Ningaloo Reef on the west coast is far less famous than the Great Barrier Reef in the east, and it’s certainly a long way from anywhere- even from Perth, which is already the most remote state capital in the world, it’s still more than 1000km up the coast. However, the isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Literally millions of tourists visit Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef every year but Ningaloo is incredibly pristine.
While the National Park authorities in QLD have imposed strong restrictions and regulations in an attempt to minimise harm to the natural environment (and in many respects they’ve achieved a high level of success), the crowds will always have an impact. Visitors to the Great Barrier Reef are always shocked by both the diversity of marine life under the water and the number of people in the area. Ningaloo has no such problems.
Being so far from a major population centre has kept this area a wilderness. Eco-tourism is taking off in a big way, but the developments have been subject to strict regulation from day one. Strong steps are being taken to keep Ningaloo a haven for endangered marine animals and a beautiful place to visit and so far the results are absolutely stunning.
So, why make the trek? The warm waters near the town of Exmouth are home to more than 250 different species of coral and about 450 species of fish. There are dolphins, dugongs, and manta rays up to 7m across. Visitors include green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, which come to lay their eggs on the island beaches, and migrating humpback whales and whale Sharks.
The Whale Shark is the world’s biggest fish. They can be more than 12m long- that’s about the size of a large school bus- but have little interest in humans. They eat tiny plankton and are usually quite unperturbed by scuba divers and snorkelers in the water. It’s a good thing too, as their gaping mouths are sometimes almost 5ft across.
Even above the water, this coastline is truly gorgeous. A lot of places have clear blue water and fine white sand, but these days most of them are crowded and busy. Around Ningaloo it’s very easy to find peace and quiet.
Ningaloo Reef is quickly becoming recognised as a global mecca for divers and wildlife enthusiasts. After much work by the locals, it has now been awarded World Heritage Area status so the future of this incredible place will be even better safeguarded. Visitors can enjoy the area knowing that it’ll be preserved for their grandchildren, just as beautiful as it is now.
Jess Spate is a keen snorkeller, diver, and digital underwater videoenthusiast.