Exmouth Australia is the place to go if you love warm temperatures, the azure oceans, and expansive white beaches; it doesn’t get much better than the North West Cape of Western Australia. If you love snorkeling, diving, and swimming in calm seas, there is nothing like the gateway to the World Heritage Ningaloo Reef Marine Park in Exmouth Australia. Its proximity to the Coral Coast is a draw … for snorkelers and divers, and it is so much better than the Great Barrier Reef.
This area is part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, which encompasses approximately 1.5 million acres including Ningaloo Marine Park, Cape Range National Park, Bundegi and Jurabi Coastal Parks, and the exquisite Muiron Islands Marine area. This is desert climate on a peninsula bordered by the Indian Ocean and the Exmouth Gulf. There are gorgeous expanses of white sand beaches, surrounding the red sand desert environment with scrubby greenery, and huge termite mounds, some taller than us. The land colors – red, green, white – are so beautiful surrounded by the various shades of the blue ocean.
Wildlife roam all around the living environment. It is not unusual to drive down the road and stop for a flock of emus crossing the road. At cocktail hour, the emus will likely hang around your patio and so will the Corella, a type of Cockatoo. The Corellas visited me, staying to talk to me while I hung the laundry – very entertaining. There are echidnas, often called anteaters, (an egg-laying mammal in the marsupial family) living in the desert areas.
When visiting the Cape Range National Park people see wallabies, red kangaroos, and emus, as well as many species of birds and reptiles. Loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles nest on the North West Cape between November and April, and hatch late January through March. The Jurabi Turtle Centre on the Coral Coast facilitates ecological turtle viewing.
Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area
Exmouth’s Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area is one of the best places in Australia to snorkel and dive. I was personally drawn to the area because of the fantastic diving reviews that claim it as much better than the Great Barrier Reef. After diving both, personally, I think the Great Barrier Reef pales in comparison to Ningaloo Reef and Muiron Islands, the two dive areas here.
I was quite excited to learn that our planned visit fell in whale shark season. Few people can claim swimming with whale sharks, the biggest fish in the sea. It is exhilarating. Take a look at the pictures. Unfortunately, the pictures can’t possibly convey the level of excitement one experiences when swimming with these huge fish, and all the fish that hang around them. You need to experience it for yourself. The main reason people seem to come here is to snorkel with the whale sharks or humpback whales (May – December), or tour on glass bottom boats to see the pristine reef and fish life. No matter what the season, if you have a choice between Exmouth or Great Barrier Reef, my vote is Exmouth, hands down!
The corals and fish are colorful and beautiful. While diving is our preference, we snorkeled too. Snorkeling is a great activity here. On the whale shark swim day, we snorkeled twice, and in addition to all the fish and coral, we saw an octopus. Take a boat trip out to the Muiron Islands to snorkel or snorkel off the Coral Coast in Ningaloo, or do both.
Stay tuned for my next post on diving at the North West Cape.
Other water sports
There are so many water sports to choose from in this area. From fishing, kayaking, flyboarding and jet pack flights, wakeboarding, waterskiing, kneeboarding, wakefoiling, stand up paddle boarding, tubing or skurfing, there is tons to do on the North West Cape.
Whale Shark Swim
While we were given a discount by Exmouth Diving Centre, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.
We decided to do all of our water excursions with Exmouth Diving Centre, the original dive centre for this region. They have five boats, a great crew, and knowledgeable staff, who are very upbeat and customer-centric – they make the trip a lot of fun!
This Diving Centre is a larger operation than I expected. They are very organized. For the whale shark swim, the van picks up guests at 7:15 AM at their accommodation, and takes them to the shop in town to get geared up. We had our own dive equipment so we didn’t need much. Once other guests were fitted for wetsuits, masks, snorkels and fins, the group was transported to the harbour with all of the gear and food. The Captain picks guests up in a small boat and motors the group to the 55’ boat for the full day trip.
