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Ningaloo Reef & Exmouth | The 2 Best Places to Swim with Whale Sharks in WA
For nearly a hundred years, people have been obsessed with these ocean-dwelling predators. Some of which have patrolled the deepest parts of our planet for over four hundred million years.
While more than 400 different species of sharks worldwide, 170 of these inhabit the crystal blue waters of Australia. This includes the most enormous shark of all, the whale shark.
In this article, I’m going to be sharing the 2 best places to swim with Whale Sharks in Western Australia (WA).
Swimming with these gentle giants provides a fantastic water-based adventure unlike any other and something many people have listed on their bucket list.
So without further ado, let’s jump straight into my guide on how and where to swim with whale sharks in Western Australia.
1) What is a Whale Shark? And Why Swim With Them?
The whale shark is the largest of all living fish species, yet they are filter feeder fish.
This means that they survive by primarily eating plankton, small crustaceans and krill.
The whale shark’s average length ranges from 8 to 14 meters long, although some can reach sizes as large as 18 meters.
That’s almost as long as some city buses!
These giant sea creatures inhabit all warm temperate seas and although often seen at the surface, they have been known to dive as deep as 1,900 meters.
They can be found alone or in groups, especially when migrating into shallower reefs to feed on the abundant plankton life.
Their docile nature means that they are calm and approachable, allowing people to swim up close to them which is a pretty awesome experience.
They’re plankton feeding diet also means they do not cause other marine life on the reef to scatter. Therefore, you can enjoy all that Western Australia’s coral reefs have to offer even when swimming with these incredible creatures.
2) Where is the Best Place to Swim with Whale Sharks in WA?
The most common answer to this question is: Ningaloo Reef, entering from the town of Exmouth.
This 300-kilometre-long reef is located in the tropical waters of the East Indian Ocean, around 1200 kilometres from Perth.
These days it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also is the world’s largest shore fringing coral reef. This makes Ningaloo Reef one of Australia’s best destinations for diving and snorkelling tours.
Many travellers choose to go here because of its stunning coral beauty and abundant whale shark population. Incredibly, it holds the world record for the highest number of whale sharks found in a single location.
Every year, hundreds of whale sharks descend on the coral reef, providing a spectacular experience for visitors.
Ningaloo reef also has great whale shark interaction rates, boasting an unbelievable 96% last season. This means that there is a high chance of seeing whale sharks on a tour.
3) Where is Ningaloo Reef & How Do You Get There?
Western Australia is the largest state in Australia, making up one-third of the country’s total landmass. This can make getting around complicated.
Additionally, Ningaloo reef is located 1200 kilometres from Perth so it’s not a simple, hop, skip and jump from the city.
The town of Exmouth is generally considered the gateway into the Ningaloo Marine Park and one of the best locations to access this remarkable coral reef.
If you’re keen to swim with whale sharks in WA, then you’ll likely want to head to Exmouth first, and go from there. There are however, some tour companies that depart from other locations.
Below, I’ll share several ways to get to Ningaloo Reef, regardless of whether you’re hiring a car or not.
Getting to Exmouth (Ningaloo Reef) – By Plane
The quickest way to reach the town of Exmouth is by taking a 2-hour flight from Perth.
While this is the quickest option, it is also the most expensive with flights costing around $450 AUD. The price tag does of course, depend on the season and availability of flights (Eg. impact of COVID-19).
Another option is to get a 2.15 hour flight to the town of Carnarvon.
From here you can rent a car and drive the 4-hour journey to Exmouth, stopping at the beautiful Coral Bay on the way.
Getting to Exmouth (Ningaloo Reef) – By Car
If you are planning to hire a car to explore the coast of Western Australia, then you can reach Exmouth by simply driving from Perth.
The roads are in excellent condition and the route is relatively straightforward, however it will take around 12 hours to reach Exmouth from Perth, and you can stop at many fantastic destinations along the way, both on land and off.
Renting a car in Perth is one of the cheapest rental options in Western Australia, with other locations tending to charge a premium.
If you have some extra time and are willing to take the scenic route, then driving to Exmouth/Ningaloo Reef can be a great option.
Getting to Ningaloo Reef – By Bus
For those travelling on a budget, catching the public bus can be a cheaper option.
The bus service typically runs 4 times a week and costs around around $170 AUD, however it is a lengthy 800 kilometres or so to get there.
This means you’re in for a 17+ hour bus ride!
Are you up for that?
Unless you can sleep overnight, I don’t think I could do it.
The route is operated by Integrity Coach Lines, and the service departs from Perth Wellington Street and arrives in Exmouth Visitor Centre.
No matter how you chose to travel to Ningaloo Reef, you are sure to enjoy stunning views of Western Australia’s coastline throughout the journey.
4) When is the Best Time to Swim with Whale Sharks in Western Australia?
The best time to swim with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef is from the beginning of March until the end of July.
This is the time of year when hundreds of migratory whale sharks begin to converge at Ningaloo reef, creating one of nature’s most stunning spectacles.
This congregation is triggered by annual coral spawning, which usually happens between 7 – 10 days after the full moon in March, leading to an ecological chain reaction unlike any other in the world.
The coral spawning attracts thousands of near-invisible krill and plankton to the reef, leading to the gathering of hundreds of whale sharks.
These whale sharks then spend their days basking along the reef and feeding on fattened krill, giving divers and swimmers the extraordinary opportunity to swim alongside them.
5) How Much Does it Cost to Swim with Whale Sharks in WA?
Diving with whale sharks in Western Australia is not cheap. However, given it’s usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience, i’d say that the price tag is worth it.
The cost of swimming with whale sharks in Ningaloo Reef also depends on the tour company you choose. This is because snot every tour is the same.
