Road tripping Australia’s Coral Coast

After a magical three days in Karijini, we continued on with our adventure to Australia’s Coral Coast.

We packed up our campsite and drove eight hours to Exmouth via Nanutarra Roadhouse. Somehow we ended up taking an unsealed road for about an hour of the journey which bypassed Paraburdoo – not sure what happened with our maps routing. The roadhouse was a nice halfway place to stop for lunch with good coffee and shaded picnic tables.

We arrived into Exmouth town and finally unpacked our closet after living out of the car for a few days. After a quick load of washing to get rid of the red dirt, we sat by the pool with a beer and snacks for the rest of the afternoon.

Welcome to Exmouth

Our first day of exploring Exmouth took us to Yardie Creek Gorge, approximately one hour’s drive from town, at the end of the road in Cape Range National Park. We walked the 2km return trail up the gorge overlooking Yardie Creek and Ningaloo Reef. It was a much smaller gorge to anything in Karijini.

One of our only pics together all trip… here at Yardie Gorge!

Yardie Gorge

Overlooking Yardie Creek and Ningaloo Reef

We enjoyed the rest of the morning at Sandy Bay where the sand is white, the water is turquoise and shallow and coral is nowhere to be seen. We had a relaxing time swimming, reading and soaking it all in.

Sandy Bay

We walked the short distance from Sandy Bay to Osprey Bay for lunch and snorkelling. There were a few seaweed-like coral patches and it was the only spot we saw turtles. It wasn’t a spot for relaxing as the bay was surrounded by rock edges so we didn’t stay long.

Osprey Bay

We finished our day in Cape Range at Oyster Stacks for a snorkel off the rocks. You need to ensure it’s high tide to snorkel here and we were in luck. There was a lot of coral and fish here and it was the first time we experienced the Ningaloo current which really drifts you down the reef so don’t lose track of where you are.

Oyster Stacks

After a busy day of swimming and snorkelling in Cape Range, we enjoyed dinner and a beer paddle at Froth Craft Brewery, one of two breweries in town.

Beer paddle at Froth in the Town Centre

Our only booked tour of the whole trip was the whale shark swim, something I had been waiting a whole year to do after my original trip was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. We were picked up at 7.30am by 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive and transported to Tantabiddi Boat Ramp. After a short tender we were onto our Seafari boat for the day and off for a snorkel in the inner reef with patches of coral and lots of fish. On the way we saw some dugongs – a sea creature I’d never heard of or seen before but everyone seemed impressed.

Tantabiddi Boat Ramp

Off on the Seafari

Snorkelling the inner reef. Photo credit: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive.

Photo credit: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive

We had an energy-filling morning tea while the spotter planes started looking for the whale sharks out in the deeper ocean. There were so many around that our skipper managed to spot them also. We were split into two groups of eight and went in the water one group at a time with our guide. Once you’re in the water you all wait in a line for the whale shark to pass you and then you all turn and follow it at the recommended distance behind its front fins. We were so lucky we got so many sightings of whale sharks that we were able to jump in for swims five more times.

Swimming with the whale sharks. Photo credit: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive.

Photo credit: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive

It’s such a surreal experience being in this deep dark ocean with these massive creatures and trying to not interrupt their day, yet chasing them down and swimming so close to them.

We went back to calmer waters for a fresh and healthy lunch. After a 30-minute break we had the opportunity to snorkel at the reef at our lunch stop. I was still trying to digest but I went in for 10 minutes with a noodle. I was too exhausted to enjoy it so I got out of the water and went and rested on the front of the boat. The whale shark swim was much more tiring than I thought.

Snorkel spot

The day finished with a choice of sparkling, beer or soft drink accompanied by a fruit and cheese platter. We were definitely well fed and hydrated. It was $410 for the tour and it was one of the best things I’ve experienced.

Once we got back to town, a quick power nap gave me the pick me up I needed. We went to Town Square for a pop up market showcasing locally made clothes, accessories and homewares. We had a beer at Froth and made friends with other travellers, followed by dinner and live music at Potshots – what a very very young crowd they have!

Markets in Town Square

After a morning walk to the coast which was further from the main road than we anticipated, we enjoyed a vegetarian brekkie pie from Ningaloo Bakehouse. The pie was delicious, it was such a good bakery that I returned every other morning we were in Exmouth.

Ningaloo Bakehouse sweets

We spent the day at Turquoise Bay, a 45-minute drive from town. It was beautiful with white sand, turquoise water and patches of coral. We spent the day swimming, snorkelling, walking the bay and reading our books. The Ningaloo current was prominent so we walked the beach to where we wanted to start and let the current whisk us along the bay back to our set up. What a blissful day.

Turquoise Bay

Sunset at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse is a must do. There’s 360 degree views of Exmouth’s sunset, from the Indian Ocean to the Town Beach. It was so beautiful. There were lots of tourists there enjoying sunset drinks.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse at sunset

Overlooking the Indian Ocean from Vlamingh Head Lighthouse

After sunset we enjoyed pizza, beer and live music at Whalebone Brewing Co. The same musician from Potshots the previous night was Whalebone’s live music entertainment tonight.

Whalebone Brewing Co

Our last full day in Exmouth was spent exploring a few more beaches. First up was Five Mile Beach to search for sea turtles. We didn’t spot any only a few crabs… Turtles nest there from October to April so we were a little out of season.

