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 a fringing reef just steps away from the shore. Snorkeling near the coast allows to observe turtles, fish, and manta rays, while from atop the hill, people can witness the majestic humpback whales.

Before we started driving, we asked our neighbor if the dirt part of Nanutarra-Wittenoom Road that runs from north to south behind Tom Price was suitable for camper trailers. He strongly advised us against taking that road due to its large holes and corrugated surface.

However, we took a risk and decided to take the shortcut. To our surprise, the road was flat, well-maintained, and wide, and we thoroughly enjoyed driving on it.

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We learned to listen to others opinions but make a decision based on our own skills.

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 incredibly picturesque, featuring rolling hills, lush green spinifex grasses, and orange and red soil. Surprisingly, there were no trees in sight. However, the view was emphasised by some magnificent looking clouds. It was a refreshing sight since we hadn’t seen clouds in over two months.

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

Barradale Free Campground

We spent a night at the free Barradale Campground, located next to the dry Yannarie River bed, 70 km west of Nanutarra Roadhouse.

As usual, we made an effort to socialise and struck up a conversation with our neighbors from Ravenshoe in tropical Queensland.

The gentleman showed us his collection of precious stones with us, including opals, sapphires, rubies, and even some large gold nuggets that he had collected during his time in Central Queensland Gemfields. It was an amazing experience to hold them in our hands and admire their beauty.

Barradale Free Campground
Barradale Free Campground

Later on, Nell started an old song about the campfire. We decided to build a fire specifically for her, and she was thrilled. It turned out to be a lovely evening.

Exmouth – home to Ningaloo Reef

The next day, we had a quick breakfast and hit the road again, driving another 200 km to reach Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef.

After a long stretch of dirt driving, we finally arrived at the coast and settled into the caravan park.

As soon as we set up camp, we headed to the beach. First impression was that in comparison to 80 Mile Beach, the sand wasn’t as white, and there were no shells.

Instead, we noticed many rocks and pieces of the broken reef. It was challenging to compare it to the magnificent 80 Mile Beach. It seemed as though we were getting picky.

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

Marius decided he needed a new fishing rod to fish from the beach. He was told that with new equipment, the fish would jump into his bucket voluntarily. Yeah, right.

Exmouth fishing of the beach
Exmouth fishing of the beach

Shorthole Canyon Lookout

Later, we took a drive to the Cape Range National Park to visit the Shothole 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 in the heart of the Cape Range Peninsula, offering breathtaking views of the Exmouth Gulf waters and the Indian Ocean, with the Ningaloo Reef visible from the shore. Additionally, the Shothole 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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