Ningaloo Reef – best place to watch humpback whales

Ningaloo Reef

We decided that our next destination would be the famous Ningaloo Reef.

Ningaloo Reef is a world heritage listed site that is home to the fringing reef that is close to your footstep. Close to the shore you can snorkel and watch turtles, fish and manta rays. And from the hill you can watch the majestic humpback whales.

Before we started driving we asked our fellow neighbour if the dirt part of Nanutarra-Wittenoom Road that goes from north to south behind Tom Price is drivable for camper trailers. I remember he strongly advised us to not go that road as it is well corrugated with big holes.

This time we did not take this advice and we took a risk as that road was a good shortcut. Imagine our faces when we experienced the road. It was a flat, well maintained, wide dirt road that we really enjoyed driving.

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We had to take a few dirt roads when leaving Karijini National Park
We had to take a few dirt roads when leaving Karijini National Park

The route was very picturesque with rolling hills, green grasses of spinifex, orange or red soil, and no trees. Not even one. In addition, there were some great looking clouds. It was really refreshing because the last time we saw clouds was 2 months ago.

Careful - Emus crossing the road!
Careful – Emus crossing the road!

Barradale Free Campground

We stayed for a night at a free Barradale Campground. The campground is situated by a dry Yannarie River bed, 70 km west of Nanutarra Roadhouse.

As usual, we tried to not be strangers and we had a nice talk with people from Ravenshoe in tropical Queensland that camped next to us. 

The gentleman showed us his collection of precious stones. We admired opals, sapphires, rubies and we even had an opportunity to hold large gold nuggets in our hands! All of that was collected by him during his life in Central Queensland Gemfields.

Barradale Free Campground
Barradale Free Campground

Later on, Nell started an old song about the campfire. So, we made a fire especially for her. She was thrilled and we had a nice evening.

Exmouth – home to Ningaloo Reef

The next day, after a quick breakfast, we were on the road again for another 200 km to reach Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef. After a lot of dirt driving we finally reached the coast again and this time we settled at the caravan park. 

Shortly after we set our camp, we went to the beach.

In comparison to 80 Mile Beach, the sand wasn’t as white and there were no shells. Instead, we noticed a lot of rocks and pieces of the broken reef. It was hard to compare it to the mighty 80 Mile Beach. Looks like we are getting picky.

Exmouth - home to Ningaloo Reef
Exmouth – home to Ningaloo Reef

We hoped when we move to the Ningaloo Reef side of Cape Range Peninsula there would be a lot to see, but that was later on.

Marius decided he needs a new fishing rod to fish from the beach. I was told if he has new equipment, the fish will jump to his bucket voluntarily. Yeah, right.

Exmouth fishing of the beach
Exmouth fishing of the beach

Today we wanted pancakes for breakfast. And what? Nothing. Instead, we heard: “Oh no, it’s the perfect time for fishing – the low tide is coming”. 

Then, we rushed to the beach. Give a man a rod and you will regret it for life. Luckily we caught some whitings so we had a nice dinner.

Shorthole Canyon Lookout

Later we went to the Cape Range National park for a short drive to Shorthole Canyon Lookout. The drive was picturesque and the 4WD track was not challenging at all.

Shorthole Canyon Lookout
Shorthole Canyon Lookout

The lookout is located right in the middle of Cape Range Peninsula. From the top, we could see Exmouth Gulf waters and on the other side the Indian Ocean with its Ningaloo Reef at the shore. Also, the Shorthole Canyon ranges looked stunning in the afternoon sun.

Giant Prawn

On the way back, we stopped by the Giant Prawn to buy some big prawns.

Together with our morning catch, we had a feast for dinner: whiting and spicy grilled prawns.

Barbaque prawns plus what I caught that day (not much)
Barbaque prawns plus what I caught that day (not much)

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse

The next day we decided to move to the other side of the Cape Range Peninsula. Ningaloo Lighthouse Holiday Park was located next to the shore so we could spend the evening going fishing or walking to the beach. Our camp was shaded and it was located at the foot of a mountain.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse started operating in 1912. The light could be seen for 22 nautical miles. There were two lighthouse keepers responsible for keeping the lights on. The lighthouse operated until 1969.

