Encompassing an area of 5000km² (1930mi²), the Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia and the only large reef in the world found close to a continental land mass, making it an easy snorkel from shore – in places it's only 100m offshore.
Less developed than the Great Barrier Reef but much closer to the shoreline, the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park stretches for 300km (186mi) along the coast of Western Australia, from the Muiron Islands in the north and Bundegi on the eastern tip of the North West Cape to Red Bluff on Quobba Station far to the south.
The Ningaloo Marine Park is home to a huge array of marine life including sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, turtles, dugongs, dolphins as well as 500 species of fish and 220 species of corals.
During the winter months, Ningaloo is part of the migratory route for dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, humpback whales and whale sharks, which feed there during April to July.
Beaches along the Ningaloo Coast are an important breeding ground of loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles that depend on the reef for nesting and food.
The northern area of the Ningaloo Coast is dominated by the rugged Cape Range that extends down the coast and lies adjacent to the sheltered waters of Ningaloo Marine Park.
Here, the crystal clear waters are perfect for a variety of marine based activities including swimming, snorkelling, fishing and watching marine life, including whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and fish.
Scuba dive the outer reef to see dugongs, mantas, huge cod, dolphins, giant whale sharks and humpback whales in season.
Diving instruction, equipment hire and tours are available from Exmouth and Coral Bay. There are also kayak moorings at Bundegi Beach, Tantabiddi, Osprey Bay and Coral Bay.
Exmouth – the northern gateway to the Ningaloo Marine Park – is the perfect location from which to explore the underwater wonders of the Ningaloo Marine Park and the impressive landscape of the Cape Range National Park.
Several beaches scattered along the north-west coast between the Jurabi Turtle Centre and the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp offer easy access for swimming, snorkelling and in some cases, fishing, including Mauritius, Jacobsz, Jansz, Wobri, Brooke, Graveyards and Drift Sand.
To the south, and adjacent to the rugged Cape Range National Park, lies the picture-perfect Turquoise Bay, home to a sheltered bay and a gorgeous white-sand beach, with easy access for swimming and snorkelling from the shore.
Further south, the small seaside village of Coral Bay, located about 155kms (96mi) from Exmouth, a 90-minute drive from Learmonth Airport, is considered the southern gateway to Ningaloo Marine Park.
Nearby pristine beaches include South Paradise Beach, Oyster Bridge, The Lagoon, Five Finger Reef and Maud’s Landing, which are accessible by 4WD only.
South of Coral Bay, the coastal regions of Warroora, Gnaraloo and Quobba provide a mixed landscape of sheltered coastal lagoons, rugged rocky escarpments and pristine beaches. The region is accessible for swimming, snorkelling, surfing and fishing.
This unique region, which encompasses the rugged, arid landscape of Cape Range National Park and the sheltered, clear waters of Ningaloo Marine Park, forms the UNESCO Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area.
The UNESCO Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area was established in 2011 and is regarded as one of the last great ocean paradises due to its rare flora and fauna. The region is perfect for a variety of marine-based activities including swimming, snorkelling, fishing and sighting wildlife.
The Ningaloo Coast (or Coral Coast) is typified by crystal clear waters and pristine white-sand beaches adjoining a rustic and rugged coastline.
The Ningaloo Reef draws its name from the Australian Aboriginal Wajarri language word ningaloo meaning 'promontory', 'deepwater', or 'high land jutting into the sea'. The Yamatji peoples of the Baiyungu and Yinigudura clans have inhabited the area for more than 30,000 years.
Highlights of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, include…
Ningaloo Centre – The Ningaloo Centre is a priceless resource – a research, tourism, education and community hub – that allow you make the most of your time in the UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Ningaloo Coast
Here, you can make tour bookings, discover an abundance of marine life unique to Ningaloo Marine Park in the Aquarium, and view unique displays where you can explore the fascinating ecology of Ningaloo Reef.
Within the Centre are three visitor galleries that contain images, interactive displays and various artefacts. Each of the three galleries focus on a different aspect of the region: the 'En Route to Exmouth' gallery is centred around the history of Exmouth; the 'Reef to Range' gallery explores the unique flora and fauna of the region; and the 'Terrestrial' gallery looks into the ancient landscapes surrounding Exmouth.
