Robinvale Caravan Park on the Murray River

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Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Ningaloo Reef visitors are part of worlds biggest fish story

Whale tale, courtesy Tourism WA
Whale tale, courtesy Tourism

Diving among clouds of krill along the Ningaloo Reef, a whale shark swims with its mouth wide open, feeding on hundreds of the tiny sea creatures nearby, a boat load of snorkellers watch, amazed at the grace and docility of this giant creature.

Swimming with the world’s biggest fish is just one of the awesome experiences available in the north west of Western Australia.

For many visitors, it is a once in a lifetime thrill. From April until June whaleshark tours operate out of Coral Bay or Exmouth on the Coral Coast, about 1,270km kilometres north of Perth. Ningaloo Marine Park is Western Australia's equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef but without the crowds and the commercialisation.

Fishing of Exmouth, courtesy Tourism WA
Fishing of Exmouth, 
courtesy Tourism WA

Following the mass spawning of coral, Whale Sharks begin to appear in large numbers.

Whale Sharks cruise the world's oceans in search of concentrations of plankton.

Whale Sharks grow to 18m in length with a mouth so big it seems it could swallow a small car. They can weigh up to 40 tonnes. This harmless marine creature makes Ningaloo its home for part of the year.

Flights to nearby Learmonth airport operate from Perth but driving to both towns is easy with quality roads including the Brand and North West Coastal Highways offering plenty of caravanning and roadhouse stops.

Charles Knife Gorge, Cape Range NP
Charles Knife Gorge, 
Cape Range NP

Coral Bay is the southern gateway to the Ningaloo Reef and offers an idyllic family holiday. The calm sandy beaches are perfect for swimming, while just 20 metres from shore lies the State’s biggest coral reef and a large variety of colourful tropical fish.

Snorkelling equipment is available for hire from nearby dive shops, or there are glass bottom boats operating daily tours. Snorkelling and scuba diving cruises to the outer reef are also available.

March is a good time to visit Coral Bay, if for no other reason than to see the unique natural phenomena of coral spawning. This event takes place over three nights beginning a week or so after the full moon during March and April. Each night, many species of coral suddenly release millions of bright pink egg and sperm bundles which float to the surface of the water, as though engaging in a spectacular underwater dance.

Yardie Creek, Cape Range NP, courtesy Tourism WA
Yardie Creek, Cape Range NP,
courtesy Tourism WA

It is little wonder that the awesome fishing conditions attract a large number of visitors. Beach fishing areas are easy to get to, while deep sea and game fishing charters are available.

Coral Bay relies heavily on tourism and offers all levels of accommodation from caravan and camping to resort style apartments overlooking the beach. Just 150km to the north is the larger town of Exmouth, a great base from which to explore the nearby marine and land based natural attractions.

As the northern gateway to the Ningaloo Marine Park, Exmouth boasts diving and snorkelling conditions that are rated amongst the world’s best. Like Coral Bay, there are plenty of snorkelling, diving and fishing tours available, as well as many calm and sheltered swimming beaches.

Monkey Mia dolphin, courtesy Tourism WA
Monkey Mia dolphin, 
courtesy Tourism WA

To the south of the town is the amazing Cape Range National Park with its spectacular gorges, in season wildflowers and amazing wildlife. There are four wheel drive tours available from Exmouth or the adventurous can camp or stay in unique safari style accommodation. Entry and camping fees apply.

Australia’s Coral Coast is an authentic eco tourism destination with about 600km of coastline, which includes the World Heritage Area of Shark Bay and extends to Exmouth.

The drive from Perth to the southern point of the region, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area takes about 10 hours. From Perth Carnarvon on the North West Coastal Highway is 904km.

Snorkelling near Coral Bay, courtesy Tourism WA
Snorkelling near Coral Bay, 
courtesy Tourism WA

The Exmouth and Ningaloo coastline has an array of, unspoilt beaches. The closest beach to Exmouth is Town Beach, located 1km from the Exmouth townsite. This beach is ideal for morning walks and beachcombing.

Bundegi Beach, 14km north of Exmouth, marks the start of the Ningaloo Marine Park. Bundegi is great beach for swimming, snorkelling and fishing from the jetty.

