Diving in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia | 2024 Guide

Visiting the Ningaloo Reef Australia was by far the highlight of our trip to Western Australia. The days that we spent in Coral Bay and Exmouth were the happiest and most memorable days of our trip. And how could it not have been? 

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It was three glorious days spent soaking up the sun’s rays, swimming in crystal clear waters, witnessing the incredible underwater landscape, making friends with the coolest underwater animals and swimming with the biggest fish in the sea at the Ningaloo coral reef!

About Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef’s coast stretches for 260 km from Amherst Point south of Coral Bay to Bundegi Beach near Exmouth in Western Australia. This makes it one of the largest fringing reefs in the world, with the Ningaloo Reef often lying as close as just 100m off the coast.

Ningaloo Reef is home to over 200 species of hard coral, 50 soft coral and over 500 species of fish, along with manta rays, turtles, humpback whales, and whale sharks that pop by for a visit between May and June.

So here is what we learned about Ningaloo Reef during our visit to the World Heritage Site.

Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour
Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour
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The Best Time To Visit Ningaloo Reef 

The Ningaloo Reef Australia is a beautiful place to visit year-round. It is famous for its impressive underwater world and warm weather. It doesn’t really experience a wet season, but cyclones can sometimes threaten the location of Ningaloo Reef from December and April. So the best time to visit Exmouth or the best time to visit Coral Bay would be outside these months.

Summer

In summer, it gets pretty hot! Temperatures can reach around 45 °C, and there’s a chance of cyclones (or hurricanes). Temperatures range from upwards of 37 C in the summer (December to February) 

Winter 

The average temperature is around 20 C in the winter (June to August). Therefore, most people tend to visit Ningaloo Beach in the winter as the rest of the country cools down, but the area around the Australia Ningaloo Reef remains pleasant.

If you are visiting to see a particular type of wildlife, while snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef, ensure they are in season to avoid disappointment on your Ningaloo Reef dive. Ningaloo Reef whale sharks frequent the area from March to Junemanta rays can be spotted from May to November and humpback whales can be seen from July to November. 

Ready to jump in! Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour
Ready to jump in! Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour

How to Get to Ningaloo Reef

The Ningaloo Reef is located on the Western Coast of Australia in between Perth and Broome. It is on the Indian Ocean and known for its turquoise waters, vibrant coral and interesting marine life. The closest big city to the Ningaloo Reef Australia is Perth. There are 2 great locations for exploring the Ningaloo Reef Australia: Coral Bay and Exmouth. Where you stay or access the reef depends entirely on what kind of experience you are after. Coral Bay tends to be a more family-friendly crowd while Exmouth is famous for its younger population of holidaymakers.

By Car

The Perth to Ningaloo Reef drive is over 10 hours. It is a long 12 hours and 45 minutes (1249 km) drive from Exmouth. Meanwhile, it is 11 hours and 30 minutes (1122 km) from Coral Bay. Karratha is about the halfway mark from Perth. The distance from Karratha to Exmouth is 5 hours and 40 minutes (549 km).

By Plane

If you would prefer to fly, there is an airport located just outside of Exmouth. There are flights from most cities all over Australia, including SydneyMelbourne, and Perth. The flight time from Perth is just under 2 hours

However, if you’d prefer someone else to drive from Perth to Exmouth, consider this 7 day tour, which stops at all the top destinations along a Great Western Australia road trip.

Best Ningaloo Reef Diving Sites

As you would imagine, Ningaloo Reef is home to some fantastic dive sites; the majority of the famous Ningaloo Reef WA dive sites are located within a 30-45 min boat ride from Exmouth or near Coral Bay

No matter where you dive, remember to take care of the Ningaloo Reef underwater. Make sure you protect the ecosystem by not touching any marine life or plants.

Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth. Western Australia. Cover Photo
Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth, Western Australia

Exmouth Navy Pier

Exmouth Navy Pier is one of the best shore dives in the world, but plan ahead as it’s a working naval area. The 300m pier, with restricted access, is filled with sensational marine life, from grey nurse sharks and giant gropers to various smaller creatures. However, at the time of our visit, this Exmouth dive was inaccessible due to the damage from Cyclone Olwyn. So, most dive boats alternated between taking the divers out to Muiron Islands and Lighthouse Bay to dive at Exmouth.

Dive Ningaloo is the sole operator offering tours with special permission; you can choose their Single Dive or Double Dive package starting from A$230. You’ll spot an incredible abundance of marine life on this Ningaloo Reef tour. If you’re new to diving, no worries! You can also join their scuba diving courses with the PADI dive center here.

Responsible Guide to Visiting Exmouth, WA
Turtle and a school of fish.

Muiron Islands

Muiron Islands are two uninhabited gems that lie just 9.8 nautical miles off the tip of the North West Cape Warm. Rich in birdlife on land and marine life in the water, especially turtles, and offers warm tropical waters filled with marine life and both hard and soft coral gardens for Ningaloo diving. 

  • Swim with Whale Sharks in the Ningaloo Reef: Don’t miss out on swimming with a whale shark at Ningaloo Reef from March to August. We recommend you try the famous drift dive between the islands, operated by Three Islands Whale Shark Dive, a marine eco-adventure tour company specialising in whale shark encounters and swimming with humpback whales in August and October during the humpback whale migration. 
  • Muiron Islands Diving Ningaloo Reef Tour from Exmouth: This tour is only available in August to October during the Humpback Whales migration. You can spend the day exploring the UNESCO Site Murion Islands of the Ningaloo Reef. You’ll be treated to lunch and drinks, visit two Exmouth dive sites and be transferred from your hotel.
Snorkeling in Coral Bay. Western Australia
Corals and fishies in Ningaloo Reef

Central Station (Lighthouse Bay)

Central Station site or popularly known as Lighthouse Bay is located at the northernmost tip of the Ningaloo Reef, featuring coral formations and great marine life along with some special features like a turtle cleaning station at the Labyrinth and the manta ray cleaning station at Gulliver’s. Keep in mind that visibility may be a bit challenging on less calm days around the sandy bottom of the cleaning station, but you’ll still spot a variety of tropical fish surrounded by coral.

  • Scuba Diving in Ningaloo Reef: Full-Day from Exmouth: This great diving trip takes you to visit 2 Exmouth dive sites in Ningaloo WA. You’ll spot an incredible abundance of marine life on this Ningaloo Reef tour. 
  • 3 Night Ningaloo Reef Snorkel and Dive Getaway from Coral Bay: Sleep on board the luxurious sailing catamaran dive boat on this four-day all-inclusive overnight comprehensive dive tours, and dive into multiple dive sites featuring various bays, reefs, and coral gardens for snorkelling, kayaking, and more with Sail Ningaloo, an award-winning eco-operator in Australia. Once you gear up and dive below the surface, get ready to encounter manta rays, green turtles, migrating humpback whales, and an abundance of marine life.
Ningaloo Reef. Exmouth. Western Australia
Fishies in Ningaloo Reef

The Canyon

For a first-time diver, The Canyon is an ideal choice, featuring a coral canyon at the beginning and end. With depths ranging from 6 to 7 metres, it’s perfect for novice divers or a laid-back dive with excellent underwater photography chances. Keep an eye out for the cave along the canyon, often home to a grey nurse shark for those lucky enough to spot it.

Ningaloo Adventure TourTo see the best of The Canyon, embark on one of these tours with Ningaloo Reef Dive, they’re the sole diving operator in Coral Bay that goes to The Canyon. They’ve got full and half-day snorkelling and scuba diving tours in Ningaloo, and even have Dive courses packages. With manta rays hanging out all year, they’re a highlight you won’t want to miss on these trips.

