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?
It was three glorious days spent soaking up the sun rays, swimming in crystal clear waters, making friends with the coolest underwater animals and swimming with the biggest fish in the sea at the Ningaloo coral reef!
If you are wondering “where is Ningaloo Reef located?”, the Ningaloo Reef coast stretches for 260km from Amherst Point south of Coral Bay to Bundegi Beach near Exmouth Aus. 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 Australia 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-June.
Figuring out the best way to enjoy the best of the Ningaloo Reef Australia was a challenge. What about Ningaloo Reef accommodation? Should we be diving Ningaloo or go Ningaloo snorkeling? Where are the best places to for snorkeling Ningaloo Reef? Are whale shark tours, Ningaloo, worth the money?
These were the questions bouncing around our minds when we were planning our trip to the Ningaloo Coast Australia and we’re sure there are many others out there wondering the same.
So here is what we learned about Ningaloo Reef during our visit to the World Heritage Site.
The Best Time to Visit Ningaloo Reef Australia
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.
Temperatures range from upwards of 37C in the summer (December to February) to an average of about 20C in the winter (June to August). Therefore most people tend to visit Ningaloo beach in the winter as the rest of 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 Ningaloo Reef snorkeling, ensure they are in season to avoid disappointment. Ningaloo Reef whales sharks frequent the area from March to June, manta rays can be spotted from May to November and humpback whales can be seen from July to November.
Where to Access the Ningaloo Reef Australia
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 traveler you are and what kind of experience you are after during your visit to the Ningaloo Reef coast.
Coral Bay tends to be a more family friendly crowd while Exmouth is famous for its younger population of holidaymakers.
Things to Do in Ningaloo Reef Australia
Snorkeling 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 snorkeling!
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 snorkeling Coral Bay spots and 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.
Exmouth’s snorkelling sites are all located in Cape Range National Park. So Exmouth to Ningaloo Reef is about a 45 mins drive.
Lakeside is a great snorkel spot for beginners and can be explored with Exmouth snorkeling 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 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 also one of the most beautiful beaches along the Ningaloo Reef coast (and in Australia for that matter!). It is renowned for its white sands and turquoise waters. 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.
Note: there is no civilization in Cape Range National Park and thus 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.
If a tour is more your speed we would recommend one of these Ningaloo Reef snorkelling tours. These Ningaloo tours will take guests to some of the top diving sites in the Ningaloo Marine Park for once in a lifetime experiences to see interesting marine life like Exmouth whale sharks:
- Marine Eco Safari – Swim With MantaRays Ningaloo: This 5+ hour tour will take guests to see Corals Bays resident Manta Rays. You’ll be provided lunch and hotel transfers.
- Ningaloo Humpback Whale Swim & Reef Snorkel from Exmouth: This once in a lifetime tour will take you to swim alongside majestic humpback whales along the Ningaloo Reef. It also includes refreshments, a complimentary beer or champagne and lunch.
- From Exmouth Whale Shark Tour: See these gentle giants up close on a full day Ningaloo whale shark swim from Exmouth. A marine biologist is on board to teach you about whale shark behaviour and a spotter plane will ensure you get a chance to be in the water with the whale sharks Ningaloo Reef.
Ningaloo Reef Diving
As you would imagine, Ningaloo Reef is home to some fantastic dive sites. While it is possible to reach some smaller sites to dive Ningaloo from Coral Bay, the majority of the famous Ningaloo Reef WA dive sites are located within a 30-45 min boat ride from Exmouth.
Exmouth Navy Pier is a world famous dive site, however at the time of our visit, it’s 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 Exmouth.
Muiron Islands lie just 9.8 nautical miles off the tip of the North West Cape Warm, and offer warm tropical waters filled with marine life and both hard and soft coral gardens for Ningaloo diving.
Lighthouse Bay is located at the northernmost tip of the Ningaloo Reef and is home to a number of Ningaloo Reef dive sites 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.
