The Ningaloo Reef Exmouth is one of the most spectacular marine areas in the world; it is fringed by the rich red colors of the incredible Cape Range National Park. When we first visited Exmouth it got a little confusing. For example, which areas should be referred to as Ningaloo Coast – and which parts are Cape Range National Park? Both of these activities are often listed as “things to do in Exmouth’ but I think are more correctly covered as one guide as it distinguishes that they are actually quite some distance from Exmouth and they are both spectacular natural attractions. So, if you are planning to visit Ningaloo Reef, here are our top things to do in Ningaloo Reef and at Cape Range National Park.
When visiting Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Coast, no doubt you will be visiting Exmouth WA as well. Make sure to read Best Things to do in Exmouth WA (2023) for great insider information. We realize that things change all the time, and so it’s really important to us that we provide the most up to date information possible! That’s why we go through our pages annually making sure they are as current as possible. As always, if you notice something that’s not quite right, please let us know in the comments!
The word ‘Ningaloo‘ is an Aboriginal word that means a ‘promontory’ which is a headland of elevated land (or the Northwest Capes!) Yinikutira, also recorded as the Jinigudira, are the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Country along the Ningaloo Coast around the Exmouth Peninsula in Western Australia now referred to as the Cape Range National Park
We respect and pay tribute to our First Nations people, the custodians of this beautiful land in which we live and love. We believe that through acknowledgement and learning together we can heal country.
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Why is the Ningaloo Reef WA Special?
Ningaloo Reef Exmouth is not only Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, but it is also a World Heritage Site. Ningaloo Reef spans the Ningaloo Coast and, in some parts, lies only a few hundred meters from the beach.
When thinking of fantastic reef systems in Australia, of course most people think of the Great Barrier Reef. Even though the Great Barrier Reef is stunning, Ningaloo Reef should also be thought of in similar regard. Unlike parts of the Great Barrier Reef that are suffering from bleaching, Ningaloo is thriving.
If you are interested in reading more about the Great Barrier Reef, check out our Great Barrier Reef Facts and Amazing Great Barrier Reef Tours & Tips for Snorkeling Cairns.
Also, if you want to really dive into all the things that make Ningaloo Reef Exmouth amazing we have a post for you as well. Facts about Ningaloo Reef is packed with information.
Why is the Cape Range National Park Special?
Cape Range National Park occupies the west side of the Northwest Cape peninsula. Cape Range has it all from spectacular limestone ranges, amazing canyons, and 60 kilometers of gorgeous Western Australia beaches like Turquoise Bay.
Situated 51 kilometers from the nearest town of Exmouth Western Australia, this translates to roughly a 45-minute drive. The drive is surely worth it to see the breathtaking landscape, vast array of birds, and other local wildlife like red kangaroos, echidnas, and emus. Not to mention that Cape Range National Park is the gateway to Ningaloo Marine Park. Ningaloo Reef is situated right off the coast.
Things to do around Cape Range National Park – Close to Exmouth
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse
Located 17km from Exmouth, Vlamingh Head Lighthouse on the Ningaloo Coast is a must-see attraction. It offers panoramic views over Lighthouse Bay. At certain times of the year Humpback Whales may be spotted on their southern migration and it is one of only a few areas in Australia where you can view both the sunrise and sunset.
Watching sunset from the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse is definitely one our favourite things to do in Cape Range National Park.
View the Shipwreck of SS Mildura
Resting 80 metres from the shore, what remains of the shipwrecked SS Mildura can be viewed from the Lighthouse Bay coast.
The SS Mildura was a cattle steamer that was shipwrecked during the 1907 cyclone. There is some good interpretative information in the carpark, not just about the wreck but also about the Harold Holt Communications Station.
Jarabi Turtle Centre
Turtle lovers take note, from about January through April if you visit the beach after sundown you may be able to see tiny turtle hatchlings as they head off to the ocean.
If you are visiting outside those months, you can visit the Jarabi Turtle Centre year-round to learn about the turtles that call Ningaloo Reef WA home. Learn about the Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles that live off the shores of the Ningaloo Coast.
