Not only is the Coral Coast Highway one of Australia’s most spectacular drives, it’s often referred to as one of the greatest road trips on Earth.
Whether you’re planning to tackle it for the first time, or looking for a few new experiences on your next trip, we’ve teamed up with Australia’s Coral Coast to help you squeeze every last drop of beauty from this stunning drive.
Table of Contents
- Jurien Bay
- Dongara-Port Denison
- Shark Bay
- Coral Bay
1. How to get there
The Coral Coast Highway is a 1,250-kilometre stretch between Perth (Boorloo) and Exmouth (Warnangoora) in Western Australia, peppered with pristine coastlines, colourful reefs, rugged gorges and striking ranges.
Along the way you’ll find world-class diving, snorkelling and fishing, an abundance of incredible wildlife, heritage, history and culture, foodie experiences and carefully crafted brews across landscapes filled with greens, blues, reds, pinks, oranges and yellows.
You can drive in a 2WD or 4WD of your own, or take a one-way drive in a rental car through AVIS, offering discounted one-way hire car fees. Hire the car in Perth and drive north to Exmouth, and then fly back from Exmouth’s Learmonth Airport with Qantas (or reverse). If you’re looking to tackle this road trip all in one go, we recommend giving yourself between 10-14 days.
2. Best time of year to go
The Coral Coast Highway is best explored between March and October, with milder weather conditions and bright, sunny skies. In terms of experiences, from March to June (Coral Bay) and March to August (Exmouth) is when you can swim with gentle whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef, July to October is humpback whale watching/swimming season, and mid-year to October is the best time to see the wildflowers.
3. Where to stay along the Coral Coast Highway
Accommodation options along the Coral Coast Highway are plentiful and diverse, ranging from free camps, caravan parks and station stays, to luxurious resort stays and glamping options. The most important thing to know is to book ahead, as this region of Western Australia gets very busy during peak season. Head to the Australia’s Coral Coast website for an in-depth guide to all of your accommodation options, sorted by location and stay type.
4. The best spots to visit along the Coral Coast Highway
Along the Coral Coast Highway, you’ll find a dazzling array of some of the world’s most amazing attractions and experiences you can’t find anywhere else on Earth, including two of Western Australia’s three World Heritage Areas. Read on for the 10 best spots to stop along the way, starting from closest to Perth.
Cervantes (2 hours from Perth)
Home to white sandy beaches and marine-filled turquoise waters, Cervantes is the perfect, relaxing entry point to your Coral Coast Highway adventure if you’re departing from Perth. It’s also the gateway to the Pinnacles – where you can explore thousands of 25-30,000 years old limestone columns, some almost 4 metres high. The Pinnacles Discovery Centre is a fantastic way to familiarise yourself with the geology, flora and fauna of the Nambung National Park and surrounding area.
Cervantes is a crayfishing town and a popular choice for fishing, swimming, relaxing and of course, eating fresh seafood! A trip to the Lobster Shack is a must, where you can go on a guided tour of the facilities followed by lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean. Other notable points of interest include the Cervantes Art Trail, Lake Thetis’ thrombolites, Kangaroo Point, Hangover Bay and the Hansen Bay Lookout.
Jurien Bay (2.5 hours from Perth)
If you follow the coast north another 25 minutes, you’ll find yourself at the popular family spot of Jurien Bay. Offering a wealth of activities for the whole family and a delicious bakery, this is the perfect haven if you’re looking to relax and enjoy a few peaceful days in the sun. To enjoy panoramic views of this stunning town, take it in from above on an adrenaline pumping tandem skydive with Skydive Jurien Bay.
Explore the tranquil sea with an interactive sea lion tour that allows you to get up close and personal with Australia’s wonderful sea puppies. Explore the land by hiring a bike and following the 12.5km Turquoise Way Trail, which stretches along the coast from Jurien Bay Marina to the Hill River Mouth, or visit the biodiverse Lesueur National Park. If you’re chasing a beautiful day on the beach, Sandy Cape is one of the most popular spots to play and camp overnight.
