Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef

Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef

 

 


The Wild, Wild West (of Australia)

By Christine Shepard

photos by Christine Shepard, 3 islands and Whaleshark-n-Dive

 

To many travelers, the east coast of Australia is seen as a land of untamed beauty, small coastal populations, and thousands upon thousands of sandy beaches. Now take that image and divide the population by seven. Add some red dirt, a few extra sheep and cows, and more turquoise color to the water. Now you just about have it – Western Australia.


Once you leave the city center of Perth, you soon realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Just a short drive away, you’ll find the award-winning wine regions of Margaret River and Swan Valley. Venture out to the southwestern coast and find picture-perfect surf breaks full of young, happy Aussie blokes. Head about 1300 km north and you’ll encounter the World Heritage Ningaloo Reef. Based on its latitude and geographic position on a western coast, the water would usually be too chilly to support tropical corals and fish. But thanks to the Leeuwin current, warm, clear water is pumped down from the Indian Ocean and meets the nutrient rich, arctic current, creating an incredibly unique marine ecosystem.


Ningaloo Reef only stretches 260 km, but is home to a plethora of marine megafauna, tropical fish and coral, including several species only endemic to this small stretch of reef. 

 

 

Map
Ningaloo Reef is located about halfway up the coast of Western Australia.

 

One of the best towns to visit along the reef is Exmouth. The town’s beginnings can be traced back to 1967 when the U.S. Navy installed one of four global VLF communication towers to keep in communication with their submarines. Since then, the town has grown into an ecotourism hub offering seasonal whale shark and manta ray encounters, abundant whale watching, beachside hikes into the Cape Range National Park, scuba diving on the Ningaloo Reef and at the Navy Pier – a global top ten pier dive, and drift snorkeling at Turquoise Bay – a global top 25 white sand beach.


And for a remote beachside town of only 2,500 residents, the quality of living in Exmouth is excellent. The restaurants, seafood and produce in town are of the highest quality. So if you’ve been craving some marine adventures in the wild west of Australia, this is your place. 

 

 

coral bommie
An intricately detailed coral bommie stretches over 12 feet across.

 

Best Time to Visit: JUNE


Even though this is their wintertime, temperatures hover around 75-80 degrees with virtually no humidity. Whale shark season is in full swing. Humpback whales are beginning their annual migration north. Manta Rays can be seen year-round, but are in largest numbers between May and November. And by going in June, you’ll avoid the Australian School Holidays when you’ll have a tough time finding accommodation and ecotours.

 

whale shark

 Whale sharks gather each year at Ningaloo Reef, giving snorkelers a chance to see them up-close and personal.


Traveling to Exmouth:


If you’re already visiting the east coast of Australia, hop on a flight from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne out to Perth. Since most flights arrive late at night and won’t connect for another 5 or 6 hours up to Exmouth, it might be a good idea to just stay for a night or two in Perth.


If you allow yourself a full day, be sure to check out a food and wine tour through the Swan Valley, especially a “Speed Grazing” tour to taste coffee, lavender scones, chocolates, nougat, Australian bush tucker, local wines, and much more.

 

Swan Valley
Enjoy an extended layover in Perth exploring the Swan Valley.

 

When you’re ready for the next leg, hop on a quick 2 hour flight up to Exmouth. Book a rental car for pick up at the airport. The roads are quite simple, so don’t stress about driving on the left-hand side. Just be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wandering sheep, cattle and kangaroos. They have a tendency to hang out in the middle of the road, especially around sunset.

  

 

Roo Road

The roads through Exmouth and Cape Range National Park are easy to navigate. Just watch out for those roos!

 

The 2014 whale shark season came to an end a bit early, so I unfortunately was not able to see any whale sharks in early August. But I still managed to have a wonderful day trip with one of the many companies offering whale shark tours. They usually hire their own spotter pilot for five hours during the day to direct the boat toward whale sharks, manta rays and any other wildlife of interest. This means that the boat can just cruise along the coast and take you to snorkel sites along the reef until the pilot calls in.

 

 

Manta Ray
A manta ray glides past to continue feeding on the abundance of plankton in the nutrient rich waters of Ningaloo Reef.

 

 

During our tour, we saw dozens of humpback whales surrounding the boat, including breaching newborn calves. We also had the opportunity to snorkel in a pristine turquoise lagoon surrounded by coral. The highlight, though, would have to be slipping into the water with seven feeding manta rays – three of which were all black in color!


 

 

Reef Fish
Ningaloo reef offers a variety of dive sites, with the hard corals, megafauna, and large schools of tropical fish stealing the show.

 

 

Don't forget to book into a dive trip on the Ningaloo reef or out at the Muiron Islands. If you time it right with the humpback migration, you’ll also likely be serenaded by whale song during all your dives in the Exmouth area - occasionally even buzzed by one underwater.

 

Potato Cod
Divers enjoy the company of a large potato cod at the Navy Pier in Exmouth.

 

 

Another must dive location is the world-famous Navy Pier. You’ll be astounded by the abundance of fish beneath this old pier on the Navy base. Since it’s been protected since its inception in 1964, the fish are not the least bit scared of divers. It’s like diving into an aquarium, but multiply the number of fish and sharks by three and appreciate the fact that they can come and go as they please.

 

Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a global top-ten pier dive offering some of the most dense schools of fish, including giant trevally, barracuda, cod, groper, grey nurse sharks, butterflyfish, anglerfish, eels and much more.

 

 

Topside, plan for at least one day to explore the west coast of the peninsula. Being a fringe reef, Ningaloo runs around 100m off the coast, offering abundant opportunities for shore snorkeling. To reach most of the beaches, you’ll need to drive into the Cape Range National Park, which has a small entry fee per day. Once you’re in, head down to Yardie Creek at the far south end for a hike along the river into red rock gorges. Keep a look out for the rare black-footed rock wallabies hidden among the cliffs.

 

Yardie Creek
Yardie Creek is located at the south end of Cape Range National Park, and offers some picturesque land-based adventures if dive plans are weathered out.

 

Stop into Sandy Bay for a refreshing and secluded white sand lagoon swim. At high tide, grab your fins and snorkel and head to Oyster Stacks. Or have a combination of both snorkeling and white sand beach at the world famous Turquoise Bay. 

 

Turquoise bay
All you need is your snorkel and fins to access the reef at award-winning Turquoise Bay.

 


On your way back, just make sure to stop at the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse for sunset. It offers a jaw-dropping 360-degree view of the peninsula.


 

Lighthouse sunset
Grab a picnic and some drinks from town and head up to the lighthouse for sunset. It’s a picture-perfect way to end each day.

 

 

Final Notes – You really can’t go wrong with which activities you end up doing in Exmouth and along Ningaloo Reef. Between the rugged outback terrain, friendly, welcoming people, and sparkling turquoise water, adventure awaits. The only regret you’ll have is not staying longer!


- Christine Shepard (www.christineshepard.com)

 

 

  

 

How to book your next adventure in Australia


Bluewater Travel can book you on a dive vacation to Australia, for the same cost or less than booking any other way. We know the routes, cabins, and when to go better than anyone else!

Email us at info@bluewaterdivetravel.com to start your adventure.

 
 

 

 

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