10 best things to do at the Ningaloo Reef

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A reef experience doesn’t have to involve a boat ride: Just ask Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. Full of thriving corals and tropical fish as well as frequented by majestic whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays, this world-record-big fringing reef can be enjoyed right from the beach, making its eye-popping features available for everyone.

Ready to dive in? Offering something for each visitor, from kiddos to budget travelers to landlubbers, these are the 10 best things to do at the Ningaloo Reef.

1. Let gin-clear Turquoise Bay carry you

Exmouth // Aptly named, Turquoise Bay features gin-clear turquoise water that it’s hard to believe. Gently lapping the shore, Turquoise Bay’s waters are like made for influencers who want their Instagram profiles to skyrocket.

Yet the stunning water, or the white sand, isn’t the best feature of Turquoise Bay. Instead, the biggest drawcard is the drift snorkelling.

This beach has two sides: The Bay Side and Drift Side. Plunge into the water on the Drift Side (200 m south/left of the beach access) to experience a quintessential Ningaloo Reef snorkelling experience.

Are you ready?

Soon a natural current grabs you, letting you travel effortlessly over the reef. What you see below you includes a thrilling variety of marine creatures — corals, fish, rays, reef sharks and, hopefully, one or two turtles.

The clear waters of Turquoise Bay lapping the shoreline, WA
Aptly named Turquoise Bay, WA.

2. Swim with giant whale sharks

Coral Bay & Exmouth // Of all the things to do at the Ningaloo Reef, this is the most storied one. Like legends, whale shark swimming tales are shared at caravan parks throughout Western Australia and beyond.

The Ningaloo Reef’s whale shark season kicks off in March. It typically ends at the end of June in Coral Bay, while it continues for another month around Exmouth.

If you visit during this window, you have a bucket list opportunity.

Join a whale shark tour, taking you to the outer Ningaloo Reef. Here, enter the ocean and swim side by side with the world’s biggest fish, which can reach staggering lengths of over 12 m (39 feet) — wow!

3. Bed down at reef-front Sal Salis

Exmouth // You can’t imagine a more eye-popping setting. With the reddish Cape Range on one side and blue Ningaloo Reef on the other, Sal Salis offers experiences and lodging in one.

Dive into the Ningaloo Reef — hundreds of fish species await only metres away. Hike Cape Range National Park — you’re already there.

What about the lodging?

These are luxurious safari tents, taking glamping to a new level. The beds are top notch, yet the hammocks offering views of the Ningaloo Reef are, at least, as appreciated.

4. Marvel at spouting humpback whales

Coral Bay & Exmouth // Whale sharks aren’t the Ningaloo Reef’s only enormous animals. Between July and October, approximately 40,000 humpback whales travel past the Ningaloo Reef.

Embark on a whale safari tour for a chance to interact with them in the water. Many passing humpback whales are curious and come close, ready to make some new (human) friends.

For exciting but dry encounters, join a whalewatching tour. From the comfort of a boat, witness humpback whales put on remarkable shows.

Or, bring binoculars and observe them from dry land. Sometimes when standing ashore, you even can spot the spouting of passing humpback whales with your naked eye.

5. Travel along timeless Yardie Creek

Exmouth // Snaking through Cape Range National Park, Yardie Creek, the area’s only permanently water-filled gorge, is defined by its rising red cliffs and reflecting dark-blue water — what epic contrasts.

Here, a stone’s throw from the Ningaloo Reef, it suddenly feels like you’re at the heart of the Australian outback.

For a great views and insight combo, take a Yardie Creek boat tour. Marvel at the environment while friendly guides teach you about the history, geology, flora and fauna of Yardie Creek.

As impressive, but without the educational part, is the 2 km out-and-back Yardie Creek Trail.

Especially keep an eye out for the rare black-footed rock wallaby. It’s a threatened species, but these creatures — just like human visitors — seem to thrive at the iconic Yardie Creek.

Sign at Yardie Creek in Cape Range National Park, make it right for the boat tour or continue straight to hike
Up for a cruise or hike?

