Exmouth is an unassuming little town perched on the North West Cape, half way up the coast of WA. Made famous for the whale sharks that visit annually, Ningaloo reef is the world’s largest fringing coral reef and it’s the coral spawning that occurs every March and April that attracts these gentle giants to the area and in turn the tourists that come to swim with them. The town is primarily a base to explore the reef and adjacent Cape Range National Park which offers some lovely walks through the rugged terrain.
The sole van supplier in Exmouth - Wicked is located at 6 Maley Street (ph. 1800 24 68 69) in town, which is about a 30 minute drive North of the airport if you’re flying in. It's pretty small and staight forward to navigate with just one road in and out, water on one side and a mountain range of the other to help orientate even the most slick of city slickers. There’s a number of caravan parks in town too so you shouldn’t have any problem finding a vacancy. Check out our vans and parks.
There are a number of whale shark tours that operate out of town and will set you back a cool $350 for the day. This does include all your gear, food and a spotter plane that circles about looking for the whale sharks. Ask about their no sighting policies, especially if you’re there on the shoulder of the season. We went with Ningaloo Blue Dive and our guides were well organised and super friendly.
Other activities include turtle watching - three species nest and hatch in the sands north of town from November to March. You can find them laying eggs or if you're lucky, hatchlings emerging and scurrying down to the water.
Scenic and Microflights operate out of the light airstrip south of town and are an amazing way to see the reef from the sky. The reef was recently (2012) World Heritage Listed and in the space of our hour long Microflight ($299) I can see why; we cross out over Cape Range and circle over the reef, spotting humpback whales, manta rays, dugongs, tiger sharks and too many turtles to count, before crusing back to the airstrip. My pilot Gav was loads of fun and even sports the requisite dreadlocks for those is the not-so-typical profession of microflight-ing.
Fishing is also big with the locals and there’s a number of reef or game fishing expeditions with day trips starting around the $250 mark. Try Ningaloo Pearls.
For the history buffs Exmouth is also home to one of the four radio stations in the wolrd that the military uses to communicate with submaries, as far away as San Fransisco. Once the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere the 370 meter tall towers sit on the cape’s northern tip and twinkle red in the night to notify of their presence.
The towers and AFP administering their security sit at odds with the laid-back lifestyle of the town but one happy consequence is a world class shore dive at the now rarely used Navy Pier, North of Bundegi Beach just out of town. You do need to be on an organised tour (Ningaloo Whale Shark n Dive). Alternatively if you head down into Cape Range National Park the reef sits just 100m from the coast in sections and there are a number of spots for shore based snorkelling. Currents can be strong though so pick up info on currents from the park office on the way in.
Ningaloo is a place not to be forgotten quickly (not least because I’ll be paying back the credit card in the months to come) but it offers an alternative slice of life far removed from a lot of the rest of Australia. Visit in the cooler months to avoid soaring daytime temperatures and to ensure you're there when the whales and whale sharks are too.