Ningaloo Centre is located at 2 Truscott Crescent, Exmouth and is open seven days a week from 8.30am to 5pm during April through November; and from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturday from November to March.
Muiron Islands – These two islands are located around 15km (9nm) off the tip of the North West Cape – a short boat ride from Exmouth.
Here you can discover gorgeous, white-sand beaches and warm tropical waters teeming with amazing corals and a huge variety of marine life.
With coral walls, channels, caves, coral bommies and protected reef, the Muiron Islands offer world-class diving and snorkelling.
Top diving spots include the Cod Spot on South Muiron to view large potato cod and manta rays; the Keyhole, a 'swim through' dive channel with many overhangs in shapes of windows and keyholes as well as impressive coral shelves and plates to weave around.
The Gap, situated between North and South Muiron Islands, is a drift dive past colourful hard and soft corals, sponges and numerous marine life including fish, turtles and nurse sharks.
Visibility ranges between 5m to 20m depending on the weather and also how much plankton is in the water.
Dive and snorkelling tours to the Muiron Islands operate out of Exmouth, and can be arranged from Exmouth Diving Centre and Dive Ningaloo.
Bundegi Beach – The calm, sheltered waters of Bundegi Beach and accompanying reef provide pleasant swimming, snorkelling, diving, kayaking and fishing – considered the local’s favourite beach.
Boat owners can launch from the pier at the southern end of the beach.
Situated close to the VLF antenna towers, Bundegi Beach is around 13km (8mi) north of Exmouth.
SS Mildura Wreck – Just follow the signpost from Exmouth along Yardie Creek Rd to find the shipwreck of the cattle steamer that ran aground on the reef in 1907.
The shipwreck is visible from the shore about 3km north of Dunes Surf Beach.
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse – This hilltop lighthouse offers spectacular views of the entire cape and make it a great place for whale spotting and sunset watching.
Built as a result of the wreck of the SS Mildura in 1907, the lighthouse was first lit in 1912 and relit, for the first time in 34 years, on 14 July, 2001 utilizing the original kerosene and counterweight system.
From the lookout at the base of Vlamingh Head Lighthouse enjoy one of the best panoramic ocean viewpoints on the coast, including the tip of North West Cape, the Harold E Holt Communications Station VLF towers, Muiron Islands, offshore oil-rigs, Ningaloo Reef and the township of Exmouth.
Vlamingh Head is also a popular locale to watch ocean sunsets and spot humpback whales during their annual migration from June to November.
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse is located just off the Yardie Creek Road, about 19km (12mi) north of Exmouth – a 15-minute drive.
Dunes Surf Beach – This is the most popular surf break near Exmouth, with great all-around surf conditions and clear blue waves.
The best swells for surfing are from July to October. Experienced surfers can paddle out from Lighthouse Bay to the Bommie, while beginners and grommets enjoy Wobiri Beach, south of Vlamingh Head Lighthouse.
Beachside facilities include a toilet, a wooden lookout shelter and a shade shelter. There is no drinking water at this site.
Dunes Surf Beach is located just off the Yardie Creek Road, about 17km (10mi) north of Exmouth.
Jurabi Coastal Reserve – Scenic bush walks, unspoiled beaches and proximity to Ningaloo Reef make Jurabi Coastal Reserve a memorable experience.
Take a short stroll or an extended hike around the reserve, witness magnificent seabirds soaring through the sky and a countless varieties of native flora.
Examine the rock pools for starfish, octopus and crabs that have washed in with the tide. Snorkel the calm waters or try your hand at beach fishing.
Visit the Jurabi Turtle Centre to learn about loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles found in the shallow waters of the Ningaloo Marine Park.
Turtle nests are a common sight in the reserve; however human interaction needs to be avoided. The reserve is accessible all year, with turtle eco-education tours available from December to March.
Jurabi Coastal Reserve is just 15 minutes drive from Exmouth.
