Coral reefs and emus: exploring Exmouth, Western Australia

Exmouth Western Australia

After a week of basing myself in Perth for an introduction to what Western Australia had to offer, I decided it was time to explore further afield, travelling up the coast to enjoy the beautiful Indian Ocean scenery. My original plan had been to try to make my way up to Broome, but a combination of time, budget and flooding in the North West of the country put paid to any chance of going much beyond Exmouth.

As usual, not wanting to hire a car, I assessed my options. There are a number of multi-day tours running from Perth to Exmouth, but all of these stop at Lancelin and the Pinnacles desert, spots I’d already visited on day trips, before heading up to Monkey Mia, famous for its wild dolphin-feeding experience, the ethics of which concerned me, so I decided that for me it wouldn’t be worth the time or cost. Instead, I opted to head straight up to Coral Bay, via a 16-hour overnight bus journey (to this day, still the longest bus journey I’ve ever taken!).

With the bus stopping every few hours to pick up and drop off passengers, I didn’t sleep too well, but with a strong coffee at a roadhouse stop and the sun rising to show off the red scrubby landscape that I always associate with outback Australia, I was roused and ready to make the most of my short time in Coral Bay when the bus dropped me off on the little town’s only main road at around ten in the morning.

Roadhouse Western Australia solo

Outback roadhouse stops; one of my favourite things about overland travel in Australia

Coral Bay’s only backpackers’ hostel kindly let me check in early as my bed was available, so I dropped my bags, freshened up, and went out to find the ocean. As soon as I saw the shallow turquoise water and the white sand, I knew it was going to be a beach day.

Coral Bay Western Australia

Coral Bay Western Australia

The weather was perfect, the bay was quiet, and the water was so clear that I spotted manta rays, vibrant-shaded fish and huge crabs before I’d even paddled out to knee height. I was struck by the lack of crowds on the beach; a stark contrast to the busy Gold Coast locations that I was used to visiting on my days off work. There were a few visitors around, but the whole town, and my hostel too, was quiet. It was February, and apparently this area is more popular later in the year when the weather has cooled down in Perth and people head north for a holiday. Being so used to packed beaches, it was lovely to relax in a less-frequented spot for a while.

Coral Bay sunset Western Australia

Coral Bay sunsets

After a couple of days of beach-bumming, I hopped back onto the Integrity Coachlines bus to head a little further north to stop in Exmouth for a short while. My primary plan for my time here was to head out to snorkel the Ningaloo Reef, a World Heritage Site which is home to hundreds of different species of tropical fish, as well as whale sharks, but which seems to be dwarfed by the shadow of its more famous East Coast cousin.

I picked Ningaloo Ecology Tours’ glass-bottomed boat trip due to their excellent reviews and concern for preserving the environment, and also because they throw in a few other sightseeing opportunities on the way to and from the boat ramp. The first of these was the SS Mildura shipwreck. This ship was sunk in a cyclone in 1907 when transporting cattle up the coast to Broome, and has remained there ever since, briefly proving useful as bombing target practice for the local forces during World War Two.

SS Mildura shipwreck Exmouth Western Australia

Apparently this is also a hotspot for the baby turtles which hatch in the sand and find their way to the ocean in this area, but it was sadly still a little early in the hatching season to see any that day.

It was then time for the main event. I’m afraid I have forgotten our fabulous boat captain/reef guides’s name, but he was extremely knowledgeable, steering the vessel towards the spots where he knew there was usually a lot of activity, and telling us about the species that we would see. The glass bottom was a lovely aspect of the trip, as it meant that we were able to watch sealife all the way out to the snorkelling locations. I had hoped that it would also provide me with a chance to snap some pictures, given the fact that I don’t have an underwater camera, but unfortunately nothing came out very well. I resolved that I needed to get hold of some wet photography options next time!

Given that I can’t show you how stunning the Ningaloo Reef was, you will just have to trust me when I try to explain it. I’m not very good with names of fish so I couldn’t tell you which ones I spotted, but I saw all sorts of creatures with vivid stripes and bright neon colouring, and the coral itself was an artist’s palette too. I had snorkelled some reefs previously, in Indonesia and the Philippines, but they paled in comparison to the thriving ecosystem that was surrounding me as I stroked my way through the waves, head firmly beneath the water-line. We weren’t lucky enough to see any of the area’s famous whale sharks – as with the hatching turtles, it was still a little early in the year to catch them – but I did see a very cute little reef shark just hanging out below me.

