The Ningaloo Reef, a hidden jewel of Western Australia.
On the most western coast of Australia lies an other worldly landscape where the red Australian desert meets the blue Indian Ocean. Known as the Ningaloo Reef, it is the worlds largest fringing reef and is home to an abundance of marine species. The Ningaloo is a haven for ocean enthusiasts and divers in search of once in a life time encounters with marine megafauna. One of the most famous visitors to the area is the oceans most gentle giant, the Whale Shark. For any photographer or nature lover you definitely need to add the Ningaloo Reef onto your bucket list.
The word Ningaloo comes from the Aboriginal word meaning ‘deep water’. This is because the reef sits closely to Australia’s continental shelf where the ocean floor drops off to depths of over 1000m. This unique environment creates a wildlife corridor for many pelagic species that the region is so well known for. From beautiful healthy coral reef systems to marine mammals, sharks and rays, the Ningaloo really has it all.
The Ningaloo Reef is 300km in length and runs from the North West Cape down to Red Bluff on the Coral Coast of Western Australia. The reef itself hosts an array of life big and small with over 500 species of fish and 300 species of coral. Throughout the year you can encounter whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. You can encounter many other large marine animals here as well such as several species of sea turtle, hammerhead sharks, zebra sharks, dugongs Orcas and the occasional Blue Whale. A visit to Ningaloo will certainly not leave you disappointed.
When I first moved to Exmouth in 2021 I never expected it to be quite as magical as it has proven to be. One year later and I’m still here and don’t plan on leaving soon. I currently work as a photographer on one of the tour boats that operate here taking visitors out to swim with the Whale Sharks. If you’d like to swim with a whale shark you want to aim to be here between March and August for the Whale Shark season as that’s when they aggregate here to feed. During the full moon in March and April each year the corals begin to spawn. This spawning event brings many marine animals to the area that feed on plankton such as whale sharks and manta rays. To swim with the whale sharks you will need to join a guided tour on a boat. These tours run daily during the season departing from either Exmouth or Coral Bay. You have a very good chance to see a whale shark here and many companies even offer a guarantee. Ningaloo is one of the most well organised and eco friendly places in the world where you can swim with whale sharks in their natural environment. Strict rules are in place to ensure minimal impact is had on the animals during the interaction which greatly improves the experience. The boats also use a spotter plane to locate the whale sharks in the area instead of feeding or baiting them as is done in other places in the world. Swimming with and photographing these animals has been a highlight of my career, and even when I see them almost daily the excitement never wears off.
Many ocean lovers also dream for their chance to swim with a Humpback whale. This was something on the top of my list before I visited Ningaloo as well. Tour operators in Exmouth and Coral Bay are now running humpback swimming tours during the colder months from June until October. The coast of Western Australia has the highest density of humpback whales in the southern hemisphere so it is a great place to consider doing your first humpback swim. It is estimated that up to 40,000 humpback whales migrate up the coast of Western Australia annually. These whales make the longest migration of any mammal, travelling 3,600NM each year from their feeding grounds in Antarctica all the way up to the Kimberly coast north of Broome. The whales can be seen traveling and resting on the Ningaloo with their calves during this time. Seeing a humpback whale for the first time in the water is an incredible and life changing experience, I cannot recommend it enough!
Whether it’s in the water or over the land Western Australia’s coral coast will leave you speechless. The scenery above and below is stunning. There are also great hikes, gorges and beaches you can explore on foot. Many of the beaches and sandy coves have an abundance of wildlife such as various marsupials, birds and reptiles. Early in the year you can even witness the turtles nesting and hatching along the coast as the region is also an important rookery for 3 of the 7 species of sea turtle. So do keep a few days free so you can explore the area when you visit.
Point of Interest worth seeing while you’re here:
For reef access and snorkelling right off the beach: Turquoise bay, Oyster Stacks, Lakeside, Osprey Bay.
Hiking Cape Range National Park: Charles Knife Canyon, Madu Mandu Gorge, Yardie Creek Gorge.
View Points: Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, Charles Knife Canyon, Yardie Creek Gorge, Mildura Wreck.
Whale Sharks: Peak season is mid March until mid July. But they are seen also August until late October occasionally as well.
Humpback Whales: June until October, peak months are July to September.
Manta Rays: All year around they can be sound along the coast. Peak months are August Until October.
Turtle Nesting & Hatching: Mating begins in Spring and hatching kicks off during the Summer months.
Getting Here: Upon arrival in Perth Qantas run direct flights between Perth and Learmonth Airport daily. You can also rent a car and drive from Perth to Exmouth or Coral bay. This is a 1,200km road trip one way.
Weather: Western Australia is very hot and dry, always be prepared and bring plenty of water with you on every journey. In summer the temperatures are around 30-45+ degrees celsius. In winter the temperature is 10-30 degrees celsius. Coastal areas are often prone to strong winds.