The Ningaloo Reef on the Coral Coast of Western Australian is often referred to as the Great Barrier Reef without the “barrier.” Along this turquoise coastline you can snorkel on a world heritage-listed coal reef straight from the shoreline. You can snorkel or dive with the beautiful and rare whale sharks. And the calm bays and off-the-beaten-trail nature of the destination make it an ideal area for children, even very small ones. This unspoilt paradise really does make for one of Australia's best family holiday destinations and is the perfect place to holiday with kids.
Ningaloo is highly underrated despite it natural beauty. The marine life that you can see just wading in off the beach shore is quite remarkable and will make you wonder why more people aren’t coming to visit. For a sunny, beach holiday swimming with reef fish far from the traffic and noise of urban life and well away from the tourist hoards, this is perfect.
The main attraction of the Ningaloo Reef is the elusive whale shark. These majestic creatures visit the area seasonally between April and July each year. For adventurous parents with toddlers, Ningaloo Reef Dive provide a child-friendly boat with a port-a-cot on board. This tour operator provides both dive and snorkel experiences. Older children who are confident swimmers are welcomed to swim with the whale sharks alongside their parents. [For more tips on SCUBA diving with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
While swimming with whale sharks is an amazing experience, with children it is important to check the weather report as a precaution before sending kids into the deep blue as the swell beyond the reef can be quite treacherous. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue here.]
If swimming with the largest fish in the sea is not your thing, the Ningaloo Reef boasts many other sea life. Along with the 500 species of tropical fish, it is not uncommon to snorkel with sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays and reef sharks. Dolphins and dugongs can also be seen frolicking in the bays. There are many tour operators who take groups out in glass bottom boats to the outer reef for coral viewing and snorkeling.
Turtle nesting is another major attraction for families at Coral Bay. Guided tours operate from November to February to watch these little creatures emerge from the sand.
For all younger children the bays are perfect for paddling. Older children can snorkel or take out a glass bottom kayak along the reef. There are also some surf beaches closer to Exmouth for the grommets. The 3:30pm fish feeding along the shores of Coral Bayis a favourite for all ages.
Not far from Coral Bay is Exmouth which is home to the beautiful Cape Range National Park. Here you can visit the breathtaking limestone canyons at Yardi Creek, drift snorkel at the stunning Turquoise Bay or catch a few waves at Surfers Beach. If you’re lucky enough you may even spot the rare black-footed rock wallaby.
Because of its remote location, fresh food options at Coral Bay are limited. There are two small grocery stores that stock basic items for a premium price. If you are after fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, you are better off packing an esky or ice box and doing your shopping in Exmouth.
There are a few restaurants in Coral Bay which are surprisingly more interesting than you would expect for such a small town.
Getting to Coral Bay is not an easy feat. It’s an eleven-hour drive from Perth. Alternatively, you can catch a two and a half hour flight to Exmouth from Perth, and then drive an hour south to Coral Bay.
If you do decide to take the scenic drive up the coast there are many family friendly-towns to visit along the way. One must-visit is the world famous Monkey Mia where you can interact with dolphins who will swim right up to the shallows. Or there are the spectacular sights of the Kalbarri National Park.
All accommodation at Coral Bay is situated opposite the beach. Your accommodation choice really depends on whether you prefer to camp, stay in a serviced motel-style room, or have the privacy and space of your own house.
The Ningaloo Reef Resort provides self-contained apartments. The ground floor apartments have a grassed area out the front that is ideal for children. However the main feature of the resort is the bar, and the live music can be a little loud for little ones.
The People’s Caravan Park is a good budget option and has plenty of campsites. It also has larger villas for families.
In addition, there is the option to stay in one of the twenty houses that are available for holiday rental. These houses are very popular, so it’s advisable to book early.
By Christine Kodomicholos