Divers and snorkelers visiting Australia are treated to two very different and distinct reef systems. The world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef lies off the north-eastern coast of Australia, stretching from the Torres Strait in the north to Fraser Island in the south.
At the other end of the country, Western Australia, considered to be one of the six hotspots for marine biodiversity on the planet, is home to another stunning coral reef system. Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, stretches from the North West Cape to Red Bluff. Located approximately 750 miles north of Perth, Ningaloo is the only large reef positioned close to a landmass.
Western Australia is home to hundreds of snorkeling spots that dot the more than 6,000 miles of coastline on the Indian Ocean, protected by reserves and National Parks in this immense territory.
The Ningaloo Reef is famous for some of the world’s most magnificent marine animals including whale sharks, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, and humpback whales. Sea turtles that depend on Ningaloo Reef as their breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds, including the loggerhead, and green and hawksbill turtles, also call this massive area home.
Teeming with more than 500 species of fish and endless colorful coral, Ningaloo Reef is one of the most accessible fringing reefs, less than one mile from land, and is one of the only places on earth where you can walk from the beach straight onto a coral reef. Because snorkel gear rental is available on the beach, snorkeling on Ningaloo Reef is a simple, stress–free, and unbelievable experience.
There are 2 great locations for exploring the Ningaloo Reef: Coral Bay, which tends to draw a more family-friendly crowd, and Exmouth, popular with students and younger vacationers. Where you stay or access the reef depends entirely on the kind of experience you are seeking during your visit to the WA coast.
Coral Bay is a great spot for kids and beginner snorkelers because the water is warm, calm, and offers great visibility.
Bill’s Bay and Purdy Point are the two most popular snorkeling Coral Bay spots and are each easily accessed by foot from any accommodation in town. For an off-the-beaten-path site, Oyster Bridge and the Lagoon are accessible by Jeep or with a snorkeling tour company.
Turquoise Bay is the best and most adventurous spot for Exmouth snorkeling. Accessible by the beach from the Drift Car Park, snorkelers can walk right out to the reef where currents will take you on an awesome drift snorkel. But be careful along the bend where the current can get quite strong.
Bring your waterproof camera to capture great photos of the hundreds of different colored fish, Ningaloo reef sharks, stingrays, and turtles. Turquoise Bay, known for being one of the cleanest beaches in Australia, is one of the most beautiful beaches along the Ningaloo Reef coast.
Tip: Because there is no civilization in Cape Range National Park, there are no shops to rent snorkeling gear, so come prepared.
When to Visit
The Ningaloo Reef is a beautiful place to visit year-round. Famous for its impressive underwater world and warm weather, the area does not normally experience a wet season but cyclones can sometimes threaten the Reef between December and April.
Temperatures range from 68F in the winter to upwards of 99F in the summer. Because Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is between June and August, whereas summer is from December to February, the opposite of the US. In winter, when the rest of the country gets cooler, Ningaloo Reef stays pleasant.
If you’re interested in seeing a particular type of wildlife while snorkeling Ningaloo Reef, it’s good to know that whale sharks frequent the area from March to June; manta rays can be spotted from May to November, and humpback whales can be seen from July to November.
The Perth region, the capital of Western Australia and the country’s 4th largest city, has several snorkeling spots at its doorstep.
Shoalwater Islands Marine Park
The Shoalwater Islands Marine Park includes the waters of Shoalwater Bay, Warnbro Sound, and a small part of Cockburn Sound.
Reefs in shallow waters around the islands are popular snorkeling spots. When you’re there, expect to be greeted by some of the friendly native wildlife like Australian sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, and the little penguin.
If you’re looking for some awesome underwater caves and crevices to explore, make a stop at Point Peron and Mushroom Rock. Distinguished by its limestone formation, the numerous small caves and swim-throughs will make you feel like a mermaid.
Marmion Marine Park
Marmion Marine Park covers Perth’s northern beaches from Trigg Island to Burns Beach. Many of the park’s submerged reefs are popular with divers but an easily accessible snorkeling site within the park, Mettams Pool, is a sheltered bay with a reef close to the shore.
There are close to 400 species of fish and 20 species of coral within the Rottnest Island Marine Reserve.
There’s a variety of bays to discover on your ride around the island, from the calm waters of Little Salmon to the ghostly wreck of Henrietta Bay.
The smaller, picturesque beach is home to a sheltered reef, perfect for beginners and families. The reef, which stretches well beyond the shore, is home to a colorful array of fish including the evasive Dhufish.
Less than one mile from the sea wall of Hillarys Boat Harbour, Boyinaboat Reef is a sanctuary zone brimming with fish and other marine life.
Ten informational plaques guide you as you explore along the reefy outcrops and caves. Because the reef is deeper and a little harder to access, Boyinaboat Reef is for snorkelers with a bit more experience.
More WA Must-See Snorkeling Spots
The warm Leeuwin Current supports more than 300 tropical and sub-tropical marine species around the iconic Busselton Jetty, one of Australia’s greatest artificial reefs.
Several excellent snorkeling sites dot the coast near Esperance including the underwater snorkel trail in the shallow waters of Shearwater Bay, around Woody Island. The 15-minute helicopter flight to Middle Island soars over the rugged coastal scenery of Yokinup Bay, Cape Arid, and Recherche Archipelago and provides an amazing view of the “Real Pink” Heller Lake below.
Shark Bay Marine Park
The Shark Bay Marine Park is home to an abundance of marine life and secluded, small coral reefs that are only accessible by boat or four-wheel-drive.
Some of the park's most popular snorkeling spots are Eagle Bluff, Turtle Bay, and Louisa Bay off Dirk Hartog Island. Beginners will enjoy the shallow, tranquil waters of Gregories.
There are 10 distinct islands that make up the Mackerel Islands, a 20-minute boat ride from the WA town of Onslow. Snorkel here to see the large inky coral trees at Black Flag, then stay for a night at one of the island’s off-the-grid accommodations.
South of Ningaloo Reef, the Abrolhos Islands are renowned as one of the top snorkeling destinations in all of Australia. Crystal clear waters surround the 122 islands that make up the archipelago where more than 180 species of coral have been identified.
While the waters surrounding the Abrolhos Islands
are classed as a fish habitat protection area, day-long snorkeling tours let visitors safely explore, but not disturb, the sea life and diverse fringing coral gardens.
Jurien Bay Marine Park
The Jurien Bay Marine Park extends from Greenhead to the south of Nambung National Park. Snorkel sites along the limestone reef that runs parallel to the shoreline offer diverse marine life, including sea lions and dolphins, and colorful coral.
With miles of endless coastline, Western Australia has its share of many sensational snorkeling spots. Miles away from the famous Great Barrier Reef, WA offers its own array of breathtaking beaches, crystalline waters, and an abundance of land and sea life not seen anywhere else on the planet.
If the Great Barrier is at the top of your bucket list, WA should be next on the list.