One of the best activities to do up in Exmouth with friends, family or even solo is snorkeling off the beach (which is different to snorkelling with whale sharks – where you’ll need a boat/tour). And there’s a heap of options, particularly out in the Cape Range National Park – approximately 30-45 minutes outside Exmouth along Yardie Creek Road – so where do you start?
Most people will want to see plenty of fish plus turtles, eels, stingrays, dugongs and even sharks (don’t worry, you’ll only encounter the docile reef sharks) so that’s top of the list, but we’ll lean on other factors like accessibility, variety and difficulty as well.
Here are our top Exmouth snorkel spots:
This is a personal fave, although it gets busy. There’s a heap of different bombies and reef sections to explore so you’re unlikely to be overrun by other snorkelers in the water. There are four or five oyster-covered rocks which jut out of the water to check out, but the sanctuary zone is quite large, running several hundred metres up the beach but also 100-150m out from shore too.
I’ve been to Oyster Stacks plenty of times and there’s always loads of marine life, with plenty of fish, but also reef sharks, rays, starfish, sea urchins and turtles, so you can easily find yourself swimming around for more than an hour.
Oyster Stacks is a tad more difficult than others, as it’s beside rocky terrain rather than a sandy beach, but don’t let that turn you off. Some reef shoes are handy to enter but once you’re in the water, with sand under your feet, you’ll be fine. The other tricky part is you need to snorkel at Oyster Stacks on high tide (above 1.2m). The signage will make that clear upon arrival, although it’s worth googling ahead of time when planning your trip.
Exmouth’s most famous snorkel spots and for good reason. As the name suggests, the water is an inviting opaque blue-green colour. Plus it’s a beautiful sandy beach with two separate areas, the bay area and the drift area. Both have car parks but the latter is only a brief walk around the sandbar cape. The bay faces north-west and the drift faces west, which offers flexibility if the wind is a factor.
The bay area is perfect for families and beginners given the calm waters and accessibility, with only a short swim required to find rocks and plenty of marine life underneath. The odds are also good to find a turtle here, particularly around weedy areas.
But you’ll likely see more marine life at the more reefy drift area, where after a brief 100m walk south down the beach, you enter and swim out 50m before allowing the ocean’s current to drift you above the reef to take in all the wondrous sights. The drift tends to space out the crowds too. You’ll want to ensure you exit the water before you reach the sandbar, where the currents get a bit stronger, but that’s easy enough in fairly shallow water with signage to warn you.
Any competent swimmers will be fine and parents just need to keep an eye on the kids around the sandbar but otherwise you cannot go wrong here. A winner for all.
One of the first snorkel spots after you enter the Cape Range National Park but a bit of a hidden gem, which is good to avoid the crowds – you’ll find Lakeside at the Milyering Visitor Centre turnoff. There’s a big sanctuary area that is well signposted with two distinct yellow buoys in the water, which you’ll find after a five-minute walk south from the carpark, down the beach around a bend or two.
You’ll discover big corals and bombies to explore only 20-30m in the shallows off the sandy shore with loads of varied fish types and caves to dive down for a peek at. I’ve spotted a few 1.5m reef sharks in my time here too (again, they’re harmless). There’s no major currents nor need to swim far from shore, so it’s very simple, and accessible (assuming you don’t mind the five-minute walk!). You can also throw a line in and fish in the non-sanctuary areas too.
Another overlooked gem, arguably due to being a further 15-minute south from Turquoise Bay, but well worth the extra commute. There’s plenty to see and it’s away from the crowds. As the name suggests, the beach is sandy, so it’s a good spot to relax even if you’re not in the water. The water is shallow and glassy, so it’s an easy spot for families and beginners (although it can be prone to the wind). You never know what you’ll see at Sandy Bay, but one thing I can guarantee is loads of fish.
Sandy Bay’s next door neighbour, so it’s a bit of a drive, but well worth it. The waters here are aquarium-like, with an abundance of marine life, including turtles. The actual snorkel spot is only 100m offshore, although there’s an option that is 1km out if you’ve got access to a kayak. There’s also some local tours that can take you out there.
But the likelihood of swimming with some sea turtles is the big drawcard at Osprey Bay, while it’s a bit more sheltered from the winds compared to Sandy Bay, which is a leisurely 15-20-minute walk along the beach.
An easy snorkel in shallow water close to shore, only a short drive south from Turquoise Bay before a 500m beach walk. The reef is close to shore but for that reason, you can only snorkel here in high tide, so check that ahead of time. Not top of anyone’s list, but worth a squizz for the coral gardens and its relatively quiet white sandy beach.
S.S. Mildura Wreck
Outside the National Park, this site is at the North-West Cape and only a 15-minute drive from Exmouth town centre, turning right at Mildura Wreck Road, not long before you come across the Vlamingh Lighthouse. But this isn’t for everyone as it’s a bit more challenging and prone to strong currents. You don’t want to swim here during changing tides, so make sure you plan in advance. In saying that, it’s the only shipwreck in the region, offering something different after an 80m swim offshore (pack your flippers), with loads of fish to see. For variety’s sake, and worth doing if you’re experienced.
The Ningaloo Reef doesn’t extend to the gulf on the eastern side of the cape, but people do still swim at Exmouth Town Beach or Bundegi Beach (10-15 minutes north of the town centre). There’s less to see, but you may get lucky and find a dugong. Bundegi Flats is a popular fishing spot on the exposed reef so there’s fish around. If you launch a kayak at high tide, there are some mooring spots to explore in the Sanctuary Zone about 3km out.
If you’ve got access to a boat, the Muiron Islands are a winner although they’re a 90-minute boat trip from Exmouth, launching at Bundegi. Given its remoteness, this place is unspoiled with corals, fishing and marine life, including some bigger sharks. There are tours which service these islands, which may be your best bet.
Of course, if you want to snorkel with the world famous whale sharks, that requires booking a tour as you’ll only encounter them on the other side of the Ningaloo Reef, well offshore. There’s a heap of local options.