Spanning 300km from Red Bluff to Exmouth, Ningaloo is the largest fringing coral reef in the world.
It’s just a few metres from the shore in some places, allowing you to walk into the water for world-class snorkelling, diving and kayaking right off the beach.
Some of the best beaches are within the Cape Range National Park, and you often have to pinch yourself to believe you have them all to yourself. The national park also boasts stunning canyons, ranges, wildlife and wildflowers, which you can explore at your own leisure or on a guided tour.
Exmouth is Ningaloo’s largest town, and at the northern access
point to the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area. It offers a vibrant
range of accommodation, facilities, tours and shops.
South of Exmouth, Coral Bay is popular with families, and accommodation is just a hop, skip and a jump from beautiful Bill’s Bay. There are plenty of activities and tours to explore the area and, although there’s only a handful of shops and cafes, this laidback little town has all you need for an action-packed getaway or relaxing seaside holiday.
Red Bluff and Gnaraloo are at the southern gateway to the Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Area, and offer excellent surfing and wildlife encounters in a ruggedly beautiful and remote section of the coast.
Snorkel and dive on the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park.
Swim all year round with giant manta rays, and with whale sharks from March to August.
Visit the undersea wilderness of the Muiron Islands.
Explore the outback landscape and canyons of the Cape Range National Park.
Watch the sunset from the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse.
Get a bird’s eye view of the world’s largest fringing coral reef on a scenic flight or microlight trip.
See humpback whales put on an acrobatic display during their annual migration from June to November.
Visit and stay at an outback working cattle station.
View turtles nesting on the beaches, or see hatchlings emerge between November and March.
Surf some of WA’s finest waves at Red Bluff or Gnaraloo.
All this and more at scooptraveller.com.au/CoralBaytoExmouth.
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Photography Alethea Rae.
EAT AND DRINK
While you’re in Coral Bay and Exmouth, make sure you sample some of the area’s fresh seafood at local restaurants and cafes, or cast a line in and catch your own supper. Local prawns and other seafood can be purchased from local retailers. Enjoy a sunset cocktail from a beachside resort, or eat fish ’n’ chips by the beach.
Explore your options at scooptraveller.com.au/CoralBaytoExmouth.
Red Bluff is approximately 1000km from Perth (130km north of Carnarvon). Coral Bay is a 13-hour drive from Perth, while the journey to Exmouth takes about 15 hours. For those who wish to fly, Learmonth Airport is half an hour from Exmouth, and one hour and 45 minutes from Coral Bay. Transfers are offered, or vehicles can be rented from the airport and in Exmouth. To really explore the area, you need your own vehicle.
TIP The road beyond the blowholes (70km north of Carnarvon) is unsealed and you can’t drive north beyond Gnaraloo. Conditions vary, so check with Main Roads WA before setting off, and take plenty of water with you. If you want to drive on to Coral Bay or Exmouth, head back towards Carnarvon and get back on to the North West Coastal Highway. Take extra care driving at dawn or dusk, when wildlife is most active near the roadside.
MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE Limited to Telstra and Optus in town, mobile-phone signals drop out of range altogether when you get off the beaten track.
DO AND SEE
Ningaloo Kayak Trail
What better way to sneak up on Ningaloo’s marine life than aboard a sea kayak? Moorings have been recently installed for you to tie off and go snorkelling – download a brochure on kayaking in the Ningaloo Marine Park from the Department of Parks and Wildlife website, www.dpaw.wa.gov.au.
Explore Cape Range National Park
Take a hike in Cape Range National Park, or a boat ride up Yardie Creek to see the rugged canyons, abundant wildlife and native fauna, including the rare black-footed rock wallaby, endemic only to the range.
Yardie Creek Gorge in Cape Range National Park.
Glass-bottomed boat tour
So, you want to see Ningaloo Reef, but don’t want to get your feet
wet? Simple – a glass-bottomed boat tour will let you see schools of fish, turtles, rays and coral gardens. If you’re keen for a closer look and a refreshing dip, don a snorkel and jump off the boat – the guides know where harmless reef sharks hang out to get cleaned by fish, and where resident turtles abide.
4WDing and quad biking
Discover the area’s unspoilt beaches and breathtaking bush tracks on a quad bike or 4WD tour. Both are fun ways to get to the best sunset spots and, at the right time of year, to witness turtles at Turtle Cove.
Snorkelling at Turquoise Bay
If you love snorkelling, don’t miss Turquoise Bay in Cape Range National Park. Voted one of Australia’s best beaches, it’ll be love at first sight when you set foot on the soft, white sand and see the contrasting blue ocean within easy reach. You’ll be even more amazed when you spot the abundance of colourful fish and marine life just a few metres from the shoreline. Snorkel out and take your time exploring the reef – the longer you stay the more you’ll see. This amazing beach is delightfully unspoilt, and while there are often a few other people nearby, you will have no trouble getting a large patch all to yourself. Before snorkelling the drift trail, check in with Milyering Discovery Centre to obtain tide information.
