When Kylie and I looked at the road map for places to hang out for the weekend between Carnavon and Karratha, we finally settled on Coral Bay, (although it was only after Kylie let go of her dream – for now – to surf The Bluff and Gnaraloo).
Coral Bay is situated at the southern end of the spectacular Ningaloo Reef, which extends 260kms north towards Exmouth. It is a much smaller settlement than Exmouth with a resident population of under 200 people. In 1915, the town was officially named ‘Maud’s Landing’ after the first Europeans to visit the area; crew of the schooner Maud that landed in 1884. The town played a pivotal role in the development of the NW of WA acting as a supply depot for ingoing and outgoing goods. In 1968, formal settlement began with the establishment of a hotel, caravan park and service station. The hotel was named the Coral Bay Hotel in reference to the beautiful coral reef in the bay area. Subsequently the settlement became known as Coral Bay. And not much has changed in Coral Bay since then – thank goodness! It remains an idyllic place to get away from it all where sandy feet are the most common footwear and it still only has one street! Every business has the same address – Robinson Street.
Arguably the main reason that the Ningaloo Coast receives more than 15,000 tourists a year is because of its most famous visitor and biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark. For most ocean lovers, the chance to swim with these gentle giants tops the bucket list. We are lucky enough in Western Australia to have this opportunity on our doorstep. The Ningaloo Reef is one of the best and most accessible places in the world to see whale sharks as they migrate to the reef every year after the mass coral spawning in March and April.
There are various whale shark tours available between April and July from Exmouth or Coral Bay, but each offer a similar experience. $390 will get you a day out on a boat with 20 fellow eager tourists and crew members, and allow you access to the outer Ningaloo Reef where you can see animals you may not have seen on the inner reef such as majestic manta rays or dolphins. Spotter planes will alert your skipper when a whale shark is in the area and you will be told to ‘get ready to jump in!’ accompanied by your very own dive guide. There is nothing quite like being in the water with these enormous creatures who can get up to 18m and weigh over 20 tonnes! If you don’t spot a whale shark on your first day out, you will get to go back again the next day for free.
So what better thing to do together than swim with the world’s biggest fish?! The last time Kylie and I were in the water with a big fish, things didn’t go so well. We knew it was going to be a special and memorable day, those once in a blue moon days when you do something you haven’t done before – a ‘Lifer’.
The day out on the reef was everything we had hoped for. Kylie got to see her first whale shark! We actually got to swim with two different whale sharks, both about 5-6m long. Even though I have swum with them quite a few times before, it still blows me away every time I see them in water. We also saw a manta ray swimming on its back, a pod of dolphins, two white-tipped reef sharks, four Hawksbill turtles, loads of fish and even a dugong. The visibility in the water was amazing, as was the temperature (about 28C at the moment). We were both the last ones back on the boat and would have stayed out there if we could. It was definitely a special day, particularly to be in the deep blue again together.