Sunday, 28 October 2018

Little Salmon Bay Snorkel Trail (Rottnest Island)

An excellent snorkel trail on Rottnest Island, the Little Salmon Bay Snorkel Trail explore the vibrant waters of Little Salmon Bay. Starting by exploring the limestone reef along the left side of the bay, the trail guides snorkelers into the middle of the bay and to the right side back to the beach. Filled with beautiful Pocillopora Coral and colourful fish, this is a great introduction to snorkeling in the Perth Region.

Distance: approx 500 metres (loop)
Gradient: Gentle; the bay is never too deep over its entire length
Quality of Path: Non-existent
Quality of Signage: Clear trailhead on the beach, buoys and info panels are of mixed quality
Experience Required: No Snorkeling Experience Required
Time: Variable. Allow at least 1 hour
Steps: No Steps
Best Time to Visit: Spring-Autumn
Entry Fee: Yes. Rottnest Island Entry fees apply
Getting There: From The Settlement, catch the bus or cycle the road to the Little Salmon Bay bus stop. Trail starts at the beach

Having completed the Wardan Nara Bidi in September and having thus walking every trail in the Wadjemup Bidi Trail Network, it would be easy to assume that Alissa and I had basically done every trail that Rottnest Island has to offer. However, there are two trails of a very different nature that would make Alissa and I want to return for our third visit to Rottnest in 2018 - the Little Salmon Bay and Parker Point Snorkel Trails. Having thoroughly rediscovered our love for snorkeling in 2018 with visits to Byron Bay, Blue Holes in Kalbarri and the spectacular Ningaloo Reef, we checked out the snorkel trail during our last visit but couldn't write it up due to my underwater camera case leaking. Missing Ningaloo, a return visit to Rottnest in late October was the perfect way for us to get out there and explore these underwater trails.

Arriving on the first ferry, Alissa and I brought our bikes over and were at Little Salmon Bay before even the first bus arrived for the day. The tide was fairly low, and while we had originally intended to ride around the island first, the lack of other visitors made us think it was best to get the snorkeling trails done early. Being a beautiful and sheltered little bay that is safe for young children, Little Salmon Bay can get crowded by Rottnest standards and we wanted to enjoy it to ourselves.

The trailhead starts on land and outlines the route to follow the trail. The trail is a fairly basic loop that starts by exploring the shallow limestone reef at the left side of the bay before exploring the coral and more substantial limestone reef in the middle of the bay and then following the limestone ridge on the right side of the bay back to the beach.

The trail is marked by a series of buoys tied to information panels under the water. The first few of these buoys can be seen floating above the surface while later buoys can only be seen bobbing beneath the water.

At the time of our visit in later October 2018, the panels had been covered over with algae and were largely unreadable. These panels are apparently cleaned up every year, and it unfortunately cannot be helped that these panel aren't always in the best condition.

Marker two looked even worse that the first one, and it had Alissa and I wondering whether the panel had been removed altogether!

Even at this early stage of the trail, Alissa and I were delighted by the sight of coral growing in the waters of the bay. Due to the warm Leeuwin currents, Rottnest Island's waters are capable of supporting a surprisingly large and healthy community of Pocillopora Corals. While less grand than the massive expanses of coral in Ningaloo Reef, the bubblegum pink hue of the Pocillopora make Little Salmon Bay more reliably colourful than the typically brown colour of many of the coral species that are close to shore in Ningaloo.

Continuing further along the trail, the size of the coral structures increased and became increasingly impressive. Having really been missing Ningaloo, this was a great way for us to sate our snorkeling appetites without having to undertake the two day drive back up north.

It is actually quite amazing that such large coral colonies exist this far south and in such easy access from the beach. Perth may be unlucky when it comes to mountains or forests that don't always look charred to a cinder, but it very lucky to have such amazing natural aquariums in such easy reach.

As the trail turns right into the middle of the bay, Alissa and I went off through a gap in the limestone reef to explore. The area was brimming with school of fish, and made for a very enjoyable side trip.

While the coral was less impressively large through these sections, they more than made up for it with brilliant colours. These smaller Pocillopora were a rich purple colour and were even more striking and impossibly vibrant than their pink cousins.

The marine life in the middle of the bay was also particularly noteworthy, with a great variety of fish enjoying life in this beautiful and food-filled environment. Black Scalyfins could be found throughout the bay, with one particularly defensive example located right near the middle. That particular fish charged both Alissa and I, and helped me identify were I was when I went along the trail a second time!

Western King Wrasse we another plentiful fish species throughout the bay, and seemed to particularly enjoy some of the more seaweedy sections.

While limestone reefs dominate most of the middle of the bay, there are nevertheless some larger patches of coral through this section that make for scenic snorkeling.

Alissa and I found the trail to be less obvious through the middle of the bay, however we were able to find some of the later markers as we continued along the edge of the reef. This would have been marker 8 or 9, with quite a few in the middle being difficult to spot, possibly due to their buoys having broken off. The fact that they buoys don't float above the water does mean it can be a bit difficult to follow the markers, however as long as you follow the edge of the reef, directions are fairly straightforward.

A fish that was particularly common through the second part of the trail was the Green Moon Wrasse. These stunningly colourful fish are the most vibrant fish species found in the waters of Rottnest Island, and were closer to the vibrancy of colour we had encountered in Ningaloo Reef.

Towards the end of the bay, the trail passes through some fairly large coral formations before entering an area of limestone reefs that has more seaweed than corals.

From the last marker, the trail heads back along the right side of the bay and follows the low limestone cliffs back to the beach.

While seaweed may be more common and less immediately impressive than the Pocillopora coral, they are nevertheless beautiful and life-sustaining, with a number of fish species seemingly preferring the seaweed to the coral gardens.

Hiding under the rocky shelf of the limestone reef were a number of Rock Lobsters. These delicious crustaceans are commonly captured off the coast of Rottnest, however this lucky individual was safe and sound in a sanctuary zone.

Just before finishing the loop, Alissa and Imwere delighted to spot a Red Lipped Morwong hiding alongside one of the smaller limestone formations. While clearly using the rock for shelter, the fish was surprisingly not that scared by our presence and allowed me to get fairly close for the above photograph.

While lacking in the vibrantly coloured fish or the massive expanses of coral found in Ningaloo Reef, the Little Salmon Bay is a superb snorkeling site filled with colourful Pocillopora coral and wealth of beautiful fish species. While the trail infrastructure can be a bit hit and miss, the route that the trail suggests is excellent and is easy to follow even when the signage is less than clear. Overall, Little Salmon Bay is quite an amazing snorkel site that is well worth a visit. Perth is very fortunate to have such great snorkeling opportunities so close to the city, and the Little Salmon Bay Snorkel Trail is one of the best introductions to the incredible underwater world of the Perth region. 

1 comment:

  1. I am going to rottnest next week.
    is 3mm wet suit enough for early november snorkeling?