Sure you can do it in the Philippines.. and yup, you can go to Mexico too. In fact, there are a number of places around the globe where you can road trip into a remote area and while there swim with Whale Sharks; the largest fish on the planet. The most reliable location, however, is also one of the most difficult to get to. It is well worth your time and effort to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ningaloo Reef, found on remote shores in the middle of nowhere, Coral Bay in Western Australia.
Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, sustainable practices take precedent in this tiny hamlet by the sea, so the largest fringing reef on earth and its creatures are very well protected. The waters here are pristine, there are copious amounts of fish and coral mere meters from shore, and of course large marine life as well. Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Humpbacks, Dugongs, Dolphins….the list is long and most are present year round.
DAY 1 – START YOUR ROAD TRIP FROM PERTH
Your ultimate road trip begins in Perth, departing by 8am and heading north out of the city. Within a few hours the entrance to Nambung Park, otherwise known as the Pinnacles, will be on your right. Spend a few hours here wandering around the surrealistic rock formations as you play hide and seek with Kangaroo and Emus. Feeling hungry? You can drive just a short 15 minutes up the road to Cervantes and the Lobster Shack for an incredible meal of freshly caught Crayfish.
End the first day of your epoch trip in Geraldton, which is another 2 hours or so up the coast. If you are looking for another spectacular, instagrammable moment, take a few hours to explore Hutt Lagoon, otherwise known as the Pink Lake. (This is a spectacular drive in itself that ends with the rosy, surreal hues, of this salty body of water). Stay overnight in the tiny historic town of Northampton.
DAY 2 – NINGALOO REEF
7 hours or so of driving through the true Australian Outback will bring you to Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef. Be sure to fuel up whenever you pass a roadhouse, as this is a vast, often blazingly hot, expanse of incredible scenery with seldom any sign of civilization. Arrival into the only community on the spectacular Ningaloo Reef will feel a bit surreal in its beauty. Peoples Park is a great option if you have a caravan and for an actual room, Ningaloo Reef Resort is your best option. Both have spectacular views of the bay and the reef, steps outside of your doorway.
For sure you can’t wait to get into the clear, Bombay Gin colored, warm, calm waters of the bay. GO! Coral Bay is the only community on the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ningaloo Reef and is completely off grid with both solar energy and wind turbines providing electricity. When just about everyone walks around barefoot and is permanently clothed in bathers only, who cares if the lights are turned on? Safe and casual with a bit of a hip vibe, many people decide to never leave this bucolic village along the sea.
DAY 3 – SWIM WITH THE WHALE SHARKS
Contact Coral Bay EcoTours for a full day tour with these majestic marine creatures. They are the longest running eco certified Whale Shark operator on the reef. Sustainability and the protection of this marine environment is paramount in their day to day commitment to folks like YOU who want to have a personal encounter with marine life. This is the experience of a lifetime. Although Whale Sharks are in the region year round, they seem to be much more prominent from March to June. The waters here, however, are teaming with life and every day is complete different with what you might experience while on a tour or out on your own, snorkelling the bay.
With a tasty bakery in town, as well as a handful of pubs and convenience stores, you can easily hang your hat here for a few days or a few months. This is one road trip which transforms lives and many who spend time on the endless white sand beaches along the coast, choose to abruptly change their travel plans. Regardless of how long you decide to stay, Coral Bay is a magical place, and because of Western Australia’s keen sense of keeping the region sustainable, it will stay untouched and remote for many centuries to come. Good for you and good for your future families as well.
With full day tours interacting with Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and Humpbacks as well as glass bottom boat trips and 1000’s of miles of shoreline, there is certainly something to keep you amused on a day to day basis. When it is time to go however, I recommend you wait ’til the sun is up, as departing too early can lead to a higher risk of hitting a “roo” when heading back South. Be sure to have plenty of petrol, food and drinks for the expanse of road which awaits you. A few hours down the road brings you to Carnarvon, and a fun stop to purchase local produce. The Carnarvon Space Museum is pretty awesome as well, and gets you into some air conditioning for a while.
With a few more hours of driving, I recommend stopping for the night at Wooramel Station. Food is fabulous and the view of the night sky takes your breath away, as you sit in their natural hot springs. You can continue back to Perth after breakfast, or take another few days to explore Monkey Mia, Shell Beach and the Stromatolites of Hamlin Pool, the turn off is just down the road from your accommodation.
OTHER RECOMMENDED STOPS
Another superb stopping point along the drive back to the big city is Kalbarri National Park and the Murchison River. These red rock canyons straddling the shore are fabulous for hiking and exploring. Hire a canoe, go for a horseback ride, wander the rock formations….there are endless photo opportunities with critters around every corner waiting to have you make them famous. Kalbarri is not too far north of Northampton and Geraldton, so you can rest easy knowing that if you spend too much time exploring, food and a shower are not too far away.
Perth is now only 4 hours or so down the road. Yanchep National Park is another great stop along the way. They have Koalas and Kangaroos and a lovely tavern under big shady trees. With picnic tables, caves, walking paths, and a plethora of birds, this large park is a great place to cool off and enjoy nature on your drive back into the city.
Have you ever been swimming with Whale Sharks? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions n the comment section below! Read Next > 4 Of Australia’s Coolest Sleepover Spots