What is the Coral Coast?
Where deep red pindan cliffs meet the turquoise ocean of the south pacific. Explore coral sea gardens, swim with giant sea turtles and feed wild dolphins.
If you are a water baby it’s time you planned at trip to Western Australia! The pristine stretch of coastline between Kalbarri and Exmouth is an ocean wonderland covering more than 600,00 hectares.
The Great Barrier Reef is not the only place to snorkel in Oz – the coral coast is unspoiled, uncrowded and unreal. Here’s everything you need to know for an adventure into the underwater wonderland of WA.
What you need
- 2 weeks of precious time
- 4WD drive to discover Francois Peron National Park (NP)
- Shade device (even if it’s a beach umbrella) – the sun is strong out there!
- Water –20L per day for washing and drinking
- Shovel and toilet paper (please don’t pollute our great nation with your dirty toilet paper! Do the right thing and put it in your garbage bag and take it out of the camp ground with you to dispose of in the next town)
- A friend – this area of Australia is remote, we recommend travelling with a buddy who can help you change a tyre and keep an eye out for you when swimming
- 2 spare tyres
- Air compressor
- Bathers & snorkel
- Approximately $1,000 for 2 people travelling from Kalbarri to Exmouth.
Fuel = $330
Camping = $250
Food = $512
How to get there
The Coral Coast begins from Kalbarri, approximately 6 hours drive north of Perth. Admittedly there’s not much to see between Perth and Kalbarri. But you will be well rewarded for the journey when you hit that left-hand turn onto Shark Bay (hoohaha) Road. This is where you dive into your mermaid dreams.
1. Kalbarri (485km north of Perth)
Discover spectacular gorges and rock formations that have been carved over centuries by the Murchison River at Kalbarri National Park. Be prepared for a lot of flies in this region, they covered our backs as we walked. Some tourists opt for fly veils to cover their face.
What to see & do
Kalbarri National Park
See the iconic rock formations from a range of short walks and viewing platform beginning at The Loop carpark.
- Nature’s Window
- Z Bend
- Hawk’s Head
- Ross Graham Lookout
Coastal Cliffs National Park
Kalbarri National Park also boasts some of WA’s most striking coastal landscapes, secluded beaches, surf breaks and whale watching spots. Take a short drive, or follow the walk & cycle path that hugs the coast.
- Red Bluff
- Mushroom Rock Walk Trail
- Pot Alley
- Eagle Gorge
- Island Rock and Natural Bridge
Murchison House Station is one of the oldest pastoral stations in Australia. Camp along the river, out on the property or rent a room in the shearers quarters. We enjoyed meeting the farm animals and exploring the rustic sheds on this spectacular 350,000 acre property, which once belonged to a Turkish Prince.
2. Francois Peron National Park, Shark Bay (250km north of Kalbarri)
Stock-up on fuel and supplies in Denham before heading into the Francois Peron National Park. This place really does feel like the end of the earth! You need a 4WD to explore this rugged terrain and an air compressor to deflate your tyres to approx 20 PSI (depending on vehicle weight).
What to see & do
Francois Peron National Park is known for its contrasting red cliffs, white beaches and turquoise waters. A popular destination for fishing and photography within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.
- Peron Heritage Precinct: enjoy the artesian waters of the hot tub just at the entry to the NP. Walk around the old shearing sheds to learn about the good ol’ farming days.
- Skipjack point lookout: spot Dugong, whales, dolphins and manta ray in the clear waters from the purpose-built viewing platform perched on the edge of the cliff. We were lucky enough to see a whale wave his tale on his journey from the Antarctic.
- Monkey Mia is a 26km drive north-east of Denham. Dolphin feeding is advertised on every corner but be aware that it costs $10 per adult just to access the Monkey Myer beach, where the wild dolphins are fed daily. Monkey Myer is a nice area and there’s a restaurant right on the beach. But it’s overrun with tourists and pesky emus trying to steal picnic lunches. Give it a miss if you’re on a budget and would rather see wildlife by chance encounters.
Camping – Denham & Francois Peron NP
We only spent a night at the Denham Seaside Tourist Park to stock up on supplies before heading bush. You can book your campsite for the Francois Peron NP at the Denham Visitor Centre.
Camping is available on the northern beaches of Francois at Bottle Bay, Gregories and South Gregories. We spent one night at Herald Bight beach – camping amongst the dunes at the only campsite on the eastern side. Herald Bight had no facilities so you need to be self-sufficient, it was also extremely windy so we slept in our ute tray.