Point Murat and Pier Beach just north of Bundegi also offer visitors an ideal spot to swim.

Seventeen kilometres north of Exmouth are surf beaches, known as "Dunes". It is a reef break and surfing experience is recommended. To get there take the Yardie Creek Road west and head up Mildura Wreck Road and turn left into the first car park.

Shell Beach, southeast of Denham, courtesy Tourism WA
Shell Beach, 
southeast of Denham, 
courtesy Tourism WA

The lighthouse Bay Beaches on the Mildura Wreck Road offer a variety of beaches suitable for fishing, swimming and sunbathing and at the end of the road is the Mildura wreck.

Heading around the cape, the access tracks along the Yardie Creek Road also offer a variety of beaches to choose from. Mauritius Beach was declared a Clothing Optional Beach in 1999, Mauritius Beach it is just past the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, 21 km from Exmouth.

During the summer months the best beaches to view sea turtles laying and hatching are Hunters Access down to Wobiri Access.

These beaches are also popular for fishing and swimming. Tantabiddi Beach, located 36 km from Exmouth, is also a great spot for a swim, or fishing.

Bottle Bay, Francois Peron NP, courtesy Tourism WA
Bottle Bay, Francois Peron NP, 
courtesy Tourism WA

Beaches south of Tantabiddi lie next to the Cape Range National Park. Day tours, boat cruises, kayaking trips and safari tours visit the beaches daily.

The area offers a combination of raw outback adventures with unique water-based experiences. With no wet season and extremes of temperature rare, this is a region to enjoy year round.

Situated on the west side of the North West Cape is Cape Range National Park, a spectacular place of rugged limestone ranges, breathtaking deep canyons and 50km of pristine beaches.

The Park covers some 50,581 ha and its northern boundary is just 40km from Exmouth. Emus, euros and red kangaroos can be seen in abundance. Cape Range offers a variety of trails both on the eastern and western sides of the range. Call into the Exmouth Tourist Bureau in Murat Rd., or on Nimitz Street for a visitor and walk trail guide.

Children feed fish, Coral Bay, courtesy Tourism WA
Children feed fish, Coral Bay, 
courtesy Tourism WA

Milyering Visitor Centre in the Cape Range National Park is 52km from Exmouth. It has displays, an audiovisual facility, and a library containing a wealth of information on the Marine and National Park to help visitors to explore and understand the local environment. The centre is open form 10am to 4pm daily (closed 12.30pm - 1.15pm)

Yardie Creek is a highlight of any visit to the park. Here a sand bar traps the deep blue waters of the Gorge catching striking reflections of multi-coloured banks in the sheer canyon walls.

Mangrove Bay Bird Hide overlooks a shallow lagoon. Shore birds roost in the lagoon at high tide and during summer months migratory birds can be observed.

On the west coast of the North West Cape there are more than 90 camping bays and car parks. Campsites are signposted, but have limited facilities, with neither power nor water supplied. Camping fees are charged.

Visitors to the area can live like stockman - shear sheep and live in the shearers' quarters of one of the many working outback stations or stay in the comfort of many of the homesteads themselves.

Tall Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus) wildflowers
Tall Mulla Mulla 
(Ptilotus exaltatus) 

They can explore the stunning Francois Peron National Park. The park is named for the French zoologist who visited the area in 1801 and 1803. Nowhere else in Australia is there a more spectacular view of the red centre meeting the sea than at Shark Bay this is where, the huge red sand dunes which spread across much of inland Australia come to a halt as they meet the ocean.

The flora and fauna of the park is adapted to arid conditions - wattles, hakeas, grevilleas myrtles and the purple Shark Bay daisy creeper is everywhere.

A variety of land and sea birds are seen in the park, including fairy wrens, finches, grass wrens, and wedge bills. Euros and other small wallabies abound, as do rodents and lizards. Also quite abundant is the thorny devils which feed almost entirely on ants.

The waters off Peron are home to thousands of dugongs, (sea cows) turtles, dolphins and manta rays, which can often be seen from the headlands.

Shark bay is the home of the famous Monkey Mia dolphins. The turnoff is 4km north east of Denham on the Monkey Mia Road. Conventional two-wheel drive vehicles can reach the original Peron Homestead. A 4WD is required to travel north of the homestead.