Snorkelling Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef Australia is one of the only places in the world where you are able to walk from the beach straight onto a coral reef and enjoy the company of coloured fish swimming and feeding in between your legs. So grab a snorkel and a mask and head straight into the water for some exquisite Ningaloo Reef snorkelling or, even better, join one of these snorkel tours!

Equipment hire in Coral Bay. Western Australia
You can hire snorkelling gear at the southern end of Coral Bay beach.

Snorkelling in Coral Bay

Coral Bay is a great spot for those new to snorkelling. The water is warm, calm, and offers great visibility, and the Ningaloo Reef is only 100-200m away from the beach

Bill’s Bay and Purdy Point are the two most popular snorkelling Coral Bay spots and are easily accessed by foot from any accommodation in town. For those looking for an off-the-beaten-path site, there is Oyster Bridge and the Lagoon, but these areas are only accessible with a 4WD or with a Coral Bay snorkelling tour company.

Snorkeling in Coral Bay. Western Australia
Snorkelling in Coral Bay. Western Australia

Snorkelling in Exmouth

Exmouth’s snorkelling sites are all located in Cape Range National Park. So Exmouth to Ningaloo Reef is about a 45-minute drive.

Lakeside

Lakeside is a great snorkel spot for beginners and can be explored with Exmouth snorkelling tours. It is located near the Milyering Visitor Centre. Oyster Stacks is meant to be great for fish life and is best accessed on a high or incoming tide. 

Turquoise Bay 

Turquoise Bay Ningaloo is by far the best and most adventurous spot for Exmouth snorkelling. It was our absolute favourite! Access the beach from the Drift Car Park, jump in the water and let the currents take you on an awesome drift snorkel. Be careful along the bend as the current can get quite strong, and bring your waterproof camera as you are bound to see hundreds of fish, Ningaloo reef sharks, stingrays, and turtles at this Exmouth snorkelling site! 

Aside from offering great snorkelling, Turquoise Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches along the Ningaloo Reef coast (and in Australia, for that matter!). Plan to spend at least a few hours in the bay; trust us, you will not want to leave this area of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. 

Spotted this guy while snorkeling in NIngaloo Reef in Turquoise Bay. Cape Range National Park. Western Australia
Spotted this guy while snorkelling in Ningaloo Reef in Turquoise Bay.
Another cool find at Turquoise Bay. Cape Range National Park. Western Australia
Another cool find at Turquoise Bay. Cape Range National Park. Western Australia

Note: There is no civilization in Cape Range National Park, and thus, there are no shops where you can hire snorkelling gear. So come prepared and rent some flippers and a mask from one of the shops in Exmouth Ningaloo Reef.

  • Ningaloo Reef Half Day Sea Kayak and Snorkel Tour: For an adventure in Marion Island and surrounding areas. Kayak and snorkel with a small group, encountering various sea creatures, from baby turtles to Exmouth whale sharks. This tour from Exmouth Adventure Co. is suitable for all levels, making it perfect if you have mixed groups.
  • Ningaloo Reef Snorkel and Wildlife Tour Dive into the wildlife near Exmouth with a local eco-friendly operator, Cape Immersion Tours. Encounter whale sharks up close, spot dugongs, leopard sharks, and manta rays. From June to November, you might even witness humpback whales off the coast of Exmouth, Australia.
Channeling my inner yogi at sunset in Turquoise Bay, Cape Range National Park. Western Australia
Channeling my inner yogi at sunset in Turquoise Bay, Cape Range National Park.
Wobbegong Shark at Lighthouse Bay dive site in Ningaloo Reef. Western Australia
Wobbegong Shark at Lighthouse Bay dive site in Ningaloo Reef
Turtle cleaning station at the Labyrinth dive site. Lighthouse Bay. Ningaloo Reef. Exmouth. Western Australia
Turtle cleaning station at the Labyrinth dive site. Lighthouse Bay. Ningaloo Reef

Other Things to Do in Ningaloo Reef: 

Go On A Boat Tour

If underwater adventures are not your thing, there are other ways to experience the Ningaloo Reef without getting wet. There are a number of companies that offer boat tours to the Ningaloo Reef. Some are sunset tours, glass bottom tours, and whale sharks Ningaloo cruises. 

