When Captain Phillip Parker King sailed past the North West Cape in 1818, he turned up his nose at the sight of the rust-red ranges, thousands of acres of white coastal dunes and scrubby pancake flats, declaring the landscape far too rugged for settlement. Perhaps that’s why this wild region has remained as starkly beautiful as it was 200 (or, for that matter, 2000) years ago. Ningaloo Reef bends in to kiss the coast along the cape, with people flocking here to snorkel and dive, laze on picturesque beaches, camp and hike in the national park, and get eye to eye with the mighty but gentle whale sharks between March and September.
Take a hike
Cape Range National Park is a 50,000-hectare expanse of gorges and spinifex with more than 50 kilometres of crisp white coastline. Get to grips with its primitive beauty on a self-guided two-kilometre hike along Yardie Creek gorge, which snakes through the limestone range (access the trail from the car park). Keep an eye out for the rare black- footed rock wallaby lolling in the shade of the rust-coloured outcrops – this is one of the few places in Australia where they are commonly spotted. The walk is best tackled in the morning or late afternoon and don’t forget sunscreen and water; with few shade-giving trees, the elements are harsh.
Dive deep with whale sharks
One for the budding David Attenboroughs and science buffs, the new Whale Shark Scientific Tour by Live Ningaloo delves into the habits of the reef’s most famous – and mysterious – annual visitors. In May, the luxury operator is offering six days of adventure and analysis, from getting close to the gentle giants on dives and learning how to distinguish them by their spots to watching them get tagged. But it’s not all cerebral. The itinerary also packs in some of the region’s other drawcards, such as a tour of Yardie Creek gorge and snorkelling at Turquoise Bay.
Escape to a private island
Indulge your inner Crusoe with a trip to Wilderness Island, a one-hour boat ride off the coast of Exmouth. Jim Alston and Kim Nguyen’s safari camp has space for only 15 guests in simple yet comfortable eco cabins dotted along the coast. You won’t find a TV here. Days are filled with fishing among the mangroves or out in the gulf, dugong-spotting, birdwatching, snorkelling and kayaking – or lolling in a hammock with a good book. Your hosts also whip up meals featuring freshly caught fish, oysters, mud crabs and crayfish.