Coral Bay & Ningaloo
A visit to the Coral Bay – Exmouth - Ningaloo Reef region is often the highlight, for many visitors, of a Western Australian holiday.
Certainly it is hard to imagine finding a more picturesque seascape and combined with the myriad of tours and activities on offer at both Coral Bay and Exmouth, it’s easy to fill an itinerary.
It is when you decide to travel and investigate a little further that you discover the area hosts a much more diverse experience than just resort style accommodation and activities.
An hour or so south of Coral Bay sits Waroora Station and offers a range of accommodation from the complete ‘eco’ camping experience – ie: no services of any kind, to fully self contained station stay bungalows or shack/donger rooms.
This style of ‘Station Stay’ accommodation often suits the visitor looking for a quieter, less structured trip. Prices for camping on stations around the region can be as little as $6 - $7 per person per night, a far cry from the extortion often levered in the more commercialised centres of Coral Bay and Exmouth.
Many of the operations in Coral Bay, in particular, take full advantage of the fact that it is a remote tourist town catering for foreign visitors. Costs naturally rise due to freight etc. but expect to pay a premium for everything.
If you read have ‘Touring Remote Oz – Part 2’ you will understand that the directions and instructions for what you are and are not allowed to do in some Australian locations can be fairly vague or inaccurate.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the Ningaloo region. Telephone calls to visitor’s centres and the like often result in conflicting misinformation regarding road conditions and closures. We met a young English crew wanting to cross Yardie Creek and travel south along the coast to Coral Bay who had been informed in Exmouth that the road was washed out and impassable. We had just spent a week on it and rarely engaged 4WD!
Part of the reason for lack of exposure of the costal strip between Coral Bay and Exmouth is commercial protectionism. There are any number of willing operators ready to take handfuls of cash from people for anything from a 1 hour to a 1 month escorted tour. Many of the operations in Coral Bay are owned and operated by the same management. The operator you hired a tennis racquet from at ten in the morning could be the same operator serving you fish and chips later that night. It is in no ones interest to have tourists wandering off entertaining themselves for free.
The government regulating bodies play a part too. Developing and maintaining infrastructure for isolated camping areas is costly and time consuming. Much easier to pack every one in to one nice controllable venue. It also saves having to go and rescue the one lone French backpacker who wandered off by themselves and got lost.
We suggest if you have a four wheel drive, that rather than take the bitumen touring route from Coral Bay to Exmouth, you try the coastal sand strip.
Far from the Madding Crowd
Beginning north- east of Coral Bay Township it travels through Cardabia and Ningaloo Stations then north through a RAAF missile range and into Cape Range National Park. A fairly straight forward water crossing is required at Yardie Creek and then a mostly bitumised drive around the top of North West cape and into Exmouth.
The beaches and bays of this coastal strip can be absolutely stunning, equal or better than anything on offer anywhere, including Coral Bay.
The real beauty comes in the isolation. If you choose to call into somewhere like Ningaloo Homestead and book a couple of nights (or months) it is possible to have a pristine, white beach and turquoise bay to yourself. You need to cater for yourself 100% including a chemical toilet (mandatory) but this is part of the attraction for many who make the pilgrimage here year after year.
Yardie Creek is a bit of a highlight but also signals a return to civilization, with visitors and tours travelling south to the creek from Exmouth. A tour exists here that comprises a boat trip into the gorge or walking trails for those inclined. If you need to wait for the tide to retreat before crossing it’s a great place to spend a couple of hours (or days).
While the stretch from Coral Bay to Yardie Creek is virtually unstructured, heading north past Yardie brings designated camping areas provided by DEC (Department of Environment and Conservation), boat ramps and regular tourist opportunities.
To our knowledge the coastal strip route is called Ningaloo – Yardie Creek Road and is a gazetted road and consequently available for public access. However depending on where you enquire you may be informed differently.
The last time we travelled it, it was mostly a compact, heavily corrugated sand track that has no special requirements to undertake. The going can be slow due to the corrugations but this truly is a place to take your time to absorb.
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