Exmouth, WA 6707
Phone: (61) 8 9949 0000
Hotel Review by Ron Bernthal
It took just over two hours to fly 800 miles from the lovely and sophisticated city of Perth, the capital of Western Australia, to the small, outback airport called Learmonth. The airport’s runways were built for American war planes in 1943, and the small terminal building, since modernized of course, is somehow reminiscent of that time.
The road to the nearest town, Exmouth, is a thin line of black asphalt across very dry scrubland, in an area of Northwest Australia designated as Cape Range National Park. It was July, winter in Australia, and the temperature was delightful, low 80’s and no humidity. I was eager to get to the sea, the Indian Ocean in these parts, as I had come to swim with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef.
Exmouth, with about 2,000 year-round residents, is on the sea, and its tourist facilities, camping sites and marinas fill up with visitors during the cooler winter months. In summer, from October to March, daytime temperatures are in the low 100’s, and outdoor activities slow down considerably. After a small U.S. naval base here was closed in the 1960’s, the Australian Navy and a few hardy prawn fisherman and sheep farmers began occupying the empty buildings, and a town slowly took shape. These days winter tourism is the main industry, although Western Australia’s booming mining and natural gas operations are not far away, and money is beginning to flow into Exmouth through new home buying by energy industry workers and affiliated small businesses.
The Novotel Ningaloo Resort is located a few miles outside of town, facing the sea at Sunrise Beach, appropriately named for the spectacular view of the sun rising over the Indian Ocean. The hotel is beautifully designed, no more than two stories high, and very eco-friendly, using lots of local wood and stone, very much in harmony with the surrounding sand dunes and driftwood littered beaches. Since most of Exmouth’s structures are small, no-frills, desert-style houses and shops, visiting the modern wood and glass Novotel Ningaloo was like arriving at a new, architecturally-savvy, modern French hotel in Provence.
The French-owned Accor Group, which the Novotel chain is part of, opened the property in 2006 with 44 hotel rooms, added 24 additional hotel rooms and 1-2 bedroom, self-contained apartments and bungalows in 2008, for a total of 68 guest quarters. My hotel room was on the first floor of the wing nearest to the main building, which contains the Mantaray restaurant, the bar, and meeting rooms. My front door led to a small parking area, and my back patio fronted the interior courtyard, near two swimming pools (adult and children’s), the beach, and the restaurant, with its umbrella-tabled patio. In the mornings and evenings I would leave my room by the back patio, stepping over a low stone wall to reach the landscaped path to the restaurant or beach.
There are numerous native plantings throughout the grounds, including date palms, and water-sensitive wildflower beds. Many of the walkways around the property use natural stone that feature fossilized coral, crustaceans, and shells, all plentiful in this rugged, dry environment. I learned after my visit that an Australian company, Tim Davies Landscaping, won the national Award for Environmental Excellence in 2009 for their work at this property.
There are also dozens of pieces from Australian artists throughout the hotel, including a large steel sculpture of a manta ray by Simon Gilby on the ceiling of Mantaray’s restaurant, a driftwood fish sculpture over the bar by Steven Draper, and paintings by the late Aboriginal Nyoongar artist Shane Pickett.
I ate several meals at Mantaray’s, including buffet breakfasts while watching the magnificent sunrises, and dinners after returning from snorkeling in Turquoise Bay or ocean swims with whale sharks (despite the name, no danger to humans). Although the seasonal dinner menu did not change during my few days visit, there were plenty of choices, including many local specialties like Exmouth snapper and prawns, Pacific oysters, Australian salmon and lamb, and a delicious seafood risotto. The multilingual staff was friendly, and the chefs working in the restaurant’s open kitchen kept sending out incredible loafs of warm garlic bread.
In addition to a lovely outdoor patio with table and chairs (second floor rooms have private balconies), my room amenities included Wi-Fi, Queen bed, and one of the trendy “see-thru” bathroom arrangements, where the bathtub, shower, and bathroom sink area were all horizontally and visually connected to the bedroom, and to the outdoor patio as well. Privacy was available you closed various translucent glass doors or wood shutters. The room contained a nice size fridge (not a mini-bar), DVD player, flat-screen TV, and comfortable couch. There is also 24-hour room service if needed.
My only regret was not saving a full day for exploring the town and relaxing at the hotel. There is so much outdoor activity to do nearby, including scuba diving and snorkeling in Ningaloo Reef’s Turquoise Bay, swimming with whale sharks and manta rays, humpback whale watching, a desert golf course and offshore fishing, and hiking in Cape Range National Park, there was little time for poking around the little town of Exmouth or making use of the hotel’s attractive swimming pool.