Ningaloo Reef

The best part of Cape Range Peninsula is that it is home to Ningaloo Reef that is located right in the water. Just enter the water, take a few strokes and you can watch a frenzy of colourful fish and corals. Wonderful! 

I found a coral, next to it there was something like a ‘car wash’ – small (8 cm) fish were cleaning large fish. It looked amazing, there was a lot of traffic there and some fish had to wait in the line for their turn.

Ningaloo Reef - my girls enjoying the snorkelling
Ningaloo Reef – my girls enjoying the snorkelling

Nell also tried to snorkel for the first time. She did not dare to put her head under the water yet, but she could already breathe through the tube and look under the water surface. 

She was encouraged to do so by the beautiful snappers, which swam centimetres from the shore. Everyone admired their beauty and only Marius looked at them with a hungry eye.

Snappers at the beach
Snappers at the beach

The fish was completely not afraid of people because they were in a protected zone. I noticed that they swam up close, peered into my eyes and drifted away from a little. Then they stop and check if I follow them. If I did, they kept on doing the same, if not, they circled around me. 

First-class fun! Only when I felt cold and hungry did I go out of the water, although I wanted to stay there for hours. At sunset, we went to see the lighthouse and watch the whales that swam in the distance. 

Unfortunately, Nell fell into some prickly bushes and got some prickles on her hands. Thus, the rest of the afternoon turned into one big drama.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse – whale viewing point

Finally pancakes for breakfast

The next day we finally had pancakes for breakfast. Marius is a master of making them. As always, pancakes were delicious. We had them with pineapple, mango yoghurt and whipped cream. The mere mention makes me hungry.

SS Mildura Wreck

Later on, we went to the beach and admired the wreck of the SS Mildura. The ship is lying near the shore. It was a cattle steamer that was damaged by a cyclone in 1907 and threw on the reef. 

The locals partially dismantled it and used the materials to build a nearby farm. During the Second World war, the Australian pilots practised dropping bombs and used the wreck as a target.

SS Mildura Wreck
SS Mildura Wreck

It was really windy today and big waves were forming. The swells rushed and crashed with a bang. There was no chance of getting into the water.

Exmouth Humpback Whale Watching

Exmouth is home to Ningaloo Reef that is located on the western side of Cape Range Peninsula.

From the top of the hill at the lighthouse, humpback whales watching was great. The whales were easy to spot, even though they were far away because they let out fountains of water. 

On the other hand, in the rushing waves, we could see shoals of fish, turtles, and we managed to spot a whale several times! 

Exmouth Humpback Whale Watching
Exmouth Humpback Whale Watching

The car sounded worse and worse when it started and we were afraid that it was a matter of days when it did not start at all. Because of that, we decided to skip camping on the beach.

We try not to strain the car and slightly change our plans for this occasion. We hoped when we arrived in Perth they could fix the problem.

In summary, Exmouth is a great place to visit. The highlights are Ningaloo Reef and humpback whale watching, but there is fishing, hiking, offroading and other things to see. If our car was ok, we would have stayed longer.

Our next destination was Coral Bay. We heard many good things about it so let’s see what the future brings.

Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo Reef – walking on the beach

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is there any beach camping in Cape Range National Park?

Definitely yes. On the east side of Cape Range Peninsula, there are dedicated campgrounds. Recently they have been upgraded and now they look amazing. 

The online bookings apply to Osprey Bay, Yardie Creek, North Kurrajong, Kurrajong, Ned’s Camp, Mesa, Tulki and North Mandu.

Try to book early as they are very popular.

Are there any walks in Cape Range National Park?

There are more than a few walks in Cape Range NP:

  • Charles Knife Edge Walk
  • Mandu Mandu Gorge
  • Yardie Creek Gorge Rim Track
  • Thomas Carter Lookout
  • Badgirrajirra Trail

Visit All Trails for more details.


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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters


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