Lesser known than some of Australia’s more famous coastlines, the aptly names Coral Coast on the western side of the country is just as spectacular as its eastern counterparts.
Running north of Perth all the way up to Exmouth, the Coral Coast stretches over 1000 kilometres. Stunning scenery, paradise beaches, natural wonders and amazing flora and fauna can be found in abundance.
You can visit this sub-tropical region all year round. From March to July you can experience a truly unique wildlife encounter, swimming with whale sharks. From June to August it is cooler and rainy but this is also the best time to spot whales migrating north from the Antarctic. Wildflower season heralds the arrival of spring and from September to November this part of Australia is coloured in a beautiful blanket of wild flowers.
One of the best ways to explore the Coral Coast is by taking a road trip. Australia’s roads are generally in very good condition and good value camper vans specifically aimed at backpackers can be hired from a number of companies. In January we hired a cheap and cheerful camper called the ‘lucky rookie’ from Lucky Rentals who can be found in Aus and New Zealand. The vans are great value for money and although ours had certainly clocked up some miles we had absolutely no problems during our 12 day trip.
We did a round trip from Perth and went as far north as Exmouth and the Cape Range National Park and back. We purposely missed some stops on our way up the Coral Coast so we could visit them on the return journey back to Perth. Our first overnight stop was just past Geraldton at the Coronation Beach camping site, next was Carnarvon followed by the Cape Range National Park. After a a few days here we began the journey back spending a couple of days each at Coral Bay, Shark Bay and Kalbarri.
Australia’s Coral Coast has a wide range of amazing things to see and do. Here are some of our favourites:
Located 904 kilometres north of Perth, Carnarvon was the second overnight stop on our journey (the first was Coronation beach, to help break up the journey to Carnarvon). The town is situated at the only point of the Australian coastline where the central desert reaches out to the sea. Famous for its production of fruit and veg, Carnarvon is a good place to stop and stock up on supplies before you header further North where prices will rise.
Spend some time relaxing at the Fascine, Carnarvons central waterway in the centre of town and take a stroll across the old tram line. You can walk the 3 km Tramway Bridge Trail which links Carnarvon with the historical one mile jetty. Museums to visit include the Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Centre and the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum. The small Chinaman’s Pool Nature Reserve is also worth a quick stop to see lots of bird life including a large population of pelicans.
Created by powerful ocean swells that force water through sea caves and up out of narrow holes in the rocks, the blowholes erupt jets of water into the air. Located 75 km north of Carnarvon the blowholes are well worth a visit to see this natural phenomenon and rugged part of the coastline.
Drive one kilometre south of the blowholes to find a calm coral-filled lagoon with a white sandy beach, this area is ideal for snorkelling and you can also camp here with an overnight fee to be paid to the site ranger.
CAPE RANGE NATIONAL PARK
Part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, this huge national park extends along the western side of the North West Cape and boasts spectacular scenery dominated by a rugged limestone range and a pristine Indian Ocean.
The Northern entry point to the park is around 36 km from the nearest town of Exmouth and is the main access into the park. There is so much to do here that most people who visit decide to stay a few days and camp at one of the many campsites situated throughout the length of the park. Camping fees ($10 per adult) have to be paid for every night you stay and entrance fee’s also have to be paid ($12) but only on the day you arrive.
The Cape Range National Park has some great trails to walk ranging from easy strolls to more challenging treks. Pick up one of the free information guides from the park entrance or Milyering Discovery Centre which lists a number of walks and provides difficulty grading and how long they should take to complete. Extreme heat can be encountered when walking in the park. Walking in the cooler months or during the cooler times of day is strongly recommended as is carrying plenty of water with you. There is no water and very little shade in the park.
In addition to some some stunning inland scenery including the magnificent shothole canyon, the Cape Range National Park also has some breathtakingly beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters that are great for snorkelling. The Ningaloo reef which stretches more than 300 km from the North West Cape to Red Bluff, is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia and one of the healthiest and most accessible coral reef systems in the world.