Jurabi Turtle Centre – Take a walk through the interpretive displays at this unattended open-air centre, and discover more about marine turtles, including loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles found in the shallow waters of the Ningaloo Marine Park.
Learn about their life-cycle, the threats they face and how to view mating and nesting turtles and turtle hatchlings in the natural environment.
Join a guided evening tour to observe female nesting turtles. Turtle observation tours are run from the centre between November and March.
Viewing nesting female turtles and hatchlings with a guide minimises the possibility of disturbing the turtles and increases the chance of female turtles successfully laying eggs.
Towards the end of the season you may enjoy a chance encounter with turtle hatchlings as they emerge from their nest, making their way to the ocean to start their long journey to adulthood.
The best times to view the turtles are between October and January, usually under the cover of darkness, when female turtles visit the beach to lay their eggs.
At night, from January to April, you may see new hatchlings making their dash for the sea.
Jurabi Turtle Centre is open year round and is located near the tip of the peninsula on the Yardie Creek Road, about 20km (12mi) north-west of Exmouth.
Mauritius Beach – Exmouth’s clothing-optional beach is great if you’re seeking an all-over tan.
This long and narrow strip of white sand sits just south of Jurabi Turtle Centre on the Yardie Creek Road, about 21km (13mi) from Exmouth – a 20-minute drive.
Tantabiddi Boat Ramp – Tantabiddi is the main boat launch point for whale shark tours, dive tours, eco tours and glass-bottomed boat tours of the northern part of Ningaloo Marine Park.
There are also two kayak moorings approximately 1.3km from the beach in Tantabiddi Sanctuary Zone, which offer some of the best snorkelling in the park from the kayak moorings in Tantabiddi Sanctuary Zone. Snorkelling at high tide only is recommended.
Tantabiddi is located off the Yardie Creek Road on the westernside the North West Cape, about 38km (23mi) from Exmouth – a 30-minute drive.
Cape Range National Park offers a spectacular panorama of jagged limestone peaks, heavily incised deep gorges and 50km (30mi) of wind-blown coastal dunes and pristine beaches that give access to the clear turquoise waters of Ningaloo Marine Park.
Located on the west side of the North West Cape, Cape Range National Park covers around 510km² (197mi²) and supports an abundance of wildlife including emus, echidnas, the rare black-flanked rock wallaby, five types of bat and more than 160 species of bird.
Here you can explore gorges and peer inside caves that provide a haven for wildlife as well as rare and unusual flora. There are more than 630 species of flowering plants on the West Cape peninsula and within the Cape Range National Park.
Cape Range National Park offers a network of scenic bush-walking trails including the Mandu Mandu Gorge, Yardie Creek and Lightfoot Heritage trails. Another choice is the popular Thomas Carter trail, a 5km (3mi) walk that links the Shothole and Charles Knife canyons.
More about Cape Range National Park…
Make your own footprints in the silky soft white sand of one of Australia’s best beaches, known for its clear waters and lack of crowds.
This long and uninterrupted stretch of white sand separates the iconic red rock landscape of Cape Range National Park from the emerald lagoons of Ningaloo Marine Park.
Turquoise Bay Beach is ideal for snorkelling and swimming, with Ningaloo Reef only a few metres from shore.
Unwind and sunbathe on the powder-white sand, scuba dive the reef or wade into the lagoon and snorkel above brilliant coral gardens teeming with colourful tropical fish only metres from the shoreline.
Other beach-side activities include catamaran cruising, sea kayaking, fishing and glass bottom boat excursions to the outer reef.
One of the unusual qualities of the bay is the strong northerly current, which can be dangerous but, equally, can be used by snorkellers: enter the water at one end of the beach and allow the current to sweep you along the beach while watching the corals and colourful fish pass by below.
Inland, the rugged gorges and diverse landscape of Cape Range National Park offer a smorgasbord of hiking and four-wheel drive adventures.
Turquoise Bay is located 62km (38mi) south of Exmouth and can be accessed off Yardie Creek Road.
More about Turquoise Bay…
Coral Bay – the southern gateway to Ningaloo Marine Park – is located on the west coast of Western Australia, about 155kms (96mi) from Exmouth, and a 90-minute drive from Learmonth Airport.
