent price. The good old flying Kangaroo was still flying, despite its Scottish leaders attempts to cut out all unnecessary luxuries (food, water, fuel, pilots). So, we made the commitment and booked flights. Respective partners agreed that 1 week would be enough to do and see all we had to – 2 days of travel left 5 days of paddling. Perfect.  
It was at this stage that I twigged to the fact we would need some boats to paddle. “Roh – what about kayaks, won’t we need to get some for a paddling trip?”. Of course, Roh had it sorted – “Traks Byrnesy, Traks, all under control”.
There is no capacity to hire sea kayaks at Exmouth, and there is very limited commercial tours operating in the area. You really have to bring your own sea kayak (stay tuned, as EastCoastKayaking are in discussions with a number of kayak providers in order to avoid the need to pack your own boat!).  The TRAK was built (well, we did the assembling) for this type of adventure.
It was at this stage that our travelling party went from 3 to 2…yep, the Sage had to pull out due to family reasons.  How would we cope without his wisdom? Who would sort out the plan, liaise with the grey nomads and ensure we were in bed a reasonable hour? We were worried, but decided to go ahead without him.
A few planning meetings later we had worked out the basics: accommodation in Exmouth in order to buy supplies and get organized, a hire car to get us to the Reef and some permits for camping along the way.
Ningaloo Reef is actually a Marine Park and the land abutting it is the Cape Range National Park.  Only some campsites can be booked, and it is quite a complicated system, with limited numbers and permits required.  Free camping is not permitted.
Departure date loomed like a Metro train out of the City Loop, in a whirlwind of air and noise, and we had the Traks packed, excess luggage booked, camp gear stowed and were on City Link before you could say “I’ve spotted a whale shark”.
Departing - all packed up!
The flight into Learmonth airport gave us a good view of Exmouth Gulf, the area we were NOT paddling. Thanks Qantas (although it did look interesting…2015 maybe?).  Our extensive research didn’t let us down and the temperature was an expected warm 32 degrees, but thankfully without too much humidity. The drive into Exmouth from the airport, approximately 30 minutes, had Cape Range on our left hand side. We had yet to sight Ningaloo Reef and our paddling destination.
We had the afternoon to get organized; buy food, camping fuel, water and other necessary supplies for 5 days. Exmouth, a town of about 2200 , was able to cater to our needs and we were ready. Well sort of. The kayaks were not out of the bags yet and we still hadn’t sighted the infamous Reef.
The next morning we were off; heading north out of Exmouth and around the tip of the Gulf, stopping at the first opportunity, to walk up the sand dunes and sight the clear, aqua blue waters of the Indian Ocean and Ningaloo Reef. We were not disappointed. The water looked amazing; we could see the waves breaking on the reef, about 1km off shore, and the colours of the water closer to shore were simply stunning. It was a taste of what would come over the next few days.
Our plan was to make water drops off at the various camp sites along the way. One of the many logistical challenges when paddling Ningaloo and Cape Range is access to fresh water. There is no water in the park at all, and whilst the TRAKs could hold a reasonable amount of gear, they would not be able to hold enough water for an extended journey in the hot conditions.
Ningaloo Reef is tailor-made for sea kayaking. If you were to sit down with pen and paper, and pretend you were back in Year 7 Geography making sketch maps, you could not devise a better place for paddling than what mother nature has dished up. Our ‘put in’ point was Yardie Creek, the southern most point of the Park accessible by conventional vehicle. The prevailing winds and currents would help us on our way North to our eventual pull out point at Tantabiddi boat ramp. That was the plan anyway.
The good people at Yardie Homestead caravan park dropped us off, with our unfolded kayaks, our water and other supplies. As the car drove off an eerie silence descended, broken only by the waves pounding the reef in the distance. We looked at each other and laughed. It was finally happening.
Trak assembly took a little longer than usual in the midday heat, but they were soon assembled and ready for a trial run up Yardie Creek, an impressive gorge of red ochre coloured cliffs, with some shear faces and pebble beaches. The 2 km paddle was quite spectacular, with sea eagles and kangaroos being spotted along the way.
Magnificent coloured cliffs at Yardie Creek
