Spring is an especially magical time of year here in Western Australia – emerging from the winter chill, we’re met with spectacular wildflowers, glorious sunshine and one of the most exciting things of all: turtle season!
Beginning in October, Australia’s Coral Coast becomes one of the world’s most important marine turtle breeding grounds – with species including the loggerhead, green, flatback and hawksbills turtles all congregating to mate, nest and hatch!
Mating commences in the ocean shallows from late October. While they’re amazingly close, it’s vital to not disturb, swim with or interfere with turtles in any way – and to give them a wide berth if they’re resting on the beach.
Later, in December, female turtles will begin to head up the beaches to dig nests and lay their eggs. An absolutely crucial time in their breeding cycles, they can become disoriented and abandon their nests if startled.
60 days later, tiny baby turtles will begin hatching, making their way through the arduous journey from the nest to the water. Again, it’s super critical to give them heaps of room and not interfere with them in any way.
So, how do you experience this once in a lifetime sight?
Shark Bay World Heritage Area
Situated in Australia’s largest bay, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area takes up a whopping 2.2 million hectares – and is home to approximately 6000 turtles!
To see the turtles, we recommend hitting up one of the plentiful wildlife cruises that depart from Monkey Mia. As you cruise through the stunning turquoise water, you can try and spot turtles swimming in their natural habitat, alongside dugongs, manta rays and dolphins if you’re lucky!
Within the Heritage Area, Dirk Hartog Island’s very appropriately-named Turtle Bay is also home to Australia’s largest loggerhead turtle breeding colony, plus some green turtles who also nest on the beach.
A visit to the island means you can see the turtles’ breeding colony as up close as possible – as well as native fauna like chuditches, wallabies, Shark Bay bandicoots and much more.
The island, part of Malgana Country, was the location of the first recorded landing on Australian soil by Europeans – there’s a current conservation effort known as “Return to 1616” which aims to eradicate introduced species and reestablish populations of at-risk and endangered native fauna.
Stay on the island for just the day, or book in at the Eco Lodge if you’d like to explore even more. For an overnight taste of the rugged landscape, you can also camp at the Homestead or National Park grounds.
Getting to Shark Bay:
If you really want to take in WA’s vast landscape, you can drive from Perth to Shark Bay along the Coral Coast Highway – approximately 8.5 hour’s drive, it’s known as one of the world’s best scenic road trips.
Alternatively, you can catch a flight from Perth to Monkey Mia with Rex, which will only take about two hours.
If you want to experience the best of both worlds, discounted one-way rentals with Avis mean you can fly one way and drive the other, with reduced car relocation fees. (Find out more here.)
Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area
Further north, the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area is also a hugely important breeding site for turtles.
If you’re keen to see the incredible sight of turtle hatchlings making their first forays into the world, head to sites like Point Quobba, Maud’s Landing, the beaches of Cape Range National Park and the Muiron Islands off Exmouth.
The Mackerel Islands are located off the northern coast of Exmouth – and the gazetted nature reserve is an absolute turtle hotspot! Between December and March you can hope to see flatback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles nesting and hatching – particularly on Thevenard Island, where you can take yourself on a self-guided hike through the dunes.
Exmouth’s Jurabi Turtle Centre is a must-visit: learn from rangers all about the turtles and how to help conservation efforts, as well as how to observe them in the most unobtrusive way. The centre even runs night tours, with an expertly guided interaction experience underneath the Ningaloo stars.
Spot turtles and explore the incredible surrounds of the world’s largest fringing reef with one of Ningaloo’s many snorkelling and kayaking tours. Cruise through the shallows on your kayak while taking in the spectacular fish and other marine life – then jump in for a snorkel through the sheltered coral gardens.
If you prefer to keep your feet dry, you can take in the awe-inspiring aquatic life from the comfort of a glass bottom boat tour – although we think you’ll be tempted to jump into that spectacular, crystal-clear water for a closer look with your snorkel, too!
Getting To Ningaloo Reef:
As with Shark Bay, you can drive from Perth to the Ningaloo Coast via the Coral Coast Highway – Carnarvon will be approximately a 10 hour drive, Coral Bay is a 12 hour drive and Exmouth is a 13 hour drive.
You can also get a 2 hour flight to Carnarvon with Rex, or fly into Learmonth Airport with Qantas, which is 30 minutes from Exmouth and 1.5 hours’ drive away from Coral Bay.
Turtle Watcher’s Code Of Conduct
Turtles are endangered, and it’s extremely important to use the utmost care when watching or near turtles. The Turtle Watcher’s Code of Conduct is absolutely required reading before heading to any turtle breeding or hatching sites to ensure you don’t negatively impact any wildlife.
The two key rules are “No Glow, Move Slow and Stay Low” and “Stop, Drop and Become a Rock”.
Flash photography and torches discourage turtles from emerging onto the beach and disorientate hatchlings so cannot be used. If you are near a turtle, keeping still and low to the ground (like a rock) will help avoid disturbing their nesting.
Your best bet is to book in with expert tours to make sure you’re enjoying the spectacle in an eco-friendly way.
This article is sponsored by Australia’s Coral Coast and very happily endorsed by us. Please see our Editorial Policy for more info.