From Perth To Ningaloo – Our Guide To A Coral Coast Highway Road Trip
So, you’re planning a road trip through Australia’s Coral Coast – great choice! The 1,250km-long Coral Coast Highway, stretching from Perth to Exmouth, has been referred to as one of the greatest road trips on Earth, and takes in some of Australia’s best known and most loved attractions.
So grab your snacks, load up the tunes and fill up the tank – here’s our guide to conquering the great Coral Coast Highway road trip.
WHERE YOU’LL GO
Everywhere! Australia’s Coral Coast stretches from Cervantes, 2 hours drive north of Perth, to Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef in the north. This suggested itinerary ticks off the major Coral Coast destinations and features a heap of must-see attractions. Plus you can easily add or change days to suit your needs.
A common misconception is that you’ll need a 4wd to get the most out of this trip, but don’t stress! You’ll have no problem tackling the Coral Coast Highway in just about any (roadworthy) car, just make sure to take plenty of rests along the way.
That said, if you don’t want to take your own car or want to camp out beneath the stars, check our RedSands Campers and Wicked Campers for some great camper hire options.
1. Perth to Geraldton (~420km)
Travel north from Perth towards the scenic Indian Ocean Drive (continuing north from Wanneroo Road), which takes you through the Coral Coast towns of Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Greenhead, Leeman, Dongara and Port Denison.
Your first stop is the splendour of the Pinnacles Desert of Nambung National Park. Take a stroll through the mystical limestone formations, which were formed some 25,000-30,000 years ago. Head to nearby Cervantes for a crayfish lunch at The Lobster Shack, go sandboarding or visit Lake Thetis, just south of Cervantes, to see the world’s oldest living fossils – stromatolites.
Continuing north, the Indian Ocean Drive is ripe with activities and attractions. Join a sea lion tour from Jurien Bay or get your adrenaline pumping with a skydive; relax on the pristine beaches of Sandy Cape Recreational Park; go fishing, swimming or snorkelling in Green Head; picnic in Lesueur National Park, which comes alive with colour during wildflower season (late-July to October); go 4WD-ing and caving in Stockyard Gully National Park (4WD-only) near Leeman; and sample world-class rum at the Illegal Tender Rum Co in Dongara.
As you continue on your way to Geraldton, you’ll pass through Greenough. Take in the bizarre sight of the leaning trees before you reach Australia’s Coral Coast’s only city – Geraldton. A coastal cosmopolitan hub of cafes, shops, street art and galleries, where you can treat yourself to fresh seafood (particularly the region’s famous western rock lobster), or soak up the cafe culture by eating at spots like Piper Lane, Skeetas or the Jaffle Shack.
Check out the incredible street art around Marine Terrace and visit local jewellery shops to see their colourful pieces made from Abrolhos Island pearls. Between July and September, the greater Geraldton region is home to expansive displays of wildflower carpets and individual species, many of which are endemic to WA. Be sure to head up to the impressive HMAS Sydney II Memorial at sunset for sweeping views across Geraldton and the Indian Ocean.
Hot Tip: If you’ve got the time, why not join a multi-day, live-aboard cruise to the Abrolhos Islands to soak up the pristine environment of the 122-island archipelago.
2. Geraldton to Carnarvon (~480km)
Spend the morning strolling along Geraldton’s foreshore, watching the world turn upside down through public art installation Horizon, and discover the history of Geraldton and the mutinous Batavia story at the Museum of Geraldton. Delve into the rich cultural heritage of the region at the Yamaji Art Centre or follow the Yamaji Drive Trail to discover sites of significance to the local Aboriginal people. Take a scenic flight over the nearby Houtman Abrolhos Islands and Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon), or visit the Islands in person via a half or full-day scenic flight or full day fishing charter.
Departing Geraldton, continue north to the tropical fruit town of Carnarvon – a popular holiday spot for those chasing the winter sun. Known as the fruit bowl of Western Australia, the town produces 80% of Western Australia’s fruit and vegetable crops and provides much of the state’s seafood with a thriving prawn, scallop, crab and fishing industry. Sample the abundance of fresh flavours at the local mango and banana plantations, or take a detour and follow the Gascoyne Food Trail along the affectionately named Fruit Loops Drive Trail, making sure to stop off at the #instaworthy Cactus Garden.
