Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef Review
The Elevator Pitch
This is covert glamping at its finest. You will struggle to see this beachfront safari campsite from the only road that circumnavigates the peninsula, and even from the Indian Ocean it is quite elusive. Get ready for a mysterious CIA-style affair with nature at Sal Salis. After you leave, you might wonder if you just had a long, expensive dream or if you were in fact really camping on a pristine Australian beach? Don’t worry the memories of the whale sharks will remind you that your eco luxe experience was all too real.
There are 16 wilderness tents with views of the beach, making this a very intimate experience. Beware name drop ahead… We were guests just weeks after Pippa Middleton and James Matthews visited here on their honeymoon. So be assured that you will be mixing in some pretty interesting circles if you are fortunate enough to tick this retreat off your travel wish list.
Surreptitious Eco meets the Reef.
They have done a great job blending Sal Salis into the dunes of the Cape Range National Park. The tents are coloured to blend in with their surrounds, which adds to the whole inconspicuous feel of the place. The lodge and tents are connected with boardwalks to prevent soil erosion. They are also built above ground level to protect the local flora and fauna. At the end of the season the tents are taken down and reconstructed again for the next season.
This is camping with a touch of glamour ‘glamping’. I have done a fair bit of glamping in my time, and while this is not the most glamorous tent I have stayed in, the corrugated iron and driftwood are very fitting for the rustic style of the surroundings. The King bed is very comfortable and the hammock strung up outside your tent is a great touch for a languid lie in paradise.
The normal rating system does not really apply here. It is 5-star in many ways, however a lot of concessions have been made to protect the environment. I guess if you look up at night you could say that this is a 1000 star resort. The selling point of this holiday is the unique experience of connecting with nature.
The tents themselves are spacious and airy and seem to be angled in the most opportune way to manage the heat and access the ocean breeze, but they can still get pretty hot. There is no electricity in the tents, so forget about the days of air conditioning and be sure to embrace ‘beach hair’. The camp is solar powered which means the sound impact is minimal on the environment. The song of butcherbird’s is a welcome alarm or perhaps the splash of a Humpback whale breaching is more your style?
Pippa, of course, stayed in the newly opened honeymoon suite, which is the real pick of the tents with a beautiful deck, swing seat and a double hammock to pass the day in. The four-poster bed is decadent and romantic as is the shower with a view of the ocean.
Sal Salis take their eco status very seriously. There is an eco en suite bathroom, and it is just what it sounds like, yep, a hole in the ground composting loo. Only filtered water goes back into the ground. This is not luxurious, but the result is an untouched landscape. Even the linen is organic cotton. The shampoo and conditioner are organic and the soap is made from local native herbs. All water is from Exmouth and guests are only permitted 20 litres of water per person per day for washing. This is off the grid living.
The main lodge is where the action happens. With board games, books and an open bar this elevated oasis is a great way to escape the heat (still no air conditioning). There is no WiFi or reception, but there is a landline if you get desperate to contact the kids, as we did, and one power point for charging camera batteries, you don’t want to miss any photo op’s here.
The front yard is the Indian Ocean. There are cute driftwood chairs and uber cool shaded pods on the beach to relax in. The colour of the water changes from crystal clear to blue marine to pink at sunset. The large rounded stones in certain sections of the beach cast a beautiful colour spectrum of white and caramel to hues of pink and red. The reflections of the sun through the water will make you get your camera out – all of this before we even get to the marine life.
Leisure & Activities
The water is usually crystal clear. We however did happen to visit when the winds had blown in a deadly irukandji jellyfish (related to the box jellyfish) and a lot of red stingers. We only just managed to miss being stung by the red stingers, however our photographer wasn’t so lucky. Dan did have a run in with the deadly irukandji, which hit his snorkel mask. He was very fortunate as his mask was the only protective gear he was wearing (he had opted for board shorts despite the irukandji warning). A few whale shark boats were forced to go back to shore to take people to hospital. While this was definitely not the fault of Sal Salis, it did mean that we were deterred from snorkelling out the front of the campsite. Nature has a way of doing what it wants regardless of the price tag of your accommodation.
Under normal circumstances snorkelling is very easy as the coral reef is only walking distance from the beach. You can have a relaxing drift snorkel or get a little more adventurous and head out to the Blue Lagoon to swim with turtles and manta rays. Turtles come ashore to lay eggs between September and December. Don’t expect a spa here, it is not that kind of accommodation.
Meet The Family
The staff are actually interested in you and your adventures, which is a nice change. It is a very down to earth Australian experience. The service is 24 hours and the personalities are real. The team work very well together to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
There are plenty of wallaroos (or euros) hanging around the retreat. You can often hear them at night while you are trying to sleep. They are the unofficial staff. While they are happy to greet you in the morning, they do not do a turn down service. The other native staff are the resident soldier crabs, who will be sure to move aside as you leave your footprints briefly marking the unspoilt beach.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Sal Salis has a resident chef. We had Brendan aka ‘Tassie’, a real Aussie larrikan! A charming highlight is the chef coming out to announce and describe the food that he has selected for the evening’s fare and the wines that he has paired it with. Three course meals are served every night. You can expect delicious fish, prawns, beef and baked desserts. The produce is seasonal, locally produced or caught, with a touch of bush food.
The feel is relaxed and informal. It is a group outdoor dining, which is quite an amenable way to share tales of your adventures from the day and meet some interesting and entertaining travellers. Lunch and breakfast are also hand made by the chef in the lodge.
