1,270 kilometres (12 hours drive) north of Perth sits the small town of Exmouth, on the tip of the North West Cape in Western Australia.
Exmouth is the gateway to Ningaloo Reef, the longest fringing coral reefs in the world. This marine sanctuary is abundant with whales, sharks, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, fish, turtles and whale sharks – and the best part of all, you can get up close and personal with them all.
The coral on the reef spawns every March and April, which brings krill and plankton to feed, which then in turn draws whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales and plenty of other sea life. Peak season stretches from April to October and sees this laid-back town boom. Try to book accommodation and tours in advance as these sell out quickly.
If you decide to visit during the heat of summer, temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius so make sure you come prepared.
How to get there
Exmouth has its own airport – the RAAF Airforce Base doubles as a civilian airport called Learmonth, and Qantas operates daily flights from Perth.
Learmonth Airport is located 36km from Exmouth, and there are a few ways to reach the town –
Exmouth Bus Charters offers a shuttle bus direct to your accommodation for a per person fee.
A coach service also connects Exmouth with Perth, Geraldton and Broome, with tickets prices ranging from $240 to $140.
But, as with most destinations in Australia, the best way to see Exmouth and all its stunning surrounds, is to make it part of a road trip.
How to get around
Exmouth town is quite small , so you can easily get around on foot if you’re staying in town. The shopping area and most restaurants are within a 10-15 minute walk, however if you’re wanting to explore the wider area (including the best beaches like Coral Bay) or if you’re staying outside of town, you’ll probably want to hire a car.
Where to eat
Whalers Restaurant serves up delicious local seafood, but is a little on the expensive side.
The Social Society is a must for coffee!
A grocery store (such as the local IGA) is always a winner in heavy tourist areas, and Exmouth is no different. Dinner will always be much cheaper if you cook it yourself and there are plenty of local and fresh ingredients on offer. Or, pack yourself a picnic and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
WhaleBone Brewery is located just outside the main town and a great spot for some locally brewed beer and a cheap pub meal.
Where to stay
There are a few backpacker hostels in town, with a bed in a shared dorm going for around $30 – $60 a night.
There are also a handful of motels in town, with rooms costing around $120 a night.
Alternatively, there are a number of houses available on AirBnB to rent for 3 nights or more, with prices averaging $250 a night.
Of course, if you’ve decided to hire a camper or have a tent, there are plenty of campgrounds in town and in the Cape Range National Park. One night bookings start from $10, and you can search for campgrounds on this site. Free camping is not permitted and quite heavily policed in and around Exmouth town.
Example daily budget for one day in Exmouth
$100 AUD per day
– Hostel: $35 per night
– Coffee from The Social Society: $5
- Snorkel hire: $30
– Picnic on the beach: $15
– Home cooked dinner: $15
How long to spend in Exmouth
Despite its tiny size, Exmouth & Ningaloo Reef is one of those places where you can uncover more and more, the longer you stay. At a minimum, you’ll need two full days (particularly if you’re planning on doing a day tour out on the reef) but can easily unwind and find plenty of things to do.
What to see and do in Exmouth
Swim with Whale Sharks (March to August)
These gentle giants are arguably the main attraction of Ningaloo Reef. From March to August they travel to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to feast on the large amounts of zooplankton and coral spawn found along Reef. Despite their size, whale sharks are harmless to humans.
It all depends on the day, but tours also offer the chance to encounter manta rays, dugongs, turtles, humpback whales, dolphins, and on our tour we even got the rare treat of witnessing Orca Whales following the humpback pods.
Most of the tours provide everything you need for the day, from snorkelling equipment, wetsuits to lunch and snacks, plus a professional underwater photographer who sends you all the photos free of charge. All tours work together and use spotter planes to ensure everyone gets to swim with a whale shark. We went with Ningaloo Discovery, and it was the most incredible experience. Tours cost around $350 depending on the time of year.
Road Trip: Driving from Perth to Exmouth
As we peeled out of the rental car depot in our... well-travelled... camper van, I stared at the map in front of us. 12 hours of driving to come, a few stops marked along the way, and just a backpack between us...
Swim with Humpback Whales
Between the months of June & November, the highest density of humpback whales in the Sourthern Hemisphere swim past the Ningaloo Reef on their annual migration from Antartica. Around 30,000 humpbacks visit the reef and similarly to the Whale Shark tour, there are plenty of day trips to take you out to the drop off of the reef.
Unlike other states, in Western Australia you are allowed to swim in proximity to the whales. Whale Watching tours are also available if you don’t want to get into the water.
Swim with Manta Rays
The neighbouring cove of Coral Bay is home to many manta rays, with numbers at their highest between May to November. Just like whale sharks, they are harmless to humans and you can get up close and personal on a day tour. Coral Bay is an hour and a half drive south of Exmouth.
Located 3km from Exmouth, this is one of the best of the many stunning beaches along the west side of the cape. Voted in the world’s top 20 beaches and the second best beach in Australia (after Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays) – with its stark white sand and clear water, this beach offers fantastic snorkelling and
The hatching season is roughly January to March, when the baby turtles emerge from their eggs buried under the sand, and make their dash for the sea. You’re welcome to view hatchings without a tour (just head down to one of the many beaches off the reef on the western side of Exmouth). But remember it’s imperative that the females or hatchlings are not disturbed.
Vlaming Head Lighthouse
Situated on the peak of the ranges, this lighthouse was completed in 1912 and offers one of the best vantage points for whale watching. From this peak, you can view both the sunrise and sunset over the ocean!
As you drive into Exmouth, you’ll notice a group of thin, tall towers rising on the horizon. These are part of the Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, which sends radio transmission to both US & Australian Naval ships and is the most powerful transmission station in the Southern Hemisphere.
There are thirteen towers (named from Tower Zero to Tower Twelve because no one wanted to work on Tower Thirteen), ranging in height from 387m to 304m – and for many years Tower Zero was the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Exmouth only exists today because of the Australia & New Zealand USA Alliance, and the military base just outside town was once a slice of America, transplanted into Australia. Once they entered the base, they drove US-made cars on the right side of the road, used US currency, American food was shipped in, and a ten pin bowling alley and large baseball pitch was built.
While the base is almost defunct today, it is still an interesting piece of history!