There’s few places in Australia as spectacular and awe-inspiring as the Ningaloo Reef.
Far less well-known internationally, and therefore much quieter than the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo off the west coast of the country is, nevertheless, a UNESCO World Heritage site and every bit as impressive, if not more so, than its eastern counterpart.
Known as the place where the reef meets the range, the red outback colours which contrast vividly against the turquoise Indian Ocean here are truly breathtaking.
So, if you’re thinking of heading to Western Australia to enjoy this beautiful part of the country, here’s my suggestions when it comes to the best way to experience Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.
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#1 Dive with Whale Sharks
Seriously, this one is one of the best ways to enjoy the natural world full stop, hence why it definitely makes it into the top spot of my 10 best ways to experience the Ningaloo Reef.
Indeed, there’s few things I want to tick off my list more than diving with whale sharks and the fact that this opportunity is limited to just a few places on earth, makes Ningaloo Reef very special indeed.
Be sure to time your visit right for your chance to spot these epic marine creatures however, as the whale sharks only visit these parts between March and September.
Outside of these times you can still have some great diving experiences around the Ningaloo Reef, as I did, but you’ll be limited to just spotting sharks, turtles, eels and tropical fish – still not bad really!
I suggest heading to Exmouth if you want to see the whale sharks, as this is where most of the diving companies operate from.
We stayed at the great Potshot Hotel Resort while we there and loved its great location and newly renovated apartments. You can check out my full review here.
#2 Snorkel with Manta Rays
A close second to diving with whale sharks when you visit the Ningaloo Reef is snorkelling with the manta rays.
If you’ve seen any photos of these winged sea creatures gliding past and almost dwarfing snorkelers, you’ll know why this is so amazing.
Operating out of Ningaloo’s second town Coral Bay (actually more a tiny hamlet than a town) – head here if you want to get up close with these amazing creatures.
We stayed at the Bayview Camp Ground when we visited Coral Bay as it was the cheapest of the lot and had a great kitchen!
#3 Camp in Cape Range National Park
And if camping is your thing, then heading to the amazing Cape Range National Park, which borders the Ningaloo Reef is definitely one of the best ways to experience this incredible area.
In fact, this is one of the best national parks in the whole of Australia.
Camping at Cape Range is very affordable and you can pitch your tent in designated spots that sit right behind the dunes and give sensational access to some of Australia’s best beaches.
#4 Swim at Turquoise Bay
And one of those best beaches has to be the stunning Turquoise Bay.
Certainly living up to its name, we could not get over the colour of the water here, which is just way too tempting when it comes to diving in and cooling down.
The whiteness of the sand only adds to the spectacle and if you’re lucky enough to have some emus come and join you in the ocean, as we were, it’s definitely a strip of sand you won’t forget in a hurry!
#5 Hike at Yardie Creek
And while you’re in Cape Range National Park, you really can’t miss the beautiful walk into Yardie Creek.
Situated at the southern end of the park, this short walk is a great little trail that takes you into the rocky range behind the reef, giving you (and your camera) the perfect chance to take both dramatic landscapes in at once.
You may also get the opportunity to spot a rare black-flanked rock wallaby here, as these creatures make their home in the boulder-strewn slopes and caves of this permanent waterhole area.
#6 Take in the View from Charles Knife Canyon
Another of the best places to take into the contrasting world of the Ningaloo Reef area is from the drive into Charles Knife Canyon.
Located on the road into Exmouth, this epic drive takes you up into the range, giving the most dramatic of views down the craggy ravines towards the sparkle reef beyond.
We made this drive up in our old battered Landrover … who loved the adventure too!
At the top is the wonderful Charles Knife Lookout, and from there, the Badjirrarjirra Loop Trail begins from the nearby picnic area.
#7 Learn about the History at Vlaming Head Lighthouse
Overlooking lighthouse bay, this famous lighthouse was built in 1912.
One of the few place in Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set, there’s some really great interpretative signage here that give you a great opportunity to learn more about this important nautical monument.
5 ESSENTIAL PACKING ITEMS FOR AUSTRALIA
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national parks! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strolling, I love mine.
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together.
#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!
#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion, you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.
#8 Spot an Emu
It doesn’t matter how many times we saw these funny-looking, giant birds during our time in Exmouth they never failed to amuse us!
Something about their ungainly run always brought a smile to our face and seeing some of the baby emus following dad really is a charming sight you can’t miss!
Almost just as good are the emu road signs, which adorn this part of the Ningaloo Reef area.
#9 See the Reef Shark Nursery
The beautiful beach at Coral Bay is well worth a little stroll and what better reason to motivate you than to check out a baby shark nursery.
Heading to the right as you hit the beach from town, walking along to where the land curves around to form a natural pool at Skeleton’s Bay and you’ll hopefully spot a baby reef shark or 2.
Yes, every year around Springtime, the shallow protected waters close to shore become a haven for baby reef sharks and seeing these from dry land, only a few feet away, is definitely open of the best ways to experience the Ningaloo Reef.
#10 Sunset Whale Watching Tour
And coming in at number 10, a sunset whale watching tour is the perfect way to end your time at the incredible Ningaloo Reef.
Operating out of Exmouth, this is the perfect way to combine stunning scenery with a wondrous nature experience.
Taking in the humpback whales that call this place home between the months of June and November, the colours reflecting off the water at this time of day are sure to make your photos even more stunning.
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So there you have it, my ultimate list of the best ways to experience Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.
Have you been to this wonderful part of Western Australia?
What did you enjoy doing most there?
2 thoughts on “The 10 Best Ways to Experience Australia’s Ningaloo Reef”
We absolutely love this post! We couldn’t agree more with your tips, Steph. Having lived there for a year we would offer a couple of added bits of advice (if we may!) In that, if you’re visiting Coral Bay, you must do the drift snorkel from Paradise Beach – any local or receptionist can tell you where to begin and it drifts you right back into the bay as you float across huge lavender and cabbage coral patches that are hundreds of years old amidst an array of beautiful fish and if you’re lucky, a turtle or two! There’s also a 2,000 year old coral bombie, called Ayres Rock that you can swim or SUP board out to from the bay; a massive coral that is simply teaming with life. (Just a note to all those newbies out there, please don’t stand on it & remember.. look don’t touch.)
We adored living there for a year, it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Cape Range also has a stunning snorkel spot called Osprey Bay which we stayed at many times, we even saw a cow tailed ray and white tip reef shark there, as well as a juvenile wobbiegong! The whole Reef is teaming with life, it’s just an awe to behold such a flourishing ecosystem.. WD.x
Hi guys, thanks so much for your amazingly helpful comments – we love to hear from locals who always have the best info! These suggestions are gold and I only wish I’d known about them earlier so I could have checked them out too! The Ayres Rock coral bombie, in particular, sounds brilliant! And Cape Range NP is the best isn’t it! Wondering if you ever got to the famous Navy Pier dive from Exmouth? I really wanted to, but sadly it was closed when I was there 🙁