I am continuously surprised how many Australians I have met that have never heard about the wonders of the Ningaloo Reef, let alone are able to place it on the map. I think it’s for this reason – it’s serious lack of tourism when you compare it to the likes of the Great Barrier Reef – that make it so special. The marine life is absolutely alive and kicking, healthy and not scared off by hordes of divers upsetting the apple cart. The coral is beautifully bright, bleaching seems non-existent, and it’s the middle of nowhere at the edge of the Australia bush.
The Ningaloo Reef is situated directly off the coast within the Cape Range National Park, located roughly 30 minutes from the township of Exmouth. Which is over 1200kms north if Perth. In other words, it’s in the middle of nowhere. This remoteness just adds to the appeal; not that many people venture so far away, but those who do are rewarded by another world.
A fringing Reef, it can literally be accessed from the shores. Pop on your snorkel and swim a few metres and the life underneath the service literally appears like magic. Turtles, dolphins, dugongs, sharks, coral, fish, manta rays, sting rays, star fish, jelly fish, sea snakes… the list is endless. Head to the outer reef, whale sharks, humpbacks… the diversity of this Reef system is just incredible.
There are a few options, first you need to get yourself so WA. From Perth, you can catch a bus to Coral Bay at the southern end of the Reef, or Exmouth in the North. You can fly to Learmonth airport, which is about 30 minutes from Exmouth. Or, you can drive. I guess what you decide depends on time and budget restrictions. Do note, if you head to Exmouth, you’ll need a car to get to the national park. You can hire them from the airport or in town.
Exmouth, Coral Bay or a Cape Range National Park
Coral Bay is tiny, with a couple of caravan parks, a Backpackers, a small supermarket and a handful of shops, restauarants and a pub or two. It’s made for tourism, but if you can ignore that and just get yourself straight out into the ocean you won’t mind. We loved the snorkelling here, the further from the shore the better, a few metres out and turtles were your new buddies, a bit further out, sharks would be swimming underneath you at their cleaning station and a bit further still, manta rays can be seen. The beach is delightful and if you have a 4wheel drive, there’s heaps of off roading to be done too.
Exmouth on the other hand, is a fully functioning, year-round town. When we were living on the station one hour from Exmouth, this is where you’d venture for food shopping, loadsof great food choices and the gateway to the cape range. There’s Backpackers, caravan parks, hotels and b&bs in the town. There’s a little hospital, a school, shops, a tourist information centre, and a permanent population of a few thousand.
The best option is to get out into the national park. Unless you want to shell out one serious dollars for the eco lodge, you’ll need some form of camping accommodation and a car. We camped out in our tent for a few days at one of the great little campgrounds that the Department of Parks and Wildlife maintain. In busy times (whale shark season April – October) you’ll need to book online. It’s super cheap, but remember this is camping, so expect nothing but a little toilet, the sound of the waves and the sand in your sleeping bags. Bring a stove (fires are not permitted) and grab all your supplies from Exmouth and enjoy living the simple life. The Cape Range also offers bush hiking through gorges and to creeks. You can see the black-footed rock wallabies, amazing flaura and fauna and let the red dust get under your skin. The Cape Range really is an exceptional place.