With its accessible coral gardens and pristine beaches, Coral Bay is ideal for relaxing as well as reef exploration.
Pick a spot on the sweeping white-sand beach to sunbathe and laze with a book, snorkel above brilliant coral gardens teeming with colourful tropical fish only metres from the shoreline or scuba dive the reef.
Bill's Bay – Coral Bay's main beach offers soft, white sand, shallow waist-deep water and fringing coral gardens just metres from the shore.
The large, sweeping bay is perfect for snorkelling and swimming. Within the calm, clear turquoise water expect to encounter fish swimming around your ankles in the shallows, and to see manta rays close to shore.
The sheltered waters and easy access from the town make this a favourite with visitors and locals alike. The southern end is best for snorkelling.
Paradise Beach – This stunning beach with pristine white sands and crystal clear, calm waters is definitely worth exploring.
The uncrowded beach offers an excellent opportunity to snorkel safely amid the abundant marine life, swim in the refreshing waters or just laze on the beach with a great book.
Coral Bay offers numerous marine and land-based activities geared for adventure-driven visitors including glass bottom boat tours, diving tours, manta ray snorkel tours, whale watching tours, whale shark snorkel tours, quad bike tours and sailing tours.
More about Coral Bay…
Located toward the southern reaches of the Ningaloo Coastal Reserve, the Gnaraloo coastal region offers world-class surfing, kite surfing and windsurfing as well as exceptional fishing due to its position on the southern tip of the Ningaloo Reef.
The size and power of the waves at Gnaraloo Point are recommended for highly experienced surfers only: Tombstones is famous for the numerous breaks that provide year-round board riding opportunities, whether it is surfing, kiteboarding or windsurfing.
In contrast, Gnarraloo Bay and 3 Mile Lagoon offer gentle relief from the rugged wild waters found elsewhere along this coast.
The sheltered waters of Gnaraloo Bay provide the opportunity to relax on a perfect crescent of white sand, snorkel the pristine coral gardens directly in front of the beach and look out for wildlife including turtles, sharks, whales, manta rays, dolphins, and numerous species of colourful fish.
Gnaraloo Bay is also home to the world's third largest loggerhead turtle population in the world. Here you can watch turtles nest and hatchlings take to the water for the first time from December to March.
Gnaraloo Bay is located around 115km south of Coral Bay via the Warroora North Rd. A 4WD is required to access this rugged and scenic coastal region.
Alternatively, if you're travelling from south to north, Gnaraloo is 160km north of Carnarvon via Blowholes Road, Gnaraloo Rd and the North-West Coastal Highway – about a 12 hour drive north of Perth.
The spectacular Quobba Coast, stretching from Point Quobba to Red Bluff, is renowned for snorkelling, fishing, surfing, kiting and windsurfing.
Located at the southern end of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, the Quobba Coast offers spectacular scenery showcasing rugged cliffs, white-sand beaches and world-class surfing at Red Bluff, 17mile and the Blowholes.
Here you can find huge swells, relentless winds, amazing marine life, breathtaking scenery and sunsets.
Monument Cliffs is the perfect spot to watch a sunset as ocean waves crashing against the rocks below.
Red Bluff – World-class surfing with waves ranging up to 8ft with a huge left hand reef break. The best surfing months are May through to August. Other surfing spots along the Quobba coastline include 17mile and the Blowholes.
Blowholes – From the turn-off on the North West Coastal Hwy, it's 49km (on a sealed road) to this natural phenomenon. Big swells force sprays of water through sea caves and, howling, up out of narrow chimneys in the rocks.
HMAS Sydney Memorial – A lonely cairn commemorates the 1941 naval battle between the German Kormoran and HMAS Sydney II. All 645 lives aboard the Sydney II were lost. This site is located about 8km north of the T-junction at the end of Blowholes Rd.
Point Quobba – Point Quobba boasts a gorgeous sheltered swimming and snorkelling lagoon known locally as 'the Aquarium'. There's also excellent fishing.
