(BPT) - Where do the red and orange hues of Australia’s iconic outback meet white sand beaches and turquoise blue water? Where can you walk off the shore and instantly experience pristine coral reef during a special drift snorkel? It’s where the best marine encounters in the world are part of everyday life. Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, along the stunning Coral Coast, is one of the region’s best-kept secrets.
Jump on a two-hour flight from Western Australia’s capital city of Perth or opt for an extraordinary 750-mile road trip to pull on your snorkel gear and step into the bluest waters of the Indian Ocean. From here, you only need to swim a couple of meters before you’re floating over the UNESCO World Heritage-listed coral gardens of one of the largest and most accessible wildlife-rich reefs on the planet.
Coral Coast’s mass quantity and diversity of marine life indicates the health of the reef and at Turquoise Bay — a local favorite — you can catch a ride on its gentle current to view the 200-plus varieties of coral and more than 500 species of fish that call Ningaloo Reef home. On any given day you may come across schools of tropical fish, green turtles, dolphins and sting rays. Scuba divers can also visit the Exmouth Navy Pier, best described as an “aquarium without glass” and considered one of the best shore dives in the world. It is also an underwater photographer’s dream renowned for its vast array of quality marine life.
Swim with the biggest fish in the sea
Beyond the coral reefs, Ningaloo is one of the only places in the world where whale sharks appear annually. From March through August, charter companies guide visitors to the back of the reef where they can swim side-by-side with these gentle giants. The region has the most consistent congregation of whale sharks, the key to its incredible swims. With no more than 10 people in the open water at a time, these intimate and awe-inspiring tours are conducted in an eco-minded, sustainable manner to minimize disturbance. During the day at sea, you may also spot manta rays, turtles and dugongs feasting on the world’s largest seagrass meadows.
Not only can visitors dive with whale sharks, but between August and October they can swim with humpback whales, too. Previously endangered, humpback whale numbers have steadily recovered and now an estimated 30,000 migrate along the coast each year making Western Australia’s the largest population in the world.
Adventures above water
There’s also plenty to do along the shores and further inland. A gentle one-hour cruise on the still waters of Yardie Creek in Cape Range National Park is the best way to see the striking colors and the wild inhabitants of this ancient red limestone gorge, including rare black-footed wallabies, euros, red kangaroos and birds. Active travelers can also hike through the Cape Range National Park, taking in the rocky gorges carved by ancient flowing rivers.
For a truly secluded experience, spend a night or two glamping under the stars in luxury safari tents at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef where the outback meets the sea. Here, Wi-Fi-free days are filled with guided gorge walks, fishing, kayaking, relaxing and snorkeling. The chef serves inspired gourmet meals, from seafood caught that day off the reef to local fare, all-inclusive with Margaret River wines and locally distilled spirits. It’s the only place to stay in the region where you can dive right into the reef simply from the shore. Alternatively, travelers can enjoy air-conditioned, resort-style accommodations at Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort, offering suites with local artistry, a restaurant and swimming pool overlooking the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
Plan your adventure
To make the most of your trip, don’t forget to stop at the other UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, Shark Bay, less than a day’s drive from Ningaloo. Shark Bay is another marine hotspot, best known for the wild dolphins of Monkey Mia, where they swim right up to the shore and play by your feet. Visitors can also take a walk and wonder at Shell Beach, one of only two beaches on Earth made of billions of tiny shells from just one species.
Western Australia’s Coral Coast is one of the rare places on the planet where you can easily access such an incredible diversity of marine life in its natural environment, so close to the shore. Learn more at www.westernaustralia.com.