With 1,250km of spectacular landscapes, the Coral Coast Highway running between Perth and Exmouth, is a truly once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Boasting ancient landforms and alien organisms, it’s a region where rugged red dirt meets pristine white sands and crystal clear water filled with technicolour reefs and some of the most unique marine wildlife in the world.
Of course, unless you’re a hardcore roadtripper – the journey home may seem a bit daunting… One handy work around is treating yourself with Avis Australia’s heavily-discounted relocation fee between April 1 and October 31, 2023 – where you can leave your rental car up north, jump on a flight home and be back in time for dinner!
For a detailed itinerary on tackling the Coral Coast Highway check out Australia’s Coral Coast’s detailed itinerary for the trip HERE, and read on below for some of our picks for must-visit highlights along the way:
The Pinnacles may feel as familiar to Perth-dwellers as the Perth Cactus, but a visit to the distinctive limestone formations will reinforce just how special they are. Within the Nambung National Park, the Pinnacles are 25,000 to 30,000 years old, formed by sea shell deposits and revealed by the Indian Ocean receding. Dutch explorers first thought the formations were the remains of an ancient city, however the site is actually of huge cultural importance to the Yued people and was used as a sacred place for women’s business for thousands of years.
The Lobster Shack
Of course, no drive along the Coral Coast Highway is complete without a pitstop at the Lobster Shack. If you really want a deep dive into everything Western Rock Lobster, then join one of their guided behind-the-scenes factory tours – or just tuck into a lobster feast looking out at that spectacular ocean view!
Leaning Trees of Greenough
As you continue north towards Geraldton, stop in at one of the region’s lesser-known sights: the Leaning Trees of Greenough. Although it sounds like a medieval poem, the trees are red river gum’s, buffeted by such intense winds through the Greenough Flats that they grow parallel to the ground.
Practically untouched, the 122-island archipelago contains some of the bluest waters in the country, steeped in biodiversity and even home to notorious shipwreck the Batavia. Jump aboard Abrolhos Adventures, who can customise an adventure depending on your interests – whether you’re set on spotting a tammar wallaby, have a relaxing stand up paddle, drop a line, have a snorkel or just sprawl out on the white sands. You can also explore the islands on a multi-day liveaboard cruise, or scenic flights from Geraldton or Kalbarri.
Whether you’re a budding or practically pro snorkeller, Blue Holes is one of WA’s favourite spots to peer into the underwater wonderland. A maze of rock pools is home to a diverse array of marine life – plus there’s plenty of calm spots for little ones to have a splash.
Billions of tiny cockle shells form the iconic Shell Beach, with bright white shells meeting crystal clear, turquoise waters. But the shells aren’t the only remarkable fact about this beach – it’s also where you’ll experience Shark Bay’s hypersalinity. Twice the salinity of the open ocean, you’ll be floating around à la Jordan’s Dead Sea (just make sure you don’t have any paper cuts!).
Hamelin Pool Stromatolites
One of only two in the world, Hamelin Pool’s stromatolites are considered the oldest known living organism in the world. Also known as living fossils, they’re estimated to be 3.5 billion – yes, billion – years old! The viewing boardwalk was damaged during Cyclone Seroja and remains closed until the scheduled rebuild this year, but you can still view the stromatolites from the Hamelin Pool quarry.
Ocean Park Aquarium
Learn more about some of the amazing marine life you’ve been seeing with a visit to the Ocean Park Aquarium. As well as being a rehabilitation centre, marine scientists are on hand to give you a tour that’ll be as exciting as it is educational – from witnessing the heart-racing intensity of feeding sharks, the power of moray eels, learning about the excruciating sting of a stonefish or the highly venomous bite of a sea snake. And don’t worry, they also have cuter wildlife like rescued sea turtles if that’s more your speed!
The Thong Shack
While the French may have romantic padlocked bridges, we have – in classic Aussie style – the Thong Shack. A shrine to our most beloved footwear, we can imagine worse resting places for a well-worn plugger.
Francois Peron National Park
WA’s starkly contrasting landscapes are no more obvious than at Francois Peron National Park. Red desert meets turquoise waters in a strikingly beautiful contrast, which you can discover with Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures – from 4WD exploring to an evening around the campfire and under the magnificent Shark Bay stars.
Quobba has become one of the state’s most Instagrammable locations – and for very, very good reason. The stunning beaches are a turtle nesting and hatching zone between December and March, as well as home to some picture-perfect rock pools and beach caves. Head to the Aquarium for calm, coral-filled lagoons perfect for snorkelling. Quobba is also home to some spectacular, dramatic blowholes, where powerful swells are jettisoned 20 metres into the air – be wary though, this is also where you’ll see the famous “King Waves Kill” sign.
A World Heritage listed site since 2011, Ningaloo’s impressive array of wildlife is as beautiful as the expansive fringing reef – the largest in the world, the reef stretches all the way from Quobba up to Exmouth. Home to whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, dugongs, turtles and more, Ningaloo is a global destination to have a close encounter with the gentle giants of the ocean.
Operators like Coral Bay Ecotours, Ningaloo Marine Interactions and Ningaloo Reef Dive and Snorkel have years of experience to safely guide you on your life-changing encounter with the magical marine megafauna.
If you prefer to keep dry, take a peek at the reef’s stunning technicolour formations through a glass-bottom boat tour – or spot the ocean life from the air with Ningaloo Aviation!
Exmouth Navy Pier
Regarded as one of the best scuba diving spots in the world, the Exmouth Navy Pier is a bucket list dive destination. Still a working US Naval base, dives must be booked through Dive Ningaloo, but you’ll be well rewarded with a wondrous array of marine life. The T-shaped pier extends 300 metres into the ocean, with a 110 metre span – under which you’ll find over 200 species of underwater creatures!
To find out more about the Coral Coast Highway (and to start planning your itinerary!), head to the Australia’s Coral Coast website.