Ningaloo – Part One

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Friday, July 22, 2011

When we decided to take a gap year and head off around Australia it was the North West corner of Western Australia which was always going to be a highlight for us and here we were finally at Ningaloo.

Effectively our Ningaloo Reef or Ningaloo Marine Park experience was broken into four stages due to the high demand for campsites in this area over the school holidays. It consisted of a 3 night station stay at Bullara; 86kms south of Exmouth, 3 nights in Exmouth, 10 nights in Coral Bay and 5 nights at Pilgramunna camp ground in Cape Range National Park.

Bullara is a working cattle station and the camping is rustic. Our site was bordered by trees and sat on firm red soil, there was no power or water.  Four horses roamed the campsite along with a herd of goats; none shy, the horses in particular were not afraid to stick their head in the door if a carrot was on offer!

The campfire was lit each night and everyone would gather around and share their stories under the vibrant star filled night sky.

As much as we loved this rustic cattle station we were keen to get across to Cape Range National Park which provides access to the Ningaloo Reef.   On our maps there was a gravel road just south of Bullara which led across to Ningaloo Homestead on the coast and then a track up to the southern boundary of the national park.  We made enquires at the station however no one could really tell us the condition of the road so off we set.

We were relieved to find the road was wide smooth gravel and we were making good progress, commenting on how much easier it was than driving all the way up through Exmouth and down the other side of the cape. The landscape was speckled with these amazing termite mounds which varied in size, however for the most part were taller than the average person.  We saw kangaroos and emus happily grazing away as the road slowly deteriorated into heavy corrugation the closer we got to the coast.

Arriving at Ningaloo Homestead we headed north jumping out to open and close station gates all the time dodging sheep and goats. The road was now no more than a track and the corrugation was the worst we had encountered. Shake, rattle and roll, shake, rattle and roll… we continued on thinking it must improve for along the Ningaloo Station coast were lots of camping areas and there were so many caravans in them we figured the road would have to be in a reasonably good state for them to get through.  At one stage we pulled to the side to let someone through… they were driving just an average everyday Ford Falcon and towing a normal (as in not off road) caravan, again we thought if they could get through the road must improve soon… how wrong could we be… it just got worse!

It took us 3 hours to drive 100kms and when we finally saw bitumen, it just happened to be on the other side of Yardie Creek… there was no bridge, oh and it just happened to be high tide, what are the odds! As luck would have it a vehicle was in front of us and we just caught a glimpse of it crossing.  We walked the creek, decided on the best path to take and then went for it, god were we glad to be back on a solid smooth road again!

Cape Range National Park is just spectacular, with the Ningaloo Reef running along one side with easy access from the shore and the most stunning escarpment littered with scenic gorges on the other, it has to be seen to be believed.  Keen to wash away the stresses of our long drive in, we stopped at Oyster Stacks to snorkel.

We were blown away, just metres from the car park we stepped into the water and were immersed in an underwater paradise; it was like swimming in an aquarium.  Whilst the coral is not the most colourful we have seen, the abundant varieties and their structural beauty are astounding, on top of this it had the highest concentration of fish we have ever seen snorkeling and again a vast array of differing colours, shapes and sizes.  Oyster Stacks is one of the closest 'walk in' snorkeling spots to the outer reef and can only be snorkeled at high tide and so the local tide chart became the centre of our daily planning.

We hadn’t long been in the water when I caught a glimpse of something big and grey. Could it have been a shark…?  No, it couldn’t have been, we were in such shallow water, there were about 15 other people snorkeling, surely someone else would have noticed and cleared the water, maybe I was imagining it. I got Rod’s attention by which time it had gone and so I put it out of my mind, we were after all at Ningaloo Reef and we had days of snorkeling ahead of us.

We continued north and stopped to snorkel at Turquoise Bay, this too was sensational. You walk along the beach, enter the water and the current soon sweeps you to the other end, we drifted so fast Rod named it the ‘drive by’ snorkel.  Again the coral and array of fish were sensational, it offered a different perspective as the water was deeper and so we were further above the coral.  Around the small sandy point was a stunning swimming bay.  The beach was covered in pristine white sand and the colours of the water were breathtaking.