Setting out into Ningaloo Lagoon
We then loaded the Traks at the ocean’s edge and pushed off, into the Ningaloo Lagoon.
Ningaloo Reef is a fringing reef stretching over 250 kilometres along the WA  coast. It is the longest fringing reef in the world, and we were paddling a small section (about 50kms). Various sections of the reef are quite close to shore, whilst other areas can be a couple of kilometers from the coast. We were effectively paddling Ningaloo Lagoon, a water way protected from the Indian Ocean by the coral reef. Having heard stories of tiger sharks, manta rays, turtles and other marine life we were excited by the possibility of spotting some. We didn’t have long to wait.
Crystal clear waters on the inside of the reef
“Mate – is that a shark?” Yep, zipping through the water under the bow of my kayak was a little bronze whaler shark (about 3 feet long).  We had been on the water for 10 minutes! He stayed with us for the next kilometer or so, following along and occasionally coming up close for a better look. We paddled a bit closer to shore.
Turquoise Beach
Sections of Ningaloo Marine Park are sanctuary zones, where no fishing is allowed. It was in these zones, unsurprisingly, we saw the most marine life: too many turtles to count, some as big as dinner tables, numerous reef sharks, sting rays, a small pod of dolphins and a wide variety of reef fish. Bait fish were constantly leaping in front of us, scared of being consumed by the great white and yellow TRAK.
After a wonderful 20 kilometres of paddling we made our camp site, extremely pleased with our first day on the Reef. After setting up the tent and picking up our water from the Camp Site Host, we settled down to watch the wonderful sunset over the Indian Ocean. It had been an amazing day.
Ningaloo sunset
The next few days of paddling proved to be some of the best sea kayaking both Rohan and I have ever completed. As our food stocks dwindled we supplemented it with fish easily caught, either by trolling while paddling or with bait from shore. When the wind got up and we decided against pushing into it, we beached the kayaks and donned snorkeling gear, completing some epic snorkels out to the breaking waves over some amazing coral. The diversity of the reef fish constantly surprised us, from the tiny clown fish to the enormous groper, they were spotted with equal amounts of excitement. The cool nights under the clear skies, with a full moon, proved to be the perfect time to reflect on the day’s encounters.
The paddle leg was over far too soon, but we needed one more day for our bonus activity: swimming with Whale Sharks.  The Whale Shark is not a mammal, but a fish and is considered the biggest fish in the ocean. They are a protected species in Australia and migrate to Ningaloo Reef to feed on the krill-rich waters off the coast. Each year their numbers are increasing in this area, with no one really knowing why. Perhaps, as Roh said, “it is because they are loved here”.
Predominantly plankton feeders, they are harmless to humans and spend a lot of time near the surface. Initially skeptical of the numerous tourist operators claiming 100% success rates, we booked with the highly recommended Kings Tours. Again, Ningaloo did not disappoint and we had a most memorable day with Captain Bill and his crew.
The first time we ‘dropped’ into the water no–one really knew what to expect. Floating around in the deep blue of the Indian Ocean, with our guide waving her arms and saying “put your face in the water” it was all a little surreal. Compliantly, and with a knowing smile that I wouldn’t see anything I lowered my facemask and peered into the distance. And there it was! It was MASSIVE and coming straight at me. It really was like a spaceship on Star Trek; gliding effortlessly through the water, with its mouth open and one eye on the side of its head staring at me in an strangely trusting yet vulnerable way.  I just hung there, in awe at this magnificent creature which graciously allowed us mere mortals to briefly share its natural environment.
We spent the next 3 hours ‘dropping’ into the ocean and swimming with numerous Whale Sharks. I was no longer skeptical of both the operators and the process, as they followed strict guidelines to ensure we didn’t upset the shark. To conclude our day we came back inside the reef, anchoring off a coral bommie and doing some more wonderful snorkeling. It was the perfect way to conclude an outstanding week of sea kayaking.
If you are interested in paddling Ningaloo Reef speak with Rohan at East Coast Kayaking. We will be going back and would love to share this magnificent part of the world with other paddlers.
Check out our YouTube for the full experience!

