Ningaloo Reef is located off the northwest coast of Australia, and is the country’s largest fringing reef. While some of the individual Great Barrier Reef formations are fringing reefs, there is a basic difference between the two. The depth of the lagoon behind a true fringing reef (the water between the shore and reef) is generally less than 35 feet. Fringing reefs are also generally close to shore, and this is the country’s largest reef that is very close to the mainland. Ningaloo Reef diving allows you to virtually step off the beaches and walk onto the reef. It is the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef and the incredible scuba diving with this largest fish in the world that are the draws of this very rare place.
Hugging the shoreline and virtually untouched for millennia, the protected marine park of Ningaloo Reef is more than 160 miles long. It is blessed with more than 500 tropical fish species and is made up of thousands of species of coral. Endangered loggerhead, green, and hawksbill sea turtles nest on the beaches, and you can wade up to your knees in the shallow waters of the lagoon between the shore and reef with a dazzling rainbow of colorful tropical fish tickling your toes and darting between your legs. This means that although scuba diving with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef is out of the reach of most young children, they can enjoy this fairy tale marine wonderland quite safely.
However, it is the sea life beyond the reef that is world famous. Here is where the gentle giants of the sea—the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef—gather to feed. If you want to know when to go for this remarkable experience, the seasonal shark feeding occurs from March to June. During the winter months, this is a migratory route for humpback whales, dugongs, manta rays, and dolphins. Superb sailing on whale watching tours is possible during this time.
Ningaloo Reef diving is more than a Perth day trip, as the region is about 750 miles north of the fourth largest city in Australia. This is an extremely undeveloped region, and there have been international efforts to prevent developers from building extensive beach resorts here. One in particular was planned for Maud’s Landing, an important loggerhead nesting ground, in the early 2000s, and was prevented largely due to the efforts of prize-winning local author Tim Winton. Other things to do at Ningaloo Reef include snorkeling, trips on semi-submersibles for those who want to view the underwater wonders without getting too wet, sea kayaking, and fishing.
You will find accommodation near Ningaloo Reef in the townships of Exmouth (the northern tip of the reef) and Coral Bay (the reef’s southern tip). Regional airlines with daily flights from Perth land at Learnmouth Airport about 30 miles south of Exmouth. Getting to this remote region by vehicle is a true expedition. You can drive on fairly good highway and bumpy side roads, but you will be driving through large portions of the dry desert Outback. You must ensure you have the fuel and water required. Alternatively, you can ride in Greyhound bus comfort from Perth as well as Broome, location of beautiful Cable Beach. You can fly to Broome from Perth, as well as Darwin, Alice Springs, and Port Headland.
In spite of the difficulties in reaching this area, the allure of Ningaloo Reef diving draws intrepid visitors from around the world. All of the hotels and other lodging in the area, whether or not they have “luxury” or “resort” in their names or descriptions, are fairly inexpensive and modest. Some are very nice budget motels, charming bed and bed and breakfast-type homes, and beach rentals and apartments with one, two, or three bedrooms. Even the Ningaloo Reef Resort in Coral Bay cannot be called one of the country’s luxury hotels. It is a spectacularly located beachside motel property with some apartments that is very comfortable and air-conditioned—a necessity during the hot season.