Travel Fail: Ningaloo Reef


Last Updated on November 18, 2019 by Amy

I knew going into this trip that 6 weeks traveling around Australia was a lot of traveling to plan.  I fully expected that something would go wrong.  I just didn’t expect everything to go wrong in one week!

Booking a Whale Shark Swim

The first trouble was back when we were in Bondi.  We’d just committed to our liveaboard time with Sail Ningaloo, and I was making arrangements for us to stay two extra nights in Exmouth to do a whale shark swim.  I’d been working with a company and had arranged a discount.  Communicating via email, I was trying to book, and our emails were literally going around in circles.  There was a staff of people answering the emails and they were not reading the chain of emails.  So I called.  And this is the actual conversation I have:

“Oh no, we don’t offer that.  Who told you we would do that?  [Manager name]?  Oh, she wouldn’t have said that.  I’m certain she sent you an email saying we couldn’t do that.  Let me look for it.  Hmm..it’s not coming up here.  Maybe she sent it from the other computer.”


After 15 minutes I realized that this is probably indicative of a bigger issue in their business model, and do I really want to book with them (and promote their company here)?  No.

With time pressing, I quickly picked the number 1 whale shark tour on Tripadvisor (Three Islands Whale Shark) and called.  I was getting dressed to go out to dinner on a Saturday night in Bondi and didn’t want to miss our reservation, so I didn’t double-check the date.

Fast forward a few weeks and we’ve had a lovely morning waking up and having breakfast on Sail Ningaloo.  I have no cell phone signal so David hot spots me, and there’s an email in my inbox from Three Islands Whale Swim:

“Hey Amy, we’re at the hotel to pick you up and can’t find you.  Can you give us a call?”

Panic mode engaged.  I check my confirmation email, and sure enough, I booked for the wrong date. Of course, we don’t have enough signal to call, so I have to borrow Luke’s phone to get service (another lesson: Telstra is the best network for WA).  No answer.  I leave a voicemail, apologizing profusely, and, perhaps while crying a little, explaining that I had intended to book the following day.  I send an email to the same effect.

A few minutes later, God bless Three Islands Whale Swim, they email me back confirming they’ve moved me to the next day.  Whew.  Crises averted….or so I thought!

Where’s our GoPro?

We check into our hotel in Exmouth, and settle into our room.  Half an hour later, there’s a knock on the door.

“Hi!  Sail Ningaloo is trying to get a hold of you.  They think they have your GoPro.”

Oh nooooooo!  We’re about to do an amazing swim with whale sharks, which we SO want to share on our videos, and we don’t have an underwater camera!  We call Sail Ningaloo and of course, they can’t get the GoPro to us before we leave for our whale shark swim crazy early.

It’s 4 pm, so David hoofs it to the nearest dive shop (a half an hour walk in WA’s wicked dry heat).  David buys a GoPro HERO6 Black.  We don’t want to miss out on filming, so we might as well upgrade while we are at it.  Does anyone want to buy a GoPro 4 Silver?

The GoPro 6 is the last one in Exmouth, and the store closes while David is paying.

David brings it back to set up and charge the battery, AND IT WON’T CHARGE.  Apparently this is a common issue with the GoPro 6, and of course, it doesn’t take the same batteries as the four.

We go to sleep thinking we aren’t going to be able to film anything, and when we wake up, the miracle of miracles, the GoPro starts charging!  Whoo-hoo!

There are no Whale Sharks

Nature’s a fickle lady.  It’s only the second week of the season, but Three Islands Whale Swim has had great swims every day so far.  The whale sharks are just not in the mood today.  Our boat, along with two others, do not get a swim in with the whale sharks.  Thankfully for us, Three Islands has a guarantee.  If you don’t see whale sharks, you can rebook anytime in the next 3 years for free, or get a full refund.

We really discussed moving our flight and rebooking but decided the costs were too high.  It’s also very likely that we will see whale sharks this year in Southeast Asia, although probably not in the setting I would like.

Perth Meetup

But wait, our poor planning and bad luck isn’t over yet!

Throughout Australia, we’ve been holding meetups.  They’ve been hit and miss sometimes, but thankfully more of a success: we had 8 people at our meetup in Canberra (a landlocked city) and another 8 in Melbourne, etc.  We schedule a meetup for Saturday in Perth and show up to our own party.  We’ve got four people RSVPed, and two of them we know are couples so we’re expecting 6 people.

And we wait.  I know people can run late sometimes, it’s no big deal.  I enjoy talking to David, he’s good company.  That’s why I’ve brought him halfway around the world with me.

3:30 rolls around and no one has arrived.  But that’s ok, I know a couple I’ve talked to is coming at 4.

4:30 rolls around, I don’t think they’re coming either.  Well, we have a movie we need to leave for at 5, so we might as well sit here and have another drink.  I can’t believe no one came.

It takes a few (very embarrassing) hours to realize that our meetup is scheduled for the next day.  I was a day early for my own party.

We ended up having to reschedule for our new friends because I’ve already booked us to go out to Rottnest Island on Sunday.  Thankfully, 4 people still make it to our Easter Monday brunch and we really enjoy getting to talk to them.

More about Three Islands Whale Swim

I do want to say that even though we didn’t have a swim with a whale shark, the team at Three Islands did an amazing job.

These whale shark trips work by having a spotter plane up in the air all day.  Literally, the spotter plane was up in the air the whole time our boat was out until it ran out of fuel and had to land.  They really tried to find us a whale shark, but the ones that were out and about didn’t want to play with us.

The boat was very nice – tons of room for our 17 people (the max is 20).  In fact, we could pretty much all lay down to rest.  The crew kept us entertained.  There were some kiddos onboard, so we played sea life charades (favorite charades animal:  cuttlefish).  We had snacks out all the time.

Three Islands Whale Shark is also highly recognized for their eco-tourism.  Three Islands participates in whale shark identification and tracking programs.  They also offset their carbon footprint by planting 10 trees per every tour that goes out.

Each tour has a photographer onboard, and we talked to Amy the photographer and admired her kick-ass camera (a Nikon D810 with underwater housing.  Sweet!).  Everyone gets a copy of the pictures, although it’s by CD and not available online like our surf lesson was.

A word of warning:  three people on our boat (out of 17) got seasick.  Take some anti-nausea in advance.

Here are some amazing pictures from one of Three Islands’ successful whale shark swims:

Looking for Whale Sharks

The WA attempt to see whale sharks was not our only swing-and-a-miss. We booked a whale shark swim tour in the Maldives as well and didn’t have a great sighting. However, we finally swam up-close-and-personal with whale sharks in Madagascar.

Lesson Learned?

Five weeks is our limit.  More than five weeks and shit starts to hit the fan.

Thankfully, we still had one amazing day left, on Rottnest Island!

Consoling myself with a freakshake from Whisk in Perth.


  1. Great story, Amy. As frustrating as I know it had to have been, it was very entertaining! This is the “exception that proves the rule”, you are truly one of the best planners I know. I am sorry for the disappointments you experienced – And so proud of you for keeping your chin up!

  2. Oh Amy! I’m so sorry about the snafus you had! But if I am completely honest, reading those made you seem more human and a little less perfect – as in intimidating! You are always so organized and this peek into an unusual happening for you made me think maybe I’ll be ok at planning.
    Seriously, I am sorry for the issues but when planning SO many weeks of travel it is expected, I think.
    Really hope we somehow get to see y’all!!! Hugs to you both. mg

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