We drove back to Bullara via the sealed road up around the top of the cape and back down through Exmouth.  Driving across the grid into Bullara we were greeted with cattle roaming over the road, the goats and horses wondering the camp ground and we couldn’t help but ponder what a diverse day we’d had!

The following day we headed to the reef again however this time we remained on the bitumen and headed up through Exmouth and around.  We drove straight down to Yardie Creek and put our kayaks in to paddle the gorge.

It was sensational!  Paddling along in this tidal creek, the banks rising steadily as they stretched inland, with the red limestone rock faces harbouring the rare black footed rock wallaby in its caves and crevices. We were thrilled as we began to spot them, cute little things they are, a charcoal colour with black and white markings they put a smile on our faces every time we saw one and still do to this day when we look at any of the hundred and one photos we took of them!

After a quick lunch and reloading the kayaks we headed back to Oyster Stacks for a snorkel before driving back to Bullara.  We laughed at having driven over 300kms to kayak Yardie and snorkel on the reef!  The cows greeted us once again upon arrival and we enjoyed one last night around the campfire.

In contrast to the rustic no frills of Bullara we checked into our park in Exmouth and were delighted to find our site to have lush green grass underfoot and an amazing camp kitchen/BBQ area nearby. (Hang on, what’s happened, did I just get excited about a kitchen?!) Rather than do the drive out to the Western side of Cape Range again we opted to visit the two gorges on the Eastern side accessed just south of Exmouth. 

Charles Knife Road wound up along the top of a ridge delivering the most spectacular views across the canyon and out into the Exmouth Gulf, it resembled a mini Grand Canyon.  In stark contrast Shothole Canyon Road wound its way along a dry creek bed at the base of the Shothole Canyon and offered a very different view up into the stunning rock formations.

We then spent our next two days at Exmouth driving out to the west side of Cape Range National Park each day, taking every opportunity to snorkel in these lovely waters and admiring Ningaloo Reef. Every day delivered new experiences and more thrills. We did another kayak along Yardie Creek and spotted even more Black Footed Rock Wallabies than we had on the previous paddle.  We took the opportunity to check out some of the campsites that can be booked on online and vowed to come back for a day or two after Coral Bay.

Each day as we drove in and out of the national park there were two horses that stood by the side of the road and usually there were cars pulled over near them.  One day there was no one with them and so, intrigued we pulled over. I was able to pat them whilst Rod sat patiently in the car and then I remembered we had a apple, as Rod cut it up one of the horses stuck its head into the car and was gently taking the apple piece by piece from Rod.  I later enquired to find that the horses had been abandoned when owners had left the Yardie Station, whilst they had been captured several times they always managed to escape.  Showcasing the intelligence of horses, they wait at this same corner every day and people naturally stop to feed them.  Money is being raised throughout Exmouth for their veterinary treatment.

At home in Williamstown Thursday night is pub night, a chance to catch up with friends before the busy weekends.  A mixed and varied bunch of like minded individuals congregate at the Morning Star, solve all the problems of the world and find the winners for the forthcoming Saturday race meetings. Well here we were in Exmouth and thanks to the technology of Skype (along with Pat and Dean) we were face to face with all our Thursday night regulars… it was so good to see and talk to everyone, it was like we were actually standing there with them going through the usual Thursday night banter… just brilliant!

With school holidays drawing to an end it was time to double back south slightly to Coral Bay and we couldn’t wait.

Highlights of Bullara/Exmouth:

-          Catching up via Skype with our friends at the MS

-          Cape Range National Park

o   Kayaking Yardie Creek spotting black footed rock wallabies

o   Snorkeling just off the shore – like jumping into an aquarium especially at Oyster Stacks

o   The stunning rugged gorges adjacent to the pristine waters of Ningaloo Marine Park
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barrythepug on

hi guys, so sad I missed you at the Star. Are you going to go snorkling with the whale sharks??? Do you like my new jumper?

Val S. on

Wow... you certainly are collecting some wonderful stories, memories and catalogue of photos. A commentary of my days would have to be something like ... "do you like this colour, how about that style and then we could add this... and so it goes!!!!!!" It's all good tho. You two certainly seem to be making the most of every part of the trip and collecting more friends along the way..... what does the next week hold??

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