The best things to do in Coral Bay

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About halfway between Carnarvon and Exmouth – and a whopping 1200km from Perth – you’ll find Coral Bay.

Both rugged and pristine, it’s the southern gateway to the breathtaking Ningaloo Reef – a World Heritage listed site and biodiversity hotspot. Here’s how to make the most of your visit to Payungu country:

Snorkel the spectacular Ningaloo

The world’s largest fringing reef, Ningaloo has been a World Heritage listed site since 2011. An integral part of our marine biodiversity, it’s home to an impressive array of wildlife – from the spectacular coral blooms, abundant reef fish, dugongs, turtles and sharks. One of the most strikingly beautiful spots to explore is the Lavender Patch, so named because of its amazing purple coral bloom. Head south of the popular Bill’s Bay, then once you’ve swum about 50m from shore, the current should take you the rest of the way, allowing you to gently drift over the reef.

Five Fingers Reef is another favourite – only accessible by 4WD, it’s about 4.5 km south of Coral Bay itself. The Five Fingers in its name reference the five finger-like reef protrusions that extend from the coast, and are teeming with wildlife. Oyster Bridge – 30 minutes’ north of Coral Bay, also only accessible by 4WD – is a similarly spectacular rock formation. In between the shore and the rocks is a sheltered lagoon perfect for beginner snorkellers, while the outside is deeper and home to larger fish

Swim with whale sharks

Ningaloo Reef is the only place in the world where whale sharks regularly appear close to land and also in large numbers. These gentle, slow moving sharks can grow up to 18 metres long and are safe to swim with. The whale sharks usually arrive around March and stay until June, during the annual (and spectacular) coral spawning – but that’s followed almost immediately by the humpback whale season, which runs from July to November as they seek out the warm northern waters.

Whale Shark Season, Ningaloo Reef

Or with majestic manta rays

As well as the gentle giant whale sharks, the spectacular migration of the humpback whales, you can also get up close and personal to the majestic, floating manta rays. Elegantly gliding through the water, these don’t have the defensive barbs of other rays – so you can safely watch them in their natural habitat. You may even catch one breaching!

Manta Rays Exmouth

…Or even some tranquil turtles

Another highlight of the region’s stunning aquatic wildlife are the sea turtles that frolic around the reef. One of the most endangered sea turtles, loggerhead turtles (as well as green, hawksbill and flatback turtles) use the Ningaloo Reef – as well as other reefs along the Coral Coast – as a major breeding site. If you do visit, particularly during hatching season, make sure to follow the turtle-watchers code of conduct to ensure you don’t disrupt them in any way.

Half-day snorkel tours

All of the above assumes you know your way around some underwater gear, but for the less seasoned water adventurers we recommend booking a tour which will ease stress. Book in a half day snorkeling tour with Coastal Adventure Tours to get the local low-down on all things Ningaloo. Spend up to one hour at each site, before refuelling with an on-deck lunch.

Float through the turquoise waters

Protected by the reef, the shores of Coral Bay are perfect for leisurely swims – as well as other calm water activities like stand up paddle boarding and kayaking. While the coast is littered with beautiful spots to take a dip, Coral Bay and neighbouring Bill’s Bay are popular spots that are accessible by 2WD.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

If you’ve just blow dried your hair, or swimming isn’t your thing we can point you to the glass bottom boat tour. Enjoy all the natural wonder of the Ningaloo Reef from the comfort of a boat with a glass floor. Snorkelling packages are available with this tour.

Shark nursery

To balance out all the grandeur of a holiday, a trip to the Shark Nursery costs nothing and is a lot less scary than it sounds. A daycare for sharks would be pretty cool but this sheltered reef is a spot only accessible by foot from Coral Bay Beach. The 20 minute walk is worth it when you’re watching a shiver of sharks in their natural habitat –  from the safety of the beach of course. The best time for a trip to the Shark Nursery is between September and March.

Catch your dinner

As we’ve mentioned, Ningaloo Reef is a protected area, so any fishing must be done within regulations – you can check out an interactive map HERE to check which zone type you’re in. Closer to the reef, you can hope to catch sweetlip, charlie court cod, trevally, spangled emperor and squid – but further out you’ll hopefully be able to hook a prized red emperor, wahoo or sailfish.

Explore the dunes on four wheels

With all that sand, comes plenty of opportunities to explore on four wheels. Plenty of beaches are accessible only via 4WD, but you can also zoom through the dunes and beaches on a buggy tour – you’ll be able to see spectacular sunsets, turtles feeding and more magnificent sights.

Walking trails

If you’re more of a land-based creature, why not mosey on down to the Coral Bay Walk Trail? It’s an easy 2km which takes you up the coast and parts of Pioneer and Naturalist parks. If you time your walk between November and March you might see turtles nesting along the beach!

Places to eat

Given its small size you’re pretty light on for snorkelling snacks around Coral Bay, but that doesn’t mean you’ll go starving! Fin’s Cafe is your go-to for getting the day started, with a pretty stacked brekky and lunch menu (and that’s not just the pancakes!), while local and visitor fave Reef Cafe is your go-to after a long day on the water, serving up hefty pizzas, seafood platters and even a cheeky smashed burger! Bill’s Bar has a great little country pub vibe – expect huge servings and even a cheeky little cocktail or two. Nearby Coral Resort Bakery is great to load up on pastry snacks for a day at the beach.

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Fins Coral Bay

An essential stop over for anyone visiting Coral Bay is also the local bakery. The nostalgia of a great vanilla slice and the adult appreciation for a barista made coffee – you can’t beat those worlds colliding. Finally – it’s a hot day, you’ve finished up at the beach and you need an icy treat. Enter Sweet Ningaloo. This is a genuine Italian Gelataria with takeaway and dine in options available too.

Places to stay

If you’re looking a little bit of resort-style living Ningaloo Reef Resort is the one for you, with an on-site pool to go with a six minute walk to the beach, and simple rooms and Shades Cafe serving up great food. Peoples Park also has great self-contained units, while there are a couple of excellent station stays on offer in Warroora Station and Bullara Station (pictured below).

If you’re taking advantage of the pristine weather in Exmouth, the Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Park is your new best friend, located 90 minutes away from Coral Bay this is for the tourists looking to experience the best of both worlds. Powered and unpowered campsites are pet friendly if you’re bringing your furry friends along for the ride. 

For some luxe lodges, cabins and villas the Bayview is another fan favourite which can accommodate for up to 9 people. And If you’re ballin’ on a budget the Ningaloo Backpackers will always welcome you with open arms. Rally the troops and book a four, six or ten bed dorm for your next group vacay. If you’re not a fan of sharing double ensuite rooms are available.

Bullara Station

Header Image Credit: Australia’s Coral Coast