Oh Ningaloo! Three hundred kilometres of stunning coastline and a wildlife encounter to rival any bucket list item: swimming with a whale shark! The road less traveled apparently offer the better memories and well, what can I say: it does!
I just got back from my Western Australia trip in a campervan last week and I simply loved it! Still dreaming about the white sand dunes around Lancelin (good sand boarding!), the moon-like Pinnacles desert and of course one of the highlights, Cape Range National Park where kangaroos, koalas and turtles wait for you and where you can snorkel the 300km long Ningaloo Reef (World Heritage listed fringing reef for its outstanding beauty and biological diversity) which in no way should be less famous than the Great Barrier Reef – I want to fly back TODAY and do it all again and again and again…
After snorkeling on it’s coral forests for a couple of days, I cannot imagin there being a healthier coral reef system anywhere on the planet. Nor one that draws such abundant marine life! I could talk hours about my memories but I will try to put it all in a nutshell and leave the West Coast for you to explore yourself and make your own memories. Just make sure if you do, that you travel in season (April – July) to swim with a whale shark, animals that can grow up to 12m in lenght and are the biggest fish in the sea – a gentle giant AND vegetarian so don’t panic!
Roadtripping from Perth to the Ningaloo Reef must be on your bucket item list for Australia – and it doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg when you travel by campervan. There is many cheap places you can camp overnight along the route and it’s so remote and diverse that you will just love it!
Day 1: Pick-up camper in Perth – Pinnacles Desert – Dongara (via Indian Ocean Drive): 353km (3 hours 40min)
Pick-up your camper from Travellers Autobarn in Perth in the morning and start your journey with some grocery shopping at Coles nearby. Stock up for the drive so you can actually save some money. The further north you get the more remote it will be and shopping as well as fuel may be extremely expensive!
Take the Indian Ocean Drive and enjoy sneak previews of cerulean blue sea peaking through beautiful countryside vistas as you head north alongside the coastline. The view/landscape will change every hour which makes the drive everything else than boring! Bring a CD or plug in your phone for some tunes, radio signal dissappears the further North you get, and so does your reception unless you are with Telstra. I personally enjoyed the fact we had no use of our phones as it cut us off from the world of stress and work back here in Sydney.
The town of Cervantes doesn’t offer a lot but it’s the closest centre to another bucket list item: the Pinnacles Desert, located in Nambung State Park. Park and walk around the rock formations, then do the drive around the park to understand the grand scale of things.
Stay overnight at the Dongara Seaspray Beach Holiday Park, providing you with your own ensuite bathroom and powered sites for only around $30. They also have a pool and are situated directly next to the beach. The staff is super friendly and the cafe in the morning offers good breakfast.
If you are after something for free or under $10, try one the the many basic campsites along the coast. therefore, keep your Camps7 booklet handy which all our customers receive for free on pick-up.
Day 2: Dongara – Geraldton – Monkey Mia: 498km (6 hours 5min)
Get up early (6ish) as the drive to Monkey Mia (Shark Bay) is a long one (don’t worry though, a few days in and you will get used to the distances in WA – it’s a vast country and you will feel it but it’s worth it and enjoyable!!. You might want to stop at Geraldton for late breaky or to refill fuel. The city has a good shopping district by the water with restaurants and beachy shops and it is a good place to fill up on supplies too as they will become scarce on the way north.
On your way to Shark Bay, make sure you stop at the Hamelin Pools after taking off for the World Heritage listed drive. Also, stop at Shell Beach, a white strip formed entirely from tiny cockles, just south of Hamelin Pool! (This could be your next facebook profile pic!).
Stay overnight at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort so that you are on time for the dolphin feeding at 7:45am (daily). If you buy a drink/food voucher of $20, you will get a campsite for free. Check in early and enjoy the rest of the day at the beach.
Day 3: Monkey Mia and Denham (Shark Bay): feed dolphins in the morning
The feeding can be a bit touristy but still, it was a unique experience and very interesting too. Afterwards, wander down the beach and keep an eye out for emus. Relax at the resort beach and enjoy some drinks at their bar/restaurant which just recently has been refurbished! Great vibe!
More things to do at Monkey Mia and/or Denham here.
If you have the budget, why not book a scenic flight over Shark Bay?! Expect to see stunning costlines and turquoise waters, maybe you will spot marine life too, the endangered dugongs just love the World Heritage listed Shark Bay area!
Day 4: Monkey Mia – Carnarvon – Coral Bay: 580km (7hours)
Again, get up early and take off to Coral Bay which will be your next major destination (remember the whale shark encounter!). The drive between carnavon and Coral Bay is wonderfully flat, red and vast. Look out for alien-like termite nests that dot the landscape in huge numbers. Whereas Carnavon is rather tropical and known for it’s seafood industry, fruit supplies (fruit-picking jobs) as well as for it’s banana plantations.around town.
Once arrived in Coral Bay (a one street, palm-fringed oasis surrounded by desert and a gorgeous beach), check into the Peoples Caravan Park right next to the beach with beachfront and shady sites. You don’t have many other options but let me ensure you, you will love the stay! Located directly opposite the beautiful turquoise waters of Coral Bay & the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, they cater for all budgets, the staff is friendly and the shopping village (1 shop, 1 cafe, 1 restaurant, Eco Tours Coral Bay Info Centre) is located right next to the park too. Then, plonk yourself for an extra day (or two).
Day 5: Coral Bay (Ningaloo): Swim with a whale shark !!