Get up in the air and see the town from above on a scenic helicopter flight or visit the Space & Technology Museum to learn about the fascinating connection between WA and the NASA Space program. Take an evening stroll along the Fascine, enjoying the magnificent sunset views before heading out to dine on some fresh local produce
3. Carnarvon to Exmouth (~370km)
As you head north out of Carnarvon be sure to take a side trip to the blowholes, watching the water spray metres into the air as it surges through the rocks. Continuing on towards Exmouth, stop at Bullara Station for barista coffee and scones before arriving into Exmouth. Situated at the northern gateway of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, Exmouth is the perfect base for exploring the rugged Cape Range National Park and underwater wonders of the Ningaloo Reef.
Head to Vlamingh Head Lighthouse to watch the sun set, and marvel as the night sky becomes lit up by the sprawling Milky Way.
Hot Tip: For an off-the-beaten track experience, stay a night or two at one of Australia’s Coral Coast’s outback station stays, such as Quobba Station and Red Bluff, Warroorra Station, or Bullara Station.
Spend your days exploring the World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Reef and the rugged scenery of deep canyons, limestone ranges and spectacular gorges of Cape Range National Park. There is no shortage of adventures around Exmouth, from swimming with the whale sharks (March to late-July) and humpback whales (July to October); snorkelling and diving the vibrant coral of the Ningaloo Marine Park or at nearby Muiron Islands; diving the world-class Navy Pier dive site; kayaking; or simply lounging on an unspoilt beach and soaking up the sun.
On land you can soak up views in Cape Range National Park, exploring at leisure or joining tours to must-see locations such as Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon, and Yardie Creek.
Finish your days with a relaxing meal at one of Exmouth’s restaurants or micro-breweries.
Hot Tip: Camp out at one of Cape Range National Park’s pristine campgrounds, or experience glamping at luxe eco-retreat, Sal Salis.
5. Exmouth to Coral Bay (~150km)
Just 1.5 hours south of Exmouth you’ll find Coral Bay – a marine lover’s paradise with calm, protected waters and hundreds of fish and coral species. Here, the reef literally touches the shore, creating an endless underwater garden of marine life, with the coastal town getting its name from the coral gardens lying meters from shore.
Spend your days in Coral Bay swimming and snorkelling, throwing in a line and trying your luck at beach fishing or joining a fishing charter. To explore further out in the coral gardens, take a glass-bottom boat trip or join a snorkelling tour. Manta rays reside in Coral Bay’s waters year-round, so make sure to add swimming with these giant creatures of the sea to your must-do list, along with the seasonal whale sharks and humpback whales. When it’s time to dry off, take a 4WD along the coast or join a quad bike tour for some rugged adventure, before watching the sunset from the beach and dining at one of Coral Bay’s restaurants.
Hot Tip: Spend your days out on the big blue and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping on a multi-day live aboard cruise.
Overnight: Coral Bay
6. Coral Bay to Shark Bay (~590km)
Heading south on the Northwest Coastal Highway gets you to the incredible Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Follow the interpretive signage along the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive. Sites along the drive include the remarkable Hamelin Pool stromatolites – the oldest living fossils in the world – and the calm, crystal waters of Shell Beach, a 70km stretch of beach made entirely of millions of tiny shells.
Stop at Eagle Bluff for spectacular ocean views along a 100m walkway, where reef sharks, dugongs and rays are regularly spotted, and at nearby Ocean Park Aquarium, a rehabilitation centre for injured or sick marine life. If you have time in the afternoon, head to Peron Homestead, with its remarkable history of late-era Shark Bay. Enjoy a drink on the foreshore at Denham or Monkey Mia and watch a magical sunset.
Hot Tip: Spend a night at Wooramel River Retreat – en route from Coral Bay to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It’s a unique station campground nestled beneath majestic gum trees on the bank of the Wooramel River where you can soak in the naturally heated therapeutic artesian bore baths whilst sipping on a refreshing beer or glass of wine.