Five Mile Beach

It wasn’t a very swimmable beach so we continued on to Lakeside Beach near the Visitor Centre for a snorkel – it’s a 500m walk to the snorkel area of the beach. We went for a couple of snorkels and saw lots of coral and colourful fish as well as a stingray. The beach has a small lake behind it which we enjoyed lunch overlooking.

Lakeside Beach

We visited the Wreck of SS Mildura which has been stuck there since the early 1900s. It’s most visible at low tide.

Wreck of SS Mildura

We made poke bowls for dinner and enjoyed them with a glass of wine at Town Beach for sunset.

Town Beach

We ended our time in Exmouth with a beer and more live music at Froth Brewery on the top deck. Its a beautiful view up there overlooking Exmouth Town.

Last drinks in Exmouth

It was time for Coral Bay, my second favourite destination of the holiday after Karijini! It was meant to be a one and a half hour drive but roadworks along the whole way slowed us down. On the way out of Exmouth, we stopped into Charles Knife Canyon Gorge which was a beautiful landscape with gorgeous views over Exmouth Gulf.

Charles Knife Canyon

We stayed at the People’s Park caravan park which was a very luxury camping spot – there’s beautiful grounds, great bathroom facilities, a kitchen and laundry. We set up our campsite and got to know the one main street of Coral Bay.

People’s Park in Coral Bay

Our two days in Coral Bay were spent on the bay – snorkelling, walking around the dunes, reading, relaxing, playing cards, sunset wines, cheese boards and a delicious pasta. It was here we realised how much wind impacted our ability to boil pasta! We also enjoyed two nights out at Bill’s Bar with a little of Jag the Joker and pool fun.

Coral Bay

What I loved about Coral Bay was how easy it was. Everything you need is on one strip, you can walk everywhere, the coral is so close to shore and there is such an abundance of it – with the tide out during the day you basically drop straight off the edge of the shore into endless coral and sea life. The Ningaloo current wasn’t as strong here either, though there was still a little of it. It also has an amazing bakery – the spinach and ricotta pastie was full of flavour with perfect pastry. We could have stayed there for days.

Many hours of snorkelling

After two nights in Coral Bay it was time to continue our journey south via the Quobba Blowholes with no roadworks this time. The blowholes were so dramatic, there was a great swell for it. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the action.

Quobba Blowholes

Another 50 minutes of driving and we were in Carnarvon where we were staying for the night. We drove the Fruit Loop along North River and South River Roads and stopped at five or so ‘open stalls’ along the way. We bought some corn, rockmelon, bananas, chilli, tumeric, dried mango and chocolate coated strawberry and mango icy poles. There wasn’t an abundance of stalls or fruit and veg available in May but we were happy with the quality of the produce we bought.

Shopping along the Fruit Loop

We stopped at the Cactus Garden which is someone’s front garden, and other pretty flower hedges.

Cactus Garden

Pretty flowers around the Fruit Loop

Once we were in town, we visited the cyclone damaged One Mile Jetty and walked the heritage trail amongst the mangroves.

One Mile Jetty

Heritage Trail

We check in to our most luxe accommodation all trip (it even included breakfast) and rested for the afternoon. I was definitely all sunned out by now – if that’s a thing?! We enjoyed a sunset wine along the Fascine and a chicken parmi at the Carnarvon Hotel.

Sunset in Carnarvon

The Fascine by night

The next day we continued on our journey to Kalbarri and Geraldton stopping at a scenic lookout approximately 50km from Overlander Roadhouse, recommended by a tour guide we met in Exmouth. I wouldn’t say it’s worth a stop, it’s more of a garden gnome memorial site overlooking a flat, dry landscape.

Lookout scenery

We continued on two more hours to Kalbarri National Park. We had originally planned to stay in Kalbarri but our accommodation was cancelled due to the cyclone but we still wanted to stop in and visit a couple of sites we didn’t see last year.

We visited Hawk’s Head and then wandered Kalbarri Skywalk. We both preferred the views and scenery from doing The Loop hike from Natures Window last year.

Hawk’s Head

Kalbarri Skywalk

We continued onto Geraldton which was our back up destination for Kalbarri. Rita and I had never thought we would return here after our experience last year but we can confirm we enjoyed this experience much more. It definitely helps having locals show you around.

Our friends planned a detailed itinerary for us. We enjoyed sunset wines and dinner at Southgate Dunes, visited the Wind Farm, wandered around the beautiful Ellendale Pool and saw the Australian Defence Satellite Communication Station from a distance.

Sunset at Southgate

Wind Farm

Ellendale Pool

We had a great lunch at Burnt Barrel, a smoked Kansas style BBQ restaurant between Geraldton and Northampton. We shared fried chicken, wings, ribs, beef brisket and the smoked pumpkin salad… it was all delicious.

Burnt Barrel

We also finally got to stop into Oakabella Homestead for some scones after failed attempts last year too.

Oakabella Homestead

We were supposed to spend our last night camping half way between Geraldton and Perth but rain got in the way of that so we stayed put.

It was the best trip, we had such an amazing time. From the beauty of Western Australia’s landscapes to the simplicity of camping and endless laughter, it was just incredible.

I’ve been on a few weekend trips since but it’s time to start planning my next extended adventure!

Until then…

LWL xxx