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We had a small taste of the Ningaloo Reef north of Carnarvon along the Quobba coastline and liked what we saw. However we did not realize that we were in for a treat once we travelled northwards to a little resort town called Coral Bay and then to the piece de resistance – Exmouth. Diving into the Ningaloo Reef was the highlight of our trip.
The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef begins at Amherst Point south of Coral Bay and stretches 260 kilometres to Bundegi Reef near the town of Exmouth. It reaches 20 kilometres seaward, encompassing a massive 5,000 square kilometres of ocean with 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral. Very impressive to say the least!
In addition, the Ningaloo Reef is one of the world’s major breeding areas for sea turtles and the feeding ground for the giant Whale Sharks during the months between April and June. No wonder this area has gained a reputation as one the earths last ocean paradises.
Situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn is one of the most beautiful holiday towns in North West Australia – Coral Bay. Only a small town with two big caravan parks, a resort and a few shops – it is perfect for a total chill out and relaxing break.
The reef forms a natural lagoon which is horseshoe shaped and is ideal for all forms of water sport. It extends for 80 kilometres, 3 to 7 kilometres offshore, starting about 300 metres off the beach. The water is crystal clear and ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
There are many water activities that can be undertaken at Coral Bay including, glass bottom boat coral viewing, snorkel tours, swim with the whale sharks cruises, fishing charters, manta ray interaction tours, kayak hire, stand up paddle board hire and swimming in the safe calm waters of the bay.
Within a comfortable walk of town are other beach locations such as Purdy Point, Paradise Beach, Skeleton Bay and Point Maud that are a little less populated and great for shore based water activities such as swimming and snorkelling.
If you have a 4 wheel drive there is a dirt track 10 kilometres from Coral Bay that allows further coastal access and exploration. Here you will find some hidden gems of pristine, remote beaches such as Oyster Bridge and The Lagoon.
Known as the gateway to the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, encompassing the Ningaloo Marine Park and the Cape Range National Park, Exmouth has an interesting history. It was barely a township until 1967 when the Naval Communication Station was built for the US to spy on their rivals during the Cold War. The base that still remains today, has been renamed Harold E Holt Australian Naval Communication Station. These days is resembles a ghost town with a bowling alley, swimming pool and housing estate all abandoned by the US when they withdrew from the area.
The world’s largest VLF transmitter and the second tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, Tower Zero, dominates the skyline west of Exmouth, and is surrounded by 12 other towers that weigh 800 tonnes. These transmitters are still used to relay messages between Australian and US command centres, submarines and war ships.
Renowned as one of the most treacherous coastlines, and following the wreck of the SS Mildura in 1907, a lighthouse was built at Vlamingh Head. Although it is no longer in use, it offers panoramic views of the coastline, the transmitter towers, Ningaloo Marine Park and the Cape Ranges. There is interpretive signage placed on the viewing platform near the lighthouse that provides information about the areas history and the marine life of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. It is also the perfect place to capture the sunset at the end of another perfect day!
The Exmouth coastline offers an endless array of stunning unspoilt, deserted beaches. There is Town Beach for walking and swimming on high tide only; and Bundegi Beach, 12 kilometres out of town, ideal for swimming, snorkelling and fishing .
On the tip of the North West Cape, 17 kilometres north of Exmouth, there is a reef break that is popular amongst local surfers called Surfers Beach. If you drive out along the Mildura Wreck Road into Lighthouse Bay there are a variety of beaches suitable for fishing, surfing or swimming. At the end of the road you will discover the SS Mildura, a wrecked cattle ship that came to grief on the reef in 1907.
The Jurabi Coastal Reserve also provides a number of beaches and marine habitats, from low scrubland down to pristine white beaches, rocky shorelines and scattered reefs. We stopped by the Jurabi Turtle Centre that houses a creative range of interpretive materials and provides information on turtle biology, threats, conservation measures and protection of their nesting sites.
During the Summer months the Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles nest on mainland beaches along the Ningaloo between Hunters and Mauritius. These rookeries are extremely important for the survival of these three threatened species of turtles.
Home to an outstanding variety of marine life, the Ningaloo Reef provides some of the best diving spots in the world. There are a variety of diving sites on the North West Cape and on the Murion Islands, that are located 9.8 nautical miles offshore. Lighthouse Bay, west side of the North Cape and Navy Pier are excellent diving spots, with Navy Pier consistently ranking among the Top Ten Dive Sites in the world.
