Ningaloo Reef, between Coral Bay and Exmouth in Western Australia, is an aquatic wonderland with 200 different species of coral and 500 different species of fish, and other marine animals ranging from humpback whales, dugongs and manta rays to green and loggerhead turtles.
It's one of the few places in Australia where you can swim with those giants of the sea — whale sharks — in autumn and early winter.
WHALE SHARKS. Huge, plankton-feeding sharks, Rhincodon typus, growing to about 18 metres and weighing up to 40,000 kilograms. Unlike the dreaded great white shark, the whale shark is placid and easy-going. You'll find pods of them in the autumn at Ningaloo Reef when the coral spawns and the plankton blooms. The world's largest fish, the whale shark is listed as nationally threatened.
WHERE. Ningaloo Reef is on the Coral Coast of Western Australia along the western side of North-West Cape. The towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth are popular access points to Ningaloo Reef. Among the best places to find whale sharks are off the Tantabiddi and Mangrove Bay areas.
HOW TO GET THERE. If driving, take the Brand Highway from Perth to Geraldton, then the West Coastal Highway to the Shark Bay region. There's a turnoff at Minilya, past Carnarvon, to Coral Bay and Exmouth. It's 1113 kilometres from Perth to Coral Bay, 1260 kilometres to Exmouth, so it's best to break the journey into two days if only one person is driving. If you prefer flying, there are daily flights to Carnarvon, with shuttle buses to your destination. Alternatively, check with Greyhound or McCaffertys for coach trips from Perth.
ATTRACTIONS. There is a variety of coral, fish and marine animals at Ningaloo Reef. There are diving schools, glass-bottomed boats and semi-submersibles. Snorkeling and scuba diving at Ningaloo Reef are popular.
WHERE TO DINE. Coral Bay or Exmouth.
WHERE TO STAY. Motels, guesthouses, hostels, caravan parks, camping grounds, mainly in the towns of Coral Bay and Exmouth.
WHEN TO GO. Any time of the year. But if you'd like to swim with the whale sharks, autumn and early winter (March through June) are the best times. In 2012, the whale sharks are expected to be in the area until as late as October.