Knowing that I wanted this blog to leave an impression, not only upon the reader but also the guy writing it, I asked myself which place I should start off with. It wasn’t long before I figured that it should be my first solo holiday destination. Coral Bay came to my attention after watching an ABC doco about the Ningaloo Reef, which primarily focused upon the whale sharks that migrate there every year between March and June, but the patterns have been known to change. Much like my hope and intention for this post, that documentary had left an impression. After a mixture of being mesmerised by the world’s biggest fish and envying everyone else who was going away, I booked a ticket to go once the series finale of Lost had aired (once watching said finale I sought out a sledgehammer to strike the TV with).
Coral Bay is located close to 1,140km north of Perth and has a population of around 250. Situated with a view of the Indian Ocean, the town was officially settled in 1969 and has thrived as a popular tourist destination, bringing in people all year round but maintaining its simplicity. Boasting its share of saltwater showers, a wind farm and an invasion of friendly German backpackers, the town is best stayed at for a few days (about five should be enough to get everything done) unless you have a routine or want to find work (send in your resume before arriving). Travellers I’ve met along the way said they were running out of things to do quickly.
In regards to getting there, several options are available. On my first visit I made the mistake of catching the Greyhound bus south from Broome (then caught it north the following year in the interest of using up a pre-paid pass) so heed this warning traveller and fly to Exmouth which is about 155km north of Coral Bay and catch a shuttle down. Alternatively, you could head up there with a good tour from Perth. On my second trip to Ningaloo I travelled with Easy Rider Tours (a group that’s all about the scenery), in which good times were had by all.
Accommodation wise, there are several options on offer including the Ningaloo Reef Resort and Bayview Coral Bay Caravan Park (book in advance), but I stayed at the Ningaloo Club Backpackers which does right by its guests. While staying there for the first time on my own the staff took the time to look out for me, asking after my well-being and so on, and for that I could only appreciate and repay with a good review on Trip Advisor (they’re shouting me a beer for when I return they say). They also put on good burger nights for carnivores and vegos alike which also brings out the best kind of characters, one of which was a Singaporean who did a good ‘Ze plane! Ze plane!’ from Fantasy Island.
Now to get down to business, the reef; Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the few fringing reefs in the world, hugging the coast for 260km, and travellers need only walk for 20m from the shore (lengths can vary) to see what it’s all about. This is ideal for novice snorkelers and families but make sure you tell someone when you’re out on the water. For both of my stays I snorkelled with Coral Bay Adventures, a company I was disappointed to learn is no longer operating, but made it its objective to get us time with a shark. It's also more convenient to go with a company from Coral Bay because there are fewer boats to share a shark with, unlike Exmouth where there are many more. Every company working the reef will more or less have the same game plan in action, and don’t fret if you don’t see a shark on the first day because they’ll give you a free tour to make up for it. Helpful note; you need only ask the boats crew members to hold your hand in the water and they will, and don't get too edgy about swimming with the world's biggest fish. Growing to almost eighteen metres in length, these filter feeders have a well deserved reputation as gentle giants of the sea.
Next to that there are a stunning variety of other creatures to marvel at, including turtles, dugongs and about 500 species of fish just to name a few. The visibility of the reef, which can extend up to thirty metres, added an extra touch to the experience. However, don’t go expecting colourful coral though; the coral in Ningaloo is hard and comes in shades of brown and dark blue, but the fish and white of the sand makes up for it. As for my own personal highlights I saw manta rays barrel feeding, humpback dolphins (which I’m told don’t hang out with humans much) and a humpback whale that the locals say might’ve been giving birth. In my personal experience, it doesn’t take long to find something interesting in the waters of Ningaloo, which isn’t the case with the Great Barrier Reef I’m sorry to say. I know, taboo.
Some people I’ve met have brought the whale shark tours into question, mainly if they do right by the marine life and the overall cost. I can say with confidence that regulations are followed devoutly so that both humans and fish can interact safely, which is of course best for everyone involved. As for the price for a ticket, it’s currently about $370 to $410 which I find is reasonable. Some operators will even donate a percentage of their earnings to conservation and research also (Coral Bay Adventures donated 25% from twenty passengers), and will promote the benefit of seeing the sharks in the wild instead of captivity. Wild sharks can live for almost 150 years whilst tanked ones last about three.
Additionally, next to snorkelling and diving the town has other options that include fishing charters (if you’d rather fish of ‘the fun than the feed’ that’s cool, but charters may make you pay for anything you catch), quad biking, kayaking and tours to Karijini National Park.
Overall, Coral Bay was the best spot to kick off an obsession for experiencing new things. So in saying that, I invite you, aspiring wanderer, to give it a crack and create some memories for yourself.
PS Don't be afraid to tell me what you think.