travel

The Aussie holiday destination everyone should add to their bucket list.

If we’re being totally honest here (spoiler: we are), I had no idea what to expect from Western Australia.

I knew about the mining boom, Margaret River wines, The Triffids, and… yeah, okay, that was about it. It was one of those places I’d always meant to go, but cheaper sale airfares to New Zealand and Los Angeles just always seemed to pip the west coast at the post.

So when I was recently invited to explore one of its most remote regions for work, I jumped at the chance.

Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.
Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.

"We’re going to a place called Ningaloo Reef,” I told my boyfriend while doing a quick Google Maps search hours before I departed. Wikipedia said glowing things about the remote world heritage region, and so just like that, I was off.

Eight hours of air travel, one time zone change and a switch from sweater to t-shirt later, I arrived. And within minutes, I totally understood what all the fuss was about.

Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.
Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.
ADVERTISEMENT

Spanning 260km just off the WA coastline, the Ningaloo reef is around 12 hours drive from Perth (or a two-hour flight into Learmonth airport) and is home to coral lagoons, dolphins, manta ray, loggerhead turtles, whale sharks, and incredibly, humpback whales.

Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo reef sits incredibly close to the shoreline, so in some areas like Coral Bay you can pretty much walk straight into the water and start snorkelling.

For the first leg of the trip, the travel group was stationed at the tiny town of Coral Bay, staying at the Ningaloo Reef Resort. Arriving at sunset, it felt like we were walking into a mix of every Australian beach commercial from the 1970s and a postcard shot.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse
The sunset view from Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. Source: provided.

While there, we snorkelled and saw coral unique to the western coast, watched dolphins dive, whales breach and swam with grey nurse sharks, turtles, manta rays, and more fish than even a Nemo or Dory would recognise. (And thanks to a recent introduction by the WA government, if you're lucky and it's a good day, you can now even swim with the humpback whales while you're there!)

We also smashed around on dune buggies, ate sumptuous meals cooked by a transient Italian chef and in my case, got some serious, serious sunburn.

ADVERTISEMENT

From there, we drove two hours to Exmouth, an old naval base town with a larger population of 2100.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, Exmouth, WA. Source: provided.

We watched the day end from the old lighthouse lookout point with whales breaching at sunset, sinking cold beers and trying to forget that in 12 hours we’d be back at the airport and leaving this desolate wonderland.

We met an RAC holiday park manager who had taken her three kids around Australia only to come back and settle down in this red desert town, and a British expat who had converted his daughter’s campervan into a café serving jaffles and coffee.

Cape Range National Park, WA
Visiting the Cape Range National Park, WA. Image: provided.
ADVERTISEMENT

We drove 15 minutes out of town and discovered rocky gorges, sweeping landscapes and baby emus.

We stumbled upon an Americana tribute restaurant where Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban photos took pride of place alongside the jukebox and cowboy hat light fittings.

We never did find out why they serve Peking duck, though…

Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.
Swimming on the reef. Source: Louise Southerden.

Looking back, it was as picturesque and sun-soaked as I’m making it sound. It was the kind of place you want to spend every family holiday and make friends with other commuter families who make the journey; the kind of place to drive your campervan and see where it takes you and your road trip accomplice.

And for some, it’s the kind of place you want to move to and never leave.

Visiting the reef made me realise that for a little while at least, it’s time to forget about Cambodia and the Czech Republic. Paris and New York can always wait another day. It’s time to start putting Australian destinations on the travel bucket list and make them the priority places to go.

Mamamia visited Ningaloo Reef as the guest of Australian Tourist Park Management. Learn more about Ningaloo Reef at Tourism Australia, and visit before 31 March 2017 and receive up to 30 percent off your stay thanks to RAC Parks and Resorts