Overnight: Denham or Monkey Mia
7. Shark Bay
Start your day meeting the friendly bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia. The dolphins are fed up to three times each day, which accounts for just one-third of their daily diet. The first feeding is around 7.30am.
Spend your day touring with one of the many tours on offer, such as 4WD-ing in Francois Peron National Park; soaking up views of Steep Point from above with a scenic flight; or visiting Dirk Hartog Island. Unwind on a sunset cruise aboard a magnificent catamaran before ending your day wining and dining by the beach, before joining a night-time Indigenous cultural tour.
Hot Tip: Connect with nature by staying on Dirk Hartog Island, either at the Eco Lodge or at one of the island campsites, or, join an overnight Exclusive Escape with an indigenous guide from Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures.
Overnight: Denham or Monkey Mia
8. Shark Bay to Kalbarri (~390km)
Continuing south, head towards the popular coastal holiday town of Kalbarri, located at the mouth of the Murchison River, and soak up the rugged coastal scenery as you approach the township. Kalbarri offers an array of water- and land-based activities, and is a popular destination for holidaying families. It’s home to many impressive river and coastal gorges, calm swimming bays, superb walking trails and thousands of different wildflower species.
Take in Kalbarri’s famous sunset views from one of the many coastal walk trails or swimming spots such as Blue Holes. Grab a surfboard and head for the renowned surf break Jacques Point before tucking into a fresh seafood feast for dinner at one of the many local restaurants such as Finlay’s. After dinner, sit back and relax under the stars at the outdoor cinema at Rainbow Jungle.
Hot Tip: Add an extra night or two to your itinerary and travel inland to Wooleen Station, in the heart of the Murchison region, representing the heart and soul of Australian outback. Stay in the National Trust Homestead, a self-contained guesthouse, or camp out at one of the Station’s campgrounds.
Wake up early and watch the daily pelican feeding on the foreshore at around 8.45am, before spending the day exploring the magnificent Murchison River gorges in Kalbarri National Park, making sure you visit Nature’s Window and Z-Bend. Enjoy a fishing tour, river cruise or spend your day relaxing and taking in the sights of this unique coastline. Adventure-lovers can join a range of extreme tours that take you abseiling, canoeing or sand boarding.
Cap the day off at Kalbarri’s coastal cliffs for an unmissable sunset, soaking up impressive views as the sun sinks below the Indian Ocean.
10. Kalbarri to Perth (~ 590km)
We’re on the home stretch, but the fun isn’t over! Stop for a walk along Kalbarri’s Coastal Cliffs as you head south, and make sure to visit picturesque coastal town of Port Gregory and the nearby Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) to marvel at the colour and take some happy snaps. Further south, you’ll past the coastal town of Horrocks, nestled among white sandy beaches with sheltered waters, rock pools and waves along the reefs. Stop in for a dip, some fishing, surfing, diving, windsurfing or beachside games.
During wildflower season (late July to October), take the inland route back to Perth, travelling through Mullewa and Coalseam Conservation Park to see brilliant carpets of everlastings. Take the time to visit the Wildflower Country towns of Morowa, Mingenew, Perenjori, Three Springs, Carnarmah, Coorow and Dalwallinu.
As you arrive back to Perth, your Coral Coast Highway road trip may have come to an end, but the memories and incredible photos will stick around forever.
Hot Tip: Head in land from Horrocks to Northampton and visit the Heritage Listed Oakabella Homestead, famous for its scones and Devonshire tea. Spend the night camping under the stars, discover an ancient gorge, or join the Homestead’s Campfire Bush Tour and Dinner.
We hope we’ve gotten you off on the right foot to begin your northwestern journey exploring Australia’s Coral Coast.
And remember, this is just an outline – you can mix things up with any number of itineraries and accommodation offerings, including beachfront or national park camping and glamping, outback station stays and live-aboard cruises.
Go forth and explore friends, you’ve got a lot to discover!
To plan your ultimate Coral Coast adventure head to https://www.australiascoralcoast.com/