Australia is one of the ONLY places on the planet where you can swim with a Humpback Whale. The Ningaloo Reef, located in the remote Outback of Western Australia, has over 30,000 Humpbacks cruising through their warm waters, June - October, each and every year, the largest migration on the planet! Though these mighty creatures start their annual trek North along the reef in June, and in Coral Bay, they get to begin swimming with them before anyone else in Oz, July 1st. Not only is this bucolic hamlet the only direct access to the incredible Ningaloo, it is also where the females choose to calve their young, which means....not only do you get to swim with the adults, you get to see babies. WOW
This is truly, one of those awe inspiring moments in your life, I've seen people in tears, they were so moved. So, the question is really, how do YOU get to partake in this incredibly special interaction. First you need to get to Coral Bay. This little slice of paradise is located about halfway between Perth and Broome, in Western Australia. It is pretty far from just about anything, which is one of the reasons it is such a special location and why it is as pristine as it is. Certainly you can self drive, which will take a minimum of two days, you can read more about this logistics HERE. We are talking over 1100 kilometers of true Australian Outback; where Kangaroos, Emus, road trains and red earth decorate the "highway", and buildings are far from the norm. You can also choose to fly Qantas from Perth to Learmonth (2 hours -ish), and then take a shuttle into Coral Bay (1 hour-ish), with flights daily. The best option, is to fly direct from Jandakot to Coral Bay on a private charter, I encourage you to ask me how.
OK, now that you know where you are going, be sure to book your accommodation long in advance, including bringing a camper van or tent. Coral Bay is as mentioned, very, very, tiny, and is also inside a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Park, which means you can't just set up anywhere. You also need to be sure to sign up for your tour as well, limited numbers are allowed on board. Book with Coral Bay EcoTours, the longest running operator on the reef, and be hooked up for the day, including; gear, morning tea, lunch, snacks, several educated and passionate staff members, and an end of day champagne toast, all while cruising on a custom built vessel with toilet and comfortable seating.
I was on one of these tours just a few weeks back. Spectacular! The day begins around 7:30, where you meet at the shop and fill out an indemnity form if you haven't already. Hot tea and coffee are available while you wait for everyone to arrive. By 8:00 you are boarding a small transfer bus to take you on a short one mile jaunt, to the jetty. Here you board the spacious vessel, soon setting off into the expansive Ningaloo Reef. After a briefing about boat safety and some history on the region and the types of sea creatures you will encounter during the day, you arrive at your first snorkel spot. Into the warm, clear, water, you go. Staff can ascertain your swimming ability and comfort while you are basking in the colorful wonders, as you glide above the reef. Our trip was quite special, as we had a young lady turning the whopping age of six! This was her birthday present, she was joined by her 3 brothers and parents, all visiting from Italy. Having this celebration on board brought an extra air of festivities. Once the snorkel is completed, morning tea is served. The skipper takes us farther out to the reefs edge, while waiting to hear from the spotter plane as to where the closest whales are, all before 9 am! Talk about a great way to start your day.
Coral Bay only has two marine safari companies with a total of 3 boats per tour type, so you will never see more than two other vessels and most likely, will not see any, whilst out on the water. Unlike many other locations found around the planet, this is truly an amazing aspect of this area of the globe. Because the Ningaloo is the largest Fringing Reef on the planet, you are never far from shore and can pretty much always see land. The waters inside the reef are quite shallow, only a few meters deep; just outside the reef, quite shallow as well. You can easily see the bottom, even when swimming with one of the largest animals on the planet. These shallow, warm waters, are where the humpy's like to play and relax and even take a snooze. We don't get anywhere near these mighty creatures, but let them come to us, always giving plenty of space for them to move away if they would like. Never going in with calves or with too many males in one spot, keeping everyone safe. We get the word from the pilot about a pod not too far from where we are headed and off we go.