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Western Australia - Coral Coast

Coral Coast Region Think of exotic marine life, beaches, blue ocean and natural reserves when you think of Western Australia's Coral Coast. The region starts at Cervantes and the fascinating Pinnacle rock formations. The region then stretches northward past Geraldton, Denham, Shark Bay, Coral Bay to Exmouth and the renowned Ningaloo Marine Park. It includes one of Western Australia's most famous tourist attractions, Monkey Mia on Shark Bay, where wild dolphins come close to the shore to be fed. The Coral Coast is one of the few places in the world where visitors can swim with the whale shark - one of the world's largest fish. Dive or fish year round in this amazing area to see a variety of marine life, spectacular reefs, warm blue-green water and white sand beaches. From July to November the Coral Coast becomes the perfect base for self-drive tours during the Wildflower season.

Where can I stay?
Travelmate has accommodation on the Coral Coast to suit every budget.

How do I get there?
From Perth follow the Brand Highway northward to Geraldton, where it becomes the North West Coastal Highway. Distances between towns in Western Australia are large, so it is advisable to plan plenty of rest stops.

What are the main towns?
The main towns in the region include:

Kalbarri, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Denham, Exmouth, Monkey MIA and Shark Bay.

Most of the region is temperate and mild. However, the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the region at its northern tip - around Coral Bay - making the temperatures hot and humid between October to February. The drier and more temperate months, March to October, are a great time to visit this part of Australia.

What's there to do in the region?

The North West Coastal Highway runs parallel to the coast and is the main artery through this region. Many exciting locations are found using short-side trips from the highway:

Travel inland from the coast to Nambung National Park about 17 kilometres south Cervantes township. The park is home to the strange, limestone pillars known as the Pinnacles that stand as tall sentinels on an eerie yellow-sand landscape and are a must-see natural attraction.

During Lobster Season (November to June), be sure to call in at Geraldton, a popular Wind Surfing holiday destination and the centre of WA's lobster fishing industry. Why not throw in a line yourself, at the town Fisherman's Wharf, where commercial fishing fleet unload the lobster (crayfish) catch each day. Take a cruise or fly out to the fascinating Abroholos islands just off the coast.

Stunningly beautiful countryside is also found around Kalbarri found at the mouth of the Murchison River. The gorges within the Kalbarri National Park are deep and dramatic, and the coastal cliffs and gorges south of the town, molded wildly and wonderfully by wind, rain and sea.

One of the most popular stopovers is Monkey MIA, where you can swim in the sandy shallows at Shark Bay with wild bottlenose dolphins, who come to take offerings of fish from human hands. The best time to meet these mammals is between 8 am and 1 pm under the supervision of park rangers. World Heritage listed Shark Bay has other attractions too. Shell Beach is a wonderful seaside area made up of 6 kilometres of tiny white shells that is 10 metres deep. See one of the largest and oldest living fossils in the world, the Hamelin Pool stromatolites. These fossils are evidence of life-forms that are 2,000 - 3,000 years old.

Denham, the most westerly city in Australia, is the main centre of Shark Bay. It is located on one of two peninsulas that form Shark Bay. Pearling was the main industry of the township in its early days and now the town has a fine reputation for fishing. Denham is the entry point for Francois Peron National Park at the tip of the Shark Bay peninsula for great fishing and ecotours to Dirk Hartog island.

Further north is Carnarvon, at the mouth of the Gascoyne river. This area was first sighted by the Dutch explorer, Dirk Hartog, in 1616. While indigenous tribes inhabited the area, the first European settlers arrived in 1876. Today, extensive irrigation has allowed tropical fruit farming and mining to become the mainstay of the town. Northward along the coastal road from Carnarvon you'll find the Blowholes and the 'HMAS Sydney' Memorial cairn that commemorate those lost in the WWII battle off this part of the coast.

To see more marine life, continue north from Carnarvon along the North West Highway and take the turn-off, just past the Minilya Roadhouse, to reach the glorious seaside town of Coral Bay. It's a great place to see humpback whales, whale sharks, dugong, turtles, manta rays and a variety of fish specie. Coral viewing cruises and deep sea and game fishing charters are available while children can swim safely in the warm tropical waters amongst colourful fish.

Continue through the Girilia Range to arrive at Exmouth, entry point to Cape Range National Park, with its display of seasonal wildflowers, Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon. The tidal inlet of Mangrove Bay, attracts more than 120 bird species, especially waders and birds of the low tide. Black-footed wallabies can be sighted on the cliffs of Yardie Creek Gorge along with herons and osprey.

The Wreck of the 'SS Mildura' is found off North West Cape, in the Ningaloo Marine Park, that is also home to famous Ningaloo Reef. From March to May, whale sharks are attracted to these tropical waters by mass coral spawning, a highly nutritious food source. This phenomenon can be watched from boat cruises or scenic flights. From August to November, the humpback whale stops over in Ningaloo on its migratory way to its breeding ground and the Antarctic. Take a cruise from Exmouth to see these enormous giants frolic and play in the sea. During this same season, manta rays arrive at the reef in large schools, to the delight of snorkellers on tour boats.

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