Our next Trak Seeker 16T Adventure for 2015 will be to Lombok, Indonesia - who is interested in coming?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) and Accessories

A PFD is not an ornament for your deck, or a cushion to pad out that hard fibreglass seat - it may be the only thing between you and disaster if it all goes pear-shaped.

Nearly all states and territories have a regulation that it is mandatory to wear a PFD when kayaking - there are some exceptions but we recommend that regardless of those you wear a PFD at all times. For state-by-state regulations refer to the links at the bottom of the page. We recommend a Type 2 PFD for comfort and visibility. See our page on PFDs for more information on the different PFD Types and the range of PFD’s we have available.

Your PFD should be a good fit to your body size and weight - the amount of buoyancy is determined by the size of the intended user and the relevant certification. There are PFDs made to fit children and even your dog (with grab handles for dog overboard!). Make sure you adjust the straps for a firm fit - a loosely fitted PFD will be a hindrance in the water.
Ultra Trek

Kokatat Outfit Tour
Kokatat MsFit Tour

Our hire fleet and programs use Ultra Trek PFDs - a good all-round PFD certified to Australian Standards. Our staff choose to use Kokatat MsFit Tour or Outfit Tour which are certified in the US to US Coast Guard standards.

Additional safety equipment we recommend you attach to your PFD to assist with communications, safety and navigation:

A whistle is your first line of communication with the pod, so it should be loud enough to hear over wind and waves. The Fox 40 whistle is the world’s loudest pea-less whistle, at 115db.

Safety knife
The choice of safety knife is also important. The main function of this knife is to cut yourself out of entanglements - tow ropes, leashes or fishing line hazards. The Safety knife-rope cutter is ideal for this. Having an edged or even worse, a pointy ended, blade is a recipe for disaster, trying to cut away and even re-sheathe it near your neck in choppy seas…
If you need a blade for cutting tomatoes for your lunch, spreading peanut butter or harvesting shellfish, keep a spare in your lunch pack or tool kit!
rescueMe PLB1
A personal locator beacon (PLB) is your last line of defence when you are in grave and imminent danger. It sends a signal to a satellite, ultimately leading to the emergency services being contacted. You must register your PLB with AMSA. The RescueME PLB1 is the smallest PLB available so fits easily in your PLB.

How much water you carry is a personal choice and may be determined by how far you intend to paddle. The Trek Ultra has a big pocket on the back that will hold a 3 litre water bladder. Kokatat have a smaller pocket with that attaches at the back (Tributary Hydration System) and is sold separately.

A handheld compass is a useful tool for navigation and in low-visibility situations. Even if you have a deck-mounted compass it is handy to have a base plate compass such as the Silva so assist with charting your course.

We recommend you take your mobile phone with you. Have your emergency numbers stored in it (emergency services 000, water police, coast guard) so that when in distress, it is easy to call for help and as a closed communication channel the whole world is not listening to your conversation! You may only ever need your phone to call home if you are running late, but you should protect it from salt water with a waterproof case such as the Aquapac, then you can take or make a call from anywhere.

Another good on-water form of verbal communication is provided by a VHF (very high frequency) Marine Radio, such as the ICOM 35. This is a 5W, floatable unit and fits inside purpose-built the pocket in both the Ultra Trek and Kokatat MsFit Tour PFD, allowing for one-handed operation. This is useful for pod management, receiving weather forecasts and communication with other water users. Be aware that this is an open channel of communication - other radio users can hear what you are saying! We recommend you undertake a marine radio operators course to get the most out of your radio.

You should also take along some snacks, sunscreen and lip balm and a watch to keep track of the time. Add a camera to record your adventure and by now you have quite a bit of gear in your pockets and attached to your PFD! Aside from the safety knife which threads through the shoulder strap, you should attach your other equipment to your PFD with a lanyard (cord) - these can be looped around the shoulder strap or in the case of Kokatat PFDs there are handy plastic attachments inside the front pockets.

For the full PFD fit out check out our YouTube:

We recommend you undertake instruction from a fully qualified Australian Canoeing instructor.

For more information on state regulations see the links below:

Governing Body & Link
Dept Transport Safety - Rec Boating Safety Handbook
Dept Roads & Maritime - PaddleSmart
Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST) - Paddlecraft
Dept Planning, Transport & Infrastructure
- kayaking & canoeing
Dept Transport - PaddleSafe
Dept Transport - SafetyGuide

Monday, 13 October 2014

Portable Stoves and Accessories

One stove does not meet all needs. The type of stove you choose may vary depending on the journey and the group. Always be aware of your group’s individual cooking and tea/coffee making needs and tailor fuel quantities accordingly. Become familiar with your stove’s fuel usage before you expedition.
We have been using these stoves for over 15 years for different purposes. All are available from our  online shop or click on the individual links for more info or to purchase.

Soto Micro Regulator

Recommended pot set:
MSR Alpine 2 pot set
Gas (Isopropane - Butane cans)Small & light; easy to ignite; cheap; ability to control temperature; water comes to the boil quicklyFuel availability; unknown fill levels; no wind break; no maintenance kit – disposable; piezo ignite untested in marine conditions, easy to ignite in high winds; Fuel inefficient in cold weather; very noisy; cannot support large pots
MSR PocketRocket

Recommended pot set:
MSR Alpine 2 pot set
Gas (Isopropane - Butane cans)Small & very light; ability to control temperature: water comes to the boil quicklyFuel availability; unknown fill levels; no wind break; no maintenance kit – disposable; Fuel inefficient in cold weather; very noisy; cannot support large pots
MSR Whisperlite International

