Swimming with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are sharks, not whales, and are the world's biggest fish, reaching a railway engine size of 12 to 18m (39-58 ft.) in length. Their gigantic size belies their gentle nature and swimming speed and, despite having mouths big enough to swallow a boatload of snorkelers, they eat plankton. Several boat operators, using spotter planes, take people out to swim alongside the whale sharks when they appear from late March to June and possibly into July. You simply float in the water wearing mask and snorkel and watch this magnificent speckled fish moving effortlessly past you; it's mind-blowing that you can be so close to such a huge, beautiful, and harmless creature. The images stay with you forever. A day trip with one of the longest established whale-shark companies, Exmouth Diving Centre (tel. 08/9949 1201; www.exmouthdiving.com.au), or its Coral Bay alternative, Ningaloo Reef Diving Centre (tel. 08/9942 5824; www.ningalooreefdive.com), costs about A$385 for snorkeling or A$415 including a subsequent scuba dive on the reef, including all gear.
Diving, Snorkeling, Fishing & Four-Wheel-Drive Tours
Dive and snorkel Ningaloo's unspoiled waters and you will see marvelous reef formations, groper, manta rays, octopus, moray eels, small reef sharks, potato cod, and other marvels. Divers often spot humpback and false killer whales and large sharks, while snorkelers may see dolphins, dugongs, and turtles. Loads of dive companies in Exmouth and Coral Bay (including the two listed in "Swimming with Whale Sharks") rent gear and run daily dive or snorkel trips and learn-to-dive courses. A two-dive day trip costs from A$200 with all gear supplied (snorkelers A$150).
Three great accessible snorkeling spots are: right off the shore at Coral Bay, where you can stroll up the beach, put on your mask and snorkel, drift with the current past corals and limitless fish, and then climb out and do it all over again; Pilgramunna Ledges, 72km (45 miles) from Exmouth, where you're rarely more than 10m (33 ft.) from the beach; and sheltered Turquoise Bay, a 60km (37-mile) drive from Exmouth, which also has a drift option, but you need to be a reasonable swimmer. In deeper waters off Coral Bay, you can snorkel with manta rays with a "wingspan" of up to 7m (23 ft.). If you're lucky, the rays may encounter a good feeding patch, and they will perform a series of backward somersaults to keep themselves within the same area. Companies in both towns run manta and reef-snorkel trips and rent gear. The Ningaloo shores have loads of swimming beaches, but, for safety's sake, never swim alone.
Reef fish, tuna, and Spanish mackerel are common catches in these waters, and black, blue, and striped marlin run outside the reef September through January. Up to a dozen boats operate reef and game-fishing day trips out of Exmouth and Coral Bay, and tackle and fishing dinghies are easy to rent in either town. Note that several fishing sanctuary zones have been established, so check with DEC or visitor centers for their locations.
Green and loggerhead turtles lay eggs at night November to February or March on the Cape's beaches. You can join one of several turtle-watch tours from either town. Cruises run from either town to spot humpback whales August to October.
You can take an off-road 240km (149-mile) four-wheel-drive escapade with Ningaloo Safari Tours (tel. 08/9949 1550; www.ningaloosafari.com). Their "Top of the Range" tour will allow you to cross the arid limestone ridges of 50,581-hectare (124,935-acre) Cape Range National Park, snorkel Turquoise Bay, climb a lighthouse, and cruise Yardie Creek Gorge to spot rock wallabies. This full-day trip departs your Exmouth hotel at 7:30am and returns at 6pm, at A$195 adults and A$140 children under 13. A full day snorkeling tour is also available depending on numbers.
Coral Bay's Coastal Adventure Tours (tel. 08/9948 5190; www.coralbaytours.com.au) has quad bike tours which head off to quiet deserted beaches via bush tracks and over sand dunes. A 3-hour snorkel trek is A$105 and a 2-hour sunset trek is A$90. Passengers are A$45 adults and A$30 children.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.