Our main reason for wanting to visit the world heritage Ningaloo Reef was to tick off a major bucket list item:- the chance to swim with whale sharks!
Ningaloo Reef is one of only a few places on the planet where whale sharks appear regularly in reasonable numbers and are relatively easy to access. They visit the area every year between about March and July / August.
These gentle giants of the sea – the largest species of fish in the world – can grow up to 18 metres long! However, those visiting the Ningaloo Reef are generally between about four and 12 metres long.
We attempted to book a whale shark snorkeling trip for our planned dates in the region, only to discover they were booked out for more than a week in advance. So we booked for the earliest trip we could, and then shifted our accommodation bookings back to fit the deferred snorkeling trip. After traveling almost 18,000 kms and three months to get here, we weren’t about to miss out on swimming with the whale sharks!
And as it turned out, the day of our trip was the pick of the dates in terms of weather and sea conditions. We were told that the previous week was very windy and rough, and a lot of searching to find just one whale shark each day. And the wind and large sea swells reappeared the day after our trip – and continued for the rest of our week at Ningaloo (but more about that later!).
But we jagged a wonderful day out on the reef, with about six separate swims with whale sharks. We also managed to see humpback whales, which were migrating through the area, including a newborn calf that was just a day or two old. Plus, a sea snake made a (very unwelcome!) appearance by the boat, not long before we slipped back into the water for a swim.
(Most of the images and video that follow were provided by Sara Barbieri, official cruise photographer).
Our first glimpses of a whale shark were breathtaking! He was huge! (And, apparently, the vast majority of whale sharks that visit the Ningaloo Reef are male. Nobody knows why.)
The next images are of some of the many humpback whales we saw. We also saw a couple of whales breaching and slapping their tails, but unfortunately, nobody was quick enough to snap the moments with a camera! Oh well, we’ll just have to store those in our own memories!
Just as we had climbed out of the water and back onto the boat after our last swim, the handful of stragglers still in the water were rewarded with seeing a seahorse in the wild! How wonderful would that have been?! Sadly, we missed it, but at least we got to see some great shots of it.
The Ningaloo Reef – and the visiting whale sharks – are literally just offshore from the coast, as you can see in the background of the image below.
Having ticked the whale shark snorkeling experience off the bucket list, we set off exploring the rest of the region.
The main town nearby is Exmouth, a small centre of just over 2,200 people (which swells to around 6,000 during the tourist season – i.e. this time of year).
But the big attraction in the region is the Ningaloo Reef, which is literally available within metres of the sandy beaches.
To be honest, we felt the corals and fish were far less abundant and less colourful here at Ningaloo Reef than at Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. That said, Ningaloo is far more accessible … you can walk straight in off the beach and start snorkeling (unlike the three-hour boat trip to see the Great Barrier Reef).
As noted above, the weather turned VERY WINDY after our first day or two in the district. This made snorkeling very unpleasant, so we explored some of the local 4WD tracks across the Cape Range National Park – and were rewarded with spectacular scenery through the Charles Knife Canyon.
And we still live in hope of using the drone for stunning pictorial vistas, but the areas around Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range National Park isn’t the place, courtesy of all the military installations and associated communications transmitters across the cape! A quick check of our ‘Can I fly There?’ app provided us with the largest ‘no fly’ zone of the trip to date … the whole peninsula, and then some!
We were a little disappointed about missing out on accommodation at Coral Bay, a little further south down the Ningaloo coast (despite trying to book about five months earlier!). So we decided to spend the day in Coral Bay on our way south, thinking we’d get in a few hours snorkeling from the beautiful beach.
Again, the weather – and low tide – were against us. So we had a walk, took a few pics, and continued our journey south!
Next stop – Quobba Blowholes and the Carnarvon region.