Be dazzled by the spectacular underwater coral gardens, majestic manta rays and whale sharks, and abundant array of tropical fish at Ningaloo Reef in Coral Bay.
The Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef and the only one of its size in the world positioned so close to a continental landmass. Extending from Bundegi Reef in Exmouth in the north to Amherst Point, just south of Coral Bay, the reef offers 260km of some of the most breathtaking snorkelling sites in the state.
A trip to Coral Bay just isn’t complete without checking out the reef. Operators in town offer a range of options, including glass-bottom boat tours for those who’d prefer not to get wet, whale shark swim tours during the animal’s migratory season from March to June, and, of course, snorkelling tours.
Coral Bay Adventures offers a variety of tours that cater to all snorkellers, from those who’ve never before donned a mask and snorkel, to travellers wanting to head out deep and get up close and personal with a whale shark or manta ray.
The shortest is the two-hour Subsea Explorer tour. Your first hour is spent in a semi-submersible glass sided boat learning about the marine life and coral. Once you’ve got a grasp on the underwater world below, the boat is moored and you’re given an hour to snorkel, before heading home. This tour is best suited to those with junior snorkelling skills and families.
The Reef Discovery Tour is a three-hour tour that takes you to two different snorkelling sites on the outer reef. No time is wasted getting out to the sites, giving snorkellers more time in the water. Light snacks and refreshments are provided.
Finally, all Coral Bay Adventure’s Wildlife tours mix snorkelling with a little marine life spotting. These tours generally run for half and full days and include all refreshments, the full day tour also includes a buffet lunch. All participants are fitted out with snorkel gear, which is included in the tour cost. Sunscreen is also provided but you’ll need to bring along a towel, hat and camera.
The beauty of booking a snorkel tour with Coral Bay Adventure tours is that they’ll give you free hire of their gear for the remainder of your stay in Coral Bay – even if that’s a month or more! They’ll also give you tips on where to go and how best to snorkel there.
The current on the reef flows from south to north. If you’re heading out for a solo snorkel, Candice from Coral Bay Adventures recommends you walk south of town, swim as far out onto the reef as you feel comfortable, then drift back with the current. According to Candice, “it’s easy, as long as you can float and have a basic swimming ability”. The walk along the beach is flat, bar a couple of small rocky outcrops.
The best snorkel sites are within a kilometre of the beach. While most are unnamed, Asho’s Gap is said to be a ripper, although it’s difficult to reach without the help of an operator. Best snorkelled when the swell is low, Candice says the fish life here is “full on” and the coral stunning. Immediately behind the site, the seabed drops off 12m.
You’re also likely to see reef sharks here. Just behind Asho’s Gap is a cleaning station, which is very much like a drive-in car wash for reef sharks. The sharks swim into the gap, where tiny fish, called cleaner wraffs, go to work cleaning its teeth and removing parasites from its skin.
If you fall in love with snorkelling and want to stock up on all your gear while in Coral Bay, head to The Dive Centre, where you’ll find a wide range of gear. Coral Bay Adventures offers discounts off the tour price to those with their own mask, flippers and snorkel.
It’s best to book your tour with Coral Bay Adventures at least a week in advance. Call (08) 9942 5955, email [email protected], or pop into their shop The Boat Shed at shop 11, Coral Bay Arcade, Coral Bay.