Ok, I’ll admit, I was not impressed when I arrived at Exmouth and the Ningaloo Coast and discovered that there was no free camping allowed anywhere on the peninsula. What do you mean I’d have to PAY for accommodation?? Madness! Last time I paid to stay somewhere was back in Queensland. I was not happy. So sorry fellow free campers, I have no advice to share in this post on that topic.
But Exmouth and the Ningaloo Coast very quickly overcame my begrudging mood. This is some of the most beautiful scenery, and the best snorkelling I’ve seen (yes, better than the Great Barrier Reef in my opinion!), although I can’t claim to be anywhere near an expert on that subject. I set up camp at the Yardie Homestead Caravan Park, the furthest from town, but by far the cheapest. Really nice staff, good facilities (no free wifi though), and being the furthest from town also meant that it was the closest to the best of the coast and Cape Range National Park. Winning!
My favourite place along this World Heritage listed area was Turquoise Bay, an extremely famous beach that, yes, was busy even in the off-peak season, but still absolutely worth your time going. The beach, one of MANY you can explore, definitely lives up to its name, but is also known for its Drift snorkel. Here, the coral is very close to shore, and a gentle current pulls you over the top of it so you barely even have to swim! Careful you don’t drift too far, as at the north end of the beach the current grows a lot stronger, so make sure you jump out before then. I saw more fish than I’ve seen anywhere else; at one point I looked up to find myself surrounded by about a hundred two-foot long fish staring curiously at me. That was a ‘holy s**t’ moment right there.
Around the corner is the other half of Turquoise Bay. Here, the coral isn’t so impressive, but maybe I just didn’t swim out far enough. I did, however, see a stingray, my first, which I got stupidly excited about until Steve Irwin flashed in my mind and I carefully backed off. And when two emus appear out of the bush and trot down to the water’s edge for a very ungraceful bath (think legs and wings and neck EVERYWHERE), it’s quite an experience. Added bonus: ticking another animal off my Australian wildlife bucket list!
If floating lazily along beautiful blue waters while checking out the local marine life isn’t adrenaline-pumping enough for you, I recommend doing the Mandu Mandu Gorge walk nearby. This trail isn’t particularly strenuous, but the short, steep sections and high temperatures will definitely get you working up a sweat. Start by walking up the dry river bed into the gorge (say hi to the wallabies as you go!), then follow the path up and around to the top of the cliffs. Here, you are rewarded by a stunning vista of red gorge walls, white river bed and green vegetation all rolling down to the varying blues of the reef along the coastline. Beautiful.
Other points of interest to keep you occupied are the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse with amazing views in every direction (it’s also about the only place in Australia you can watch both the sunrise and sunset over the ocean), and the SS Mildura, wrecked on the reef in 1907, which can be seen from the beach. I also rather enjoyed Pebble Beach (points for guessing how it got its name) to the south of the town.
There are a couple of hikes you can access from the eastern side of the national park – Shothole Canyon is a popular one, and something I regret not doing when I was in the area. If you ever go, you have to tell me about it!
I only explored a fraction of the area; Cape Range National Park itself could keep you occupied for days. But what I did see was more than enough to convince me that the Ningaloo Coast is definitely worth visiting, even without the free camping. Plus, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – need I say more?
It costs $11 for a one-off vehicle pass into Cape Range National Park. There are also designated camping spots, which incur an extra charge if you use them. It is not allowed to camp anywhere other than these places. Passes can be bought at the visitor centre in Exmouth or at the ranger office at the park entrance.
Entry from the north (i.e. Exmouth) is on a sealed tar road, so it’s perfect for 2WD vehicles. Up to a certain point, that is. Most of the beaches are accessible by 2WD, but further into the park it turns into more difficult terrain and a 4WD is required.
There is no fresh water available in the park, so be sure to bring plenty with you.
Accommodation options are plentiful, if pricey, in the Ningaloo region. Exmouth is a fairly large town with many hotels and guesthouses for the many tourists that pass through. For a cheaper option, try one of the Caravan Parks – there’s the Yardie Homestead near the entrance to the park, the Lighthouse Caravan Park near the lighthouse (duh), and several others closer to Exmouth itself.
If you get there at the right time of year, the Ningaloo Coast is also home to migrating humpbacks, dolphins and whale sharks, the last one being the region’s biggest tourist draw. Just make sure to use a reputable company if you take a tour to see the whale sharks.
Have you ever been to the Ningaloo Coast? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Or are you aching to visit it’s turquoise waters and white sands?
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.