Point Quobba is around 70km north of Carnarvon via the Blowholes Road on the North-West Coastal Highway.
Further to the south lies Carnarvon, a sub-tropical oasis positioned between the Ningaloo World Heritage Area and Shark Bay.
The seasonal rhythm of life on the Ningaloo Reef produces highlights of nature throughout the year, including…
March and April – Coral spawning: At night the reef appears to be in the midst of a stunning pink underwater snowstorm as most of the more than 300 species of coral spawn.
This amazing three-day event usually begins seven to ten days after the full moon.
April to July – Whale sharks: The huge but gentle whale sharks, between four and 12 metres long, begin to appear in large numbers.
You don’t have to be a scuba diver to swim with them. Tours operate from Tantabiddi, Exmouth and Coral Bay.
The appearance of the world's biggest fish, the whale shark, coincides with the coral spawning.
May to November – Manta rays: Although present year-round, manta rays appear in much greater numbers during winter and spring. Snorkelling and diving tours depart from Exmouth and Coral Bay in winter, and from Coral Bay in summer.
June to November – Humpback whales: Another ocean giant appears in the warm waters to mate and give birth before returning south to the feeding grounds in the Antarctic. Whale watching tours are available from both Exmouth and Coral Bay.
September to February – Reef sharks: Large numbers of harmless black tip reef sharks can be seen swimming in the shallow lagoons. Skeleton Bay near Coral Bay is a well-known nursery.
November to March – Turtles: Three of the world's seven species of marine turtle – loggerhead, green and hawksbill – make an estimated 10,000 nests that hatch in the dunes along the coast.
Tip: Wear polarised sunglasses – it's easier to spot marine life in the water.
Exmouth and Coral Bay have limited accommodation options, therefore booking ahead is essential during the peak season of March to November.
To truly explore the coast you need to stay at one or several of the numerous campgrounds that dot the Ningaloo Coast. These are mostly managed by WA Parks and Wildlife Service.
Camping is permitted in designated campgrounds only. There are no toilets at any of the campgrounds and visitors must bring their own portable chemical toilet. Campfires are only permitted seasonally and in designated campgrounds. Bookings are essential.
There are also privately operated accommodation options available, including…
Gnaraloo Homestead offers a range of self contained, self catering accommodation to suit all budgets and for groups of all sizes.
Facilities are equipped with power from 7am to 11pm, drinking water and with freshwater showers.
Gnaraloo Homestead, which sits high on an escarpment overlooking the dunes and Indian Ocean, is located 7km south of Gnaraloo Bay, 40km north of Red Bluff and 150km north of Carnarvon.
Quobba Station is a working pastoral station and offers accommodation including eco-tents, cabins and campsites.
The Station is located situated at the southern tip of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area around 43km south of Red Bluff.
3Mile Camp offers a camp site overlooking the beach. Facilities include toilets, hot showers and sinks for dishes and laundry. A small shop sells basic grocery items, as well as drinking water and cold beer.
The site is located around 17km south of Gnaraloo Bay and 73km north of Carnarvon.
A small selection of accommodation options are available at the northern end of the Ningaloo Coast in Exmouth, Cape Range and Coral Bay, including…
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef
Location: Cape Range National Park, Exmouth
Prices: from AUD1500 per eco-tent
Description: Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef is an exclusive safari camp, hidden in the white sand dunes of Western Australia’s Cape Range National Park. Sal Salis features 9 spacious wilderness tents which are just metres from the water’s edge, home to one of the world’s greatest fringing coastal coral reef. Each tent features an en suite natural composting bathroom. Native herb soaps and ecologically sound shampoos are provided. The chef at Sal Salis prepares contemporary cuisine comprised of local ingredients, served in the outdoor dining area with clear views of the Indian Ocean sunset. In the evening kangaroos and wallaroos appear from the bush for their evening graze. The camp’s expert staff offers insight to one of Australia’s best kept natural secrets, Ningaloo Reef. Sal Salis’s ecological principles ensure that guests have a minimal impact on the natural surroundings. Guests can enjoy many unique nature activities, including sea kayaking, wildlife viewing, gorge walks, fishing, and star gazing. The Exmouth Airport is less than a 2-hour drive and the Exmouth town centre it is about one-hour away. Shuttle service is available.
