Ningaloo, in my opinion, offers the best snorkelling in Australia from the shore! You just drive into the Cape Range National Park, grab your snorkel gear, walk into the water and within meters you are in a world class coral reef, surrounded by tropical fish, turtles and reef sharks! It is unbelievable how much you can see from the beach! Unlike the Great Barrier Reef which is located miles off shore and you need a boat to get to the reef, Ningaloo is just here, ready to go! Our Sea Breeze Resort staff has maps and detailed information available at reception, to recommend the best spots according to the tides and wind predictions. It is also advisable to check the actual conditions with the park rangers. Ningaloo, unlike other parts of Australia, has no Jelly Box Fish to worry about, no Crocodiles and only a maximum of 2.5m tide. It the perfect all year round water playground!
Do you really need a car and which one would you need?
YOU NEED A CAR! Regardless of where you are staying, you will need your own transport! Cape Range National Park is 35km from town and Ningaloo Reef has so much on offer for you to explore, but everything is outside walking distance! Please note there is no public transport. The only other way to take in the sights is to do guided tours, which we support of course, but they don’t get you to the lighthouse for sunset and of course they don’t take you into the National Park to your timing and leisure! A lot of people think they need a 4WD, but I think you don’t! Most people are happy to stay on the bitumen that ends at Yardie Creek 80km from us! All main beach access points are well-prepared and maintained gravel roads, so no drama for a 2-wheeler! A little compact car will do for a small family or a couple, just enough to throw the Esky, Sun shelter and snorkel gear in! Having said that, if you are a photographer and want to get off the beaten track into some amazing wildlife, then you may need a 4WD for a few days! Please be aware all hire car companies only offer 100km free/day. This is to stop people running thousands of kilometres on a car in a few days! Please be aware of hefty excess fees, which can be reduced as well at a cost! Here is a tip for you: Please check with your credit card company if you have excess insurance as part of your Credit Card benefits! A lot of credit cards have this service and a lot of people don’t know about it! If not, best way to go is with travel insurance. You never know, and for the extra dollar you spend you buy peace of mind! Which is just what you need up here to enjoy yourself.
Whale Shark Tours
May I refer you to the Whale Shark section in which I describe in detail how to get the best value out of the trip. A must to read, if you want to make the most of it!
Being a PADI Dive Instructor myself with a couple of thousand dives here under my belt and having had my own charter boat, I feel I can offer some insights into this activity and help you planning your trip. Until mid 2011 the dive industry was involved in more internal fighting than focusing on customer service and has destroyed its reputation. The service provided did not reflect the prices charged. Am I happy that this has changed!!!
Ningaloo Whale Shark ‘N’ Dive has taken the lead and invested heavily into a new live-aboard vessel and recently got the exclusive license to dive the Navy Pier! I am glad that we are now able to provide dive packages again! Please be aware that because of the remote location of Exmouth and its increase in oil and gas activity sometimes minimum numbers are a problem. We are currently trying to work around this issue, especially when packages are booked. I believe on a good day the diving here can take it up with any world-class destination out there! Please note that we have seasonality for some underwater activity: Whale Sharks are here from April to September but the dedicated Whale Shark tours only going out until the end of July. Mantas are around Exmouth from July to December, yet ALL YEAR round in Coral Bay! A must do when you visit Ningaloo!
The Navy Pier is listed as one of the 10 best shore dives in the world and is still one of my all time favourite especially at night! Lighthouse Bay is underrated in its beauty, diversity and the dive site Blizzard Ridge is still a photographers dream. Again, spectacular at night, but nobody offers night diving. Muiron Islands are 2 islands approx 15nm north east of Point Murrat and ranges from 25m to 3m coral gardens, mainly covered in soft and leather corals. Its turtle sanctuary is spectacular to visit if time and tide allows. A drift between the Islands is a ‘deep’ 15m channel with existing Pelagic Fish life, ranging from Mantas, bigger Sharks, Giant Trevallies and Dolphins.
