Coral Bay

The best way to describe this small seaside settlement would be “Paradise found”. It is located 234km north of Carnarvon and about 120km south of Exmouth.

If you are looking for a small place consisting of only two caravan parks, a few holiday homes and a small shopping mall to holiday at, you better hurry up and get to Coral Bay. The amount of development dumbfounded us. We visited Coral Bay just a few years ago and where we battled on, on dirt tracks then, there is a bitumen road ending in a huge car park – complete with jetty and boat launching facilities!

 Now you might wonder just what distinguish Coral Bay from any other seaside town, the answer is Ningaloo Reef. Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s only fringing reef. What that means is that the coral starts right at the water’s edge. This makes it ideal even for children and novice snorklers.

The enthusiastic snorklers in our family spotted the following fish and coral after one session: butterfly, wrasse, parrotfish, hard coral, staghorn coral, brainy coral, black tang, convict tang, blue damsel, powder blue tang and numerous schools of small fish.

Even if you don’t snorkel there is no getting away from the fish. It was an amazing experience to swim with a fairly big pink snapper in the shallows! No doubt these kinds of experiences occur because Coral Bay is a sanctuary area and no fishing is allowed.

Ningaloo Reef stretches along for 260km and has 170 hard corals, 11 soft corals and 475 species of fish. Coral Bay lies at the southern end of the reef.

Local tour operators offers quite an array of experiences like coral viewing via glass bottom boats, snorkelling on the outer reef, kayaking and excursions on quad bikes. Through out the year the reef offers different experiences to travellers.

If you want to swim with whale sharks, late March to June is the best time to visit. Swimming with these gentle giants is a truly humbling experience. A year round attraction to Coral Bay is the manta rays. It is wonderful watching these graceful animals glide through the waters.

If you visit from June to November you’ll find other guests in the waters of the Ningaloo Marine Park: Humpback whales! Unfortunately you are not allowed to swim with them, but Coral Bay is a great place for viewing them on their annual migration.

Another spectacular event that snorklers can experience is coral spawning. It occurs when coral releases eggs and sperm into the ocean usually 10 to 12 days after full in March and April.

The most awesome experience for me though is the shark nursery. It is such a surreal feeling seeing the huge numbers of reef sharks in the shallows. They are such inquisitive animals! As soon as they sense you, they come closer. Where normally people walk their dogs, here it looks like you walk your sharks … they swim along as you walk further up the beach.

The nursery is about 20 minutes walk from the main beach. Locals do ask that people not enter the water, not because they are worried about the people, but because we disturb the sharks and stand the risk of them moving away. Although there are almost always reef sharks around, the best time to view them is from October to March, when you can marvel at up to 200 reef sharks playing in the shallows.

We were fortunate enough to come close to a few rays in the nursery. They are very difficult to capture on film, but a pair mating in the shallows gave us the perfect opportunity to overcome that hurdle.

Another wonderful experience especially for the kids is the feeding of the fish that occurs every day at 3.30pm on the main beach. Schools of snapper swim in to partake in this. Please note that they are fed a specially formulated pellet – not bread! Bread is really one of the worst things to feed animals as they cannot digest it properly. The operator hands out small amounts of feed for the children for real hands on experience.

Now if fishing is your preferred recreational activity, then don’t despair. Although you can’t fish around the main beach, you can go out on charter boats for deep sea fishing. If you prefer to fish from the beach, then head out to Maud’s Landing or try out the newly build jetty at Maud’s sanctuary (also known as Monks Head). More photos.