Here are a couple of our favourites:

  • Ningaloo Reef Turtle Ecotour: This 3-hour tour takes guests to snorkel at the Green Turtle Sanctuary or to just enjoy time on the water. Crews indulge the guests with in-depth information on the turtles and facts along the way.
  • Glass Boat Coral Tour: On this one-hour leisurely glass bottom cruise you’ll pass by vibrant coral reefs aboard the Nhanya-Ku. It comes with full commentary from the knowledgeable crew about whale sharks and other marine life.
  • Ningaloo Whale Shark Tours and CruiseOnly available from March to June, on this catamaran cruise, you’ll sail past whale sharks with a certified marine biologist. Guests are invited to dive in for swimming with whale sharks or just watch from the boat. Coffee, tea, and a buffet lunch are included, as are kayak and stand-up paddleboards. The Ningaloo Reef whale shark season is from March to June.
Responsible Guide to Visiting Exmouth, WA
Watching the waves on the marlin board on the Magellan, Ningaloo Reef.

Where To Stay, Ningaloo Reef Australia

Coral Bay, Ningaloo Reef

Coral Bay is a small fishing town with one beach, a supermarket complex, a few small shops, and some of the best snorkel Ningaloo opportunities. The town is almost 100% reliant on tourism with the majority of its visitors being families and bigger groups who live in and out of the coral bay surf swimming, fishing, and coral viewing.

In Coral Beach, WA there are two cafes, a bakery, a pizza place, and one restaurant at the Ningaloo Reef Resort and absolutely no nightlife or any other entertainment.

At first, Coral Bay WA really disappointed us. Our expectations were small and intimate. But, we imagined it to have a backpacker vibe. A place to connect with other travellers and live the beach life. It wasn’t like that on this section of the Ningaloo Coast. 

Coral Bay town centre. Coral Coast. Western Australia
Coral Bay town centre…if you can call it that

Travelling with Family

If you are travelling with family and especially if you have small children, Coral Bay is a great place to base yourself for a few nights. You can enjoy the laid-back lifestyle, take your time exploring Ningaloo Reef which is literally only 100m away from shore, and spend days kayaking, sunbathing, and relaxing.

Adventure Seeking Traveller

If you are a young adventure-seeking traveller, Coral Bay is probably not the place for you. While the town does operate 3 different Ningaloo Reef whale shark tours for swimming with whale sharks WA, and it has one dive shop providing buyers with the best scuba diving mask and stylish scuba outfits, it doesn’t even come close to having the variety of activities and Ningaloo whale shark swim opportunities as offered in Exmouth.

Where To Stay In Coral Bay, Western Australia

Coral Bay has a handful of Ningaloo accommodations to choose from. These are our favourites:

  • Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers: This 10 bed two-storey vibrant hostel with a great location just a few minutes walk from the beach. They have an outdoor pool, a shared kitchen, table tennis, and a snack bar. You can explore popular fishing and snorkelling spots in the area.
  • Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview: The Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview WA is a haven for families, filled with kids building sand castles on the beach, oohing and aahing at the site of crabs and fishes. Bayview provides 16 family-friendly accommodations just steps from the Ningaloo Reef with an outdoor pool and a convenient on-site restaurant, a tennis court and playground, and also, stunning ocean views of Ningaloo Bay.
  • People Park Apartments: Located in Coral Bay, across the street from the beach, where you can easily walk to reduce carbon emissions. This great apartment accommodation offers six rooms, each with a private bathroom and TV. The kitchen is equipped with a microwave and toaster, and there’s a fridge and kettle for a comfortable stay, perfect for families or couples. 
Beautiful Coral Bay beach, Coral Coast
Beautiful Coral Bay beach

Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef

Exmouth is another small town of 2,500 residents located some 150 kms north of Coral Bay on a Ningaloo Marine Park map. Unlike Coral Bay, Exmouth isn’t set on the beach. In fact, the closest beach to Exmouth is located about 20 mins outside of town, towards North West Cape. Despite being small and easy to walk around by foot, the town itself is rather spread out.