Girl floating Ningaloo Marine Park
Girl floating 
Ningaloo Marine Park

Carry drinking water when visiting the park. There are gas barbecues at campsites at Bottle Bay, Gregories and Big Lagoon. Check Conservation and Land Management for details.

On your way to Peron drive through Denham to view the buildings made of coquina shells from the fabulous Shell Beach.

The coastal region teems with natural phenomena such as the Monkey Mia dolphins, dugongs, whale sharks, manta rays, and giant humpback whales and the Ningaloo Reef.

Humpback Whales are in the area form July until the end of November and Manta Rays from May to November. Green Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles are in Ningaloo all year round and they begin their nesting season from October to November.

Windsurfing, Sandy Bay, courtesy Tourism WA
Sandy Bay, 
courtesy Tourism WA

Add to this the 250 species of corals and over 500 different species of fish and Exmouth is an impressive diving destination all year round.

There are many snorkelling sites along the Ningaloo coastline and a variety of ways to access them. The best known of these sites is Turquoise Bay. Located 60 km from Exmouth in the Cape Range National Park this crystal clear lagoon offers white sandy beaches and snorkelling over fabulous coral and marine life.

Ningaloo Reef stretches from Bundegi Beach near Exmouth for 260km south along the West Coast. The reef protects a marine rich lagoon that on average is only 2-4 metres in depth. It is unique because of this and its proximity and accessibility to the coast.

Some 250 species of coral and 500 species of fish have been recorded in the park. Ningaloo Reef can be experienced from a dive boat, catamaran, yacht, a coral viewing boat, from the air, by sea kayak and by snorkelling

The main towns are Denham, Exmouth and Carnarvon. The drive from Perth to the southern point of the region, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area takes about 10 hours.

Exmouth, with a population of about 2500, is a gateway to the Cape Range and the Ningaloo Marine Park. There is also good range of caravan park accommodation.

Whale Shark, Ningaloo Reef WA
Whale Shark, Ningaloo Reef WA

The northern border of the Cape Range National Park is 40km south of Exmouth. There are fees for entry and camping in the national park.

With the continental shelf only 12km off shore, fishing and the North West Cape go hand in hand. Hire a boat or relax on the beach and throw in a line. Or join one of the professional charter boats that depart Exmouth daily. Catch and enjoy North West Snapper, Blue Bone, Coral Trout, or Red Emperor.

Exmouth is recognised as the premier Game Fishing area of Western Australia - it is one of the few places in the world where such famous species as Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Spanish mackerel and Sailfish are hooked regularly.

There is adventure both underwater and on land.

Aboriginal artifacts and rock etchings underline the presence of the original inhabitants of Australia and it was on this coast, on October 25, 1616, the Dirk Hartog, Dutch captain of a trading ship, landed on Cape Inscription.

He nailed a pewter plate to a post 152 years before Captain Cook set out for Australia.

The first Englishman to visit the West Coast of Australia was adventurer William Dampier, in 1699. He spent seven days and gave Shark Bay its name.

Hartog is the first popular record of a European landing, but as Kenneth McIntyre proposes in his book "The Secret Discover of Australia", his study of the Dauphin and Dieppe maps and research of the Portuguese back to Prince Henry the Navigator, leaves the matter of who was first open to debate.

Certainly the Dutch sighted the west coast in 1606. European navigators beat Captain Cook to Australia by more than 200 years. Cook has the honour of finding the harbours of the east coast and making settlement possible with his landing in 1770.

It is in this region that two impressive landmarks stand to the voyaging spirit of the human race, reminders of the role Australia played as a base for the United States Satellite Communications in Carnarvon and Exmouth.

It was off this coast that the Australian Navy suffered its greatest loss with the sinking of the HMAS Sydney by the German raider Kormoran, probably off Carnarvon on November 19, 1941.

The original cairn memorial to the Sydney is north of Carnarvon along the North West Coastal Road via the Point Quobba turnoff and the sea cave blowholes. The Carnarvon Tourist Bureau is in Robinson St (Civic Centre).

Editor’s Note: Fuel and water should be considered in self-driving experiences. If in doubt seek advice. This stretch of spectacular coastline is notorious for king waves, lives have been lost, take care.

