- Encounters with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and whales
- Watch migrating humpback whales play from a microlight
- Stay in a luxury campsite metres from the coral reef
- Explore a spectacular World Heritage region beyond the coast
Western Australia’s dramatic west coast is characterised by beautiful contrasts; the colourful desert landscapes that run from far inland, to the striking blue of the Indian Ocean that hides the world’s longest fringing reef system beneath its surface. Nowhere else on Earth do whale sharks reliably congregate in such large numbers, where divers and snorkelers can have the once in a lifetime experience of swimming alongside these magnificent creatures. With so much biodiversity in the region the possibilities are endless; exceptional encounters with manta rays, humpback whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles or sharks are just a boat ride away.
Diving and snorkeling
Whale sharkFebruary - September
TurtlesNovember - April
WhalesMay - November
Plentiful reef life
Located in tropical latitudes, Ningaloo Reef has a high biodiversity with over 500 species of fish inhabiting the reefs, themselves created by 300 species of hard and soft corals over thousands of years. The region is known for annual aggregations of the ocean’s gentle giants, humpback whales, manta rays and the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. In addition, dolphins, dugongs, sharks and stingrays frequent the region and green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles nest along the remote, unspoilt beaches.
Spectacular snorkelling is available just metres from any one of the deserted sandy beaches of the Ningaloo Reef coastline as the reef system protects the coastline and fills the bays with beautiful coral gardens. Heading out on tours with qualified marine biologists and professional photographers will take snorkelers to stunning reef locations and also provide opportunities to snorkel with the larger pelagic creatures such as whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales.
The Ningaloo Reef
The Ningaloo Reef stretches for over 260km and completely surrounds the North West Cape.At some points, the reef is only metres from the beach and access to the ocean facing reef is easy in most conditions as it is generally only 300m from the shore. The reef system supports hundreds of colourful reef fish, larger pelagic fish species and mollusks including octopus, squid, shells and nudibranchs. Diving operations from Exmouth head to the northern tip of the peninsular where sites like Lighthouse Bay and West Side have incredible topography created by rocky outcrops, deep cracks and coral ledges where reef sharks, turtles, moray eels and big pelagic fish are frequently spotted. At certain times of the year it is also possible to see whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales.
With its protective outer fringing reef, the water in Coral Bay is calm and flat making it perfect for snorkelling. WA’s largest population of manta rays are resident year-round, along numerous turtles and the bay is full of colourful reef fish that surround stunning cabbage coral gardens.
Swimming alongside the ocean’s gentle giants is one of life’s most breathtaking experiences. Ningaloo is the only place on the planet where large numbers of Whale Sharks visit every year from April to July and strict protections are in place to care for this threatened species. Spotter planes are sent up to locate Whale Sharks and tour operators co-ordinate to ensure snorkelers are safely in the water ahead of the arrival of the mind blowing leviathans.
One of the best places in the world to see migrating Humpback Whales is off the coast of Exmouth and Coral Bay between June and September. If the weather is good and the humpback whale's behaviour is conducive, guests also have a chance for a genuine wildlife encounter in the water - a unique experience swimming alongside these magnificent animals in their natural element.
The Muiron Islands
Located 20km northeast of Exmouth, the Muiron Islands feature an abundance of soft corals, gorgonians and sponges that are often hidden by the schools of pelagic fish passing through. Large potato cod can be found at the Cod Spot, as well as a manta cleaning station. Turtles or grey nurse sharks can be found resting in the swim throughs and under ledges at the Spit and beautiful drift dives over colourful soft corals at The Gap are amazing.
Exmouth Navy Pier
The Exmouth Navy Pier has a reputation as one of the top 10 shores dives in the world entirely due to the exceptional amount of marine life that can be found sheltering beneath the structure for protection. The biodiversity in such a small area is incredible, creating a photographer’s playground with soft corals, sponges and macro life covering every bit of available real estate. Colourful reef fish circle the supports while large schools of snapper and fusiliers hide beneath the pier and large groupers, sea snakes and grey nurse, reef and wobbegong sharks patrol the surrounds.
Reefs, open ocean swimming
5 - 40m+
5 - 40m
22 - -26C
- Don’t worry about trying to record the experience with a whale shark - most operators have professional photographers who capture incredible images and videos for you!
- Even if you don’t suffer from seasickness, it’s worth packing some medication onboard with you as the weather can change and you will be spending a long day on the open ocean.