There are a number of dive companies in town offering a very similar Ningaloo Reef scuba diving package with prices starting at $150 for 2 fully equipped dives. Introductory dives (dives for those who do not have a valid SSI/PADI diving certification) are also available for a slightly higher price. Introductory divers are always accompanied by a divemaster who looks after you and your equipment throughout the day.
To see the best of the Coral Reef, Western Australia, embark on one of these Ningaloo Reef diving tours. You’ll be delighted to see a collection of shark, fish, and other marine life on these Ningaloo Reef tours.
- Scuba Diving in Ningaloo Reef: Full-Day from Exmouth: This great diving trip takes you to visit 2 dive sites in Ningaloo WA. You’ll spot an incredible abundance of marine life on this Ningaloo Reef tour.
- Muiron Islands Diving Ningaloo Reef Tour from Exmouth: Spend the day exploring the UNESCO Site Murion Islands of the Ningaloo Reef. You’ll be treated to lunch and drinks, visit two dive sites and be transferred from your hotel.
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 in both Coral Bay and Exmouth 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 Cruise: 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 is included, as are kayak and stand up paddleboards. The Ningaloo Reef whale shark season is from March to June.
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 expectation is small and intimate. But, we imagined it to have a backpacker vibe. A place to connect with other travelers and live the beach life. It wasn’t like that on this section of the Ningaloo Coast.
If you are traveling 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 that is literally only 100m away from shore, spend days kayaking, sunbathing, and relaxing.
If you are a young adventure-seeking traveler, 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 whaleshark swim opportunities as offered in Exmouth.
Where to Stay in Coral Bay, Western Australia
Coral Bay has a handful of Ningaloo accommodation to choose from. These are our favourites:
- Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers: This vibrant hostel has a great location. It is located just a few minutes walk from the beach. It is clean, has a pool, and a large kitchen and barbeque area.
- Coral Bay Ningaloo Reef Resort: The Ningaloo Reef Resort Coral Bay WA is a haven for families, filled with kids building sand castles on the beach, oohing and aahing at the site of crabs and fishies. It is clean, fully functional with a pool and also, stunning ocean views of Ningaloo Bay.
- People Park Apartments: Located across the street from the beach this great apartment accommodation, has great outdoor areas and a large kitchen. The rooms vary in sizes, fully functional and clean.
Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef
Exmouth is another small town of 2,500 residents located some 150kms 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!
Places to Stay in Exmouth, Western Australia
Exmouth offers a number of Ningaloo Reef accommodation options ranging from campgrounds to high-end luxury resorts. There is something here to please everyone. Having a car is extremely beneficial in Exmouth. 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: This eco-luxury Ningaloo camping site is operated under the Parks and Wildlife Service of Western Australia. It has 15 luxury Ningaloo Reef camping tents and a long list of eco credentials. Including, almost 100% solar power and local sourcing of all materials are used on this luxury accommodation property.
- YHA Backpackers Ningaloo Reef Resort Exmouth: This sustainable accommodation is located in the centre of town. It has both private and dorm rooms, and three swimming pools.
- RAC Exmouth Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort: Located in the center of town this Ningaloo caravan park, has unpowered and powered sites for caravans and campers. There are also cabins, bungalows, and dormitories for rent at this Ningaloo resort caravan park.
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.
What is the Ningaloo Reef Australia Most Famous for?
The most well known thing to do at the Ningaloo Reef Australia is to swim with whale sharks. Exmouth has the most outfitters for places to swim with whale sharks. However, that is not all there is to see.
There is an abundance of sea life and over 500 species outside of whale shark diving Exmouth. There are resident manta rays, humpback whales and a plethora of fish.
If you have come for a whale shark tour, you can often spot from March to June during the season. Just be sure that your whale shark swim is with an ethical provider.
Your whale shark swimming Exmouth should not do any damage the environment. Or, alter the behaviour of any whale shark Exmouth has. We went with Kings Ningaloo Reef tours. We loved that they had high-efficiency motors on their boats, low noise/gas engines, and a no-touch policy.
Never a Dull Moment on the Ningaloo Reef!
Between catching the sun rays, snorkelling, diving, swimming with the Ningaloo whale sharks, turtles, and manta rays, you 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.