The Jarabi Turtle Centre is free to visit. They also have a paid 3–4-hour nighttime tour where you can witness turtle hatchlings when in season. Please check the Jarabi Turtle Centre website for more information.
Tantabiddi Boat Ramp
The Tantabiddi Boat Ramp is located approximately 3km before the entrance to Cape Range National Park.
If you are doing any Ningaloo Reef tours, the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp is where you tour will depart from. Whether it is a Ningaloo Reef snorkeling tour, swimming with Whale Sharks, taking a glass bottom boat out to visit Ningaloo Reef, or any other Ningaloo Coast tour, this is the place you will start from.
Interested in different Ningaloo Reef tours? Check out our recommendations below.
Coral Coast Wildflowers
While Australia’s coral coast wildflowers are not as famous as other places on the West Coast, they still make a pretty spectacular show; and one we enjoyed very much. From the moment we arrived at Learmonth airport, the coastal plan around Exmouth was filled with the cheerful yellows of the spring wattles, and my personal favourite, the lavender purple mulla mulla.
Around Vlamingh Head Lighthouse and the Harold E Holt Communication station towers on the North West Cape there were copious mulla mulla. (My road stop photo shoot doubled as I took pictures of the imposing towers and the flowers at the same time!
As you head further into the Cape Range National Park, along the road to Turquoise Bay and Yardie Creek we saw lots of Red Sturt Desert Peas, mulla mulla, wattles and also the purple Portaluca. Here around Exmouth the Sturt Desert Peas’ bulbous centres are deep red or maroon, not black like other places. (At least that is what we were told!)
We didn’t see a lot of wildflowers on the Yardie Creek Trail or the Mandu Mandu canyon walk, but we might have been too early in the season. We did see some buttercup yellow hibbertia and a whole family of rock wallabies.
Our family loved our stay at Bullara Station (link) and this was one of our best options for wildflower spotting while in the Ningaloo and Cape Range area. .
Attractions within Cape Range National Park
Milyering Visitor Centre
We highly recommend making Milyering Visitor Centre your first stop when visiting the Ningaloo Coast area. The friendly staff is also a wealth of knowledge about Ningaloo Reef and the Cape Range National Park area. This includes advising what roads are suitable for you to drive on should you not be visiting in a 4WD vehicle.
And, if you plan on doing some Ningaloo Reef snorkeling, they can give you information about tides and currents. Also, there is a shop that has a great selection of snorkeling gear should you need to pick up anything last minute. Don’t forget reef friendly sunscreen!
We highly recommend purchasing a National Parks pass when visiting Cape Range National Park! The combined parks pass make much better value for money, especially if you will be visiting any other national parks in Australia. If you are a local like we are, an annual National Parks Pass is a truly amazing investment. I find it encourages us to go places.
If you are a visitor to Western Australia (lucky you) then I would highly recommend buying a Holiday Park Pass. You can read more information about the Holiday Park Pass here.
WA Holiday Park Pass
Unlimited entry to all parks for up to 4 (four) weeks.
5 Day Holiday Park Pass
Unlimited entry to all parks for up to 5 (five) days.
2 Week Holiday Park pass
Unlimited entry to all parks for up to 2 (two) weeks.
Mandu Mandu Gorge
Hiking the Mandu Mandu Gorge is an amazing experience! It offers incredible views of the Mandu Mandu Gorge Canyon, and from the rim Ningaloo National Park and the Ningaloo Coastline out across the stunning Indian Ocean. You also have a chance to see local wildlife along the way like the Rock Wallaby.
It is a 3km return walk, with the starting point located about 14km south of the discovery centre. Make sure you wear good walking shoes or hiking boots as you will be walking on uneven pebbles for most of the walk.
The Beaches and Snorkeling in Ningaloo Marine Park
Ningaloo Marine Park spans the Ningaloo Coast up the Northwest Cape. Since Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef, Ningaloo Reef snorkeling opportunities abound. Also being one of the world’s largest coral reefs means there are many species of coral, fish, and marine life to take in.
The benefit of it being a fringing reef is that you can snorkeling right from the shore. However, you may also want to book a snorkeling tour, see our recommendations below.