Back on dry land, we stopped at the Vlaming Lighthouse Lookout for some more ocean views and photo opportunities, before heading back into Exmouth.

Vlaming Head Lighthouse Exmouth Western Australia

As we were entering the town, I finally got my first glimpse of the other aspect of Exmouth which had piqued my interest – the emus – one of which merrily strolled out into the road in front of the minibus with no regards for those of us inside being thrown around as the guide braked sharply to avoid him or her. I’d read that Exmouth has a sizeable population of wild emus freely roaming the streets, and I was keen to encounter them myself! This was my first task of the next day – I set out early before the sun became too hot to see if I could find a few to get a good look at. I had to wander for a while before I met any, but I did manage to get up close to a few of the creatures, who were foraging in people’s front yards, minding their own business.

Emu Exmouth Western Australia

Emus!

Having successfully ticked emus off my wildlife list, I had a walk down to see what the local beach had to offer. While it is always pleasant to be beside the ocean, it didn’t have the charm that the stretches of white sand in Coral Bay had, and the water wasn’t the clear turquoise carpet that I had found there either. If you’re looking for some beach time around these parts, I’d highly recommend stopping off at Coral Bay on the way.

Exmouth Western Australia

There was one thing that I sadly wasn’t able to see in Exmouth; its famous Big Prawn, which had been temporarily removed and stored for safety during the cyclone season! That alone probably doesn’t merit the long journey from Perth for another visit during a different season, but I would certainly love to return at a time when I could see the baby turtles hatching, and perhaps even a whale shark or two.

Exmouth Western Australia

15 Comments

  1. Flora Baker

    This looks like such an awesome part of Australia to explore! And I love the sound of the Big Prawn! Such a shame you didn’t get to see it – maybe next time?! :p
    Flora Baker recently posted…The Witches of El Alto, Bolivia: Traditions & Superstitions at the World’s Highest MarketMy Profile

    Reply
  2. Lauren

    We are currently in a campervan in South Australia (travelled down the east coast from Cairns) and with only 2 weeks left here we don’t have enough time to squeeze in WA – so wish we did!! Perfect excuse to return 😉 Beautiful photos such an amazing adventure!!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      I was in Australia for two years and still didn’t manage to fit everything in! Definitely good to have an excuse to return though. Hope you are having an amazing time…thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  3. Delphine

    I went to WA this year too, but didn’t make it as far as Exmouth. I went there many years ago when I first arrived in Australia, it has the most gorgeous beach!

    Reply
  4. Francesca

    Nice post! It reminded me of the roadtrip I made in WA from Perth up to Monkey Mia (definitely worth it and the dolphines are completely wild and fed only 3 times a day even if they come more often for more food) and to Karijini. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Leslie Price

    I would totally take a 16 hour bus ride just to encounter a wild emu sauntering down the road. Having totally fallen in love with Australia on my first trip, I’m putting this on my itinerary for the next one!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      Right?? The emus alone made it all worth it! So glad to hear you share my love of Oz. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  6. Val

    Havent been to Australia yet but even if I had I wouldn’t believe that these sandbars / beaches are there! So beautiful! And…emus?! Such a great name for an animal, I had no clue about this haha! Thanks for sharing your insight!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      There was even once an Emu War between the emus and the Australian military (and the emus won! Google it if you don’t believe me!). Thanks so much for reading and commenting 🙂

      Reply
  7. Joanna

    I love how off the beaten path this place is. If I will travel to Australia I will definitely add it on my list of things to see.

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      So glad to hear that Joanna! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  8. Suzy Jones

    Exmouth is Heaven on Earth. Fact!! I just love it there and reading this brought back so many happy memories. I love snorkelling and we usually camp over in the national park making it quite a cheap holiday 🙂 How was the coach? We always drive and it takes us two days from Perth. The emu’s are fascinating aren’t they! Once, long ago, and emu stole a beer from my husband and ran off with it. It came back later and stole his chips haha! I love that you’re enjoying our beautiful state of WA

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      The coach wasn’t the most comfortable journey I’ve ever had – if I were a confident driver I would definitely have preferred to hire a car. Love your emu story, that’s so funny! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Reply
  9. Anna

    My Australian bucket list was already huge because I’ve never been before, but now I want to include Exmouth and WA too! I love the sound of the glass bottomed boat tour – especially because of its concern for the environment. I’d also love to see the shipwreck, they’re fascinating!

    Reply
    1. The Imagination Trail (Post author)

      I’m so glad to hear you’re wanting to see WA now too Anna! Australia is one of those places where the bucket list just becomes never-ending! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Reply

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