Want to know what are the best things to do in Coral Bay, Western Australia? Learn about this tiny idyllic coastal town, its most popular activities, and why you should visit it soon. It makes an ideal stop on a Perth to Exmouth road trip.
Coral Bay is a laid-back small settlement that makes you feel relaxed as soon as you arrive and is one of my favourite places in WA. The one-road town has a population of about 200 people, but because there are many attractions, Coral Bay welcomes approximately 110,000 visitors every year. These are mainly Western Australian families looking to escape the city, de-stress, and enjoy the ocean life. It is much quieter than Exmouth, which attracts a more backpacker/vanlife crowd.
Despite the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland getting all the attention, Ningaloo Reef is touted as the best reef in Australia.
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Things To Do in Coral Bay WA
There are plenty of things to do in Coral Bay like snorkelling, diving, fishing, and kayaking which makes visiting this slice of paradise so much fun.
The white sand beaches and the world’s largest fringing reef at 604,500 hectares are the biggest drawcards for people visiting Coral Bay. Whether you choose to snorkel from the beach or dive the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, you are in for a treat. The crystal turquoise water allows you to see marine life clearly.
To make the most of your time in Coral Bay, I recommend taking at least one tour while you are there. We mainly use Viator or GetYourGuide to book tours due to their low prices and flexibility (free cancellation up to 24 hours on most tours). On researching what tours to book, I found Viator and Get Your Guide were the same price. However, you can check Get Your Guide here to compare with the prices on Viator through my links.
The best way to experience Coral Bay is by taking a snorkel tour like this two-hour guided tour. You get the chance to explore Ningaloo Reef and view marine life as you travel between two stops, where your guide will provide an in-depth commentary on what you see.
The boat itself, Nhanya-Ku, has been custom designed with shallow draft for easy access, a spacious layout for the comfort of up 12 people, and a superior design that includes fitted glass bottoms so that everyone can enjoy unobstructed views inside these beautiful coral gardens full of tropical fish and turtles!
This tour is perfect if you’re new at snorkeling or want a more relaxed tour because crew members stay close with noodles available just in case you need a little extra help.
The use of snorkelling equipment is included in the price.
This Coral Bay Glass Bottom Boat Tour is a 1-hour tour that allows you to experience the magical Ningaloo Reef without getting wet. The Nhanya Ku boat crew gives an informative talk on what can be seen through the boat’s glass bottom as it travels over and around beautiful coral formations in lush lagoon gardens inside reef walls.
The use of snorkelling equipment is included in the price.
Swim with Whale Sharks – March to June
If you time your trip to Coral Bay right, you might have the chance to swim with the biggest fish in the ocean, the whale shark. Tours allow you to swim with these gentle filter-feeding giants from March to June every year.
This is a bucket-list item for many, including us. It’s an incredible experience that you will never forget.
The success rate of this tour is high due to their use of a dedicated spotter plane, which guides the boats to where the whale sharks are.
Once you are checked in and onboard, you’re taken on an excursion that includes snorkeling with fish like reef sharks or even turtles!
Morning Tea is provided once everyone is back on board as you’re taken outside the reef to look for the whale sharks. Once one is spotted by the plane, the boat heads there, and you are divided into two groups of ten. The groups take turns swimming with the whale sharks so that you don’t disturb their natural habits, and the maximum time spent with a whale shark is one hour. Depending on the day, you may have the chance to swim with up to four whale sharks.
The crew gives an informative talk and guidelines for swimming with the whale sharks, so you know exactly what to do.
It’s a bit scary at first, but soon the adrenalin kicks in, and you get to have one of the best wildlife experiences in the world. The thrill of being so close to these massive animals in their natural environment is just incredible.
A buffet lunch is served once back inside the reef while the crew searches for other marine life. Depending on the month, you may be lucky enough to see humpback whales, dolphins, turtles, reef sharks, tiger sharks, and manta rays.
You have the chance to go for another snorkel at another beautiful reef location on the way back.
There is the chance the ocean can be rough, so if you suffer from sea sickness, I would advise taking medication before you go.
This tour is worth spending the money on and one you will remember for a long time.
Whale Watching Tour & Swim – July to October
Whale Watching Swim and Tours depart from Coral Bay from July to October to swim with the humpback whales. All equipment is included in the tour cost, including a full-length 3mm wetsuit.
