Ningaloo Reef is experiencing a welcome boost in “crowds” – but don’t worry, they’re the kind of crowds you actually want. The 300-kilometre stretch of namesake marine park on Western Australia’s remote north- west coast has seen a small yet steady increase in whale sharks in recent years. Land visitors to this region have even more to appreciate, including pristine swathes of sand, luxury accommodation to relax in and eateries that hero locally sourced produce. Not sure where to start? Here’s a hint: grab your swimmers.
When to go
Dry, warm weather makes Ningaloo a year-round destination. But the reef’s showpiece – the whale shark migration – is best experienced between April and July. During these months, the world’s biggest fish drift dazzlingly close to land, offering one of the few opportunities on the planet for us mere mortals to swim in their presence. Two key factors demand forward planning: it’s peak season for visitors, and strict protections mean you’ll need to book a tour with a licensed operator. Other worthwhile times are, well, whenever – humpback whales inhabit the area from June to November, while manta rays, dugongs, nesting turtles and a plethora of colourful coral fish are mainstays throughout the year.
Where to stay
Eco retreat Sal Salis, set amid the sand dunes adjoining the reef, retains the windswept romanticism of a beach camping experience but with an added layer of luxury. Kitted out with handcrafted jarrah beds, a well-stocked (and complimentary) minibar and a prime location overlooking the glistening Ningaloo Reef waters, this exclusive property truly puts the “glam” in glamping. Being completely immersed in nature gives guests ample opportunity to either switch off and relax or explore the treasures within easy reach of your room, both with the help of the resort or of your own volition. Dark sky tourism experiences, guided walks in the nearby national park and swimming with the famed whale shark can be organised directly but gliding over the reef with your snorkel or wandering the stretch of sand is as easy as stepping outside.
What to do
The marine park is undoubtedly the region’s drawcard and, for marine enthusiasts, it’s somewhat inexhaustible; as a guide, the reef is so large that it can be seen from space. The to-do list is more of a to- meet list: the gentle, spotted whale shark is the pinnacle, followed closely by encounters with whales travelling the “humpback highway” as they cruise past the shore on their annual migration. Even the average snorkelling session will bring you within a fin’s distance of vibrant schools of fish and coral.
Exmouth, about 1250 kilometres from Perth, is the gateway to Ningaloo. The best way to reach the town is by plane from Perth, with a flight time of one hour and 50 minutes. Sal Salis is an hour’s drive south of Exmouth in the Cape Range National Park. The jump-off point to the further reaches of Ningaloo Marine Park, Coral Bay, is about 90 minutes’ drive south of Exmouth. Cars can be hired from the airport or transfers to Sal Salis can be arranged.