In Australia, the most famous snorkeling and diving spot is without doubt the Great Barrier Reef. Whenever I talked to people they were stoked about experiencing their best snorkeling adventure in the famous Great Barrier Reef or had their first dive ever there. I have to admit, so did I. But what I personally found annoying were the huge number of tourists that join you on this trip. So a less mass tourist attraction and (for you budget backpackers out there) an even cheaper experience was snorkeling in the Ningaloo Reef. I couldn’t believe it but all you need is your snorkeling or diving gear and off you go! Straight from the beach into the water and the reef is reached after a few swimming strokes only. On top, it wasn’t any less beautiful, or less of an adventure than the Great Barrier Reef. And if you are travelling along the coast of Western Australia, the Ningaloo Reef should definitely be on your bucket list.
The Ningaloo Reef
Not many people I’ve met have heard of the Ningaloo Reef. It is a world heritage site and is located in Western Australia, approximately half way between Perth and Broome. It is way smaller than the well-known Great Barrier Reef but that doesn’t mean it’s less diverse. Apparently it’s home to more than 500 different fish and marine life. It is located very close to the coast line of Western Australia which makes it attractive for snorkelers and divers because they can reach the reef by swimming only a few meters from the beach. The easiest access point is probably Coral Bay. Exmouth is another close-by town from where you can start your snorkeling adventure but it involves a short drive by car through the Cape Range National Park in order to enter a beach with reef access.
Coral Bay is a very small town. Don’t expect too much when going up there. It only has one main road with a couple of tourist shops, restaurants and camp sites. That’s it. But to be honest, not much more is needed because the surrounding nature is stunning and if you are an outdoors person anyway, you will love it there. Generally, Coral Bay lives from tourism, and the beach together with the Ningaloo Reef are its main attractions for sure. Nevertheless, local travel agencies have a variety of other activities and adventures that can be done while visiting this area in case you are not that much of a water lover. To name some examples, whale watching, quad tours or scenic flights are in high demand, too.
The snorkeling experience
There are some main aspects why I really loved the Ningaloo Reef. I mainly refer to snorkeling because I don’t have my open water license for diving but I am pretty sure that the same points speak for divers, as well.
A big plus regarding the whole snorkeling experience is that no booking with a tourist company is required. This means you are free and there are no schedules or time limits of when to get out of the water. You chose when, where, how long you want to keep snorkeling and you are saving money, too. Secondly, there is no need for a boat that has to take you out to sea. This is probably an attractive argument for those who are scared being out there in the deep dark blue ocean. All it takes is swimming a small distance of maybe 50m from the shore of Coral Bay and there it is, directly under you: the Ningaloo Reef with its corals, colorful fish, sea stars and all the other beautiful marine life that wants to be discovered. If you are lucky you will see turtles, manta rays or small reef sharks swimming beneath you. It is breath-taking! You will feel peace, silence as well as freedom all at the same time. When you are out there watching the marine life, it literally is like “diving” into another world.
Of course, there are snorkeling tours offered in Coral Bay and please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that they are not worth it. In the contrary, you will learn a lot about the Ningaloo Reef itself, its marine life and you will always have a specialist with you to ask all sorts of questions to. I simply want to point out that there is the possibility of snorkeling independently if you wanted to.
If you already have your own snorkeling gear, you can jump into the water straight away and start looking for the most stunning fish and coral. If you don’t, don’t worry. There are tourist and outdoor shops in Coral Bay that sell or rent snorkels, diving goggles and fins. Depending on the water temperature there are wetsuit rentals, as well. If you are a person who feels cold easily (and I definitely am this kind of person), I most warmly recommend renting one for the day. It’s so worth it and you can stay out in the water as long as you want to without leaving the water with goose bumps, blue lips and an all over shivering body. Additionally, it protects you from getting sun burnt, as well.
In case you already know beforehand that you are planning a stop in Coral Bay for snorkeling, I advise you to look out for snorkeling gear on the way. Prices shouldt be a little bit cheaper then.
In case you’ve never been snorkeling before, watch out for ocean currents. They might seem slow and weak at first but can quickly turn out to be more dangerous than expected. Suddenly you find yourself far away from your starting point or in the worst case lost at sea. I might be exaggerating a little bit. However, simply make sure you keep looking around and remember where you started from. You can easily get the information about currents from locals or ask in tourist shops and stores that rent snorkeling gear.