The tour starts with a snorkel on the Ningaloo Reef, where you see a large variety of marine life, which may include tropical fish, turtles, sharks, starfish, and stingrays. You then travel outside the reef to find the humpback whales with the help of the spotter plane. If the skipper thinks the whales are suitable, they will attempt a swim with them. You are divided into two groups of seven to give you the most time in the water with them.
The crew onboard are highly trained and experienced, including divemasters and instructors that know Ningaloo Reef well.
After the swim with the whales, lunch is served onboard as you head back to the reef for the second snorkel of the tour.
This Marine Eco Safari provides the opportunity to get up close to a variety of marine life that call Ningaloo Reef home. You may get to snorkel with manta rays, sea turtles, reef sharks, and more on the five to six hour snorkel.
The first snorkel is in Bills Bay, where there are various fish, reef sharks, and beautiful coral gardens. After some morning tea, you head to the turtle sanctuary to see turtles feeding and coming up for air. A spotter plane will try to find some manta rays for you to swim with in Batemans Bay before the last snorkel of the day.
As mentioned, a dive or snorkel tour is the best way to see the marine life on the Ningaloo Reef. This full day dive and snorkel tour includes all the equipment and two dives or snorkels on the amazing Ningaloo Reef. You will see a variety of marine life, which may include tropical fish, turtles, and sharks.
In between the two dives/snorkels, the crew search for manta rays for you to snorkel with.
Lunch is served around the bay as you search for other marine life. After eating, you have your second dive/snorkel before heading back to the jetty.
The Swim with Manta Ray Tour is top of our list when we return to Coral Bay.
Who doesn’t love turtles? Well, this tour showcases these beautiful marine animals in their natural habitat on a custom-designed glass bottom boat.
The crew provides an interesting insight into turtles, and you get the chance to visit two fantastic sites for snorkelling, fish feeding, and coral viewing.
This is the only turtle tour that uses a glass-bottomed boat.
Drinks and snacks are provided.
Snorkel off the beach & Five Fingers Reef
Snorkelling off the beach at Bill’s Bay is incredible. There aren’t many places in the world where you can step into the water, and the reef is literally a few steps away. If you snorkel further out, you will most likely come across reefies, reef sharks, as they are pretty common at Coral Bay but are generally harmless.
Go on a lovely drift snorkel by walking to the 5-knot sign in the main bay and swim to the dark water about 50m out. You will then drift back into the bay. As we entered the water, we saw a huge pink snapper and lots of smaller reef fish.
If you see a pile of shells in the shallows, this could mean there are octopuses around.
Paradise Beach is a stunning soft white sand beach with crystal waters on the other side of the lookout (south of Purdy Point). The snorkelling off this beach is fantastic too.
If you have a 4WD, drive along the track south of the boat ramp until you get to Five Finger Reef, which runs from the beach to around 200 metres offshore. It’s the best place in Coral Bay to swim with turtles and perfect for children and beginner snorkellers due to the shallow water and amount of marine life close to shore.
Oyster Bridge and the Lagoon, north of Coral bay, are also fantastic snorkel sites but only accessible by 4wd.
After all that activity, sometimes it’s just lovely to lie on the beach reading a book.
Coral Bay has some of the best fishing opportunities in Western Australia, but you must follow the rules and guidelines and only fish in the designated areas. You can find out more on the Fisheries site.
Ningaloo Reef is a premier game fishing destination where you can catch blue marlin, black marlin, and striped marlin, sailfish, wahoo, mackerel and dolphin fish (mahi mahi), red emperor, spangled emperor, cod, perch, trout, and many more species.
There are some great opportunities to do some four-wheel driving in Coral Bay. The track to Five Fingers Reef is 4wd only, and north of Coral Bay is Mauds Landing, and further up is Oyster Bridge, Lagoon, Five Mile and Ningaloo Station. If you’re an avid four-wheel driver, you can even drive all the way to Exmouth from Coral Bay on 4wd tracks, although you will need to cross Yardie Creek. Unfortunately, this is only crossable at certain times, and many vehicles have got stuck crossing it.
I read a little tip that you can go stingray spotting at Bills Bay at night. If you stand in the shallows with a torch, you may see spotted lagoon rays.
There aren’t many shops in Coral Bay, but you will find a supermarket, bakery, dive shop, and tourist shops. If you like art, pop into The Bubble, a local gallery inspired by the Ningaloo Reef.
Watch the Sunset
Western Australia is one of the best places in the world to watch the sunset over the ocean. Coral Bay is no exception. The lookout at the end of Coral Bay Road is a great spot.
The sunrise was pretty impressive too.
