Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef

near Exmouth, North West Cape, Australia Book from

Reviewed by Nick Redmayne
A luxurious tented eco-lodge set amongst the dunes a few metres from Ningaloo Reef, an hour south of Exmouth
As with much in Western Australia, Sal Salis redefines remote: 66km from Exmouth, 1,270km north of Perth, uniquely within the boundary of Cape Range National Park and off-grid for mobile phones, internet and mains electricity. With this in mind, don’t expect a glittering grand entrance; like all the best places there are barely any signs, you just have to know that you’ve arrived. Park amongst the dunes at South Mandu beach, leave sharp suits, killer heels, Burberry baggage and BlackBerries behind, and meander the last 800m up the shore through acacia brush, kangaroo and emu tracks. Soon, a scattering of ochre-coloured safari-chic Wilderness Tents sporting storm lanterns and hammocks appears along the shore, all set a stone’s throw from brilliant white sand, sparkling blue Indian Ocean and the tantalising corals of Ningaloo Reef.

Guided shore snorkelling reveals black-tipped reef sharks, green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, and myriad temperate and tropical fish. Beyond the breakers, whale sharks and humpback whales chart an annual migratory passage, whilst elsewhere manta rays cruise the nutrient-rich coastal currents. Unforgettable.

Highs

  • Location - Ningaloo is Australia’s largest fringing reef and the world’s only such coral community pitched a short swim from the mainland
  • Staff - youthful, laid back but professional with it, eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for Cape Range’s wildlife and natural history
  • Breakfast - enjoying fresh coffee and croissants whilst humpback whales breach a short distance offshore beats a full English
  • Dinner - fine dining within earshot of the ocean, lit by oil lamps and overseen by a canopy of stars
  • Some of the most comfortable beds on Earth

Lows

  • Location - you are miles away from most anywhere (this also means no mobile reception)
  • Fresh water - only 20L per tent per day for showering and washing
  • Power - all electricity is generated by photovoltaic arrays whose extent is limited by national park regulations. No fans, air con, hairdryers or even power sockets in guest tents
  • Expensive - although all meals, an open bar and guided activities are included, the nightly tariff will still make your eyes water
  • The lodge closes seasonally, see rates for specific dates

Best time to go

May to September is the main season, with different months offering different highlights. Whale sharks are present off shore from late-March to end July, Manta Rays are present all year, mostly seen July to September, and humpback migrations occur from 1 Aug - 31 October (you can now swim with them!). Cape Range’s tropical climate sees daytime temperatures range from 22 to 30C April to September and from 30 to 38C October to March. November to April is cyclone season and though storms rarely make it as far south as Cape Range there are exceptions (Cyclone Vance in 1999 for example). Sal Salis is closed every year from 1 November - mid-March.

Our top tips

The camp’s charm lies in its remarkable wilderness location. The tents are very comfortable but don’t try to duplicate the facilities found in a top-class hotel room; similarly, if you arrive expecting 5-star fawning and all-you-can-eat obsequiousness you will be disappointed. Take advantage of the camp’s guided hikes and swims, listen to the knowledgeable and enthusiastic young guides, enjoy the fine dining and take chest-cracking breaths of sea air. Get the mindset right and Sal Salis starts to seem very fairly priced.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Tented Eco-lodge
  • 16
  • All inclusive
  • 5 and over welcome
  • Closed: 6 Dec 2016 - 14 Mar 2017
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Binoculars
Room: Wilderness Tent

Rooms

There are 15 airy safari-style Wilderness Tents erected on raised timber platforms; those higher in the dunes are interconnected by boardwalks and offer better sea views. All have wooden decks of varying sizes populated by chairs and a hammock. There is also a Honeymoon Tent, which is more spacious and boasts a 4-poster bed draped in mosquito netting (more for ambiance than need as there are few mossies about). Careful distancing means all are comfortably private.

Inside, kingsize or twin beds have high-quality 100% cotton linen, a choice of pillows and extra cushions. Personally, save for being woken by kangaroos bouncing on the boardwalk, I had one of my best night’s sleep ever. There is some shelf storage and hanging space for clothes, but don't bring too much luggage.

Bathrooms adjoin each tent and include a surprisingly fragrance-free composting NatureLoo, together with a sink (with hot and cold running water) and electrically pumped, bottle gas-heated shower, both drawing from a 20-litre daily water allocation. Biodegradable shampoo, natural soaps and moisturisers are provided to further mitigate problems of waste water management in an environmentally sensitive area. Chilled drinking water is replenished each day.