40 kilometres from Exmouth are spectacular rugged limestone ranges, breathtaking deep canyons and 50 kilometres of pristine beaches, known as the Cape Range National Park. Here native wildlife is abundant with a variety of birds, Emus, Euros and Red Kangaroos. There are also over 630 species of flowering plants that display an amazing palette of colours in late Winter when the wildflowers bloom.
There are several coastal camping areas within the park that are ideal as a base to explore the 50,581 hectares of the Cape Range Peninsula. Possibly the highlight of the National Park are the beaches such as Turquoise Bay, that really does boast the most beautiful turquoise water, and Sandy Bay that has shallow clear waters ideal for swimming. We snorkelled at Turquoise Bay – where there is a particularly good drift snorkel; Oyster Stacks – best accessed at high tide because of the sharp rocky oyster shelled areas; and Lakeside – a great snorkel spot for swimmers of average fitness and capability.
If you are into bird watching visit Mangrove Bay, a sanctuary zone including a bird hide that overlooks a lagoon area. There are also several gorges in the park including Mandu Mandu Gorge, Yardie Creek, Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon that comprise of razor-backed ridges of the ranges and breathtaking views into stark multicoloured gorges. There are walking trails and lookout points at all of the gorges that provide great access into the canyons and fantastic photo opportunities.
At Yardie Creek there is a boat cruise that takes you on a very relaxing and scenic cruise along Yardie Creek, winding its way through the steep gorges. As I discovered, this is a great alternative to hiking as the temperatures can be extreme in the canyons.
Probably the biggest drawcard to the Ningaloo Reef is the opportunity to snorkel with the gentle giants of the ocean, the Whale Sharks. Every year from April through to July, following the mass spawning of coral, the Whale Sharks congregate in the Ningaloo Marine Park to feed on zooplankton. There are many cruise boat operators in both Coral Bay and Exmouth that take Whale Shark cruises on a daily basis during the season.
It was an awesome experience to swim alongside these majestic creatures and view a myriad of other marine life such as Turtles, Dolphins, Minky Whales, Sharks, Manta Rays and Coral Reef Fish. It wasn’t only a day full of fun and adventure, but from an educational point of view, it provided a great insight into the marine life of the Ningaloo Marine Park and how scientists are integral to ongoing research and conservation of the area.
The Whale Sharks, the world’s largest fish, can reach up to 18 metres in length fully grown, but more commonly, they are between 4 and 12 metres long at the Ningaloo Reef. A 12 metre Whale Shark may weigh as much as 11 tonnes and have a mouth more than a metre wide. Extraordinary!
There are strict rules for swimming with these gentle giants, such as: absolutely no contact is to be made with the creature, do not swim any closer than 3 metres from the head or body or 4 metres from the tail, no flash photography and only 10 people in the water at a time with one Whale Shark.
I felt privileged to be able to swim with these magnificent animals and found it to be an exhilarating and truly memorable experience. Definitely one to tell the Grandkids about!
I can’t think of any other place that I have been to in this world that has compared to the natural beauty and biological diversity of the Ningaloo Reef. Its label as one of the last great ocean paradises resonated with me. I could not imagine a place more abundant with nature’s gifts and my advice to all would be to ‘dive into the Ningaloo Reef’! I certainly did.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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Susan LattweinJuly 1, 2014
Great shots. Isn’t Ningaloo a wonderful word? Happy travelling. :)
KathyJuly 2, 2014
Thanks Susan. The Ningaloo ( yes a great word!) was one of my favorite destinations thus far. The reef and marine park was brimming with marine life which was fantastic to see.
middleagedmama1July 5, 2014
Fantastic photos here Kathy – looks like you are having a whale of atime!
kathymarrisJuly 6, 2014
We did have a whale of a time in Exmouth. The Whale Sharks were majestic!
BonnyJuly 6, 2014
I loved this article so much, Kathy! I dream of being back in Coral Bay, and camping in the Cape Range National Park, it’s one of my favourite places in the whole world. Your whale shark photos turned out great, way better than my did back when I swam with them a few years ago.
KathyJuly 7, 2014
I have a confession to make. Some of the photos I used were from the professional photographer on the boat cruise which we paid $50 for. Otherwise the photos were mine! I loved the Ningaloo and would put it up there on the list of must see travel destinations.