6. Glide among manta rays

Coral Bay & Exmouth // The manta ray completes the Ningaloo Reef’s “big 3” collection (also including the whale shark and humpback whale). With wing spans of 4 metres, these graceful creatures effortlessly glide through the ocean.

To see that perfected motion with your very own eyes, go on a manta ray tour from Coral Bay.

After a pleasant boat ride, hop into the water and enjoy a breathtaking snorkel. While snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef is always beautiful, the presence of engaging manta rays takes the experience to another level.

And, as Coral Bay is such a manta ray hot spot, they show up most days of the year.

7. Unwind at heavenly Bill’s Bay

Coral Bay // One of the Ningaloo Reef’s best features is its accessibility, and no spot shows that better than Bill’s Bay. Where Coral Bay’s main road ends, this crescent-shaped beauty begins.

Coral Bay Beach, as the beach is called, features sugar-white sand. Build a sandcastle, enjoy the priceless feeling of sand under your feet and lounge under the hot Western Australian sun.

Making the beach one of the most unique in Australia, the Ningaloo Reef extends all the way to shore. With this, of course, comes an array of tropical fish, many of which you can see from dry land.

Sandy trail leading to the blue waters of Bill's Bay in Coral Bay, WA
Bill’s Bay means beachy fun for the whole family.

8. Kayak the Ningaloo Reef

Coral Bay & Exmouth // There are several remarkable kayak trails in Ningaloo Marine Park. A favorite for beginners and seasoned kayakers alike, Coral Bay Kayak Trail can be accessed at Bill’s Bay.

Paddling away on your kayak, you soon leave the crowds of Coral Bay Beach behind. Four smartly placed maroons, highlighting different parts of the reef, all make excellent stops.

Along the kayak trail, the diversity of the marine wildlife can’t be missed — was that another ray? But for the full experience, covering all the hidden gems, let a local guide show you the way.

9. Embark on a glass-bottom expedition

Coral Bay & Exmouth // You don’t necessarily have to get wet to explore the coral formations of the Ningaloo Reef. If you prefer to remain dry, embark on a glass-bottom boat tour to the aquatic wonderland’s heart.

The potential for marine wildlife watching is superb through the transparent bottom of the boat. Passionate guides, explaining what you’re encountering, add a valuable dimension to the voyage.

10. Discover the spellbinding Five Fingers Reef

Coral Bay // Set 5 km south of Coral Bay, Five Fingers Reef rewards explorers of the road less travelled. From colourful fish to turtles and reef sharks to rays — you find it all here.

Despite teeming with marine life, Five Fingers Reef manages to stay under the radar thanks to that the road there is unsealed, only accessible by 4WD. Most of the year, it’s refreshingly quiet.

Without required vehicle? Opt for a sandy 3-km walk from the closest 2WD access point, the boat ramp of Coral Bay. Or, for higher speed, consider taking a quad tour.

After relishing the underwater scenery, make sure to stick around for sunset. As the sun sinks over the Indian Ocean, the Ningaloo Reef reveals yet another shade of its magic.

Gawping at the spellbinding ocean landscape, you’ll likely ask yourself: Can I extend my Ningaloo trip? When can I return to the Ningaloo Coast?

Marriage proposal during sunset at Five Fingers Reef, Coral Bay, WA
Love is in the air at Five Fingers Reef.

Best things to do at Ningaloo Reef FAQ

What’s special about the Ningaloo Reef?

The Ningaloo Reef is the world’s largest fringing reef. Thanks to that it runs all the way to the coastline, everyone can experience its magic. A unique feature, whale sharks congregate around the Ningaloo Reef every spring and winter.

Are there sharks at Ningaloo?

Australian waters harbour approximately 180 species of sharks, and the Ningaloo Reef is home to many of them. Whale sharks might be the most famous shark species around, but others include the blacktip reef shark, whitetip reef shark, hammerhead shark, leopard shark, tawny nurse shark and wobbegong.

Is Ningaloo better than the Great Barrier Reef?

Both the Ningaloo Reef and Great Barrier Reef offer unique snorkelling and diving. On Australia’s west coast, the Ningaloo Reef is the biggest fringing reef on the planet, while the Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s east coast is the world’s overall largest coral reef.

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