I’m standing at the top of a gorge, marvelling at the glorious full moon and the stunning hue of pink cutting through the blue sky over the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef.
I glance behind and notice the bright orange sun is rising over the other side of the rocky terrain.
I turn back and forth a few times to appreciate the full spectacle of the panoramic view. It is a rare and breathtaking sight.
My 2.7km hike with a small group began in darkness, with only the stars and moon providing some light.
A torch is required to navigate our way over the dry creek bed of Mandu Mandu Gorge at the Cape Range National Park on Western Australia’s mid-north coast.
It is a grade four trail and some parts are particularly steep, but it is a mostly comfortable walk if you bring the right shoes.
I stop from time to time to view the ancient limestone formations, which appear to be a different shade of red and orange as dawn arrives.
We also spot some black-footed rock wallabies, which seem unfazed by our presence.
At the peak, I drink some tea and breathe in the incredibly fresh air.
I pull out my phone to take some photos of the stunning view, then realise it is pinging with text messages and emails.
I had barely been out of range for one day while staying at the nearby Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef camp, and was just starting to get used to the tranquillity when I was bombarded with the phone notifications.
I wasn’t expecting to get phone service at the top of the gorge and I can’t help but have a quick look, then quietly scold myself and put the device away.
Upon my return to my luxurious tent, I throw my phone aside and ignore the messages that came through earlier.
I am spending a few nights at the eco-friendly beach camp where the power is mostly solar-generated, water usage is capped at 20 litres per person each day, and there is no mobile phone service, internet access or television.
The idea of being completely disconnected from the world is confronting for most of us these days, but after some hesitation I am starting to get used to it.
Up here the only reminder of COVID-19 is some hand sanitiser and signage reminding people about good hygiene.
Led by cheerful camp manager Nick Day, the staff at Sal Salis are young and genuinely enthusiastic for a chat.
It’s so comfortable that you actually feel like you’re staying with friends.
Guests dine together, including a hot breakfast, a selection of tasty dishes at lunch, canapes and drinks during an always picturesque sunset, and a sumptuous three-course dinner.
Chef Zac Hadden uses locally sourced food and changes the menu daily.
During my brief stay, some of the dishes included scallops, fish, duck, falafel, pasta and kangaroo, and each meal was bursting with flavour.
The camp is also in a designated dark sky area, with unforgettable views of the milky way, and it feels almost magical having a meal under the stars.
Ningaloo Reef is 260km long, making it Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, with 250 species of corals and more than 520 species of fish.
It is also famous for whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, dugongs and turtles.
Amazingly, the marine life is easily accessible to snorkellers in the crystal clear water, and from the main lodge at Sal Salis I even occasionally spot humpback whales in the distance.
During my stay, I take a day tour with Live Ningaloo in search of whale sharks.
It is a particularly rough day on the water, with many people suffering from sea sickness, but the crew remains positive and supportive of the ill passengers.
We do finally get to snorkel with a “small” whale shark, measuring about four metres long, and the look of wonderment on everyone’s face proves the adventure is worth it.
On my final morning, I sit down for breakfast – a delicious Acai bowl – and look out at the ocean, hoping to catch one last glimpse of some humpback whales.
Instead, a kangaroo comes bouncing across in front of me.
I pull out my phone to try to take a photo, even though I know I am too far away to get a really good shot.
The kangaroo suddenly stops in its tracks and turns towards me for a moment before continuing on its way.
I put my phone away, realising it is so much better to just enjoy these gem moments that Mother Nature throws your way.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: It is a two-day drive from Perth or a two-hour flight to Learmonth Airport and the team at Sal Salis can drive you 90 minutes to the camp.
STAYING THERE: Sal Salis features 15 spacious tents with en-suite bathrooms. Meals are served at the main lodge. Prices start at $749 per person, per night for twin share in the low season. It includes meals and excursions.
PLAYING THERE: Sal Salis offers optional daily tours such as hiking, kayaking and snorkelling. You can also book a whale shark tour, or other ocean activity, through Live Ningaloo. A whale shark swim will cost $575.
For more information, visit www.journeybeyond.com.au or www.salsalis.com.au
The writer travelled as a guest of Journey Beyond.