Most divers would not think of going all the way to Western Australia to dive. But there are in for a big surprise: diving with the majestic whale sharks of Ningaloo Reef is one legendary experience. And it doesn’t stop there, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, huge cod or sharks can be encountered in abundance at the 260km long Ningaloo Reef. The reef offers world class diving and snorkeling in sheltered lagoons crammed with coral gardens.
Ningaloo is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia. It is the only large reef in the world found so close to a continental land mass; about 100m offshore at it’s nearest point and less than 7km at its furthest. The park covers more than 4000sq km and was declared in 1987. Ningaloo Marine Park is about 1200km north of Perth. The park stretches for some 260km, from Bundegi Reef in Exmouth Gulf around North-West Cape to Amherst Point, south of Coral Bay. The park extends about 10 nautical miles out to sea.
Best Diving Destinations in Western Australia
Clownfish bathing in anemone tentacles, attractive lionfish or predatory moray eels are just some of hundreds of species of colorful tropical fish that can be seen. The coral reef fish of Ningaloo are among the most colorful and beautifully patterned of all living creatures. Even the novice snorkeler can swim in the shallows and witness an amazing variety of fish life. You’ll also find more than 180 species of coral, ranging from the cabbage corals, brain corals, lavender corals and delicate colorful branching corals, which form gardens in the shallow lagoons.
From April to June each year visitors from all around the world converge on Ningaloo for the experience of a lifetime – diving with the awesome whale shark, the world’s biggest species of fish.
Ningaloo Reef is the only easily accessible place in the world where these giants appear in large numbers at predictable times of the year. Whale sharks reach more than 12m long and weigh more than eleven tons. Spotting these whalesharks is done by snorkeling, as they swim close to the surface and they swim so fast that scuba does not give you an extra advantage.
Exmouth or Coral Bay are also perfect places to view the mass coral spawning, a three day event that begins a week or so after the full moon during March and April.
Exmouth Navy Pier
One of the top pier dives in the world is located at Exmouth: the Exmouth Navy Pier. The Pier is home to over 200 species of fish and is a fantastic dive to see large schools of fish, as well as nudibranchs, anglerfish, frogfish, sharks and even occasional manta rays.
There is much more diving in Western Australia than just the Ningaloo Reef. There is excellent diving in Albany, Dunsborough, Busselton, Perth and further afield at the Abroulhos Islands and the Rowley Shoals. Stay tuned for more.
Getting to Western Australia
Visitors planning to drive from Perth should allow 2 days. Large numbers of kangaroos after sunset make driving hazardous. Commercial aircraft fly to Learmonth Airport, which is 37km south of Exmouth and coaches operate to both Exmouth and Coral Bay. There isn’t really access via the park, although there is a very rough track between Coral Bay and Exmouth which is strictly for experienced 4 wheel drivers. Other than that the main road access into town from the north or south is by sealed road.
When to Visit Western Australia
The Ningaloo Reef can really be dived year round. The best diving on the Reef itself is in summer: November – February, when there is not usually much swell. In winter there is good diving at Lighthouse Bay and around the outlying islands. Divers should allow several days in the area in case bad weather affects diving conditions (rarely for more than 3 days in a row). Cyclones are rare and only affect the diving for a few days as well. Whilst summer is hot, in the 40’s, it is a very dry heat so not unbearable and the sea breeze usually comes up in the afternoon and cools things down a bit. The water temperature climbs to a luxurious 30 degrees in summer!