The answer; should you happen to be on a game show, and the announcer asks you for the largest fish in the sea: Whale Sharks. Think about the size of a Volkswagen beetle or your child's school bus; this is the breadth of one of these incredible creatures. Found around the globe in warm waters, which are the perfect habitat for this cold blooded mammoth. Lucky for those in Australia, the vast diversity and pristine nature of the world's largest fringing reef, is also the perfect habitat for plankton, shrimp and small fish, the Whale Sharks primary source of food.
One of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites found in Western Australia, the Ningaloo Reef, hugs the coast from just north of Carnarvon, extending for 260 kilometers to just past Exmouth. Coral Bay, is the only community directly on this fantastic marine environment; a bucolic, off grid, hamlet, with a handful of rooms and eateries, a stones throw from Bombay Gin colored waters. Where shoes are an option and with it's proximity to the Tropic of Capricorn, affords year round blissful weather. Perfect for swimming with these gentle giants. YES it's true, you can jump into the warm Indian Ocean and amble around with the largest fish on the planet! Anyone confident with swimming is capable to encounter this amazing, sometimes life changing interaction. Both the Shires of Carnarvon and Exmouth serve as fine bookends to this fairy tale environment, where they provide schools, shopping, homes and infrastructure for the remote Coral Coast. The former offering a lovely marina and safe harbor, the latter more tourism based with various providers of outdoor adventures, including swimming with Whale Sharks.
So, how do you get from sitting in front of your computer screen to floating in these majestic waters? The Coral Coast is unspoiled and perfect in so many ways. Much of this reason is due to the effort one must put into exploring this region of the world. Marine Safaris here take time and effort to plan, just like an African Savanna Safari would. If you are not already in Perth, plan on getting there first. Qantas now has a non stop flight from London, with a number of other airlines flying into the region daily, from everywhere in the world. Though there is plenty to keep you amused in the largest city from anywhere on the planet, it's worth your while to head into the immense outback wilderness, as there is much to explore along the way. Should time be a factor, I recommend flying from Perth to Learnmouth Airport, located just south of the town of Exmouth for a 3-4 day mini adventure on the Ningaloo. From this small airport, grab your pre booked shuttle, which will take a little over an hour to arrive into Coral Bay. As mentioned before, there is access to the reef from Exmouth, but it takes much longer to get onto any tours, due to the location of town, which is a good 45 minute drive from the airport and then another 30 minute drive to access the beaches adjacent to the reef.
Limited in accommodation, but directly on what is referred to as Bill's Bay, this little slice of heaven, just meters from the waves breaking over the reef, Coral Bay, is paradise. Not glitzy, not glamorous and just about 100% off grid; fine white sand beaches and crystal clear water can be seen for miles. Walking from end to end in less than 10 minutes, with a couple caravan parks and hotels, an excellent bakery and a handful of eateries and bars; a family friendly environment, where everybody knows your name. Upon arriving, check into your room and head down to the beach, it won't take longer than 5 minutes from door to waters edge; dip your toes deep into the sugar soft sand, ahhhh, paradise. Should you have time to extend your trip by a day or two, book a tour to swim with Manta Rays as well, they are found here year round, one of the only locations on the planet where you can swim with these winged giants in warm shallow waters. Whale Sharks too are found in Coral Bay year round, but the official season, per the Australian governing body, begins March 1st annually and goes to the end of July, during the higher concentration of these migrating fish.
Australia is at the forefront of sustainable tourism globally, and though you can swim with these gentle marine animals in many locations around the world, the Ningaloo Reef is the only location which has exceedingly high regulations for interaction, for the health and wellbeing of the marine life as well as for your personal comfort and safety. Though Whale Sharks are completely harmless and even inquisitive and playful, our interactions with them must be controlled so that undue stress is not caused. Coral Bay EcoTours is the longest running eco certified operator in the region, ensuring custom made vessels and highly trained staff, for your enjoyment as well as to reduce the impact their three boats have on the ocean.
The day begins in the shop, at close to 7 am. You will be fitted for a wetsuit, should you choose to wear one, as well as snorkel gear. About a half hour later, the shuttle bus will pick up the group and take you to the jetty, which is a little over a kilometer away. Within 10 minutes from departure, you are sitting comfortably on the boat. Heading out into the waters just beyond the reef, you will be given safety instructions, history on the region, and information about the various animals you will see during the day. Morning Tea is served next, then staff will stop at one of the many great snorkel spots and allow everyone to get in and see the amazing kodachrome of colors beneath the sea. Turtles, brightly colored fish, and corals ....will amaze and delight you. Meanwhile a spotter plane is up in the air, to find the closest Whale Shark. With only two operators in Coral Bay, it is almost guaranteed you will be the only boat in the area, unlike other locations which may have up to 10 or more tours happening at the same time.
Depending on the sharks location, you may go for a snorkel again, or head out directly to jump in with one of these gentle giants. There may be several seen on your tour and each will be given every opportunity possible to swim along side. Every day is completely different, as this is a natural environment, so patience is key. Dolphins can sometimes be seen playing nearby, and even the occasional Dugong will lazily glide by. When the sun is high, your boat will anchor and a deliciously prepared lunch will be served. Roasted chicken along with various salads and pasta to keep your energy level up for the next potential snorkel spot. With 3-5 members of staff on board, someone is always answering questions about the reef or taking photos and video of your trip. Off again you will venture, possibly interacting with another Whale Shark, maybe swimming with a Hawksbill Turtle....you just never know what you will encounter. Before heading back towards land, a glass of bubbly is served to celebrate your day's worth of amazing experiences.
Arriving back to the Jetty in the late afternoon, gets you to your hotel room for a nap or perhaps to gush for hours about your incredible day. You are welcome to use the snorkel gear from Coral Bay EcoTours shop to continue the experience in the clear waters of Bill's Bay. Video of your trip will be available for purchase to pick up the next morning as well. Spend the evening watching the sun set into the horizon followed by an incredible meal at Fin's Cafe. With two flights daily departing back to Perth, you can choose to have a leisurely morning swim and stroll before shuttling back to the airport for your afternoon flight.
I would be delighted to help you with the logistics involved in your journey....
regardless if you take the short version
or would rather spend several weeks exploring this vastly stunning area of the world.
Any questions? Please ask!