Some tours include equipment rental and food, whereas others require that you pay for these as extras.
Generally, the average price sits between $350 to- $550 AUD.
The more expensive tours will often given you a longer time in the water and include a variety of other add ons including:
- Additional stops along the reef (to make the most of your time out on the ocean).
Therefore, choosing a tour company will depend mostly on your budget and what you’d like included in the tour.
6) Australian Tour Operators
As Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places in the world where these enormous ocean giants reliably congregate each year, there are various whale shark tours operating in the area.
There are definitely some that are better than others, especially from a sustainability perspective. Thankfully there are several tours that are eco-friendly, run by licensed professionals and that are operated by trained diving instructors with marine biology experience.
When you dive with any licensed Ningaloo tour company, you’ll be able to enjoy responsible snorkelling with the reefs whale sharks. These tours ensure your presence does not interfere with the shark’s natural behaviour.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in WA vs. the Phillipines
This is one of the huge reasons I’ll never go to the Phillipines to swim/dive with whale sharks, even if significantly cheaper.
I’ve heard of horrible things happening over there because many of the tour companies are motivated by money, not by what is the right thing to do.
I’ve heard of some companies feeding the whale sharks to bring them closer to the boats, resulting in some sharks getting injured by repeller blades in the process. This also disrupts their natural behaviour.
On the other hand, the whale shark tour companies in Western Australia get you up close and personal with the whale sharks, but maintain strong ethics and protect the reef and its future whale shark populations in the process.
They’ll also teach you about these fascinating animals during the tour.
This means you can feel confident that your Ningaloo Reef experience is helping to protect the stunning reef environment as well as the whale shark populations.
In WA, Some of the Money Goes Towards Reef Conservation
In addition to this, a percentage of each whale shark tour ticket sold goes towards necessary research and conservation carried out by the Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation & Attractions.
Many of the area’s licensed touring companies, such as Ningaloo Discovery, offer a no sighting guarantee. This means if you don’t get to spot a whale shark on your first trip, you can join the next available tour day for free.
Tours tend to last more than 7 hours, so you definitely get value for money.
Ningaloo reef is by far the best place in Australia to swim with whale sharks, so why not make the investment in exchange for an incredible experience of a lifetime.
The Coral Bay Ecotours company operates one of the most popular Ningaloo Reef whale shark tours in Australia.
Booking this tour will have you leaving Coral Bay at 7:30AM for a 9-hour day trip aboard the fantastic Kai – Aura.
This comfortable ocean cruiser has a large relaxation area for passengers and a 360-degree viewing area on top of the ship’s wheelhouse.
Once you reach the unimaginable coral gardens of the reef, you will begin this once in a lifetime adventure. So, grab your snorkelling gear and take a dive!
Amongst the coral gardens, you can encounter the numerous fish and marine species of the shallower regions of the reef.
Its spotter plane team also means you are guaranteed to find whale sharks whenever you venture out.
- Private spotter plane (to find where the whale sharks are located)
- After your dive, you will get to enjoy a fully catered lunch on board the Kai – Aura
- 1-hour swimming with whale sharks
- The chance to snorkel at a different dive site
- Morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and some drinks as you return back home
- A professionally trained guide
- The tour costs $500 AUD per person
- Although you may think this is a hefty price tag, it is one of the most all-encompassing and well-managed whale shark tours available on the Ningaloo Reef
- Coral Bay
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Based out of Exmouth, this tour will see you heading out to the reef aboard custom-built diving vessels to enjoy some of the best whale shark diving in WA.
Make use of the latest equipment such as full-face masks, underwater scooters and stand-up paddle-boards. Your tour is also lead by a professionally trained guide and the team also uses spotting planes.
Enjoy all your meals catered for by some of the local region’s finest restaurants as well as some of Australia’s best Barista brewed coffee to start the day.
Finally, end your trip by looking at the tour team’s professional underwater photographs shot for you as a part of your return gift bag!
The Ningaloo Whale Shark and Dive tour is a fantastic price for an activity-packed trip, especially when you consider their “No Sighting Policy”.
- All gear & equipment
- Stand-up paddle boards
- Swimming with the whale sharks
- A professionally trained guide
- Spotting planes to find the whale sharks
- All meals catered for
- No-sighting policy (if you don’t get to see a whale shark, you can join another tour afterwards)
- The tour costs $425 AUD per person
This tour company ventures out from the gateway (Exmouth) to the Ningaloo Reef, the Exmouth diving centre leads a 7-hour tour that will have you looking out for whale sharks, Humpback whales and manta rays.
On this tour, you will enjoy snorkelling at multiple sites all over the Ningaloo Reef under the guidance of a professional marine biologist. This guide will teach you some of the fascinating facts about this marvellous World Heritage Site.
Enjoy a stocked buffet lunch with drinks on your return journey back to the mainland, a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the spectacular coastal scenery of Western Australia.
The Exmouth Diving centre tour is the most reasonable of the three options. It provides excellent value for money, especially if you’re lucky enough to spot both whale sharks and Humpbacks!
- Snorkelling at multiple sites
- Professional Marine Biologist on the boat
- Swimming with the whale sharks
- The tour $350 AUD per person
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Photo credit: @sara.barbieri
No matter which tour company you chose to go with, you’re sure to have incredible experience swimming with whale sharks in Western Australia.
Particularly at the world renowned Ningaloo Reef from Exmouth or Coral Bay.
I hope that this guide on whale sharks in WA has helped you to narrow down your options, especially when it comes to the different tour companies.
I hope that you have an incredible experience! I definitely hope to go swimming with whale sharks myself very soon! 😍
If you’d like to start considering your option, here are some great whale shark adventures below: