Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef is a luxury glamping resort in the Cape Range National Park WA. Signature’s Lisa Perkovic checks in and finds off-grid is ultra-luxurious.
Traveller: Lisa Perkovic
Room: Wilderness Tent
Address: Yardie Creek Rd, Cape Range National Park
Date: June, 2021
Best for: Bush meets beach in the best way at these safari-style glamping tents that take a trip to Exmouth up a notch.
If the edge of the Earth was a place, this would be it. At Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, there’s nothing but a vast stretch of the Indian Ocean and the canvas walls of your glamping tent between you and the horizon.
From fine dining to open bar, this is Outback luxury done right. But with no wifi and no phone reception, in times like these, going off-grid is the biggest luxury of all.
The Signature factor
There’s no doubt about it, the star of the show is the scenery. Above the water, the low-lying shrub-studded peaks of the Cape Range stretch out behind Sal Salis. In front of the resort, literally, a few quick swim strokes from the beach is the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Reef.
We spend our mornings on sunrise gorge hikes, watching the rays of light hit Sal Salis over a thermos of tea. Then we make a beeline for the beach, popping in and out of the water to snorkel one of the world’s largest fringe reef. The day trips outside the reef to swim with whale sharks between April and late June are an absolute hightlight.
Just sixteen glamping tents dot the dunes around Sal Salis’ main lodge, one hour’s drive from Exmouth.
The property’s tagline is ‘where the outback meets the reef’ and that’s what this is all about.
Some guests choose to spend their time lapping up the luxury of a day bed on the beach and the open bar (well-stocked with Australian spirits, wine and beer). But most are here to see the natural assets that put this part of the world on the map.
Guests sacrifice lazy starts for sunrise hikes and skip long lunches for kayaking expeditions and snorkelling trips. But as the sun dips towards the Indian Ocean, gin and tonics are poured and canapes of local oysters and goats cheese tarts circulate the lodge’s open-air deck. The day winds down with guests swapping stories of stingray spottings and black-footed rock-wallaby sightings. Sal Salis’s three-course dinner matched with Australian wine settles even the most adventurous down to enjoy good food, wine and company.
At its core, the experience is similar to staying at an African safari lodge, where the experience revolves around the luxury of watching a pride of lions as much as the 500 thread count bed sheets. At Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, it’s all about ticking experiences such as swimming with whale sharks and walking ancient gorges off the bucket list.
A five-minute golf buggy ride takes you from a non-descript beachside car park to Sal Salis’ doorstep. The tents appear one by one as we crest sand dunes and cruise down to the open-air lodge.
It’s 9am and we’re invited to pull up a chair for breakfast. The poached eggs and smashed avocado on house-made bread put the Sydney brunch scene to shame. Before finishing my cold-pressed juice, I’ve got a handful of recommendations from the guests sitting beside me on the long wooden table about the best snorkel spots on the beach out front and the favourite Margaret River cab sav at the bar.
The daily activity board reminds me of Fiji, but instead of Kava ceremonies and basket weaving, it contains an afternoon beach walk with one of the resident Marine biologists. The staff have wetsuits and snorkel gear waiting for us after breakfast. But after a quick tour of our tent, I swap the swim for a nap in the hammock softly swaying in the sea breeze.
With freestanding beds, hot water, eco-friendly hand cream and a hammock out front, you won’t miss creature comforts in your Wilderness tent. Jute rugs, heavy wooden bed frames and electric hurricane lamps are a nod to Australian homestead life. Shade cloths are all that’s separating you from the great outdoors in the bathroom attached to the back of the tent, which feels private with the added bonus that you’re almost showering under the stars and the Nature Loo never smells.
Some people may have a hard time without high voltage power or overhead lights. If you’re desperate, you’ll find a charging station at the Sal Salis main lodge to give your phone or Kindle a proper boost.
Plenty of weddings and honeymoons have been rescheduled due to the Pandemic. But the Honeymoon Tent appears as heavily booked as the rest of Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef’s tents. It’s easy to see why. Set off on its own boardwalk, slightly further south west than the other tents, the Honeymoon Tent perches on a dune with a private outlook straight to the Indian Ocean. The tent contains a four-poster bed draped in linen and a double hammock which is perfect for stargazing.
On my plate
Chef Chetan Suri’s previous kitchen was The Ghan. Even though he’s currently working in the middle of a remote bush camp, swapping a galley for a stationary stove means he’s had time to perfect the Sal Salis menu.