Our boat had 3 staff, a Captain, and 2 volunteer staff members. During our motor out to sea, we had our morning tea, stopped to see a dugong, a sea cow like a manatee, and a pod of dolphins. The Diving Centre requires all guest to complete a checkout snorkel to make sure everyone can safely manage the whale shark swims. The divemasters give a snorkel lesson before the checkout snorkel as the boat motors toward the whale shark migration area. During the trip, there is time for in-depth safety briefings. Briefings include environmental sustainability warnings — to watch out not to touch or harm coral or fish; no waste at all can be thrown in the ocean even if it is natural.
The dive shop’s spotter plane locates whale sharks, and alerts our captain. Heading for the whale shark’s location, the crew readies us to slip into the water. One staff gets in the water to watch for the whale shark. Guests await the signal to slip in as the whale shark comes into view. We watch its approach just under the surface of the water. If the whale shark is swimming in a straight line, swimmers must kick as hard as possible to keep up with this gentle giant. It’s lucky when a whale shark swims in a circular pattern, which requires less kicking to keep up. Only 5-7 snorkelers slip into the water with a whale shark. We all swam with 5 whale sharks throughout the day. The Marine Park regulates the amount of time groups can swim with whale sharks to 30 minutes each.
The whale shark is the largest fish in sea, and a plankton eater. We saw one that had a school of small fish swimming around its open mouth, and another had 2 sharks circling. Whale sharks can be as big as 18 meters (60’), and the average size is 12 meters (40’). They have a wide mouth and a distinctive white spot patterns, which differ on each fish, like a fingerprint.
We were on the boat from 9 to 3:30, and in the water for 2 snorkels and 5 whale shark swims. Morning and afternoon tea, a buffet lunch, and a champagne toast at the end were all included. On the two snorkels, we saw an octopus; schools of fish; blue angel fish, yellow trumpet, lined monocle bream, bird nose wrasse, nudibranch egg cases, Moorish idol, and emperor angel fish.
Exmouth Diving Centre staff are very experienced; I highly recommend them. A great perk is the professional video and photos that are given to all guests at no extra charge. The video is a wonderful memory of a special day.
The Diving Centre specializes in whale shark swims, diving, snorkeling, and humpback whale swims, plus offers scuba diving certification and discover scuba courses. I would go with them again! And we did; we dove with them the following two days. Stay tuned for my post on diving in this amazing area!
Exmouth Australia Accommodations
Due to its more remote location, this area is less commercial and rarely crowded. There are a few hotels in Exmouth, and more in Ningaloo. Only one hotel is 5-star – Mantarays. There are house, cabin and apartment rentals, plus a few campgrounds. It is best to stay in a unit with a kitchen since there are few restaurants. In town (it’s a very small town), there is only a small supermarket, a mini-market and a fish store for food shopping options. Not all of them are open daily and some have limited hours. Most of the food is shipped to the area so it is expensive due to trucking it across the desert. These limitations do not take away from enjoying this quiet, exquisite remote location.
Exmouth is approximately a 13 hour drive from Perth in Western Australia, or a 2 hour flight from Perth. While there are some interesting places to visit on a northern drive from Perth, we chose to fly. Flying gave us more time in the North West Cape – a good decision.
It is not absolutely necessary to have a car here. I am so glad we decided to reserve one, though – a last minute decision. All of the snorkeling and water excursion operations do pick-ups, so no need for a car if that is the only activity. The RV park, where we rented a cabin, is close enough to walk to town. Although it is the desert with broiling hot sun and no trees; I would not have wanted to walk to town. Visiting the radio towers (built and originally manned by the US), lighthouse, or Indian Ocean beaches, requires a car. We didn’t use our car much, but were glad to have it for food shopping, and sightseeing around the Cape.
This region was not in our initial itinerary. Once I read about the beauty in the sea here, it became a top spot for us. I am so glad we went. We had sunny warm days perfect for water activities, which is my favorite activity type. Ningaloo Visitor Centre reports 320 days of sunshine yearly. I will take that! We spent 3 of our 4 days on the water all day. We loved it, and wish we had 6 days here.
Other diving excursions –