Call (08) 9949 2808.
Snorkelling at Coral Bay.
The Federation Park Water Sprayground provides hours of family fun, featuring a large humpback whale, dolphins, turtles, a ship, and a cave system to play in.
Don’t leave town without... spending an evening watching the sunset from Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Try your hand at capturing a long-exposure photo of the Milky Way starscape.
Bucket list: Gentle Giants of the Deep
There’s nothing more exhilarating than jumping off the back of a boat and swimming with the largest fish in the ocean. Your wetsuit and fins are on, your mask and snorkel intact, and your heart races with anticipation as you float on the surface... suddenly you see white spots from the deep and you realise this is it. The enormous whale shark comes into focus and you’re kicking for dear life... not to get away, but to keep up with it. You don’t want this experience to end, an adrenalin rush like no other. Suitable for all ages, swimming with whale sharks is a must-do activity. Head to Exmouth or Coral Bay between March and August. You can also swim with graceful manta rays in Coral Bay all year round, or in Exmouth between May and November.
Whale shark on Ningaloo Reef (photography Blue Media Exmouth).
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Kristy Bryan-Smith, general manager
View the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef from the air... the patterns in the landscape are spectacular! Don’t forget your camera, and keep an eye out for marine life. There are scenic flights or, for an adrenalin rush, try a microlight flight.
Visit beautiful Turquoise Bay. This beach is consistently voted one of the best in Australia – and the world. You can walk straight off the beach and instantly snorkel over superb coral gardens to view an abundance of reef fish and other marine life.
Keep an eye out for the local wildlife – and take care while driving to avoid injuring them and damaging your vehicle, especially around dusk through to dawn, when they are at their most active.
Ningaloo Wildlife calendar
It’s no wonder the Ningaloo region is making a name for itself as the wildlife and eco-adventure capital of Western Australia. The Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area is one of the country’s most pristine natural environments, teeming with wildlife, both on land and below the waterline.
Whale sharks head the list, aggregating along the reef from March to August each year. Hot on their heels is the annual humpback whale migration, from June to November.
From August, emu chicks are watched over by their protective fathers during emu breeding season. Likewise, the Ningaloo’s green and loggerhead turtles begin nesting from November, with hatchlings emerging from the sand until March.
The summer and autumn months see tropical ocean currents washing along the Ningaloo Coast, bringing large numbers of marlin and other game fish, making for the best catch-and-release game fishing in Australia.Then there are the year-round underwater regulars: manta rays, sea turtles, a bewildering array of vibrant tropical fish, and much more.
On land, you’ll see kangaroos, black-footed rock wallabies, echidnas, monitor lizards, dingoes, plus a huge variety of birdlife.
Turtles hatching (photography Natasha Tate).
David Ison, Coral Bay regular
Take your own snorkelling gear, if you don’t want to rent it at the beach.
Around April, if you walk 15 minutes towards the northern point of the bay, you come across some warm shallows, which the local people call the nursery. Here, black-tip reef sharks come to give birth. If you wade in and stand very still in the water, the sharks almost forget you’re there and will surround you. Sometimes you can see 15 to 20 sharks converging on the area to give birth.
The largest herd of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere visits Ningaloo each year (photography Exmouth Dive Centre).
There’s accommodation to suit all travellers in Coral Bay – you can camp under the stars, set up in a caravan park, or relax in a beachside resort. Exmouth is a bigger town, on the eastern side of the peninsula, with everything from backpacker hostels to 4.5 star hotels, motels, self-contained apartments, out-of-town station stays, and eco retreats.
TIP Be sure to book accommodation and tours in advance if you plan to travel during school holidays or over Easter.
Sal Salis Eco Retreat, Cape Range National Park (photography Tourism WA).
Western Australia’s premier fishing event, GAMEX, offers teams the chance to compete for 23 different prize categories, targeting more than 35 different species of game fish in the waters off Exmouth. No other fishing tournament in the country offers such diverse and productive fishing within so short a distance of the shore. Mar.
A Mahi Mahi caught at GAMEX (photography Screaming Reel Media).
Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival
Celebrating the arrival of the Ningaloo’s most famous visitors, the festival’s line up will interest all ages. Activities include a gala opening, movies under the stars, fun run, float parade, festival day, live bands and entertainment, concert night, kids’ treasure hunt and art exhibitions. And, of course, there is the opportunity to see and swim with the stars of the festival, the majestic whale sharks. May.
On the reef during Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival.
Whale Shark Festival Day in Ningaloo.