Photo: Sean Scott

Photo Essay: Ningaloo Reef and the Coral Coast in 10 Must Do Experiences

Step from the unspoiled coast and dive into some of the most incredible marine experiences on earth.

Jump on a two-hour flight from Perth, pull on your mask and snorkel and step into the bluest waters. From here, you only need to swim a couple of metres before you’re floating over the World Heritage listed coral gardens of one of the largest wildlife-rich reefs on the planet. And when you stand in the shallows at Monkey Mia, the wild dolphins come to play right by your feet. It’s one of the rare places on Earth where you can easily access such an incredible diversity of marine life in its natural environment, so close to the shore.

Turquoise Bay near Exmouth, so called because of its strikingly beautiful clear waters, is the perfect place to start. A short swim from the pristine white-sand beach brings you to the drift snorkel where you can catch a ride on the gentle current to view some of the 200+ varieties of coral and 500+ species of fish that call Ningaloo home.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter turtles resting and feeding in the clear shallows. And to meet some of the mega fauna species that visit Ningaloo, it only takes a short boat trip into deeper waters to watch graceful manta rays playfully barrelling right below you, or to swim right beside the biggest fish in the ocean – the gentle giant whale shark.

Take a day’s drive south to the Pinnacles Desert, and you’ll be transported to another world entirely as you walk the luna-like landscape, meandering through a forest of limestone spires that rise out of the shifting yellow sands. Formed over millions of years, it’s one of Australia’s most unique and fascinating natural landscapes.

Here’s some of our favourite moments from the Pinnacles to Ningaloo Reef to add to your must-see-and-do list.

Imagining life on another planet at the Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park

As the Milky Way arches above a sea of limestone pillars that rise out of the shifting yellow sands of the Pinnacle Desert, it’s very easy to imagine you’re walking on the moon, or another world entirely.

Discovering why Turquoise Bay is ranked in the world’s top 20 beaches

Enter the clear waters of the aptly named Turquoise Bay and you’ll find yourself drifting gently over the coral gardens of UNESCO World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef – the largest fringing reef on Earth, home to some 500 species of fish.

Catching your breath on deck after encountering some of the reef’s big five at Ningaloo Marine Park

A cruise to the outer Ningaloo Reef brings you close to the ‘big five’ visitors to UNESCO World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef. Depending on the time of your visit, you could witness the humpback whale migration or swim with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and giant potato cod.

Watching the light play on Sunrise Beach, Exmouth

Staying in Exmouth next to sunrise beach gives you sunrises over Exmouth Marina and sunsets right outside your door, looking out over the Indian Ocean

When the Indian Ocean's gentle giant swims right by your side at Ningaloo Marine Park

It’s very rare that the whale shark comes close enough to the shore for an encounter, so it’s a humbling privilege to snorkel beside one. Watching its enormous tail propel the gentle giant through the water is a moving sight that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Being mesmerised by the flash of silvery schools passing by on the outer reef, at Ningaloo Marine Park

Stretching nearly 20 kilometres from the coast and covering 5,000 square kilometres of ocean, UNESCO World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef is the world’s largest fringing reef. A short boat trip to the outer reef brings you face-to-fin with some of the 500 species of fish, including these schools of Silver Trevally that thrive here.

Getting some perspective on how huge the whale shark really is

From the deck of a tour boat, you’ll get a real sense of just how large and graceful the biggest fish in the ocean is. Whale sharks can grow up to 16 metres (52.5 feet) in length, but they’re harmless filter feeders. Every year, between March and July, they visit the coastal waters of Ningaloo Marine Park.

Walking through 400 million years of history where the outback meets the ocean, at Kalbarri National Park

When you snap a photo on The Loop trail in Kalbarri National Park, you’re capturing 400 million years of natural history – where the tidal flats of an ancient sea has formed the striking red sandstone and the mighty Murchison River has carved out deep gorges on its way to the ocean.

Perfectly framing a moment in time with nature at Nature’s Window, Kalbarri National Park

You’ll find it hard to resist striking a pose at Nature’s Window. Over 400 million years, the forces of nature have shaped a unique arch of red sandstone that perfectly frames a portrait, a moment in time, or an arty shot of the mighty Murchison River Gorge below.

Looking for rare black-footed wallabies hopping between small caves in the sheer cliffs

A gentle one-hour cruise on the still waters of Yardie Creek, in Cape Range National Park is the best way to see the striking colours and the many wild inhabitants of this ancient red limestone gorge, including rare black-footed wallabies, euros, red kangaroos, birds and marine life.

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