Important Safety Information about Ningaloo Reef
Most places around Ningaloo Reef Exmouth, including the popular Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks, can experience very strong currents and/or large ocean swells. Always read the posted signs and make a visit to the discovery centre to inquire about conditions before getting in the water.
Never, ever snorkel or swim alone. Please know your level of snorkeling experience and always make sure you have a partner with you. Also, be aware of large waves that may push you into the rocky shoreline.
Appropriate footwear must be worn! The Ningaloo Coast beaches are covered with broken coral, shells, and sharp slippery rocks. Make sure you take precautions.
Turquoise Bay Ningaloo Reef
Perhaps the most popular, and stunning, beaches along the Ningaloo Coast is Turquoise Bay. It gets its name from the stunningly blue turquoise waters that meet the white sand beach. Don’t just take our word for it. It was rated the 2nd best beach in the South Pacific and the 6th best beach in the world overall!
Besides being stunningly beautiful, it is a great spot for snorkeling as the Ningaloo Reef Exmouth is located just meters offshore. This protected area is great for spotting all kinds of marine life like turtles, reef sharks, vibrant fish, and different coral formations. The Ningaloo Reef Exmouth, and Turquoise Bay in particular, is a favorite among many divers and snorkelers.
However, be warned! Turquoise Bay is a drift snorkeling spot. This means that you will get in the water and one end of the beach and be carried by the strong current to the other end. This is not the place to learn to snorkel. If you are not a confident swimmer and experienced snorkeler, try Lakeside Beach instead.
Located approximately 15 mins south of Turquoise Bay, is Osprey Bay. Osprey Bay is another visually stunning, paradise-like beach. With calmer waters, it is great for stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling and even a relaxing swim.
There is even a government operated campground. Depending on the time of the year, the campground can be full. Make sure to make your reservations on-line in advance.
Not as picture perfect as Turquoise Bay, or Osprey Bay the Oyster Stacks offer some great snorkeling opportunities. This area is a marine sanctuary zone, and the Oyster Stacks are five little islands that emerge from the water of the reef.
This is the narrow section of lagoon. Because of that, the Oyster Stacks area has a high concentration of marine life. However, with Oyster stacks being the narrowest section of lagoon along the Ningaloo Coast you should only snorkel during high tide. There has to be sufficient water over the reef. The best place to check the tide tables is by visiting Milyering Discovery Centre.
Lakeside Beach is listed as being one of the best areas for snorkeling for families in the Ningaloo Reef WA area. Unfortunately for us, the roads were closed due to heavy rain and we never got to snorkel at Lakeside.
In addition, if you are travelling with little kids, there are still some barriers to an easy snorkel. To get to the snorkeling zone from the carpark it is 400 metres walk south along the beach to the marked entry point. You then snorkel out in a northerly direction for 150 metres before returning to your original entry point. 150 metres swimming is still quite substantial for a small child!
Because this is a sanctuary zone fishing is not allowed in this area which makes for plenty of large reef fish to see.
Yardie Creek Boat Tours, Exmouth
Unless you have a 4WD vehicle, Yardie Creek is the farthest you can travel. However, Yardie Creek Gorge is a must-visit place in Cape Range National Park. It is quite literally one of the most popular things to do in Exmouth.
You can visit the ancient gorge by taking one of the Yardie Creek boat tours (see below for recommendations). Stand in awe of the limestone cliffs and watch out for local wildlife. The Yardie Creek boat cruises are a great opportunity to learn about the region’s history and to get right in the Yardie Creek Gorge.
If you don’t have time for any Yardie Creek tours, at least check out the Yardie Gorge Trail. It runs along the cliffs giving you spectacular views down into the gorge. If you wish to stay overnight, check out the Yardie Creek Campground.
Cape Range National Park Attractions on the Other Side of Exmouth
Because these two attractions are accessed from the road that goes into Exmouth from Cape Range, it is recommended that you visit these two attractions separate from the rest of the park.
- Charles Knife Canyon – An enjoyable, winding canyon drive that starts just south of Exmouth to the other side of the peninsula from Cape Range.
- Shothole Canyon – Popular canyon drive but is only recommended for 4WD vehicles as it is a deserted Outback road.