Limited power inevitably means some compromises. There are no fans and the tents rely on large areas of fly-screened vents and a sea breeze to keep things cool. Elsewhere, energy efficient LED interior lights are a bit dim, though each tent is provided with a wind-up torch, and externally an oil storm lantern illuminates the deck.

For those wanting to further reduce the insulation between themselves and the environment and sleep under the stars, swags are available to pitch outside. However, be warned the starlight in Cape Range is so brilliant it might just keep you awake.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Extra beds
  • Hammock
  • Mosquito net
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Wind-up torch

Eating

All meals and drinks are included with both lunch and dinner masterfully crafted by a professional kitchen team, which is fortunate because - short of going walkabout in search of choice bushtucker - there is simply nowhere else.

Lunch usually takes the form of a BBQ buffet, and can be served on the beach. A typical menu may include emu and herb sausage, pepper-crusted Scotch fillet, garlic and ginger roast potatoes and fruit salad.

Pre-dinner canapés are served around sunset before tables are beautifully set and lanterns lit for the main event in the dining tent. Starters and mains are thoughtfully paired with Australian and imported wines. The resident chef offers traditional Australian cooking with a twist by combining ingredients with native spice blends, bush tomatoes and Kakadu and Illawarra plums, amongst other indigenous flavours.

Naturally, seafood features heavily, and from scallops, squid and snapper, in almost all cases it’s straight off a boat at Exmouth. Surmounting the constraints of limited power, water and refrigeration, assiettes of prawns excel, ballantine chicken melts, wild berry soufflés rise to the occasion and lemon myrtle crème brulées linger in the memory.

Breakfast is an uncomplicated affair consisting of eggs any style, fresh croissants and cereals but the accompaniment of breaching humpback whales 500m offshore more than compensates for the simplicity.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Ningaloo Reef is tantalisingly close and with snorkelling gear, flippers and rashies (protective swim shirts) all provided, escorted drift swims to observe the ever-changing drama of daily life among the coral are not to be missed

  • Whale shark, humpback whale and manta ray encounters top the bill for this part of the WA coast, ask about swimming with whale sharks and humpbacks from Sal Salis' boat (seats 10, snorkelling gear & lunch included). Depending upon the season, expertly guided full-day charter voyages may be arranged at extra cost

  • A guided hike through pristine natural bush ascends the escarpment of an ancient reef to offer panoramic views over the coastline, and returns through Mandu Mandu gorge, domain of agile Black-footed Rock Wallabies - you’ll probably have the place to yourself. Look out also for one of the 80 types of reptile in the Park, such as Gould's Goannas

  • Sea Kayaking - a low impact way to explore the immediate coastline. Take snorkels and paddle to the Blue Lagoon where turtles, reef sharks and immense schools of fish share a favourite marine hang-out

  • Birding is excellent hereabouts - there are 100 different species to be seen in the Cape Range National Park - look for Pied Butcherbirds, Fairy Wrens, Kestrels, Waders, Seabirds and the occasional Emu

  • Yardie Creek is the only gorge in the region to contain permanent water and lies at the end of the road beyond Sal Salis. A short boat ride and even paths maintained by park authorities allow exploration even by those with mobility problems

  • Sport fishing - the camp has a 12m Black Watch Game Fishing boat and skilled crew available for game charter on a catch and release basis (additional cost)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Private guided tours
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children over 5 are welcome although there are no special child facilities. However, older kids, tweens and teens who are confident in the water and have a genuine interest in wildlife and wilderness will find the camp’s experience seminal. Extra beds take the form of good ol' Aussie swags.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Children will love the whole glamping experience in the eco-tents. Note that only one swag, so therefore only one child, is permitted per tent

Children's meals:

The bar is open all day for cold drinks and snacks. The chefs are more than happy to take on board all requests and special requirements and cater accordingly with special menus if needed. Mealtimes are communal

Kids Activities on site:

  • The beach
  • Reference library
  • Balls for beach games
  • Board games

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Snorkelling and kayaking on the Ningaloo Reef
  • Gorge walks
  • Beach fishing
  • Glass-bottom boat trips, 25 minutes' drive
  • Swimming with Whale Sharks and Humpback Whales (seasonal), best for confident swimmers and teens
  • Dolphin and whale-watching (humpbacks), turtle spotting
  • Guided walks
  • Birdwatching

Distances:

  • Airport: 20 minutes (Yardie Creek landing strip); 1hr30m (Exmouth Learmonth)
  • Hospital: 1 hour
  • Shops: 90 minutes (Exmouth)
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

6/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
8/
Value
9/
Overall

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