Dongara-Port Denison (3.5 hours from Perth)
The charming twin towns of Dongara-Port Denison are divided by the Irwin River, a spectacular landmark of the area. Characterised by some impressive historic buildings and local flora, there’s something for everyone at this great spot. Home to beautiful beaches and a whole lot of history, there’s endless things to see and do, including following the Dongara Heritage Trail which covers 4.6km of trail through the town. You can also visit one of Western Australia’s oldest drive-in cinemas, or taste world class rum and gin at Illegal Tender Rum Co. Finally, jump on a New Leaf Connect tour and go off-the-beaten path to experience meaningful connections with people, places and produce of the magnificent Midwest region of Western Australia.
Greenough (4.25 hours from Perth)
Greenough is one for the history buffs – a quaint country settlement rich in pioneering history and heritage buildings, with over 30 historic sites that’ll take you a full day to explore. Go on a self-guided tour through the Central Greenough Historic Settlement, pop into the Walkway Station Museum, explore Clinch’s Mill and grab a bite to eat in the Hampton Arms Inn. You can also visit Greenough Museum and Gardens, to examine the town’s complex social history.
Nature-lovers will find plenty to enjoy in Greenough as well, with bushwalking, fishing, bird-watching and more, including the Greenough Wildlife Park & Bird Park and Greenough River Nature Trail, a picturesque walk or mountain bike trail. There are also some swimming holes to explore a bit further out of town in Devlin and Ellendale Pools, but the star of the Greenough show is its iconic leaning trees – pull up at the purpose-built parking area to get your snaps of this unusual sight.
Geraldton (4.5 hours from Perth)
Geraldton (Jambinu) is the perfect seaside city to re-group and re-stock on road trip snacks, while also doing plenty of exploring thanks to its vibrant food and drink, street art and shopping scenes. It’s also got its own fair share of spectacular beaches to stop at, and is one of the world’s best windsurfing and kitesurfing locations, with peak conditions from October to April. If you want to stay out of the wind, the Geraldton Foreshore and nearby Esplanade are bustling little hubs, perfect for a day with the family enjoying the barbecues, playgrounds and waterparks.
If you have a little more time to spend in Geraldton, a trip out to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands is a must-do, the north west’s answer to Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) and a wonderful spot for fishing, diving, windsurfing or just relaxing on white sandy beaches. To really dive in you can jump on a multi-day live-aboard charter or scenic flight departing from Geraldton or Kalbarri (Wurdimarlu). Meanwhile back on land you can immerse yourself in Geraldton’s Aboriginal culture on the Yamaji Drive Trail, featuring 14 sites of significance to local Yamaji Aboriginal people – just grab a self-guide brochure from the Geraldton Visitor Centre and you’re on your way! Finally, there’s a heap of maritime history to explore around Geraldton, including the Point Moore Lighthouse, HMAS Sydney II Memorial, Museum of Geraldton and Monsignor Hawes Heritage Cottage.
Kalbarri (6 hours from Perth)
From Geraldton we’re off to Kalbarri via Hutt Lagoon (Pink Lake) about an hour north of Geraldton – arrive between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s at its highest for the most vivid colours. Residing at the mouth of the Murchison River, Kalbarri is a family-favourite holiday destination along the Coral Coast Highway, popular for its outdoor adventures and promises both land and water-based thrills. Wildflower season is in full bloom from July to October, where you can delight in the myriad of unique wildflowers that grow around the National Park’s inland gorges and coastal cliffs.
In terms of hikes – how long is a piece of string? You’ve got an array of highlights to explore including Kalbarri Skywalk (Kaju Yatka), Nature’s Window, The Loop Walk, Z-Bend River Trail and lookout, Hawk’s Head, Red Bluff, Eagle Gorge, Pot Alley… the list goes on. Before you head there make sure you’ve stopped in at Finlay’s microbrewery for some fresh seafood and ice cold, local brews under the eucalyptus trees.
