With no hustle, no bustle, no beeping phones and no wi-fi, there’s no end to the wonders that await. Kirsten Galliott switches off in a patch of paradise.
I’m in a Cessna, flying over Western Australia’s Ningaloo Coast, captivated by the luminous ribbons of turquoise water and blond sand that stretch out before me. Suddenly, Jordan, the pilot, points out a cluster of tan-coloured tents camouflaged in the dunes. “That’s Sal Salis,” he says. I look and look again before I make out their bulky shapes. Anticipation? I’m giddy with it.
Sal Salis is an eco-luxe “bush camp” that promises to drench you in nature. Some 1300 kilometres north of Perth, it feels headily remote. That’s because it is. There’s no mobile phone coverage, no wi-fi, no TV, no radio. All the entertainment you need is on glorious Ningaloo Reef, where you can swim with whale sharks (April to July), humpback whales (August to October) and a plethora of other marine life. Manta rays. Turtles. Reef sharks. And if you spot a dugong, you’ve hit the ocean jackpot.
The camp is an undeniably comfortable base from which to discover it all. Modelled on African safari tents, the accommodation is best described as rustic luxury. Each of the 15 Wilderness Tents has a king-size bed and an ensuite (including, mercifully, a hot shower). As the retreat is located in Cape Range National Park, its footprint is gentle. Water use is restricted, most of the power is solar and noise is kept to a minimum, as is unnecessary light after the sun sets.
Lights are not the only things that switch off. With no ringing phones, email alerts or the ability to immediately Instagram your stunning digs, you’ll have to do the same. For many guests, it’s a huge drawcard. “People come here to get off the grid,” says Paul Bester, who’s been managing Sal Salis for the past three years with his wife, Candice Shaw. “It’s the ultimate detox. You can be online virtually anywhere in the world now. You can even be in Uganda looking at the gorillas and still be connected. So it’s a unique thing not to be able to be contacted.”
“It was definitely a selling point for us,” says one guest on an anniversary getaway. “We wanted to really wind down. And we haven’t missed being connected at all.” Another guest booked a long weekend and only told her husband at the airport that they were venturing somewhere without a signal (there’s a landline for emergencies). “He was dubious at first,” she says, “but it’s given both of us the break we needed.”
I find extreme joy in disconnecting. On my first afternoon, I wander along the beach and don’t see another person. All I can hear is the thunder of the breakers and the lapping of their offspring at the shore. All I see is the orange-pink sun as it readies for rest.
At night, the spectacle of the Milky Way steals the spotlight. I lie on the cool sand and gaze at its great spark, luxuriating in the stillness. Yes, it’s disconnecting but it’s also reconnecting. I’m focusing so clearly on everything that’s around me. Deadlines? They’re part of my other life.
Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” to describe the state of utmost happiness. He found flow occurs when you’re intensely focused on an activity you want to do that is neither under-challenging nor over-challenging. It gives you a sense of clarity and immediate feedback.
I find my flow under water. On a charter with Live Ningaloo, I have the opportunity to swim with two humpback whales. As I watch them glide towards me – their 16-metre-long bodies surprisingly graceful – I take a sharp intake of breath. Then I make alien squealing noises into my snorkel, so thrilled am I by their majesty. They are beasts. Magnificent beasts.
The whales float beneath me like tankers, slow enough that I can drink in the silver of their skin, witness the flick of their giant tails. They circle back then one rolls in front of me, showing off the pleats on its belly. It’s one of those singular moments of my life. Everything stops. It feels like there’s just me and them and this vast, vast ocean.
There are many moments when time slips away. I revel in kayaking at sunrise to Blue Lagoon, about a kilometre offshore, where the marine life rivals anything on the Great Barrier Reef. Sal Salis guides will also organise a hike to Mandu Mandu Gorge for views of the coastal plain and Ningaloo Reef or to Pilgonaman Gorge to spot black-footed rock-wallabies. An afternoon could be spent snorkelling at Turquoise Bay (a popular place for turtles) or Lakeside, where an enormous cod faces off against me for just a heartbeat before turning away, disinterested.
At the end of the day, I sit on the deck of my tent, a glass of Western Australian wine in hand, spotting wallaroos bouncing between the dunes and humpback whales breaching beyond the breakers. Turns out I’ve found my flow on land, too.