Camping at Ningaloo
There are many Cape Range campsites up and down the Ningaloo coast. For many people a trip to Cape Range National Park or Ningaloo means a camping holiday.
We didn’t do any camping at Ningaloo, but these are the main campgrounds in the area. We’ve got good friends who camp at Osprey Bay each year and rave about it.
- Osprey Bay
- Yardie Creek
- North Kurrajong
- Ned’s Camp
- North Mandu
If you are interested in a guided trekking and Cape Range National Park camping experience check here.
What about Ningaloo Station Camping?
Ningaloo Station Camping is located south of Yardie Creek and not able to be accessed from the northern side of Cape Range National Park. There are 5 designated camp sites at Ningaloo Station (Ningaloo Coast). All campsites have zero amenities. However, there are recently installed dump points. You must bring your own portable toilet to camp at Ningaloo Station Campground.
Don’t let zero amenities detour you from camping Ningaloo Station. This is one of the most popular camping places around. Bookings can be made up to 180 days in advance on the Park Stay WA website.
What about Camping on Warroora Station?
Located about 1 hour south of Coral Bay, this cattle station is a unique and ideal place to explore Ningaloo Reef. You can reach Warroora Station in a 2WD vehicle but if you want to access the beach you must have a 4WD vehicle.
As this is a nature-based campground there is no power. However, the sites are spacious each with their own fire pit. There is also a basic camp kitchen, shower, and toilet facilities.
What Do I need to Pack for Ningaloo Reef Exmouth?
If you were going on a camping trip to Cape Range National Park, you would need a full list of camping gear. However, these are some of the things that we would pack to visit Ningaloo Reef.
What is the Weather like at Cape Range National Park?
The average temperature at Cape Range National Park is 25 Celsius. The hottest weather occurring in November through about March each year.
It is located in an arid climate with little rainfall. Literally, some months see zero days of rain. The wettest month June, only averages about 3 days of rain all month long. Make sure to pack your reef safe sunscreen!
How to get to Ningaloo Reef from Perth?
As with most destinations, there are two main ways that travelers make their way to Exmouth WA and Ningaloo Reef from Perth. You can fly in or make the drive. What you choose really depends on where you are coming from and how much time you want to spend traveling to Ningaloo and Cape Range.
Perth to Ningaloo Reef Drive
The drive from Perth to Exmouth, the nearest city to Ningaloo, is a long one. Even with minimal stops, it takes about two full days of driving. However, at a total distance 1270km, why not make it into a Perth to Exmouth roadtrip?
We have broken down the main stops along the way and their drive time here:
- Perth to Geraldton (414 km – 4.5 hours)
- Geraldton to Kalbarri (154 km – 1.45 hours)
- Kalbarri to Monkey Mia (400 km – 4.5 hours)
- Shark Bay to Carnarvon (325 km – 3.15hrs)
- Carnarvon to Exmouth (363 km – 3.40hrs)
Also note, the first section of the drive we have covered in our post The Ultimate Perth to Kalbarri Road Trip Itinerary. We recommend you give it a read for ideas of what to see along the way. Also, read our An Awesome Bullara Station Stay Experience! for a unique accommodation experience just south of Exmouth.
Perth to Exmouth – Flying to Ningaloo Reef
If time is of the essence, or roadtrips are not your cup of tea, then flying makes sense. Flight time from Perth to Exmouth is about 1.5 hours.
There are many different Perth to Exmouth flights each day. The closest airport to Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range is Learmonth Airport located 36 kms south of Exmouth. We recommend checking online for the flight deals and schedules.
The Verdict – The Best of Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Coast
We loved our time amongst the red dirt of the Cape Range National Park, and truly there is nothing like the turquoise waters of the Ningaloo Coast. What a truly divine place to spend time!!
We hope that this comprehensive guide has helped you to carefully plan your time visiting Ningaloo Reef Exmouth and understanding the distances you need to cover to all the different snorkeling spots. Especially remember that even though gorgeous Turquoise Bay Ningaloo is picture perfect, it is not for learner swimmers. We hope you enjoy the Ningaloo Reef WA as much as we did!
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