Whales, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, huge cod or sharks can be seen in abundance at the 260-kilometre-long Ningaloo Marine Park. The reef offers world class diving through to family snorkelling in sheltered lagoons crammed with coral gardens. Ningaloo is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia. It is the only large reef in the world found so close to a continental land mass; about 100 metres offshore at its nearest point and less than seven kilometres at its furthest. The park covers more than 4000 square kilometres and was declared in 1987.
Clownfish bathing in anemone tentacles, attractive lionfish or predatory moray eels are just some of hundreds of species of colourful tropical fish that can be seen. The coral reef fish of Ningaloo are among the most colourful and beautifully patterned of all living creatures. Even the novice snorkeller can swim in the shallows and witness an amazing variety of fish life. They live in and around more than 180 species of coral, ranging from the cabbage corals, brain corals, lavender corals, delicate colourful branching corals, which form gardens in the shallow lagoons.
From mid-March to mid-May each year visitors from all around the world converge on Ningaloo for the experience of a lifetime - diving with the awesome whale shark, the world's biggest species of fish. Ningaloo Reef is the only easily accessible place in the world where these giants appear in large numbers at predictable times of the year. Whale sharks reach more than 12 metres long and weigh more than eleven tonnes. You do not even have to be a scuba diver to swim with these massive animals, as they swim close to the surface.
Exmouth or Coral Bay are also perfect places to view the mass coral spawning, a three day event that begins a week or so after the full moon during March and April. Each night, many species of coral suddenly release millions of bright pink egg and sperm bundles which float to the surface of the water, as though engaging in a spectacular underwater dance.
Nestled on the coast in between Perth and Broome in Western Australia, Exmouth is the gateway to the world famous Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range National Park. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the local wildlife or feast on the town's main export of fresh prawns.
You can drive or catch a bus from Perth or Broome but it's a very long way (1270km), although there are some great places to stop along the way. The Learmonth Airport is about 40km from Exmouth with daily flights to Perth. It's best to hire a car to get around the town as the sites are quite far apart, the city is spread out and it can get very hot in the summer months.
Accommodation is quite expensive in Exmouth so camping in the national park or one of the caravan parks is your best budget option. If there are a few of you then hiring a villa and sharing the cost is a good way to cut your accommodation costs. A double room will set you back $90 a night for a simple room, ranging up to $400 a night for luxury apartment.
A visit to the Cape Range National Park to see the amazing wildlife is a must do and snorkeling off the beach here is amazing. Whale Sharks venture into the bay from March to July so if you're there in this time then swimming with these gentle giants is an unforgetable experience. Another favourite in Autumn and Spring is the Humpback Whales. Be sure to do some diving and snorkeling on the Ningaloo Reef.
You can stop in at the Naval Transmission Station, the second tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. The Vlaming Head Lighthouse is a lovely spot to watch the sunset over the water. Take a cruise on the ocean or hire a kayak for the day and explore the area yourself. Take a fishing trip and see if you can catch your dinner.
It's quite expensive to eat and drink out in Exmouth but the seafood is the freshest of the fresh and you can sample it at a local fish and chip shop if you're on a budget. Stop in at the local pub to enjoy a beer, the Potshot Hotel has a disco on Fridays, which is the only nightlife in the town.
We hope you enjoy your visit to this quaint little coastal town, from national park to pristine reef, you'll love the beautiful environment and chilled out atmosphere.
(By Kelly Luckman)