- If you do get a photo of a whale shark, don’t forget to submit it to a research project - much like a fingerprint, whale sharks can be identified by their unique patterns of spots.
About Ningaloo, Exmouth and Coral Bay
Just off the coast there are spectacular wave swept reefs that have joined together to form the longest fringing reef system in the world. Australia’s Coral Coast region stretches 1,100km from Cervantes in the south, to Exmouth in the north, and encompasses the UNESCO Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area which is regarded as one of the last great ocean paradises. The ancient land and seascapes of the region tell the story of the movement of continents, changing climates and the evolution of life over 150 million years. Continuous occupation of the land for over 32,000 years by the local Aboriginal tribe, the Yinigudura, provides some of the earliest records of marine resource use in Australia.
The region contains an amazing diversity of marine and terrestrial wildlife including Australia’s iconic creatures; emus, red kangaroos, dingoes and echidnas, along with many species of reptiles and birds. In winter one of the largest and most colourful floral displays on the planet occurs as wildflowers bloom from the outback to the coast.
Just off the coast there are spectacular wave swept reefs that have joined together to form the longest fringing reef system in the world. Exmouth provides the perfect base to explore both the Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. In contrast to the bright blues of Ningaloo, the rugged red gorges and canyons of Cape Range National Park offer spectacular outback adventures and wildlife encounters at locations such as Yardie Creek Gorge and Turquoise Bay. Further south, Coral Bay is a relaxed seaside village with plenty of activities for family holidays and hosts WA’s largest manta ray population that is resident year-round.
How to get there
Daily flights to Exmouth with Qantas Airlines land in Learmonth Airport, approximately 35km south of the town. Transport from the airport to Exmouth or Coral Bay is limited to taxi, shuttle bus or hiring a vehicle. It is highly recommended to book shuttle buses in advance for a per person fee.
Campervans, Cars and 4WD Vehicles can be hired at Learmonth Airport and can be incorporated into a longer excursion in the region, either heading south to Perth or east to Broome and the Kimberley region.
Driving from Perth takes in the wonders of the west coast region with plenty of worthwhile stops along the 1,300km journey to Exmouth. Driving direct from Perth takes a minimum of 13 hours. Coaches depart Perth stopping along the coast to Exmouth and carry on to Broome. Passes are available with Hop On Hop Off options to explore the region along the way.
Where to stay
Exmouth is a small but vibrant town that has grown in recent years to cater for the growing number of visitors that it receives. From the outskirts of town to the marina is around 5km so nowhere is very far away. There is plenty of choice for a room - budget and backpacker accommodation is available all the way through to motels, hotels and high standard beach resorts. Choice in high season can be limited and the prices are reflective of the remote area and popularity of the region. Holiday home rentals are often available and cater for larger groups and there are multiple camping and caravan parks in the vicinity.
Coral Bay is Ningaloo’s other main town, 155km south of Exmouth. Much smaller than Exmouth the accommodation options are limited to a few hotels and caravan parks. The town itself is very relaxed and full of charm as everyone tends to walk rather than drive and most leave their shoes at home.
Dive seasons and weather
The Ningaloo region enjoys a tropical climate that brings warm to hot weather and blue skies all year. With virtually no rainfall all year, the region’s climate is classified as a desert with spectacular monsoon thunderheads and lightning storms occurring during January to March. With around 320 days of sunshine every year the summer daytime temperatures range from 35C to over 40C with an average air temperature of 37C in the hottest month of January. The cooler months are June and July when the average air temperature reaches around 25C.
Whale shark and whale seasons
The Ningaloo region is great to visit all year round but specific megafauna are present in particular seasons.
Over 300 whale sharks aggregate to feed in the waters around the Ningaloo Marine Park from March to August before disappearing from the area for another year, although there are occasional sightings of them year-round.
Thousands of humpback whales travel north from Antarctica in their annual migration and arrive in the Ningaloo region in late May or early June. Using the warmer water of the region to mate and rest the whale season lasts through until late October to early November with whales arriving and departing throughout the season. Other species such as southern right whales, pygmy blue whales, false killer whales and Orca can also be found in the region at this time.
Manta rays can be seen along the reef near Exmouth from May to November, feeding on the plankton rich water, but the largest population in WA can be found all year round in Coral Bay.
The season to see green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles starts with the mating season in November and continues through the nesting season until March.