Shark Bay is one of a handful of special regions in the world, which meet all the criteria for World Heritage listing. Rare plants, mammals and birds are found only in the area. There are 10 species of mammals, 98 species of reptiles and over 100 species of land-based migratory birds living in the area.

Shark Bay attracts humpback whale, dugong, manta ray, turtle and dolphin. Monkey Mia is known worldwide for the dolphins, which interact with human visitors.

Hand-feed the local wild bottlenose dolphins from the shore in front of the Monkey Mia resort; bathe on Shell Beach - made up of over 6 km (4 miles) of tiny white shells up to 10 metres (33 feet) deep; and be humbled by the oldest and largest living fossils in the world - the Hamelin Bay stromatolites.

A fee is payable to Conservation and Land Management when entering the Monkey Mia Resort area. The funds are used for the care and management of the local dolphins.

There are an estimated 10,000 dugongs, living in Shark Bay. This is 10 per cent of the world population. Linked to the myth of mermaids, the dugong can live up to 70 years.

The region also has 700 species of wildflowers and Western Australia’s longest flowering period. The area is in three climatic zones that result in the rich flora and fauna.

Visitors can stand on the edges of the gorges, canyons and creeks and explore the Cape Range National Park, 4WD drive not required.

GoSeeAustralia suggests -
  • Visitors can stand on the edges of the gorges, canyons and creeks and explore the Cape Range National Park (4WD drive not required).
  • Whale shark charters run between April and June, but for those who are not as adventurous, there are over 520 species of fish, 250 species of coral and an abundance of turtles, whales and other marine creatures.
  • Day tours to swim with Whale Sharks depart daily during mid April to the end of June and the experience is as easy as donning a swimsuit, a mask and snorkel a Lycra suit and a pair of fins.
  • The hinterland area of the Outback Coast Region includes attractions such as the town of Carnarvon, Mount Augustus, the world’s biggest monocline, and the magnificent Kennedy Ranges.
  • The seaside town of Denham, centre of Shark Bay tourism, has buildings made of the tiny shells that make up the nearby Shell Beach.
  • For a true appreciation of what this region offers leave the sandy white coast for the rugged red terrain of the outback.
  • Hike, backpack or camp through the inland areas by day and by night, sleep under some of the brightest stars in the world.
  • Visit Western Australia's biggest island - Dirk Hartog, on which there are a number of eco-tours, great fishing and the stunning Francois Peron National Park.
  • At Carnarvon there is plenty of excellent fishing just offshore and along One Mile Jetty.
  • The blowholes and Cape Cuvier coastal cliffs are other popular nearby attractions, as are the coastal breaks of Gnaraloo and Red Bluff for surfers.
  • Visitors can stand on the edges of the gorges, canyons and creeks and explore the Cape Range National Park by 4WD drive.
  • Shark Bay is one a handful of special regions in the world that meet all the criteria for World Heritage listing. Rare plants, mammals and birds are found only in the area.
  • There are 10 species of mammals, 98 species of reptiles and over 100 species of land-based migratory birds living in the area.
  • Exmouth is recognised as the premier Game Fishing area of Western Australia - it is one of the few places in the world where such famous species as Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Spanish mackerel and Sailfish are hooked regularly.

For more information about the area contact the Exmouth Visitor Center on free call 1800 287 328.

More information about holidaying in Western Australia is available by contacting the WA Visitor Centre on 1300 361 351.

Editor’s note: GoSeeAustralia thanks Tourism Western Australia for assistance with this feature and the pictures which accompany it.

Editor's Note also see:

Eyre Hwy adventure stop, think and do it!

Region snapshots show the True Blue nature of WA

Broome provides a base for some serious WA relaxation

Be croc wise in Northern Australia

Living with Wild Australia - Sharks

GoSeeAustralia looks at How to Live with Wild Australia and learns-Australias snakes are scared of you

Great Drives of Australia - GSA Tours WA's Icon's

Kids are kings when they GoSeeAustralia

Families fuel drive to quality time in caravan parks

Sail your caravan through the Nullarbor winds

Families keep 310,575 caravans on freedom road

To Perth and back by "Statesman RV"

For more information
contact: Garth Morrison
Editor Go See Australia Directory
Phone:  02 6294 1941
Fax:     02 6284 9275

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