Suri and his streamlined team certainly seem to have hit their stride. On our first night, Suri announces the main dish of lamb loin with artichoke and cauliflower puree to rounds of applause. On the second night, guests line up for the recipe to a pan-seared barramundi served with yellow beetroot and a kaffir lime, garlic and ginger sauce.
Most of the kitchen’s ingredients are sourced from further afield in Western Australia, but seafood comes straight from the local fisherman where possible, and the local butcher supplies the red meat. This season Suri has introduced dessert at lunch, but I save room for dinner, where I scoop up every mouthful of a delicate deconstructed pavlova, with Chantilly cream, meringue, strawberry mousse and candied pistachios.
Highlights from the mini-bar
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef does not have mini-bars. But that’s because you don’t need one. The resort is all-inclusive and that includes the drinks cabinet. Inside you’ll find everything from award-winning red wine to small-batch spirits.
The self-serve bar showcases the best of Western Australia beverages. The Margaret River region gets a good showing, with a crisp West Cape Howe Riesling that goes down a treat with pan-seared scallops. The award-winning Castelli Estate’s bold reds from the Great Southern are perfect on Exmouth’s cooler nights.
In the day, make a beeline for bottles of Broome’s famous expert, Matsos Ginger Beer. It’s best to drink icy cold on the beach. Add in all your activities, wetsuits, snorkel gear, snacks, and three meals a day, and the value is undeniable.
I wish I could take home…
A hammock with sea views in the day and serious star gazing opportunities at night. Sal Salis’ simple pleasures would be hard-pressed to recreate at home, but I’d like to try.
With day beds, loungers, kayaks, stand up paddleboards, snorkel gear and a world-class reef, the beach in front of Sal Salis is as close to a tropical island as you’ll get right now. This is Australia, so it’s not a private beach, but with so much coastline to choose from, we have the beach to ourselves.
The staff arrange activities for guests every day, all free of charge.
A quick trip in the golf buggy, a short ride in the Sal Salis’ vans and you’re at a gorge walk, a lookout or a snorkel spot.
The Mandu Mandu Gorge walk is not to be missed, especially for a spectacular sunrise. The Oyster Stacks snorkel tour takes us down to some top-notch bommies where we spot Moray eels, boxfish and even spot a Lionfish hiding among the rocks.
Between April and July, guests can swim with Whale Sharks. Live Ningaloo picks guests up first thing in the morning and after a day out on the water with just 10 guests (half the number of other tours). The tour returns in time for sundowners with plenty of stories to tell about the gentle giants of the sea.
Gold lists, hot lists, bucket lists, you name it, Sal Salis is well rewarded for its unique formula of down-to-earth bush camp meets world-class wining, dining and wildlife experiences. As one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, it is recognised as one of the country’s most remarkable places to stay.
You’re just as likely to be rubbing shoulders with CEOs and mining magnates as celebrities when you’re staying at Sal Salis. Note that all guests sit side by side at breakfast and dinner, and on snorkel excursions and bush walks.
Pippa Middleton popped in during her whistle-stop honeymoon tour of the country and plenty of other celebrities fly under the radar when ticking whale shark swims off their own bucket lists.
It’s not widely advertised, but the kitchen will happily fill a mini esky with ice so you can bring your favourite drinks down to the beach. Even better, ask nicely and they’ll serve up a private cheese plate down at the beach while other guests are enjoying canapes at the lock. Bring down a bottle of Hay Shed Hill sparkling to watch the sunset in style.
Is there anything better than a hot shower and washing your hair at the end of a day at the beach? There’s plenty of hot water but no hairdryers on site. The temperature drops as the sun disappears, so make sure your hair has a chance to dry before the end of the day.
There were more hours in a day. It’s a tough decision whether to soak up the pure luxury of a pristine beach, day beds and bubbles when European beach holidays are off the cards, or head out to explore the region that’s so remote you know it’s unlikely you’ll be a regular visitor. The team does a great job balancing activities with down time so you can do both, but if you’re booked on a whale shark swim, add an extra night to make sure you have time to really soak up the surroundings.
If there was ever a time to tick items off your Australian bucket list, this is it, and Sal Salis should be at the top of your list. Whether you want to swim with whale sharks or see humpback whales, explore ancient gorges on easy bush walks or just recapture the buzz of going on holiday somewhere truly remarkable, Sal Salis will hit the mark.
Where to find it
Sal Salis is a 90-minute drive from Learmonth Airport or 20 minutes from the Yardie Creek bush airstrip for light aircraft flyers.
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Lead image: Reef Tent © Dan Avila