Simply stunning. Unreal. With waters as translucent and blue as a bottle of Bombay's Gin.....Coral Bay is heaven on earth. Honestly, this little slice of paradise far surpasses any other snorkeling / swimming area, on the planet. Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Florida, Fiji, Bali, the Caribbean, Greece, the Great Barrier Reef; all pale in comparison to what the Ningaloo Reef has to offer.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringe reef system on the planet, which borders the west side of a continent. It is considered by many to be the healthiest reef system in the world; stretching more than 280 km and containing more than 300 species of corals, 500 species of fish, and 600 species of mollusks. The worlds largest fish, the Whale Shark frequent the reef March to July annually and Humpbacks come through in droves as they migrate every year. Manta Rays are yet another massive and beautiful sea creature, with wing spans upwards of 9 meters and can be swam with daily in these crystal clear waters.
What makes Coral Bay so special? Well besides what is listed above, you also have the fact that it is darn difficult to get to. Located on Australia's Coral Coast, it is a good 2 day drive from Perth. Sure you can fly, but sometimes the journey makes the destination that much more incredible. This little hamlet has only a handful of year round residents, it is bucolically set on the shores of Bill's Bay, with one simple road. Shoes are a rarity and the classic beach vibe prevails. Accommodation consists of two caravan parks, a smattering of rental homes, a backpacker hostel and two hotels. There are a couple grocery stores, a few restaurants and probably the best Bakery in all of the Outback. Signage is lackluster. The WOW factor, is the bay and the hundreds of kilometers of white sand beaches which seem to go on forever, where you will nary see a trace of another human being. The reef, simply steps away from shore. Regardless of snorkeling, walking the shoreline or swimming, you will encounter vast numbers of marine specimens unlike anywhere else. Bills Bay is protected by the reef a few hundred meters away, with pool like visibility and bath-like warm water. Tours take you directly from the beach or the public dock, located 2 km away, you are on the water almost immediately.
Sitting just North of the Tropic of Capricorn, the region enjoys year round perfect weather. A bit hotter and sometimes even humid ,late November to February, this is also when there is the potential risk of Cyclones. "Cooler" the remaining months of the year, with highs in the upper 80's to lows in the 60's at night. Unlike our infamous neighbors to the North East, Palawan; Australia's Coral Coast is exceedingly safe, does not have year round humidity or rain storms, there is no rubbish along the shore, or third world infrastructure challenges.
The Ningaloo Reef really only has two communities which claim access. The first and actual gateway, the hamlet of Coral Bay, and second the City of Exmouth. Driving from Perth, Exmouth is another 150 Kilometers North of the Coral Bay turn off. This is a real city, with shopping centers and schools. It also has a plethora of accommodation and eating establishment options. Ningaloo Reef access is a good 45 minute drive to decent snorkeling spots. Currents can be quite strong along this coastline, so those who are not especially fit, should be very careful. Exmouth sits on a peninsula, with the Indian Ocean and the reef located to the west and the Gulf of Exmouth to the east; you must have a vehicle to experience the community, nothing is walkable. Whale Shark tours can take upwards of 13 hours due to the time needed to travel from town to the dock, and back again. Exmouth also has 10 licensed operators where as Coral Bay only has 2. This of course means that those 10 operators can be juggling to get their clients into the water with one Whale Shark whereas the same tours an hour and a half south, will only have two - three boats vying for the same experience. Manta Ray swimming is not a thing in Exmouth, but you can find some incredible fishing charters....which takes me back again to why Coral Bay is the most magical place on earth.
You can fish, you can sunbathe, you can snorkel, you can interact with Whale Sharks, Mantas and more....or simply sit over a midi watching the sun set over the reef. All these concepts combined are few and far between on a global scale. Go shoeless for a few days, decide to stay for a month. Clocks stop ticking, worries disappear. A place lost in time, with such incredible beauty it hurts your heart. I guarantee you will be refreshed and rejuvenated after floating for hours in your own personal aquarium.