You can expect to be spoiled with sunset canapés when you return from your daily outing or even whilst you are on your outing. Sundowners are a way of life on the west coast of most continents and islands, and Western Australia is no exception. The property is managed by two South Africans, Paul and Candice, who are well versed in the art of sundowners.
The wine is heavily slighted toward some great Western Australian wines, but there are other options and plenty of spirits to choose from. All food and drinks are included so you would be a fool to not take advantage of the open bar.
Let’s Step Outside
OK let’s get down to business! Chances are you have heard of Ningaloo Reef for its’ world famous whale shark migration. This is an obvious must, you don’t come all this way and not swim with the whale sharks.
Sal Salis partner with Live Ningaloo, who have a maximum of 10 swimmers aboard their Wave Rider boat. On board, Nat, the marine biologist makes you feel incredibly welcome, totally informed and a little bit lazy, particularly when you find out how far she can free dive. Suddenly your command is jump in, and you have to be quick. There is no messing around, someone in an aircraft somewhere has spotted a whale shark and it is coming your way, if you are too slow you will miss it. It is hard to believe you could miss one of these 12m giants (they can grow up to 18m), but the reef itself stretches over 260km so there is a fair bit of eagle eye overseeing required.
You jump into the relatively warm Indian Ocean and there it is… The sheer size of these fish should leave you terrified, but the tranquil pace and the way they drift through the water instantly make you feel at ease. We were lucky enough to swim with the same whale shark, the largest fish in the world (they are not actually sharks, the name is just there to confuse you) for 40 minutes. This is quite rare and we started to feel like we were connecting with this magnificent gentle sea glider. Another 10 minutes and I think he would have accepted a Facebook friend request.
These majestic picture perfect fish can live up to 70 years and you definitely feel like they have a certain wisdom. Their unique spots are like fingerprints in humans and each spot glimmers spectacularly as the sun pierces the water. The remora fish hanging around are like ugly sisters, and you barely notice them. There is strictly no touching and with the muscle power of those tails, you don’t want to get too close, but we did get pretty up close and personal enough to see the gaping mouth. Eventually our ‘friend’ made his way down into the depths of the ocean and headed off. We got back on the boat with some memories that we will treasure for a lifetime.
This is not the only sea life in Ningaloo though. Quite recently, Sal Salis guests have been allowed to swim with humpback whales. You can also encounter 500 species of fish, manta rays, dugongs and dolphins.
There are a diverse range of activities you can undertake at Sal Salis. Above land there are 100 bird species including pied cormorants and eastern reef egrets, we even saw two wedge tailed eagles. There are red kangaroos (these are diffiult to come by), rock wallabies, echidnas and goannas. The National Park used to be a Jurassic limestone reef, and while it is no longer under water, the landscape is still captivating.
We enjoyed some guided sea kayaking as well as kayaking and trekking in the beautiful rugged gorges. Yardie Creek Gorge was a real highlight. The striking cliff walls of warm coloured rock layers decorated by white strips of Osprey poo that stream, dare I say, almost elegantly into the deep blue water are splendid. From the top of the gorge you have sweeping views out to the ocean. The gorges, caves and mangroves give the area an outback feel, hence the resort’s tagline ‘where the outback meets the reef’.
We saw a few delicately marked black footed rock wallabies and you can also learn about the local flora – Sturt’s desert pea, rock fig, lemongrass and toffee apple scented spinafex. There are a wide array of wildflowers, many of which are endemic to the area.
Deep sea fishing, reef fishing and fly fishing are also on offer at Sal Salis. For your chance to catch Marlin, Mackerel, Giant Trevally, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, Coral Trout, Red Emperor, North West Snapper and Groper. Of course it is a catch and release system, so take your photo, kiss them if you like, and send them back home.
The stars at night will blow your mind. This is meant to be one of the best places in the world to view the milky way. Some scientists say we won’t be able to see stars in the sky from 2025, so make sure you get in and view these amazing stellar delights.
Show Me The Money
Prices range from around $750 to $1000 per person per night (more if you are travelling alone) depending on whether you travel in peak season (June and July). You can add a swag bed for around $400-$600 per night which is great for kids, but they have to be over 5 to stay here. The price includes chef prepared meals, an open bar and national park entrance fees.
A whale shark swim will set you back about $550 and transfers from Exmouth airport are $125 per person each way or $300 if you want to get a Cessna flight.
Lonely Planet honoured Sal Salis with the 4th best place to stay in the world in their Travel 2017 list. They also won The Best Green Tourism Initiative in the Gourmet Traveller 2010 Travel Awards. So the price tag is somewhat warranted.
Set A Date
Sal Salis opens in early March after its’ summer closure. If you want to avoid a costly stay don’t stay in peak season. However you will probably want to plan you trip according to the nature you want to see.
- Whale Shark swimming 1 Apr-31 July
- Humpback Whale swimming 1 Aug-31 Oct
- Turtles lay their eggs between September and December.
For astronomers you will be able to view a total solar eclipse from Sal Salis in April 2023.
We get that this is an eco site, but often the instructions felt more like a lecture than a gentle reminder to be aware of the environment and the policies that they have in place to protect it. The option to have some meals in private such as on the beach would be great, while communal dining is lovely, you may not always feel like it.
5% of the Sal Salis business turnover goes to the Western Australia’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Parks and Wildlife Service to assist in conservation work across Western Australia. You can also support the conservation of whale sharks at www.ningaloowhalesharks.com.
To see more images of this beautiful resort visit our Discovery section by clicking below.