Everything you need to know about the 700 miles of desolation unfurl north of Perth along Western Australia’s vividly colored coastline.
One of the two World Heritage sites in the region, Gutharraguda — as it’s called in the local aboriginal dialect — is a trove of natural anomalies, including a beach made entirely of scallop shells, one of the world’s largest underwater kelp forests, and a lagoon system of stromatolites — the primordial ooze that formed the crux of life on Earth.
Guests staying at Monkey Mia’s no-frills resort (ParksAndResorts.RAC.com.au/Monkey-Mia) can sip their morning lattes while watching habituated dolphins swim to shore to say hi and eat a couple of fresh fish fed by volunteer marine biologists.
Francois Peron National Park
Evidence suggests that the Malgana people have been living along the rugged Peron peninsula — Wulybidi in the local language — for at least 25,000 years.
And the only way to unlock the mysticism of this faraway preserve is on a day trip with Wula Gura Nyinda (Wulagura.com.au), an aboriginal-run tour operator led by Capes, a descendant of the nomads that once roamed the land. Through short hikes, kayaking, a soak at a warm artesian spring, and didgeridoo-playing sessions, he brings to life a reverence for the sleeping earth that’s been lost since the arrival of Europeans.
Australia’s other Great Reef, Ningaloo is a massive fringe shoal, famous for its whale sharks that visit between April and July each year. Day trips to swim with the world’s biggest fish are done in a sustainable fashion, getting snorkelers up-close and personal without disturbing the gentle giants’ environs. More than 500 types of tropical fish populate the reef. Hardcore marine life lovers can overnight on a catamaran, Sail Ningaloo (SailNingaloo.com.au), to dive with hammerheads and manta rays.
A working cattle ranch run by the Shallcross family, Bullara (Bullara-Station.com.au) is the ultimate inland antidote to the continuous tresses of coastal dunes. Fulfill your Outback dreams by camping out on the tent reserve amid wild kangaroos. There are aluminum-sided bunk units and proper farmer cottages, too — and a tricked-out shower under the stars fixed to a dappled eucalyptus tree.
Cape Range National Park
Fanning out along the western ledge of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area, this vast system of canyons and coves offers some of the best snorkeling and sunsets in Australia. At Turquoise Bay, enter the sea on the far left of the beach, then ride the soft, northerly current past sea turtles and giant clams. Massive schools of neon fish also spool around the Oyster Stacks nearby.
In the evening, pack a picnic and drive up the mesa to watch the sun set along the horizon at the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse.
Unlike Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, where divers have to travel miles out to sea to find optimal scuba conditions, Western Australia’s top site is accessible from the beach. The Navy Pier in Exmouth is arguably the best shore dive in the world, with thousands of schooling fish, wobbegongs (carpet sharks), octopus, and technicolor nudibranchs. Protected under local military authority, only one operator, Dive Ningaloo (DiveNingaloo.com.au) has permission to access the reef, so crowds are kept to a minimum.`