When you hear “Australian reef” without question most people think of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. I am here to tell you about another, lesser known yet equally beautiful reef in Australia. It is Australia’s largest fringing reef called Ningaloo Reef.
Where is Ningaloo Reef?
Ningaloo Reef is located in Western Australia an easy 1264km road trip north of Perth. The entire reef spans 300kms along the north-west coast line of Western Australia.
Why is Ningaloo worth the effort?
Ningaloo Reef is World Heritage Listed. There are over 500 species of fish, 600 species of shell fish and over 250 coral species present in Ningaloo Reef. There are seasonal visitors to the area like whale sharks, giant manta-rays and humpback whales. There are also resident Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles, dugongs and dolphins in the area.
Ningaloo Reef is Unique
There is considerable diversity in the marine life found on Ningaloo Reef. This is due its proximity to both temperate and tropical waters. It is also only one of two reefs in the entire world to form on the Western side of a continent. It also holds the title for being the most accessible reef in the world when you look at proximity to a major continent. What does that actually mean? The Ningaloo Reef it is very close to shore – only 5 to 10 meters and you are surrounded by the coral reef.
Western australian Roadtrip
Ningaloo is undeniably far from anywhere but the drive itself is a journey. You can visit the more famous areas on an epic road trip from Perth, or Broome! Although it is more than possible to do the trip from Perth in a day, albeit a very long day of driving.
The roads are long and straight with little traffic (mostly) so the drive is easy. If you are not used to doing a lot of driving you would be best to break up the journey with notable places to add to a road trip itinerary would be: Cervantes, The Pinnacles, Kalbarri National Park and Monkey Mia.
Or, if your time is limited or you hate driving, you can also fly to the closest airport to Ningaloo reef – Learmonth airport. The airport is 34km from Exmouth. You would need to hire a car to get around the area.
Exmouth, Western Australia
Exmouth is the closest town to Ningaloo Reef. To access Ningaloo Marine Park from Exmouth you head north on Murat Road, then west along Yardie Creek Road. You end up heading south continuing along Yardie Creek Road. The drive is about 45km from Exmouth to the Cape Range National Park.
The history of Exmouth is interesting. The town was initially set up in last 1960’s for US Navy personal who worked at the nearby Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt. Exmouth was also instrumental during World War II as a military base. To this day the radio stations set up are used by the US and Royal Australian Navy.
Coral Bay is 150km south of Exmouth. This area is close to Ningaloo Reef although direct access is more difficult unless you have a 4WD vehicle.
Top things to do in Ningaloo Reef
There is world-class snorkelling to be found not only on the Ningaloo Marine Park but all around the Exmouth and Coral Bay region.
There are countless areas to snorkel along the Ningaloo reef that are exceptional. The better known sites to snorkel include Oyster Stacks, Lakeside and the most famous being Turquoise Bay.
Turquoise Bay is often voted as one of the beautiful beaches in Australia or even in the world. The snorkel is also really fun here. You can enter the water from shore and experience a drift snorkel along the bay edge. You do have to be careful here as the natural drift is in reality a rip that can pull you out to sea.
Turquoise Bay has a sweet place in my heart. We first visited Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef in 2007. When we arrived at Turquoise Bay my husband saw the beach and said he would love to get married here. Odd considering we were not engaged nor did he talk about marriage before that point. But a baby later and a couple of years later we decided to get married on Turquiose Bay at Cape Range National Park. When you see the bay area and beach you can see why it makes a wonderful wedding location!
The most exciting aspect of visiting the beaches for snorkelling on Ningaloo Reef, is you do not need an expensive boat to snorkel. It is a fringing reef. So, within 5 minutes you will be surrounded by bright fish, turtles and even sharks.
Similarly, unlike The Great Barrier reef you do not have to snorkel with 300 strangers. Often you are there with a couple of other people.
2. Swim with Whale Sharks
The most famous resident of Ningaloo Reef is the whale shark. The official whale shark season is March 15th to September 15th. Your best chance to swim with the world’s biggest fish species is during March to July.
3. See turtle nesting and hatching
The beaches in this area are a major breeding ground for many high endangered sea turtles. The breeding and nesting season is from November to April when turtles come ashore to lay eggs. From late January the eggs start to hatch. If you are lucky you may privy to this special event. Unlike the seasonal whale sharks or manta rays, turtles are present year-round. Although, it should be noted this coincides with the cyclone season in Northern Australia.
The diving opportunities are great with protected dive sites such as Exmouth Navy Pier. This dive site is within a Navy Base and such has been protected from over use. It is also very heavily regulated with a limited number of divers per dive allowed. This dive is excellent for novice divers as it is a shore dive. It is often included in list of the best dives in Australia.
5. Swim with Manta Rays and other sea life
In terms of marine wildlife, you are spoiled for choice along the entire Western Australian coast. It is particularly true around Ningaloo Reef. Manta Rays are present in June and October. They are also often found at Coral Bay, a small town, a short drive from Exmouth. The area is also home to dolphins, sharks and countless fish species.
6. See humpback whale migration and newborn calves
Humpback whales can be seen in the area from June to November each year. There is also talk of allowing people swim along side these magnificent creatures.
7. Hike along Yardie Creek and take a cruise along the river
The area around Yardie Creek is very beautiful. There are stunning gorges. Following a hike along Yardie Creek you can take a boat along the river. In this area, if you are lucky, you may even spot the illusive Black Footed Wallaby.
8. Experience “The Bush” and see Australian wildlife
If you want to see iconic Australian wildlife walking down the street – the area from Exmouth to Ningaloo Reef and surrounds is the place to be. You often see kangaroos or emus cruising down the main street of Exmouth without a care in the world. Unlike the movies, kangaroos to not often just cruise around Australian towns. You do have to be very careful driving from the national park areas at night. If you go to the beach looking for nesting turtles, you would need to drive with care as the kangaroos are abundant along the road.
9. Go on a glass bottom boat ride
If you do not like getting in the water, for fear or sharks or getting your hair wet, you can opt to see Ningaloo Reef in all its glory on a glass bottom boat ride. You can get boats from Exmouth or Coral Bay.
Ningaloo Reef itself is within a national park – Cape Range National Park. In this area there are dedicated camping areas.
If require more substantial accommodation the best bet is staying at Exmouth. This town has every style of lodgings from super budget to a 5-star resort.
In case you need anymore reasons to go to Ningaloo Reef. Check out the video below!