That “Range to Reef” Experience
Exmouth, The Ningaloo Reef and the Cape Range National Park- one of WA’s greatest holiday hotspots.
If you have ever travelled up or down the West Australian coast then you would already know that its home to some absolutely remarkable scenery, great surfing beaches, dramatic cliffs and lots of perfect little holiday hot spots! One thing we love about the northern areas of the west coast in particular is where we can witness the red dirt of the dusty desert meet the almost snow white sandy beaches. The contrast is amazing.
Home to the spectacular Ningaloo reef, one of the world’s longest fringing reefs, the Coral Coast is amongst one of our favourite places that we visited during our wonderful time travelling in Western Australia. We turned off the North West Highway and headed toward the North West Cape and the seaside town of Exmouth. The areas around these parts are quite dry and dusty and I guess you could say desert-like, but as you drive into the Exmouth Township itself, the area seems to come alive. Originally established to service the existing United States naval communications station, Harold E. Holt, today Exmouth relies mainly on tourism, and there is no shortage of tourists around these parts!
During our time spent along the Coral Coast which was during the Winter and Spring months (the ideal time to visit) we were treated to great weather and great sunsets and there were plenty of visitors making the most of the warmer climate escaping the colder winter temperatures of the south. The whole of the North West coastline is a tourism “hot spot” and with good reason. The famous Cable Beach and Broome sits further north and the equally popular Monkey Mia is only a few hundred km’s south. I think it must be the long sunny days, perfect winter temperatures, ample wildlife and the almost unspoilt beaches that draw thousands of travellers and visitors to this part of Oz each year. The summer months are probably a good time to visit somewhere else though as cyclones and severe storms tend to be pretty common in these parts and they don’t make for a fun time, especially if you brought your caravan along not to mention the extreme daily temperatures of 40+ degrees. No thanks!
For those of you that have followed our previous travels you would be aware that I enjoy a bit of fishing here and there. I use pretty basic gear and only wet a line for a bit of fun. We met up with a few fellow travellers at the caravan park and spent many afternoons out on the jetty. The Bream and Trevally were biting well and let me tell you it was good fun chasing them and they cooked up quite nice done on the BBQ and served alongside a few hot chips from the café at the caravan park where we were staying.
There is a great tackle and camping store in town that we happened to keep pretty busy with me needing to replace my tackle all too frequently. It was pointed out to me that I just needed to learn how to tie better knots- no one believed me that the fish were just too big for my line…… ah well. If jetty or shore fishing is your preference, there are plenty of spots around the cape to keep you busy; otherwise there are several deep-sea fishing charter companies in town that can take you out on the fringes of the Ningaloo Reef for something more challenging and perhaps a chance at reeling in something a bit bigger. Just make sure you pick up a fishing guide that lets you know where you can and can’t fish as many areas are protected zones along the coast.
Apart from fishing, we recommend spending a day driving on the western side of the cape along Yardie Creek Road. You will enter the Cape Range National park (entry fee applies) and the drive will take you on a sealed road as far as Yardie Creek. A four wheel drive is needed to travel beyond this point. Along this stretch of sealed road are numerous beaches, all offering great opportunities for leisure activities like swimming sunbathing or a place to sit and just enjoy the views. The crystal clear waters and numerous rocky outcrops, rock pools and coral reefs make this area a snorkeler’s paradise. In particular, Turquoise Bay which is very popular for “drift-snorkelling” where you swim out to the edge of the reef and let the current take you north to the sand bar. Sounds great doesn’t it? Here you will have a chance to witness over 500 different fish species and view some amazing coral. My suggestion is to take along a waterproof camera if you can. It’s an absolute “underwater wonderland”.
If you are happy just to have a swim or relax in the dunes- don’t worry, there are numerous spots that I’m sure you can take advantage of such as Sandy Bay (our personal favourite) and because the Ningaloo Reef comes within metres of the coast in some places, quite a few of the beaches are protected and make great places for the kids to swim without getting knocked over by huge waves. We found a great spot that was just like a natural swimming pool where our son played for ages and even made a new friend there too. The kids loved wading around in the knee deep water.
Several rock pools exist along the beaches too and we spent hours wandering along with our son checking out the starfish, the small octopus and colourful reef fish that found themselves trapped in the pools until the tide made its way in again. It was a great experience for all of us.
There are plenty of picnic areas, toilets and BBQ’s located along the drive as well as an information centre with a great display of animals, posters and informative videos of the area. Make a day of it and pack a picnic.
In an amazing contrast to the relaxing blue waters of the Indian Ocean on one side, rugged ranges and canyons make up pretty much the rest of the Cape Range National park. If you are a keen bush walker or hiker, the many walking trails within the Cape Range National Park will keep you busy- take along your camera to capture some amazing views of the area and see where over the years, erosion has resulted in massive canyons, caves and gorges being formed. National Parks do advise however some of these walk are pretty challenging and visitors should take plenty of water with them if they are planning on venturing out on one of the walks. Alternatively, take a drive through the park for equally stunning views of “Shothole” and “Charles Knife” canyons.
The town of Exmouth itself is not all that large and has an estimated population of just under 2000 people and that figure is known to swell to over 6000 during the peak season. The town centre has all the basic facilities you would need to make sure your stay was comfortable and when it comes to accommodation there are plenty of options for all budgets. Exmouth caters very well for travellers, like I said earlier the town pretty much relies on tourism. So, there are quite a few accommodation providers including several holiday parks for you to choose from. We stayed at the Ningaloo Lighthouse caravan park which was about 15 minutes from town and close to the entrance of the Cape Range National Park, situated at the base of the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Other caravan parks include the Big4 Exmouth Cape Holiday Park and the Ningaloo Caravan & Holiday resort- both closer to the town centre. Of course, if you wanted something a little more self-contained there are numerous resort style accommodation options for those who leave the caravan behind.
My advice for when you travel to this area is to allow yourself plenty of time- don’t rush it. There are loads of activities and tours that operate out of Exmouth to keep you busy and to satisfy your need for adrenalin or relaxation (or both). Hop on a glass bottomed boat and venture out for a few hours to view the marine life of the Ningaloo reef without even getting wet. Or during whale season (August to October) take a sunset whale watching cruise for a memorable time witnessing those magnificent creatures in all their glory whilst at the same time watching the sun go down and perhaps indulging in a gourmet seafood platter. I could think of worse ways to end a perfect day in paradise!
Or how about this for a “different” way of seeing the native fauna that love to call this area “home”- hop aboard a purpose built 4×4 tour vehicle and venture out on a night journey into the National Park. An experienced guide will answer any questions you may have about the area or the sights you see along the way. These are just a few ideas to wet your appetite- there are plenty more I could mention but I just don’t have the room to go on and on about this spot.
Without a doubt, the best time of year to visit Exmouth is from April to October. It can get busy so I would always suggest you plan your visit ahead of time and consider booking your accommodation in advance- with word getting out there about this amazing part of our country, it’s no doubt that it’s only going to get more and more popular with visitors. We can’t wait to get back there soon. We hope you make it there yourself one day too! And before I sign off, treat yourself to a feed of the local endeavour prawns from the co-op whilst you are there- yummo!
To find out more about the Coral Coast, Exmouth and the Cape Range National Park or to help plan your next visit check out these following websites.
www.dpaw.wa.gov.au (for info on Cape Range National Park)
Our Top 5 “must do’s” around Exmouth
Experience the Ningaloo Reef by glass-bottom boat
Sample some local prawns
Try “squidding” from the jetty
Take the boat ride for spectacular views of the ancient Yardie Creek Gorge
Swim, snorkel and sunbake at one of the many great beaches