Quad Bike Tour
For some fun and adventure, book a Quad Bike Tour. There are a few to choose from, but I like the 2-hour Coral Bay Quad Bike and Turtle Adventure. On a modern Can-am two-seater quad bike, you will drive through bushland, sand dunes and stop at Turtle Cliffs to see turtles feeding and floating in the shallow water.
To combine quad biking with a snorkel, this two and a half hour Coral Bay Quad Bike and Snorkel Adventure takes you along the south side of Coral Bay with a stop at Five Fingers Reef for a snorkel. This is a good option to experience the incredible marine life at Five Fingers Reef if you don’t have a 4wd.
Hire a Kayak, SUP or Seascooter
Ningaloo Kayak Adventures offer snorkelling tours with underwater sea scooters as well as the hire of equipment, including wetsuits, masks and fins, kayaks, and SUPs. The sea scooter tour is definitely on our list when we return to Coral Bay.
For a truly magical experience, you can book 3 nights on board the luxury catamaran, Shore Thing. All of your snorkeling, scuba, and kayaking gear is provided, as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You will snorkel, swim, kayak, and dive at a range of bays, reefs, and coral gardens and visit secluded locations for undisturbed snorkeling. We haven’t done this tour, but you can read the reviews here.
There’s also a 5 night onboard experience from the same company.
Skeleton Bay Reef Shark Nursery
If you walk north of Bills Bay, you get to a place called Skeleton Bay. This is known as the Coral Bay Reef Shark Nursery, as hundreds of baby reef sharks come into the shallows here in spring.
Fish Feeding occurs during peak periods at 3.30 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Bills Bay.
Where to stop from Perth to Coral Bay
Kalbarri is about the half way point between Perth and Coral Bay, making it an ideal place to break up the journey. However, there is a detour of over an hour to get to Kalbarri from the main road.
Other alternatives are Northampton, which is just before Kalbarri, or Carnarvon, just over nine and a half hours from Perth.
If you want to get up to Coral Bay quicker, Qantas flies into Exmouth’s Learmonth airport, about 90 minutes from Coral Bay. The flight time is two hours. You can hire a car from the airport, but it must be pre-booked, or arrange a transfer with Coral Bay Airport Transfers.
Integrity Coach Lines run a service between Perth and Coral Bay, taking about 15 hours. This is a hop on/hop off type service and doesn’t travel non-stop to Coral Bay.
Coral Bay Weather & Best Time To Go
Coral Bay is a year-round destination but does depend on what you want to do in Coral bay as to when the best time to visit is.
Whale sharks visit from March to June, and the best chance of seeing humpback whales is from July to October. Turtle nesting is December to February, while hatching is January to March.
The hottest time is December through to March, with average highs of 36°C-38°C.
To miss the rain, try to avoid the wettest months of June, May, March, and February, when the average monthly rainfall is between 39mm and 43mm.
The driest months are September, October, and November.
Coral Bay is windier from October to February.
You can view the 7-day forecast for Coral Bay on the Bureau of Meteorology site.
Sea temperature ranges from 26°C from February to May to 22°C from August to October. The remaining months will be something in-between.
The busiest time of year in Coral Bay is December and January (summer school holidays), followed by September. It is quietest in June and November.
How long to stay in Coral Bay
I recommend staying in Coral Bay for at least three nights, but five nights allows you to experience most of the activities it has to offer.
We visited Coral Bay for two nights on our way up to Exmouth, and it wasn’t long enough, so we’ve decided to return as soon as we can.
Coral Bay Accommodation
Coral Bay accommodation is limited due to the town’s size. Therefore, most people book over a year in advance as the holiday homes and caravan parks fill up quickly, especially in peak season.
Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview has a variety of accommodation options, including cabins, villas, houses, and Bay Lodge. Most can be booked for an overnight stay, although minimum nights usually apply for peak periods. You may be able to find a good deal on booking.com with free cancellation, depending on when you want to go. Check Booking.Com prices here.
Ningaloo Reef Resort features self–contained one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and studio rooms, all overlooking the tropical gardens and pool. The resort is the closest property to the Ningaloo Reef and would be my choice when we next visit Coral Bay. If you’re a RACWA member, you’ll receive a discount by booking direct. If not, check here on Booking.com for low prices.
Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers not only offer backpacker dorms but rooms for couples and families. Check rooms with free cancellation here.
There are some houses that are available to rent in the Coral Bay settlement. Find out more here.
