Swimming with Aussie whale sharks

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Swimming with Aussie whale sharks
Question: I am researching the Coral Bay/Ningaloo Reef area in Western Australia as a vacation spot. I am interested in diving with the whale sharks. Any tips on time of year, outfitters, side trips? Thanks.

Dereck Benham
Oceanside, CA
[email protected]

Dereck, meet your future
swimming buddy.

Adventure Adviser: First off, you'll want to plan your trip for the tail end of Australia's summer: late March through the end of May. That's when the hefty, yet oh-so-gentle whale sharks swarm the plankton-rich coral along Ningaloo Reef, near the tiny resort town of Exmouth, about 90 miles north of Coral Bay. A smaller version of its east coast cousin, the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo runs about 150-some-odd miles from Amherst Point in the southwest to Bundegi Reef in the northeast and, in places, is less than 400 feet from shore. Exmouth Diving Center (011-61-099-49-1201) offers a whole slew of diving opportunities that will get you face-to-face (well, almost) with the laid-back leviathans.

Depending on what kind of price range you're looking at, you'll have your pick of places to stay in and around Exmouth. On the budget end, there's Backpackers (099-49-1101), a low-key hostel that can set you up on a variety of full-day and multiday side trips, such as hiking in Yardie Creek, a steep-walled canyon a half-mile from the beach. For higher-end digs, consider the oddly named Potshot Hotel Resort (099-49-1200) and its self-contained suites for $90 per night, double occupancy.

But if Coral Bay is your preferred jumping-off point to the reef and the rest of the North-West Cape, call Coral Dive (099-42-5940) for scuba prices and schedules. Deep-sea fishing is primo here, as well, and a number of charter companies, including Coral Cruiser (099-42-5900) run day trips out to where the fish are biting. Your best bet for bedding down in Coral Bay is in one of Ningaloo Reef Resort's (099-42-5934) $55-$90 per night double cabanas.

For other notable side trips on the North-West Cape, head to Cape Range National Park on the west side of the Cape, south of Exmouth. With 30 miles of good swimming beaches and an abundance of steep, rocky gorges and caves, you'll want to spend at least a day exploring the area. Call the Milyering visitor center at 099-49-2808 for trail maps and camping information.

Farther afield, consider an inland trip to Karijini National Park, Western Australia's second largest. It's chock-a-block with sheer, craggy gorges, giant termite mounds, and, in the spring, more wildflowers than you've ever seen in one place. A handful of companies run guided full-day trips through the park (about $45 per person), the more hands-on of which involve scaling torrential waterfalls; negotiating narrow, vertigo-inducing ledges; and picking your way down the ominous-sounding Hades's Stairs. Obviously not for the faint-hearted! Call Dave's Gorge Tours at 091-89-7026 for details.

Bunk down in hostels in the bordering towns or pitch your tent at one of the park's primitive campsites at Dales Gorge, Weano Gorge, or Joffre Intersection ($5 per night; 091-89-8157). For additional travel-savvy tips, it's hard to top Lonely Planet's painstakingly comprehensive Western Australia guide ($13.95). A must-read before you go.

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