Recommended pot sets:
MSR Alpine 2 pot set

white gas (shellite), kerosene, and unleaded auto fuelSmall & light; versatile range of fuels; preventative maintenance kit; suitable for a wide range of pots; water comes to the boil quicklySkill needed to ignite; difficult to simmer. ULP fuel is quite dirty compared to shellite - o-rings wear out faster
Trangia Storm Cooker 27-1 Ultra-Lite 

Trangia Storm Cooker 25-1 Ultra-Lite
Methylated spirits; (Isopropane - Butane cans) separate gas burner availableBurner & pot system integrated; good for simmering; maintenance free; safe stove for supervised children to use Fuel inefficient in cold weather; Series 27 saucepans capacity 1 litre maximum - in practice they hold less if used for boiling; slow to bring water to the boil; risk of fuel contaminating the pots/meal if incorrectly stored.
Fuel Types & Ease of use
The big benefit of the Whisperlite is the versatility of its fuel capability – in areas where shellite (white spirit), methylated spirits or gas canisters are unavailable it can run on ULP auto fuel – you should be able to get some sort of fuel for this stove wherever you go. The fuel types used for this stove are also the most efficient – so where weight and volume are an issue, this gives the most days cooking for the fuels carried. It is possible to buy different sized MSR fuel bottles to suit the length of your typical trip.
The Trangia’s cooking system included 2 pots (comes in two different sized sets) and a frying pan/lid so it forms an integrated system. The methylated spirit burner is also probably the safest of the fuel types. Burning methylated spirits can result in rather sooty pots, but this can be reduced by adding a small amount of water to the fuel in the burner. With no moving parts, the Trangia is well suited to use in sandy environments. It is important to take care  transporting fuel in the Trangia burner (avoid doing this!) - if there is a leak into the pots which subsequently contaminates your food your meal will be inedible. We suggest you pour the fuel back into the bottle when finished and store the burner in a snaplock bag or small screw top cannister..
Gas stoves such as the Soto and MSR PocketRocket (and also the Trangia can use a gas system – sold as a separate item) are easy to light and some like the Soto have their own igniter. Gas is a very reliable fuel in cooler temperatures – more so than methylated spirits, so water can be boiled quite quickly – however they might not be so good for simmering food at low temperatures.  Fuel availability may be an issue – some remote areas do not stock cans of butane gas and they cannot be flown in. Another drawback of gas canisters is that it is difficult to tell how much fuel is left – you tend to have a lot of partly empty canisters left over. This can in part be overcome by knowing your stove and selecting a gas cannister in a size suitable for your trip.
Always carry more fuel than you think you might need and develop a good feel for how much you would use on a typical day.
Which to choose:
Gas (butane) stoves are good for small groups (up to 3 people) and are useful for interstate and international travel where weight is critical. It is important not to overweight these smaller stoves - do not use big pots on them - the Alpine 2 pot set is a good choice to complement these stoves. Be sure you can purchase gas canisters at your destination.They also tend to be quite noisy in their operation (how’s the serenity!).
The Whisperlite International is an excellent choice due to its capability of running multi-fuels. Be aware of fuel availability and local names for different fuels as well as regulations governing carriage of fuel bottles on airlines – make sure it is well aired – bottles have been confiscated! The high degree of fuel efficiency of the Whisperlite makes it our choice for longer expeditions and for group cooking for up to 10 people and they can handle a variety of pot sizes. The stove can be maintained in the field using the compact maintenance kit. This stove does not readily lend itself to variable temperature control but it is possible to simmer using an unofficial technique. Otherwise the pressure in the bottle should be maintained to maximise fuel efficiency.
The Trangia is a compact integrated system utilising methylated spirits – if travelling internationally ensure there is supply at your destination (and what the locals call this fuel) and ensure your fuel bottles conform to airline regulations. It is possible to use larger pots (or even a wok) but this does add considerable bulk. Of all these systems this is the most student-friendly, as it is fairly safe to ignite and extinguish (not pressured) and the fuel burns at a lower temperature than the other systems. Use in groups of 3-4 (Trangia 27-1) for a series of smaller meals. It is also the quietest cooking system, allowing you to enjoy the wilderness uninterrupted.

Additional Info:

  • Remove the safety off your lighter for ease of use
  • Have at least two sets of matches/lighters in screw top waterproof containers
  • Use a fuel-safe fuel bottle for all liquid fuels. MSR recommends using MSR fuel bottles with their Whisperlites. Store in cool place when not in use
  • Take the service kit with you in case field maintenance is required during your remote expedition
  • A multi-tools is a useful addition to your kit - two multi-tools can be used to lift heavy pots

    To see these stoves and pots in action check out our YouTube video