Coral Bay Camping
We camped at Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview, which is just across the road from Bill’s Bar. The amenities were kept clean, and the camp kitchen was adequate. In addition, the campsite has tennis courts for hire, a heated swimming pool with a toddler pool, two playgrounds, and a jumping pillow.
You can also camp at People’s Park Coral Bay.
Eating and drinking in Coral Bay
Bill’s Bar is a fun night out with live music in their alfresco dining area, where shade sails keep you cool in summer, and fires and heaters keep you warm in winter. The food was delicious, and the menu had a variety of dishes to choose from. The seafood linguine was one of the best I’ve had. Unfortunately, they only take bookings for six or more people, so you may need to arrive early in peak times.
Fins Café is known for the best breakfast in town, and you can BYO (Bring Your Own wine) if you visit for lunch or dinner.
Reef Café was advertising a seafood platter, which sounded amazing, but we didn’t have time to try it out.
The bakery serves scrumptious sausage rolls, pies, pastries, and smoothies. The sausage rolls, beef pie, and jam donuts were all excellent.
Coral Bay Travel Tips
- Collecting flora and fauna (including shells and corals) is not permitted anywhere in the marine park, including Coral Bay beaches.
- Be careful of the coral when diving or snorkelling. Living coral is delicate and, once damaged, it often takes years to grow back, so do not stand on the coral.
- Mobile phone reception is good in town but may drop out elsewhere.
- The Coral Bay Nursing Post provides healthcare services to both residents and visitors.
- If you’re visiting in winter, bring a sharkskin top or wetsuit to keep you warm in the water.
- This Coral Bay map will help you get your bearings.
Coral Bay History
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners, and First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of their people.
Archaeologists discovered evidence to indicate that Indigenous people have been present in the Ningaloo region for over 32,000 years and the world’s oldest beaded necklace was found in the Mandu Mandu Creek rock shelter.
The first recorded European movement in the Coral Bay area was at Mauds Landing, used to ship wool, sheep, and cattle from 1884 to 1946. However, Mauds Landing was closed in 1947 due to funding shortages. The surrounding area became Cardabia Station, owned by Charles French, This land included Bills Bay, which was named after Charles’ wife Ruby, or Auntie Billie as she was known.
Jack McKenna constructed the first building in 1933 as a holiday spot, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Bills Bay became a township. Part of the Cardabia Station was sold to Ken Ryan, who built a caravan park, hotel, and service station. It is thought the town was named after Ryan’s Coral Bay Hotel.
In 1973, Bill and Alison Brogan visited Coral Bay and realised that it had great potential as a tourist destination, so they bought a four-room portable building, a charter yacht, and a glass-bottomed boat and founded Bayview Coral Bay. However, there were a few drawbacks with poor road access, water shortages, and no reliable electricity or sewage system. Nevertheless, this investment has now grown into one of the most popular Western Australian holiday destinations.
Generators now provide electricity for the community, bores provide the water, and a sewerage system is in place. A shopping arcade has been built, along with housing, and the Brogans continue to improve facilities with The Bayview, Backpackers, their boats, and Bill’s Bar.
Where is Coral Bay WA?
Coral Bay in Western Australia is located on the North West Cape of the Gascoyne region. The closest towns are Carnarvon, 238 km to the south, and Exmouth, 152 km to the north. Coral Bay is bordered to the east by the Lyndon pastoral station.
How far is Coral Bay from Perth?
Coral Bay is 1122 km from Perth, which is about 12 hours driving time.
How do you get to Coral Bay from Perth?
To get to Coral Bay from Perth, you can either take Brand Highway or State Route 60, which meets up with Brand Highway before Port Denison/Dongara. You will stay on this road for 1027 km before turning onto Minilya-Exmouth Road. Coral Bay Road is on the left after about 90 km.
How do you get from Coral Bay to Exmouth?
It takes just under two hours to drive from Coral Bay to Exmouth town. However, if you want to visit Turquoise Bay, it will take another half an hour.
Is Coral Bay or Exmouth better?
Coral Bay is better for families, while Exmouth is better for hikers and backpackers. There is more to do in Exmouth, whereas Coral Bay is a beach-lovers paradise for people who want to get away from it all.
These are some of the best things to do in Coral Bay, Western Australia. Whether you want to visit one of the many natural attractions, spend time relaxing on a beach or go diving, there are plenty of options for an unforgettable vacation! If this sounds like something that interests you and you’re ready to book your tour today, please consider booking through one of our links. It won’t cost you anything but will help towards the cost of running this site. Thank you 🙂