Shark Bay (8.5 hours from Perth)
Home to some truly remarkable landscapes and a key conservation area for our most endangered fauna, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area (Gathaagudu / Gutharraguda) is the first place in Western Australia to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Area, home to stromatolites, seagrass fields, wild cliffs, dugongs, dolphins and so much more. There is plenty to do over a few days, including visiting the charming coastal town of Denham, exploring where red dirt meets the sea at Francois Peron National Park, head to nature-filled Dirk Hartog Island (Wirruwana), visit spectacular Shell Beach or swim with the friendly marine life at Monkey Mia.
Shark Bay really deserves its own article to truly cover all there is to see and do (this is a great start). Outside of visiting the dolphins at Monkey Mia, make sure to visit the Hamelin Pool stromatolites (note: the boardwalk is currently closed but you can still view the stromatolites from behind the fenced off area), find some dugongs feasting on the world’s largest seagrass field and learn about the region’s rich pearling history. If you’re in a 4WD, partake in some cliff fishing at Australia’s westernmost point, Steep Point. If you want to immerse yourself in an aboriginal cultural experience, join Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures for a unique and unforgettable experience, including kayak and wildlife adventures, four-wheel drive tours, and overnight and extended tours on Country.
Carnarvon (9.5 hours from Perth)
Known as the state’s food bowl, coastal Carnarvon’s subtropical climate means it’s plentiful with fruit plantations and a thriving prawn, scallop, crab and fishing industry. Make sure to jump on the Fruit Loop Drive Trail, visit the now iconic Cactus Farm for some stunning photos that’ll have everyone asking just when exactly you found your way to the Nevada Desert. A Carnarvon local’s spectacular hobby garden, the first cactus was planted about 15 years ago and has become a must-visit when you’re in the area, along with a stop in at Bumbak’s Preserves and Ice-creams and their famous chocolate-coated ice creams.
To get an absolutely unmatched view of Carnarvon’s stunning scenery, jump aboard a tour with Coral Coast Helicopter Services – as you fly over glittering turquoise waters, try and spot migrating whales, check out the historic One Mile Jetty from above, or even the OTC Dish at Carnarvon’s Space Museum – a reminder of the vital role Carnarvon played in the ‘60s space race! Last, but certainly not least, no trip to Carnarvon is complete without a stop at the awe-inspiring Quobba Blowholes, where you’ll see powerful ocean swells jettison up to 20 metres into the air.
Coral Bay (12 hours from Perth)
Now we’re getting to the business end of the Coral Coast Highway, starting with Coral Bay – a marine lover’s paradise with calm, protected waters and hundreds of fish and coral species. Here, Ningaloo Reef (Nyinggulu) literally touches the shore, creating an endless underwater garden of marine life, with the coastal town getting its name from the coral gardens lying metres from the water’s edge. Spend your days in Coral Bay swimming and snorkelling, throwing in a line and trying your luck at beach fishing (make sure to check exclusion fishing zones first) 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 majestic creatures of the sea to your must-do list, along with the seasonal whale sharks, humpback whales and turtles. When it’s time to dry off, take a 4WD along the coast or join a quad bike tour for some rugged off-road adventuring, before watching the sunset from the beach and hopefully feasting on some fresh fish you’ve caught during the day!
Exmouth (13 hours from Perth)
Western Australia’s Top Small Tourism Town of The Year 2022, Exmouth is your northern gateway to the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, stacked with wonders on land (Cape Range National Park) and sea (Ningaloo Marine Park). People love to bandy about the phrase “once-in-a-lifetime” when it comes to tourism experiences, but Exmouth basically comes with a guarantee thanks to being able to swim with the truly awe-inspiring ‘Big 3’ underwater giants – whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales.
Back on land the rugged beauty of Cape Range National Park will inspire just as much awe, with over 50,000 hectares of cavernous canyons, limestone ranges and unspoiled coastline you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Locations like Shothole and Charles Knife Canyons along with Yardie Creek are must-visits. Finally, much like the sea, there’s plenty of wildlife romping around on land with emus, wallaroos, red kangaroos, dingoes, echidnas, birds and reptiles sighted daily, not to mention the dazzling array of wildflowers from May to October.
There’s truly no place in the world like it, and we hope this has inspired you to head on your own Coral Coast Highway road trip as soon as possible!
Image Credit: Supplied/Tourism WA
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