No boat trips or long schleps are necessary here: just swim, snorkel or kayak out, and a madly beautiful underwater world is yours for the taking. The Ningaloo Marine Park stretches for 280 kilometres south along the North-West Cape, flanked by national park and edged by white-sand beaches and a dramatic desert hinterland of classically Aussie red crags and gorges. It couldn’t be more of a contrast with the vibrant aquatic life offshore. To top it all off, this is the best place on earth to see, and swim with, whale sharks – gentle giants and the world’s largest fish.
Catch a sunset, vistas of Ningaloo Reef or glimpses of passing humpback whales from the hill beside Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, 17 kilometres north of Exmouth. The best views here though are subaquatic. Paddle a sea kayak out to the Blue Lagoon, off South Mandu Beach, a five-metre-deep natural aquarium where you can gaze down as fish and turtles frolic and coral fronds waft.
South Mandu Beach, near Mandu Mandu Gorge Road, is as pristine as you get, backed by dunes and light scrub with the reef a short swim out. Lakeside suits kids and Oyster Stacks is good for snorkelling at high tide.
Tough call: you’ve got the whole of the 510-square-kilometre Cape Range National Park, as well as the wave-lapped beaches of Ningaloo Marine Park, to choose from. For scenic views on the east coast, self-drive either along the ridge of Charles Knife Canyon or the base of Shothole Canyon, which are 23 and 16 kilometres south of Exmouth respectively.
Don’t go home without…
Snorkelling at Turquoise Bay; if you walk south along the beach and swim out about 40 metres you can drift with the current over the coral and fab fish before hopping out at a sand bar and pressing repeat (always check for rips first, though).
Ningaloo Reef, an aquatic playground in the heart of Australia’s Coral Coast, is one of only a handful of places on the planet where you can swim with whale sharks. Each year, from late March to early July, these magnificent creatures gather to feast on the local zooplankton, giving snorkellers a chance to experience the thrill of looking them in the eye as they glide by. The whale shark is by no means Ningaloo’s only attraction, though. Visitors can swim with humpback whales, which visit in their thousands from June to October. This designated World Heritage Site is also home to 220 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish, as well as turtles, manta rays and ponderous dugongs. Because the reef fringes the shore, visitors can get up close with an array of marine life just by taking a short swim from the beach.