Australia's Ningaloo Reef Coast: The Complete Guide

The Azure waters of Ningaloo Reef, Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia.
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The Great Barrier Reef steals the spotlight regarding Australia’s underwater world. But head to the country’s western side and explore the Ningaloo Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Marine Park and one of the most extensive fringing reefs in the world. Here, the desert meets the sea, and travelers can get close to some of the ocean’s gentle giants. Humpback whales, whale sharks, rays, sea turtles, and reef fish all call Ningaloo Reef home. Best of all, you don’t need a boat or a plane to access the reef, as it’s typically just a short swim away from the shore.

On land, wildlife like emus, kangaroos, and wallabies are frequently spotted in the region’s rust-colored landscape. While it’s easy to find a beach without human footprints or drive for hours without passing another car, the Ningaloo Coast is home to wildlife galore. Given all this, it’s no wonder why many who visit call the Ningaloo region one of the most underrated places in the world.

Things to Do

  • Swim with whale sharks: Every year, from March to the end of July, hundreds of whale sharks cruise through the waters of Ningaloo Reef to take advantage of the reef's annual coral spawning. Travelers can embark on a day tour to swim alongside the world's largest fish, with tours departing from Coral Bay and Exmouth. Regulations like allowing only a set number of swimmers in the water at a time and distancing measures are enforced to avoid disturbing the whale sharks.
  • Beach hop at Cape Range National Park: Take a trip to Cape Range National Park near Exmouth for turquoise lagoons frocked with white sand beaches and gorges outlined with hiking trails. Snorkeling among sea turtles, rays, and reef fish is only a few steps away from the shoreline—making it one of Australia's most accessible prime snorkeling spots. When it's time to dry off, head inland and trek through Mandu Mandu Gorge, where you might spot rock wallabies, kangaroos, and emus.  
Ningaloo Reef

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  • Witness sea turtles nest along the shoreline: Even sea turtles can’t resist the allure of Ningaloo Coast’s spectacular beaches. A popular mating and nesting ground for green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and loggerhead turtles, turtles lay their eggs in the soft sand. When the hatchlings emerge, they make their way to the water, and the cycle begins again. At the Jurabi Turtle Centre near Exmouth, travelers can go on a guided tour to learn more about sea turtle conservation and watch turtles lay their eggs or hatchlings emerge from their nest, all from a safe distance.  
  • Road trip and camp along the Coral Coast: For a fully immersive experience of the Ningaloo Coast, rent a campervan and drive along the Western Australian coastline. There are tens of beach campsites where you’ll sleep only a few meters away from a prime snorkeling spot, like at Coral Bay or Gnaraloo. With so few people to encounter along the way, it’s a trip that’ll genuinely feel like the wild, wild west.

Best Time to Visit

While the region is worth visiting all year round, the best time to take a trip to the Ningaloo Reef is from March to early November (average temperatures range from 73 F to 89 F). During this time, you can plan a swim with whale sharks, enjoy snorkeling with hundreds of reef fish, spot humpback whales, hike, and maybe even witness sea turtle hatchlings scamper to the sea. From December to February, average temperatures in the region hover above 86 F, and cyclones are more common. 

Getting There

The Ningaloo Reef spans nearly 200 miles long, and there are a few worthwhile points to base yourself during our trip. International flights to Western Australia arrive in Perth. From there, you can fly to Learmonth Airport near Exmouth, the northernmost town on the Ningaloo Coast. Because of the vast distance between attractions throughout the Ningaloo Coast, having your own wheels is recommended. 

Exmouth is where to stay for the highest range in accommodation options and access to Cape Range National Park. It's also where you'll have the most variety in terms of scuba diving, whale shark tours, and whale watching tours. Camping is available at holiday parks in Exmouth and in Cape Range National Park itself. 

Coral Bay is a small caravan park and camping area with incredible snorkeling from its main beach. Here, you can find basic accommodation cabins and powered campsites (one-hour drive from Exmouth).

Carnarvon has its own airport and is the largest town within the southern end of Ningaloo Reef's coastline. It's a jump-off point to Gnaraloo Station—one of Australia's best remote camping areas for self-sufficient travelers keen to brave corrugated dirt roads with four-wheel drive.

Where to Stay

  • Sal Salis, North West Cape: Fall asleep to the sea lull from the comfort of a safari-style tent tucked between dunes. Each tent has a plush bed, ensuite bathroom, deck with hammock, and drinking water. Sumptuous candlelit dinners made from local ingredients are served in a cozy communal lodge.
  • Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort, Exmouth: Set on Sunrise Beach, Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort is a relaxing retreat where guests can access the Ningaloo Reef easily from their room. Between outdoor excursions, the onsite bar, restaurant, pool, and gym await. There is a range of room, apartment, and villa options available.
  • Exmouth Escape Resort, Exmouth: Couples, friends, and families will feel welcome at Exmouth Escape Resort, a central and modern resort within Exmouth. Each of the villa and apartment accommodation options is equipped with a kitchen and laundry area. 
  • RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park, Exmouth: Stay near Exmouth’s town center at RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park, a holiday park with facilities that include a communal kitchen, BBQs, a pool, a dive shop, a volleyball court, and a games room. It’s also one of the few places around that allows pets, as all National Parks and many State Parks forbid them. 
  • Peoples Park, Coral Bay: Enjoy a five-star location that overlooks the bright blue hues of Coral Bay without paying top dollar at Peoples Park, a holiday park featuring unpowered and powered campsites and cabin accommodation. Guests can access a communal kitchen, outdoor BBQs, and freshwater showers.