Mantarays Novotel Ningaloo Resort
Prices: from AUD465 per room
Description: Boasting ocean or marina views from your private balcony, Mantarays Novotel Ningaloo Resort overlooks Exmouth's stunning Sunrise Beach and offers an infinity pool, restaurant and bar. Guests have direct access to Ningaloo Reef. All accommodation features high ceilings, contemporary furnishings and satellite TV. Each has a private en suite bathroom with a shower and a hairdryer. All apartments and villas offer a 2-person spa bath. Guests can workout at the fitness centre and explore the beach and reef. Ningaloo Resort offers a tour desk which books fishing charters, diving and scenic flights. Mantaray's Restaurant serves a delicious buffet breakfast which includes your choice of fruits, pastries or bacon and eggs. The lunch and dinner menu features fresh local seafood, steak and desserts. Mantarays Ningaloo Resort is located just 5 minutes' drive from Exmouth Golf Club and 10 minutes' drive from Cape Range National Park.
Ningaloo Reef Resort
Location: 1 Robinson Street, Coral Bay
Prices: from AUD242 per night
Description: The Resort offers absolute beachfront accommodation with a range of self-contained accommodation from units to apartments. Rooms include air-conditioning, kitchenette and free in-house movies. The resort has an outdoor swimming pool, casual dining at Shades and the occasional live entertainment at the bar. Features include a tour desk, free WiFi, restaurant, bar / lounge, cafe, onsite free parking, BBQ facilities and guest laundry.
For the absolute best weather, visit the Ningaloo Coast during the winter months of May, June, September and October, when weather patterns are consistent, the days are sunny, the water is warm and it's not so crowded.
Both the Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park remain open throughout the year but, but it can be extremely hot from November to April and this is tropical cyclone season. During this period parks, roads and recreation sites may be temporarily closed and events cancelled without notice.
The low scrub vegetation of the Cape Range National Park provides very little shade and drinking water is not supplied.
Typically, this coastal region of Western Australia experiences a year-round subtropical climate with sunny, clear blue skies.
The average annual temperature in Coral Bay is around 24°C (75°F). Typically, the warmest month is February with an average temperature of 30°C (86°F); while the coolest month on average is July, with an average temperature of 17°C (63°F).
May sees the most rainfall, around 43mm (1.7in) on average.
Winter temperatures reach an average high of 32°C (89°F) in April, 27°C (80°F) in May, 23°C (73°F) in June and July, rising to 24°C (75°F) in August, 27°C (80°F) in September and 31°C (87°F) in October.
June and July are the coldest months with an average low of 12°C (53°F).
Summer, from November to March, is windy and hot, with temperatures averaging 36°C (96°F) but occasionally soaring beyond 40°C (104°F).
Seawater temperatures range from 26°C (78°F) to 31°C (87°F) in summer and 19°C (66°F) to 24°C (75°F) in Winter.
High season: April to October during the cooler winter season. During this time many accommodation options, including campgrounds in both parks must be booked in advance. Otherwise you may need to wait at the park entry station for a space vacated by campers departing the campgrounds.
Low season: November to March.
More information about Coral Bay weather…
Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and Cape Range National Park are located on the west coast of the North West Cape in Western Australia.
The closest town is Exmouth, located 63km (39mi) north of Turquoise Bay on the east coast of the cape, and about 1270km (789mi) north of the state capital Perth.
The most convenient route to the northern section of Ningaloo Reef, from overseas and interstate, is by air to Perth Airport (PER) followed by a connecting flight to Learmonth Airport (LEA) and then shuttle bus or taxi to Exmouth.
Learmonth Airport (LEA) is located about 36km (22mi) south of Exmouth, about 24 minutes by shuttle bus or taxi.
Alternatively, you can drive from Perth on the Coral Coast Highway.
More about how to get to Ningaloo Reef Marine Park…
Latest update: Ningaloo Coast – Ningaloo Marine Park: 28 September, 2020
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