When we first arrived in Exmouth, it felt deserted, quiet, and lacking any sort of personality, but by the time we were ready to leave, it became a place that we yearned to get stuck in. There is a certain sense of community in Exmouth. That’s the feeling you only get in small towns where everyone knows each other. 

Despite being very spaced out, you tend to run into the same people no matter where you go. With the wonderful people, you are sure to meet in Exmouth, that’s not a bad thing!

Murat Street, Exmouth. Western Australia
Murat Street, Exmouth

READ NEXT: Responsible Guide To Visiting Exmouth, Western Australia

Best Hotels in Exmouth, Western Australia

Exmouth offers a number of Ningaloo Reef accommodation options ranging from campgrounds to high-end luxury resorts. Meanwhile, the tours will almost always pick you up and drop you off from your Ningaloo Reef accommodation. Exploring on your own without a car is practically impossible.

  • Sal Salis Luxury Ningaloo Reef Glamping: Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef stands out among Exmouth hotels, not just as a luxurious resort but also as an eco-friendly choice for accommodation in Exmouth, WA. This eco-luxury camping site, operated by the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia, features 15 glamping tents with impressive eco credentials, including almost 100% solar power and local sourcing of materials. The tents are elevated to minimise impact on the local wildlife.
  • Excape Backpackers (YHA Exmouth): This sustainable accommodation is located in a central location near the Exmouth tourist information centre. It has 8 rooms with both private and dorm rooms, offering a variety of options including single, twin, double, and co-living arrangements. Most rooms come with air conditioning and private en suite bathrooms. It’s part of the YHA hostel network, known for its commitment to sustainability. 

Australia WA Exmouth-5202

The Location of Ningaloo Reef & How to Get To Ningaloo Reef

The Ningaloo Reef is located on the Western Coast of Australia in between Perth and Broome. It is on the Indian Ocean and known for its turquoise waters, vibrant coral and interesting marine life.

The closest big city to the Ningaloo Reef Australia is Perth. The Perth to Ningaloo Reef drive is over 10 hours. 

It is a long 12 hours and 45 minutes (1249 km) drive from Exmouth. Meanwhile, an 11 hours and 30 minutes (1122 km) from Coral Bay. Karratha is about the halfway mark from Perth. The distance from Karratha to Exmouth is 5 hours and 40 minutes (549 km).

If you would prefer to fly there is an airport located just outside of Exmouth. There are flights from most cities all over Australia including Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. The flight time from Perth is just under 2 hours. 

However, if you’d prefer someone else drive from Perth to Exmouth. Consider this 7 day tour which stops at all the top destinations along a Great Western Australia road trip.

Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour
Photo by Indian Ocean Imagery courtesy of Kings Ningaloo Reef Tour

READ NEXT: What You Need To Know Before Embarking On The Great Western Australia Road Trip

Never A Dull Moment On The Ningaloo Reef!

Between catching the sun rays, snorkelling, diving, and swimming with the Ningaloo whale sharks, turtles, and manta rays, your visit will be full of activities! 

And if you crave more, there are always days that can be spent surfing, fishing, watching turtle nesting, and so much more! Our 4 days on Ningaloo Reef flew by, leaving us with glowing tans, new friends, thousands of photos and a lifetime of memories.

READ NEXT: Responsible Way To Swim With Whale Sharks In Ningaloo Reef

2 thoughts on “Diving in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia | 2024 Guide”

  1. The Ningaloo Reef really is amazing. I prefer it to the Great Barrier Reef as it’s so much more untouched. It’s really special to swim for only a few meters and be above the great corals and marine life

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