3. Carnarvon (325km north of Denham)
Carnarvon is known for its banana plantations, tropical fruits, fine seafood and warm climate and situated in the heart of the Gascoyne Region on the doorstep of the Indian Ocean. It is the gateway to Australia’s Ningaloo Coast.
What to see & do
It only took us a couple of hours to see most of the towns attractions. Carnarvon is a larger town with a Woollies and Coles.
- Satellite dish: built in conjunction with NASA in 1966 as a satellite communications and tracking station.
- Lighthouse & One Mile Jetty: at Carnarvon Heritage Precinct enjoy the jetty walk, Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage Museum and the Carnarvon Tramway.
Camping – Station stays
Station stays are great value and offer a fantastic insight into the farm life in regional Australia. Check out these two stopovers on your way from Carnarvon to Coral Bay.
120 kms south of Carnarvon, 2 kms off the North West Coastal Highway, $24 a night.
A unique station campground nestled under the majestic gum trees on the bank of the Wooramel River.
Relax in the naturally heated therapeutic artesian bore baths from the Birdrong aquifer; enjoy the space; abundant bird and wildlife; private camp fires; amazing night skies and the friendly outback atmosphere.
Wilderness camping on white sand beaches. The caretaker in his buggie showed us where to park our Luxi, right opposite the beach. We spent a night listening to the waves lapping the shore.
4. Coral Bay (237km north of Carnarvon)
Coral Bay is a tiny town consisting of 2 caravan parks that are fully booked in peak season. Ningaloo Marine Park off the coast from Coral Bay houses a diverse plethora of more than 460 species of fish and 200 species of coral. Snorkelers can walk directly to the reef from the beach on the north-west cape.
What to see & do
The coral is mainly brown but growing in the most fascinating displays and home to hundreds of colourful fish. For strong swimmers venturing out to the giant brain coral they call “Ayres’s rock” is a must! Ask the volunteers in the info centre located at the hut on the beach for directions. Manta Ray and whale shark swimming tours are also available but you don’t have to spend money and time on an organised tour to get amongst the sea life.
The tourist parks charge peak holiday rates and book out quickly. One night in Coral Bay can give you 2 full days to snorkel the reef and avoid the tourist premium.
Bullara station between Coral Bay and Exmouth offers campsites from $28 a night. BYO drinks to enjoy with some damper by the fire before a hot shower under the stars in a water-tank converted bathrooms. Friendly horses and sheep roam the campground. Don’t miss out on these authentic Aussie station stays!
5. Exmouth (150km north of Coral Bay)
Exmouth was built to serve war communications during world war 2 and the cold war. It’s a strange drive in past army stations and emus crossing the street. Stock up here before exploring Cape Range NP which is accessible by 2WD.
What to see & do
Whale Shark experiences are rapidly rising in popularity. It costs around $400pp and books out fast. Planes fly over the ocean and spot the sharks from above, then the boats take swimmers out for a 90minute encounter with these gentle giants of the sea. You can book online or from the Exmouth Visitor Centre.
Cape Range is 57kms out of the Exmouth via Yardie Creek Rd and home to some incredible snorkelling and canyons. Snorkel and fin hire is avialable from the Milyering Discovery Centre on your way into the Campe Range NP, $15 a day.
Snorkel oyster stacks at high tide, drift along turquoise bay and find sea turtles or dugongs munching on the sea grass at Lakeside. Enjoy a cruise down Yardie Creek Gorge or walk along the gorge’s vertical rock walls.
Drive down the unsealed road through the bottom of Shothole Canyon in one of the most rugged areas of Cape Range National Park. The Charles Knife Canyon drive takes you on a winding road from the main road south of Exmouth up to the top of the range. Located at the top is Charles Knife lookout.
Camping – Cape Range NP
Camping at Cape Range gets busy but you can now book online for peak season. We camped at Osprey and watched a magnificent sunrise over the ocean every morning. In the evenings we walked along the beach and watched sea turtles pop their head above the surface. Infinite stars peppered the sky and the moon lit up the ocean. Simply magic.
Now you have all the info you need – it’s time to start packing and booking some time off for your WA adventure. If you want to get off the tourist track and see some of the most untouched, pristine environments left on earth – the coral coast is where you need to go.