Exmouth Gulf and Bundegi Reef is closest to Exmouth and really comes to life in August when the Humpbacks and Mantas ‘move in’ until December, when they start to disappear. Exmouth Gulf has mainly a sandy bottom with an amazing diversity of ground cover and coral. This is the nursing place of Ningaloo where the majority of fish breeds and where the coral are fragile and colourful. Diving in the Gulf is very rewarding but comes often with poor visibility and strong currents during king tides. On neap tides however, the Gulf can be dived all day long and offers spectacular sites and 24 islands, but no operators goes there as it is not consistent enough.
Ningaloo Reef Lagoon is shallow, mainly snorkelling and subject to currents.
Outer Reef is the Ningaloo Reef drop off into the Indian Ocean. Diving here is subject to the oceans swell and wind. This area is totally unprotected and wild and best explored on a live-aboard only available in Exmouth at Whale Shark ‘N’ Dive or Coral Bay with Sail Ningaloo on a sailing cat. I highly recommend both!
In summary: If you are a diver and/or underwater photographer, plan your arrival in Exmouth with the tides. We can offer assistance with the establishment of the time to dive. Of course we can not predict the weather but the tide forecast is very accurate, so that is a start. You also want to plan enough time, as there is soooo much more to see and to do and you will need to have a few extra days as diving may be impossible due to bad wind and/or swell! Ningaloo Reef is wild, pure, largely undiscovered and raw! If you are a serious diver, bring your gear and lots of time and plan well ahead! I hope this information is helpful.
Having said that: I also think Ningaloo produces some of the best snorkelling if not THE best snorkelling in Australia, with an almost untouched coral reef just meters from the beach.
Value for money
What can I say? Please take your time reading my advice. It is all here! I designed our packages to create a great experience and the best value for your money, so you have an extra few dollars left to take your partner to a nice restaurant, stay an extra night or take out travel insurance! The formula is simple: You are coming a long way to the No1 iconic tourism destination in Western Australia, so please give yourself as much time here as you can spare! The longer you stay, the cheaper the accommodation will be. You don’t do yourself and this region any favours by trying to see it all in a day! You can’t, not even the highlights, believe me! I just travelled five months inland and south of here, never left the state, yet did we did not do the South-west in depth! Please note you are a long way away from anything and that Ningaloo Reef is 300km long, so there are lots of different areas to explore. A lot of people think they get the best deals by just rocking up and then trying to book everything individually. It doesn’t work that way and if you find that Exmouth is fully booked, then you will realise that Coral Bay is fully booked, Carnarvon and Karratha also! That means sleeping in your car or driving back to Geraldton! A lot of people ask me if it is really worth the money for a Whale Shark trip? YES, YES and YES! It changed our lives, my dad changed into another man and people come back from the trips in awe! This is NOT a mass tourism tour or destination! It is pure, rough and wild! But if you love shopping, night-life, parties and the seafood esplanade on the beach don’t come to Exmouth!
Do I need to pre-book?
It all depends. In the season from April to January pre-booking is highly recommended. The reason for this is the increase in tourist visits but also the dramatic increase of Mining in the area. If you are after a great deal, then booking well in advanced and/or in the summer months allows you save a lot of money. Booking ahead will increase your choice of rooms, a free upgrade and a spot with the preferred Whale Shark operators. It will also help the operator to offer you a better service. Last Minute bookings always catch operators on the back foot and sometimes short staffed, meaning the service can be inconsistent. If an operator knows in advanced he will be busy, then staff adjustments can be made and the highest possible service achieved. It is therefore not only in our interests if you book well in advance.
What else do I need to be aware off?
