Coral Bay & Exmouth, the Ningaloo Reef Coast
The Ningaloo reef stretches up the coast from Coral Bay to Exmouth, its the largest fringing reef in the world, over 260km long. It runs parallel to the coastline and protects the shallow bays from the wild Indian Ocean. This means generally the waters are calm and flat within the reef and outside the reef the depths drop away and big waves crash and roll. This makes for great snorkelling and beautiful beaches inside the reef.
Coral bay is a very small holiday town with a pub, a local IGA shop, a few restaurants and caravan parks and of course a couple of dive centers all located right on the beachfront. The Ningaloo reef is mostly made up of hard corals like stag horn coral and brain coral and you can snorkel over it just 20m from shore. The reef is home to hundreds of different marine species including turtles, sharks, rays and many types of fish.There is snorkel hire on the beach or at the dive shops if needed but you might want to consider investing in your own mask and snorkel if you’re going to spend more than a few days in this area or if you plan to visit Exmouth as well. Straight out from the main beach maybe 100m out there is a couple of boat moorings and its around here that the visibility starts to get the best, about 20m past the black mooring is the biggest table top coral I have ever seen, you wont miss it. Further around the beach to the north is a shark nursery home to many small reef sharks, don’t worry they don’t bite and are very interesting to see. Further around past the point there is also the possibility to see manta rays which are extremely cool. If you plan on fishing check with the information center near the public toilets at the beach for information about where to go and size limits, there are a few protected areas where fishing is prohibited. Pink Snapper or Whiting can make for a great feed.
While in Coral Bay and Exmouth one of the best things you can do is go scuba diving. Most of the dive shops offer similar service and prices and can cater for first timers, experienced divers and snorkelers too. There are a lot of great dive sites from coral bay and from Exmouth you even have the possibility to visit the Murion islands or dive the local navy pier. The Murion islands are full of soft corals as opposed to the Ningaloo reef and are in excellent condition, you can also spot plenty of nudibranchs there and other interesting creatures. Exmouth and Coral Bay are separated by a 150km stretch of highway but also accessible via 4WD track along the coast. The Track is heavily corrugated and pretty rough but do-able just make sure you let your tires down and have the right equipment to get out of boggy sand.
Exmouth is a much bigger town than Coral Bay and was actually built to support an American military communications base, the base was part of a long range radio network used to communicate with submarines all over the world. The Americans have long since moved out though and have left behind an abandoned town a short drive outside of Exmouth complete with retro gym, bowling alley and even a dive center all completely empty now. If you continue north you will come to the Yardie Creek road turnoff which takes you into the Cape Range national park.
Cape Range national park is an amazing national park with excellent snorkelling and world class beaches on one side and the beautiful Cape range on the other side, full of gorges, bush walking and the Yardie creek. There is an information office on the Yardie Creek road which marks the start of the park. They can give you all the information you need about camping overnight, sanctuary zones, wildlife and fishing, this is also where you pay your park fees. The Roads in the park aren’t all sealed but are fine with a 2WD vehicle. Remember to watch out for Kangaroos when driving early in the morning or around sunset, if you want to see some up close this is the time.
The road ends at Yardie creek which is a great place to take a walk and see some wildlife. You can walk up on top of the gorge on the north side of the creek and look down on the water below, normally you can see fish and rays swimming below and usually some kayakers too, if you want to rent a kayak this can be done near the parking area and there’s also a boat cruise too. If your quiet you can normally get up close to some rock wallabies and don’t forget to keep an eye out for Osprey and Egrets flying above the creek. The view from the top at the back of the gorge is amazing and well worth the climb you can see the creek snaking around down to the ocean and have a full 360 degree view of the landscape. The walk is about 30 minutes to an hour one way and marked with paint on the rocks but take your time and keep your eyes out for wildlife.
My favourite snorkelling spot in the park is Turquoise Bay, once you get there its easy to see how this beautiful bay got its name. Turquoise bay is a drift snorkel so there is a moderate to strong current which takes you down the beach. Its best to walk south down the beach and then enter the water so that by the end of your snorkel you will have drifted back towards where you started. The Sand is white, the water clear blue and the fish and coral are plentiful, what more could you want?
Every year the Ningaloo Reef hosts some other very important visitors, Whale Sharks, the biggest fish in the world. Whale Sharks pass by on their annual migration north along with Humpback Whales and increasingly over the last few years Orcas. Whale-shark’s are slow calm creatures that swim along the surface and feed on plankton, this makes them really easy to observe for humans. On the Ningaloo it’s possible to swim with a whale shark, there are many companies that offer this experience from either Coral Bay or Exmouth. They will take you by boat out past the reef and use a spotter plane to locate the sharks, then the boat will drop you in front of them so you can swim over along side with them. Swimming next to a Whale-shark is a profound experience well worth doing if you have the opportunity. Whale-shark’s are in the area from April until about August and although it can be expensive most companies will give a discount from their advertised price if you haggle. Towards the end of the Whale-shark season the Humpback’s start to arrive and stay until around October, it’s possible to swim with them too and if your lucky and are there during the crossover you might get to see both the Whale-shark’s and Humpback Whales.
Thanks for reading everyone, good luck on your whale-sharking adventures. Remember to check out the rest of the blog for more info when you plan your next leg of the journey.
Also check out our posts on Fishing and 4WDing if you need any advice.