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.
These two adolescents are moving too fast for us to get a proper swim, so we move onto our next pilot sighting. On the way we pass near a mom and her baby...playing in the waters near the outside reef. The skipper stops to allow us all to take some snaps, just as the baby attempts to breach, failing miserably, but giving us all a good chuckle. Soon we are at our new potential swim and everyone gets ready on the back of the boat. Only 7 allowed in at any one time, we wait for the lead swimmer to give the thumbs up. In everyone goes, just a short snorkel away, we find a magnificent creature, ignoring us completely as it rests on the sandy floor of the warm waters of the outer reef. Back on the boat, the six year old is so excited she can't stop shaking and carrying on about how fantastic this experience was. We leave this Humpback for another group nearby. In the water everyone goes again, once back in the boat, everyone is aglow with the rush of adrenaline which comes with being so close to such a huge animal.
Off to yet another location to swim with yet another pod, and we pass another mom and her baby playing nearby. Dolphins are riding our wake, the sun is shining, the air is warm...absolutely magical. This time, once we are in the water, we are greeted with Manta Rays before we can even get to the humpbacks, yet another wow moment to add to our already growing perfect day experience. After this swim, lunch is served. We then head out to see more pods and once again another momma and her calf, swimming along side our vessel. Looking out watching them play, a massive Logger Head Turtle comes up for air, we all ooooh and awwww, vying for the best possible photo angle.
It is going on 3 in the afternoon before heading back to the jetty. Champagne, chocolate and fruit are served to celebrate the day and continue the glow of our momentous afternoon. Crazy it seems, that a tour like this, or similar, happens each and every day of the year. The Ningaloo Reef is widely unknown, but filled to the brim with fabulous fish, corals and marine species to make you change the way you view our oceans. I suspect few individuals return from these adventures without a better understanding of how they can protect the magnificent wildlife we share our planet with. Safe enough for even the most timid personality; these warm waters are a haven for all who can provide strong swimming ability to view and interact with one of the largest mammals on the planet, as well as some of the smallest.... Awe inspiring, to say the least.
Need help with planning? Let me know!
I am in Oz all the time, and know the Western Australia Outback like the back of my hand, happy to facilitate the trip of a lifetime.
YES YOU...can swim with Humpback Whales.