From Perth to Ningaloo Reef in Eight Days
Brad Norman is a marine biologist who runs a not-for-profit group called ECOCEAN. He has been studying whale sharks to help with their conservation for more than 20 years. As a marine biologist he has gotten to know Ningaloo Reef and the drive from Perth well. The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Coast, around 13 hour drive from Perth, is best known for its whale sharks, and fringing coral reefs which are accessible from the shore.
I first went to Ningaloo in 1994 and loved it, and it still amazes me when I go back each year for a couple of months for the whale sharks.
Whale sharks are plankton-eating gentle giants of the sea. Unfortunately they’re threatened around the world, but the pristine environment of Ningaloo Reef is one of the best places to find and swim with them. It’s pretty incredible to swim alongside a shark that can get to the size of a bus!
We monitor whale sharks by photo identification – the spots on their skin are unique to each shark, like a fingerprint. People who swim with whale sharks help our conservation efforts by sending photos they take to our website. Then we do a ‘fingerprint’ scan and see if it’s a new whale shark or an old whale shark.
If you were heading to Ningaloo from Perth for eight days, these are the must-dos.
The Pinnacles in Cervantes
Only a couple of hours north of Perth, this National Park is home to the very unusual limestone Pinnacles. You have to see them stretching out over the sand dunes to understand their strange appeal. They are particularly great when the rising and setting sun plays with the shadows to create extra special effects.
See the coastal and Murchison River gorges at Kalbarri
Further north up the coast is the town of Kalbarri, known for its fishing and stunning red rock gorges that frame the Murchison River. It’s a popular holiday town for West Australians, so there’s plenty of accommodation to take a break overnight and have a good look around.
Stop at the World Heritage area at Shark Bay and visit Shell Beach and Monkey Mia
I go to Monkey Mia more for the beach than the dolphins – but they are a popular attraction. As one of WA’s main tourist attractions, there are no issues with finding somewhere to stay. The whole area is great, so explore the wider Shark Bay area.
As you keep heading north, you will hit Carnarvon, which can be another good stop off for the night if you’ve driven straight through. Two must do’s are visiting Morel’s Orchard for their just picked fruit and veg and all natural fruit ice-creams. Also, just north of Carnarvon, stop off and visit the blowholes that shoot huge jets of water into the air.
Not far along from here is Coral Bay, which is where most people first see Ningaloo Reef. There’s a lot to do at Coral Bay. If you’re in the mood for adventure, you might take a tour and go whale sharking or swimming with the manta rays. Coral Bay is also pretty well known for its pub – not only can you stay there, but there’s good food and a great view out across the Indian Ocean and Ningaloo, which sits just below the waves.
Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef
Exmouth is just over a couple of hours up the coast from Coral Bay. One of the first places you should visit is the lighthouse for a spectacular view of the West Cape, the Ningaloo Reef, the Gulf and Exmouth.
West Cape has Exmouth on one side, Ningaloo on the other and in between, Cape Range, which is an old fossilised coral reef.
If you didn’t take a swimming or spotting tour to see the Manta Rays and Whale Sharks at Coral Bay, you can join a tour from here too. You could also take a Microlight flight from Exmouth, or do a drift snorkel at Turquoise Beach – there’s a bit of a current there, so you need to be able to swim.
One of my favourite things to do in Ningaloo is to snorkel on the beautiful coral reefs. At Ningaloo, it’s like being in the outback – you’re surrounded by undisturbed nature. Because there is very little light pollution, the stars at night are amazing. There is an amazing amount of native life, too – kangaroos, euros, ospreys and bustards, while the water is alive with healthy corals and fish species.
If you’d rather relax on your holiday, you could go for cocktails at Mantarays Ningaloo Resort in Exmouth or take a nice little Yardie Creek boat cruise to see the wallabies, before finishing off your day with a sunset picnic at the lighthouse.