Ningaloo is a very special place, which hasn’t a lot to offer at first sight, but when digging a little bit deeper it offers experiences, which potentially change your life! The difference between deep disappointments, to the best holiday in your life, is extremely close together! Therefore, I share this information with you, hoping you will find the place and tour which suits YOU! 15 years in the Exmouth tourism industry, running a resort, bar, restaurant, rental cars and a dive shop, I have gained some insight into the most beautiful parts of this region. I hope that my experience will make a difference to your visit. When choosing your accommodation, you should look at the location as well as the services provided. There are a few in the town centre and some outside the town. In my opinion being in town does not mean you have an advantage. Accommodation in town is subject to loud noise on certain nights from the pub and when parties start up, especially on the weekends. Certain events bring in a lot of partying people and that may not be what you want when you are trying to get away from the rat race! Branded accommodation ensures Quality Assurance and minimum world standards in their services. Take Golden Chain for example: Largest motel chain in Australia and NZ with over 350 properties in Oz and 180 in NZ and still a membership organisation. Their Quality Assurance System checks each hotel once a year. Everything is checked in a strict procedure. This insures that we members continuously upgrade our properties and keep a good maintenance routine. Being a member on the other hand allows me to run a unique resort in a unique location in a unique environment, insuring highest possible customer satisfaction! I also like to point out the different construction of buildings, which come into play when you need a quiet stay or in extreme weather conditions. Air-conditioning is a big one! Who wants to sleep with a noisy air-con running all night or hear the one three rooms down? We at Sea Breeze Resort have one centralised chiller plant and we run cold water through a radiator and fan! Perfect climate with almost silent operation! Additional services such as FREE airport shuttles, FREE wireless Internet, FREE Foxtel and size of the rooms should be checked. It applies here too; you get not always what is advertised. Some accommodation places have a large range of different rooms but advertise only their best products, which are not necessarily located on site. Some tours still have minimum numbers, therefore risking that your trip may be cancelled at the last minute because the minimum numbers are not met. I am a strong advocate in removing minimum numbers and working together as a team by moving customers to a competitor rather then cancelling last minute meaning the visitors are missing out. Unfortunately the dive industry in Exmouth is extremely fragmented and working against each other rather than together. During the past decade I have had all sorts of experience levels. Having said that, some guests had the best diving in their lives, some came in the off peak season and were unable to dive at all, because minimum numbers were not met and left deeply disappointed. We therefore distance ourselves from these operators and only support the ones with exceptional customer service. I know a lot of people, especially my fellow dive friends around the world, are disappointed that I am not offering any dive packages any more, but I am in the business of giving people the very best time here and I am not interested in complaints! Our staff and guest satisfaction is based on a happy and peaceful workplace and a satisfactory experience. We don’t want, and can not afford, to have unhappy guests! Sorry guys, unless the dive industry gets their act together, I cannot put my name to it. I therefore recommend you contact each dive shop, explain to them exactly what you want and what your expectations are! Do yourself a favour and please READ THEIR FINE PRINT in their booking forms! I think only you, the customer, has the power to change things, which are obviously wrong. You also need to know that there are no catering facilities in the Cape Range National Park. We therefore offer the hire of an Esky (cool-box), cool blocks, and umbrella and snorkel gear!
We also get a lot of people who are scared of going snorkelling, for several reasons:
a) Sharks! Yes there are a lot of small reef sharks around and to this date nobody has been ever been bothered when only snorkelling.
b) Currents! Yes, certain places are more subject to currents and more dangerous than others. We usually use currents to our advantage, entering the water “upstream” and just drift parallel to the beach over the coral reef!
c) I am not a good swimmer! Yes that is a point, but again, it is very safe to snorkel and we do offer “sausages”, wet suits and life vests so that you can enjoy the reef. However, we do urge people to check at reception and with the rangers for the latest condition and make sure the conditions match your level of snorkelling skills. Generally you drift and don’t have to swim so can cover larger areas without getting tired and if you wish you can go over the same area you feel comfortable, over and over again!
Exmouth has a really interesting history, both indigenous and non-indigenous. The Harold E. Holt Naval Base played a big role in the Cold War and is still an active Communication Base sending information to submarines around the world! At the end of the day may I urge you to plan your trip to Ningaloo thoroughly, therefore insuring a trip of a lifetime and preventing disappointment! Our team at the Sea Breeze Resort is more than happy to provide more in depth information and assistance. Please feel free to contact us and ask!