Ningaloo Reef, the massive fringing reef of Australia, is about 260 km in length and surrounds a shallow lagoon of sparkling translucent water. Scuba divers and snorkelers make a beeline to the place throughout the year, more so during the season when whale sharks make their way there to feed in Ningaloo’s plankton-rich waters.
The well-known Great Barrier Reef is larger and has better tourism infrastructure, but an advantage with Ningaloo Reef is that here you can get into the water right off the sandy beach when you want to snorkel. This proximity to the shore has made the reef immensely popular among divers and other water-sports enthusiasts.
Location of Ningaloo Reef
It is situated near Australia’s west coast, on the northern side of Perth, at a distance of about 1200 km. While travelling from the north, the easy entry is through the port town of Exmouth. From the south, the gateway is the town of Coral Bay. Coral Bay is the southern tip of the reef.
What you can do in Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo Reef and surrounding area may have only limited infrastructure, but that does not in any way reduce the entertainment options for visitors. Ningaloo and the nearby Cape Range National Park have quite a lot to offer to tourists.
Swimming in the company of manta rays
In the waters of Exmouth, manta rays are generally seen between May and November but in Coral Bay, they are found throughout the year. Whether you are diving or snorkelling, you are sure to have the company of large shoals of migrating manta rays.
Swimming in the company of whale sharks
Whale sharks, which could weigh anything up to 20 tons, are the largest surviving species of fish. They are filter-feeding, non-aggressive pelagics that make delightful companions to snorkelers and divers. April to August is the time when they arrive at Ningaloo Reef premises to feast on the rich plankton collection in the waters. A gala Whale Shark Festival is celebrated every year in the area and this year’s is from May 26 to May 29.
Ningaloo coast is a favourite nesting place for green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and loggerhead turtles. From November till January is their nesting season and tiny hatchling emerge from the eggs from around January till March.
Humpback whales migrate up the coast from June till November and are profuse around Ningaloo Reef during this season. When they are migrating, Exmouth gulf is the place with the maximum humpback whale density in the regions south of the equator. Vlamingh Head Lighthouse is a lighthouse from where you can have a good view of these moving humpbacks. Or else you can view them from Bundegi Beach or Town Beach. Those who want a better view can join any of the many whale-watching tours or cruises organized during the season.
Another exciting tourist option is a low and slow helicopter flight above Ningaloo Reef. Such a scenic flight will help you to enjoy the natural beauty of the area to the fullest and take good photographs as well.
Coral Bay is a great place for game fishing. Trevally, tuna, sailfish, queenfish, marlin, and mackerel are some of the game fish that you can expect to catch.
Cruise in semi-submersible
This is an underwater tour for those not quite inclined to dive or snorkel but still want to peep into the mysteries under the waters. Semi-submersibles have large glass windows through which passengers can view corals and clams and an endless variety of reef fish.
Kayaking in the sea
Sea kayaking is ideal for places with comparatively shallow water. Kayaking will enable you to see the lagoons and see many wild animals at close quarters.
Best time to visit Ningaloo Reef
All over Ningaloo, the weather is bright and sunny most the year. From December till March, which is the summer season, air temperature ranges in the 30s (oC) and water temperature ranges from 25oC to 28oC. From June till August, which is the winter, air temperature ranges from 24oC to 29oC and water temperature from 19oC to 22oC. Rest of the time air temperature fluctuates between mid-20s and mid-30s and water temperature between 20oC and 24oC.
The months from May to June constitute the wet season and the whale shark season is from March end to July. Manta rays are seen in abundance from May till November. The season of dugongs is from May to the beginning of September while other creatures like dolphins, turtles, stingrays, manta rays, and reef sharks are there all the time.
Humpback whales, along with a few pilot and minke whales make their way from their warmer mating grounds to the cooler feeding waters of Antarctic every year. They are found in Ningaloo Reef area from June till the end of September.
The town of Exmouth has good resorts, air-conditioned holiday villas, and well-equipped chalets. There are caravan parks at ideal locations and good camping grounds where you can comfortably pitch your tent. The place has got suitable accommodation for backpackers as well.
How to reach Ningaloo Reef
Exmouth is the entry point to Ningaloo Reef. You can reach Exmouth by air or by road.
The flight duration from Perth to Exmouth is 21/2 hours. The airlines QantasLink and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (formerly Skywest Airlines) have daily flights to Exmouth from Perth.
Learmonth Airport, which serves Exmouth, is a civil airport as well as an airport for the country’s Air Force (Royal Australian Air Force). The distance from Exmouth to Learmonth Airport is 37 km.
If you prefer to travel by road, the driving time from Perth to Ningaloo Reef is 15 to 20 hours. Many buses routinely ply the route.
Greyhound Australia, Australia’s long distance bus service, operates buses from Perth to Broome (an important city in Western Australia) 5 days in a week. It stops in Exmouth.
Integrity Coach Lines also provides its services for the same route.
Besides these two, there are many cheaper bus services too in that route.
If you prefer to travel by car, you can hire a car at Learmonth Airport itself or inside the town of Exmouth. A car will come in handy if you are planning to visit nearby tourist attractions like Cape Range National Park.
Getting around in the town of Exmouth
Travelling by car is the best option for moving around in Exmouth. However, bikes and scooters are available for rent if that is your preference.
Scuba Diving in Ningaloo Reef?
Check out our Ningaloo Reef dive guide and start planning your next dive trip!