Tour two wonders that put Ningaloo and Shark Bay on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The Ningaloo Reef-Shark Bay coast is one of few places on Earth where you can visit two World Heritage listed treasures in one short self-drive adventure.
This trail from Perth to Monkey Mia, Coral Bay and Exmouth reveals the natural wonders that put the region on the UNESCO world map – from the biggest fringing reef, to the largest and oldest living fossils on the planet.
Duration: 9 to 11 days
Distance: 3,148 to 3,288 kilometres
- Ningaloo Marine Park
- Cape Range National Park
- Shark Bay World Heritage Area
- Hamelin Pool stromatolites
- Shell Beach
- Monkey Mia dolphins
- Coral Bay
Best time: March to November
Perth to Kalbarri
Total distance: 588 kilometres
Make your journey to the starting point the beginning of your adventure by joining the Indian Ocean Drive north of Perth.
Beginning in the coastal playground of Lancelin, it leads you to one of the most unique landscapes on Earth, the Pinnacles Desert of Nambung National Park, and ends in the windsurfing capital of Geraldton.
From here, you’re just one hour and 45 minutes away from the ultimate outback coast playground in Kalbarri National Park.
Take your pick from a wide variety of accommodation options and stay a night or two to cruise, kayak, walk, climb or abseil Kalbarri’s 400-million-year-old river gorges.
Or just take in the region’s extraordinary beauty, spring wildflowers and rock formations, including the iconic Nature’s Window, from the park’s lookouts.
Kalbarri to Denham/Monkey Mia
Total distance: 375-399 kilometres
The turnoff to Shark Bay World Heritage Area is two and a half hours’ drive north of Kalbarri, and just 30 minutes later you’ll reach your first stop at Hamelin Pool Stromatolites.
Here, you can get a glimpse of life on Earth over 3,500 million years ago as you gaze in awe at the stromatolites – the largest and oldest living fossils on the planet.
Another hour along Denham-Hamelin Road brings you to Shell Beach – one of the few places in the world where you’ll see a beach made entirely of billions of tiny shells, creating a dramatic coastal landscape.
On the last leg to Denham and Monkey Mia, take a short detour to Eagle Bluff for spectacular ocean vistas and birds-eye views of the marine life below, or Peron Homestead for some insights into pastoral life on a working station in the early 1900s.
Stay in Denham or Monkey Mia, ready for a morning with Monkey Mia’s famous bottlenose dolphins.
Wild dolphins have visited this shoreline virtually every day since the early 1960s, making it one of the world’s top spots for dolphin encounters.
Spend your afternoon meeting more of Shark Bay’s marine life – including the world’s largest population of dugongs – on a wildlife cruise or kayaking tour.
Or stay on dry land and meet some of the region’s 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 240 varieties of birds on an Indigenous cultural tour, or a 4WD tour of Francois Peron National Park.
Shark Bay to Carnarvon and South Ningaloo
Total distance: 329-469 kilometres
The tropical food bowl of Carnarvon is the southern gateway to World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Reef – the largest and one of the most accessible fringing reefs on Earth.
Stop for lunch to feast on seasonal seafood and tropical fruit flavours fresh from Carnarvon’s plantations and farms.
Explore the region’s history and heritage with a visit to the Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Centre and Carnarvon Heritage Precinct.
Take a stroll along One Mile Jetty and ride the coffee pot train.
Or take a two-day detour by 4WD to some of the most secluded spots on the Ningaloo coast, where you can step straight off the beaches into the bluest ocean and snorkel with some of the 500 species of fish and 300 varieties of coral that call the reef home.
Drivers are advised to contact Carnarvon Tourist Centre to check road conditions and stock up on water, food and fuel before making this journey.
Take Blowholes Road and stop to witness the powerful force of the ocean swell at the Blowholes, before taking the unsealed to some of Ningaloo’s top snorkel trails, swimming beaches, fishing spots and surf breaks at Bluff Barrel, the Tombstones, 3 Mile Camp and Gnaraloo Bay.
Stay a night or two at Quobba Station, Red Bluff, 3 Mile Camp or Gnaraloo.
Options range from camping and basic cabins to glamping in luxury eco tents.
Shark Bay/South Ningaloo to Coral Bay
Total distance: 581 kilometres (from Shark Bay) 330 kilometres (from South Ningaloo)
The journey from Shark Bay to the chilled-out seaside town of Coral Bay takes a total of seven hours and 45 minutes – a little less if you’re heading from South Ningaloo and travelling back to Blowholes Road to reach the North West Coastal Highway.
Here, in the calm, sheltered waters of the bay, you’re just a short snorkel from Ningaloo’s coral gardens.
A guided tour on a glass-bottom boat, sea kayak, dive charter or snorkel tour will take you to the outer reef for a swim with the turtles and graceful manta rays.
Whale watching tours also operate between March and July.
Try catching your own dinner on a deep-sea fishing charter, or choose from a small selection of cafes and restaurants and stay a night or two.
Coral Bay to Exmouth
Total distance: 152 kilometres
At the northern tip of the Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth is one of the best places in the world for a thrilling swim with the largest fish in the ocean – the whale shark.
They visit Ningaloo Reef every year between March and July, and Exmouth offers a range of tours.
A glass-bottom boat, snorkel or dive tour to the outer reef will also bring you to the year-round playgrounds of dolphins, turtles, dugongs and manta rays.
Two must-dos for divers include Navy Pier – one of Australia’s top 10 dive sites – and an overnight trip to the Murion Islands.
There are also big drawcards here for surfers at the reef break on Surfers Beach, and world-class big-game chasing thrills for anglers too.
Choose from a good variety of accommodation options in Exmouth and on the cape.
Exmouth to Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park
Total distance: 160 kilometres (return)
Join a guided tour, or pack a picnic and head off early to explore Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park at your own pace.
Drive carefully, watching out for kangaroos, emus and lizards, and take your pick from a string of stunning lagoons, white-sand beaches and snorkel trails, including Turquoise Bay.
For a striking contrast, take a wildlife cruise (seasonal) or self-guided bushwalk up the rugged red canyon of Yardie Creek.
Finish your day on the cape with an Indian Ocean sunset and humpback whale spotting (June and November) at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse.
Exmouth to Perth (or extend your journey)
Total distance: 1,268 kilometres
Retrace your tracks back to Perth, or extend your road trip, following the sealed roads east to nature’s own adventure world at Karijini National Park, or north to Broome and the Kimberley wilderness.