From whale sharks, to kangaroo’s, turtles, a variety of whale species including the killer whale and humpback, emu’s, monitor lizards and manta rays, Cape Range is home to an amazing array of wildlife. Avoid driving at night or during dusk or dawn when large numbers of kangaroos and other animals make driving very hazardous.
1,200 km north of Perth, Coral Bay is blessed with a milder climate and a pristine bay that offers wonderful snorkelling opportunities very close to shore. The Ningaloo reef stretches past Coral Bay making it the perfect place for those who love to snorkel but don’t feel confident swimming further out. Being in a sanctuary zone (no fishing permitted) means the area is brimming with a variety of tropical fish. Coral Bay also boasts a large population of Manta Rays and offers visitors the unique opportunity to swim with these gentle giants.
There are only two campsites in Coral Bay so book in advance during busier periods.
Shark Bay is a World Heritage Area with over 1,500 kilometres of captivating coastline boasting beautiful white and red sand beaches, sheer cliffs and crystal clear waters. Shark Bay has a staggering array of natural wonders and amazing wildlife including a large population of dugongs, turtles, manta rays, sharks, countless species of fish and the famous Monkey Mia dolphins.
Shark Bay has so many different places to visit so take a world heritage drive to some of the best experiences WA has to offer! Our favourite stops included:
- Hamelin Pool and the stromatolites; the world’s oldest living organism.
- Shell Beach; a unique world wonder, Shell Beach is made up entirely of the Hamelin Cockle or Coquina Shell.
- Eagle Bluff; is named after the osprey who nest on the cliffs here. A boardwalk allows you to walk up right up to the cliff edge and view marine life in the crystal clear waters below. We saw a shark and a type of ray whilst we were here.
- Little Lagoon; 3km past the main town of Denham is the idyllic Little Lagoon, a perfect place to go for a swim.
- Monkey Mia Reserve; home to the famous Monkey Mia dolphins
At the Monkey Mia Conservation Park, wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins visit on average 360 days of the year and have made Monkey Mia a must see in Shark Bay. The entire park is carefully regulated by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and adult entry is AUD $8.50 per day or $13 for up to a month.
In the 1960’s a fisherman and his wife began feeding the dolphins here and they have visited ever since. There is now strict monitoring of feeding by the park rangers, only 5 female dolphins are now fed and with no more than 10% of their daily intake of fish so that they still have to hunt for the majority of their food. A small number of visitors (often children) will be picked to help feed the dolphins. Monkey Mia is also home to a research project on the behaviour and conservation of bottlenose dolphins. There is no set times for the feeds as it depends on when the dolphins decide to visit. Between 7.45 and 12 noon the dolphins will be offered fish the first 3 times they visit. If the dolphins visit more than three times or after 12 noon they won’t be fed. Meet the park rangers on the boardwalk at the front of the visitor centre for a briefing at 7.45am.
Monkey Mia is an amazing place to see these beautiful creatures in the wild but please follow the guidelines issued by the parks and wildlife department to ensure they stay protected. When we visited we were lucky enough to see around 15 dolphins including a ridiculously cute new born calf and a few pelicans joined us too!
Located 590 km north of Perth, midway along the Coral Coast, Kalbarri sits at the mouth of the Murchison River and is surrounded by National Park. Kalbarri boasts dramatic scenery with stunning coastal cliffs, inland gorges and offers a variety of seasonal wildlife watching experiences. The visitor centre is located in the main street of town and is the place to head for free maps and visitor information on sightseeing and walking trails. You can also book tours and transport from here.
Our favourite part of Kalbarri was taking a walk along its incredible coastal cliffs. In particular the 1.2km boardwalk connecting the natural bridge with island rock offers some unforgettable views.
Have you visited Australia’s Coral Coast? We’d love for you to share your favourite places in the comments below!