Now it’s time to shine! Aside from hitting the beach, you can take diving and boat tours or go quad biking on the sand dunes and beach. Swim with manta rays or book a tour with the Glass Bottom Boat for a few hours of snorkeling out on the reef and observing the heritage listed coral reef from the boat. Generally tour operators will pick you up in the morning and bring you to the jetty where you will board the boat. Expect a morning of snorkeling, then lunch, three or four afternoon swims (hopefully with whale sharks, turtles and manta rays), then a return transfer to the caravan park.
Tip: Bring an underwater camera and a few bottles of water for the boat trip.
Day 6: Coral Bay – Exmouth – Cape Range National Park (Ningaloo): 300km (3hours 30min)
Exmouth is a rather sleepy town and only offers a few shops to stock up supplies again. Other than that, do not waste your time on exploring the town, rather check into the Lighthouse Caravan Park (offers the only powered campsites in around town, with showers and toilets), or enter the Cape Range National Park straight away and stay at one of the many basic campsites right at the beach of the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef!
If you are a luxury lodge fan, glamping property SalSalis offers luxury wilderness tents and a three night package including a whale shark experience! There are also penty of other, more affordable options in Cape Range though and in the end, you will end up doing the same things in your Egyptian cotton sheets than the couple in their camper over the dunes.
Day 7 & 8: Cape Range National Park: Turquoise Bay, Sandy Beach, Yardie Creek, Jurabi Turtle Center
There is loads to see and do in the Cape Range National Park. I personally really enjoyed the Yardie Creek Trail through a red canyon where we spotted rock wallabies and many diverse birds. I would also recommend snorkeling at Oyster Stacks and Turqoise Bay as well as nearby Sandy Bay, gems in the National Park. We had the beaches for ourselves but I can imagine it to be a bit more crowded in peak season (e.g. whale shark season Mar – Jul).
Expect crystal clear waters, whiter than white sand and if you get there before 11am, total solitude. To experience the ‘drift snorkel’, stay at the car park ‘Drift’. If you swim out the reef, the current will gently push you along the beach, allowing for some beautifully lazy snorkeling. Alternativley, the ‘Bay’ carpark offers calmer waters and snorkeling for beginners.
Even though we did not swim with a whale shark (too early, they arrive after the Coral Spawning in March), we watched green turtle hatchlings parading down the beach into the water for their first time ever! The girls from the center were more than friendly and explained everything you need to know about the endangered Marine Turtle species and their habitat at Ningaloo.
(Sandy Bay, Cape Range National Park)
(Oyster Stacks, Cape Range National Park)
(Kangaroos, Emus, wallabies and other wild animals are everywhere in the National Park)
Day 9 & 10: CPNP – Exmouth – Kalbarri: 874 km (11hours)
After a few lazy days of snorkeling and walking through World Heritage areas, you are facing a rather busy day of driving! Leave early and always take enough water with you. Stop at the Roadhouse for fuel and don’t ever leave the opportunity to re-fill.If you do not want to drive that much in one day, stay at Carnavon on the way back. Saturday mornings between May and October, check out the Cascoyne Growers’ markets where local farmer come to sell their FRESH produce. (It’s a great spot for breakfast too).
Once you arrived in Kalbarri, stay at the Anchorage Caravan Park next to the Hutchison River or at the Top Tourist Park in the village (10% off with your exclusive Travellers Autobarn rental). At night, join the locals at the Kalbarri Hotel for some cold drinks and even greater food!
Day 11: Kalbarri National Park (Nature’s Window)
Rather than staying for the pelican feeding which happens every morning in the town centre, leave early to explore Kalbarri National Park. Take a photo at the most famous spot, the Nature’s Window (makes a great cover picture on facebook hehe), accessible via The Loop. Marvel at natures’ ability to carve the landscape and explore the depths and heights of the river gorges and sea cliffs. Also, beginning of June, the dry, parched dansplain heath of Kalbarri National Park virtually erupts into a lush Garden of Eden (Wildlflower season).
Now, the last couple of days are up to you what you feel like doing. We suggest to check out Jurien Bay for fishing and great seafood, Yanchep National Park for exploring the caves and watching koalas, sand-boarding down the snow white dunes at Lancelin as well as discovering arty harbour town Fremantle. However, if you have more time, drive a bit further South of Perth and indulge into Western Australia wine culture and Aboriginal art!
Day 12: Kalbarri – Jurien Bay: 351 km (3hours 40min)
Day 13: Jurien Bay – Yanchup National Park (koalas!) – Fremantle: 243 km (2hours 30min)
Day 14: Fremantle – Drop-off camper in Perth: 24 km (24min)
More things to do and areas to explore, visit the official Western Australia website here or contact me below for more insider tips :o)
NEED TO KNOW:
– Always take enough water with you
– Stop at the local visitor centres for free brochures on what to do
– Travellers Autobarn allows you to drive at night but we highly recommend not to! Wildlife is likely to be on the roads (especially within the National Parks) at night and during dusk and dawn. Drive safe and below speed limit should you encounter an animal.
– Drive slow during the National Parks by day too! Not just to avoid collision with wildlife but also for you to better spot wildlife and take a few great pics from a distance. We had many encounters with kangaroos, wallabies, geckos, birds and snakes only because we slowed down.
– Stop at every petrol station to re-fill your petrol tank. It might the last one for another 300kms!
– Respect the locals, take your rubbish with you and do not touch any animals. Would you want to be touched by everyone? (Despite, some might be venomous or bite).
– Never snorkel alone! Always have someone with you or looking out for you. Especially when snorkeling where there is no or bad reception. Help may not arrive within the hour.
– Do not underestimate the strength of the ocean or the heat of the sun! Be careful and watch out for yourself.
Talk to the locals or call Travellers Autobarn on 1800 674 374 if you need assistance with anything. The Australians are usually very helpful and friendly so do not hesitate to ask for help if you need it.