The waters off WA’s 12,000 kilometre coastline and islands are some of the most pristine in the world – and home to a myriad of marine life. Here’s our W ‘A’ list of coastal and aquatic adventures:
• Unforgettable encounters – swim with gentle giants. Exhilarating marine experiences await at World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef – one of only a handful of places on Earth where you can swim with the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark, and the majestic humpback whale. Whale sharks visit Ningaloo each year between March and July. Tours from Exmouth and Coral Bay will take you into the reef’s turquoise waters for an unforgettable encounter with the gentle giants, measuring up to 12 metres. In 2019, the chance to swim with humpback whales returns to Ningaloo from August to November. Up-close tours with another big and beautiful Ningaloo local, the manta ray, operate year-round.
• Make some waves – surfing. Take the word of the world’s top surfers who flock to WA’s shores for some of the best waves on Earth. The famed Margaret River region, in the State’s South West, is home to more than 40 surf spots ranging from powerful reef breaks to fun beach surf. See the sport’s top men and women in action at the annual Margaret River Pro, in May, or learn to hang ten with surf schools that operate around the State. Other WA surfing hotspots include Ningaloo Reef, Esperance, Kalbarri and Rottnest Island. If you’re into different types of boards, an easy 90-minute drive north of Perth takes you to the windsurfing mecca of Lancelin – which hosts the Lancelin Ocean Classic international water sport competition each summer – where you can also try out sandboarding on the white dunes.
• Perth’s paradise – Rottnest Island. The ferry crossing to Rottnest Island (or ‘Rotto’, as the locals call it) takes as little as 30 minutes from Fremantle, or you can embark from Perth city or Hillarys Boat Harbour in the northern suburbs. Other forms of transport to the island include a chopper flight or seaplane. You’ll soon have the pleasant dilemma of choosing from Rotto’s 63 beaches and 20 secluded bays, or being enchanted by the island’s unique marsupial resident, the quokka – made famous worldwide for the #QUOKKASELFIE phenomenon. The car-free island is 11 kilometres long and 4.5 kilometres wide, so it’s easy to explore by hire bike, tours, Segway, bus or on foot – or head into the water to see fish, coral and shipwrecks at some of the best snorkelling or diving sites this close to a capital city.
• Get up close – wild dolphins. Rockingham Wild Encounters (45 minutes by car from Perth) and recently refurbished Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury (two hours by car south of Perth) – offer the chance to swim with wild bottlenose dolphins. The playful and curious animals may choose to approach the boat and swimmers, providing a unique, upclose encounter. Monkey Mia (850 kilometres north of Perth) is famous for a pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit the shore, while further north in Broome, new boat tours enable visitors to see Australia’s largest known population of snubfin dolphins.
• No fluke! – whale watching. WA is home to the ‘humpback highway’ as 30,000 gentle giants move up and down the west coast during the southern hemisphere’s largest whale migration. WA has one of the world’s longest whale-watching seasons – from June to December – and a range of lookouts and tours will help you spot humpbacks, southern right and even blue whales. September to late November is the prime time for whale tours off Perth (Fremantle, Hillarys and Rottnest Island), while other hotspots include Albany, Augusta, Broome, Exmouth, Denham, Kalbarri and Geographe Bay (June – November).
• Trip of a lifetime – orca congregation. On WA’s south coast, the Bremer Canyon’s marine-rich pocket attracts hundreds of orcas (killer whales) between January and April. The canyon is located 70 kilometres offshore the coastal town of Bremer Bay. Tours operate from Bremer Bay with Naturaliste Charters and Whale Watch WA, providing guests the opportunity to see a plethora of marine life, including other whales, seals, seabirds and giant squid. Learn about the fascinating research into the endangered species and join the researchers in observing and photographing the highly social family groups and larger pods.
• Kangaroos to crocodiles – wildlife. An easy day-trip from Perth takes you to Penguin Island, near Rockingham, where you can see and learn about WA’s largest colony of adorable little penguins. The surrounding Shoalwater Marine Park is also home to seabirds and the rare Australian sea lion. Jurien Bay Marine Park, three hours north of Perth by car, is another marine life hot-spot, while at Hamelin Bay near Augusta you can get close to large, friendly stingrays in the shallow water. In Esperance, on WA’s south-east coast, Lucky Bay’s local kangaroos like to sunbathe on the white sand, while nearby Woody Island is a haven for New Zealand fur seals, Australian sea lions, sea eagles and dolphins. In the State’s far north, an experienced guide can help you spot mighty saltwater crocodiles and their freshwater cousins from a safe distance in the Kimberley.
• Wrecks and remote shoals – dive and snorkel. No other coral reef is closer to the shore than Ningaloo, where you can wade out from the beach and be snorkelling over superb coral gardens teeming with colourful fish, manta rays and sea turtles. Navy Pier, at the Ningaloo gateway of Exmouth, is rated as one of the world’s top 10 shore dives. In the South West, you can explore Busselton Jetty through snorkel, dive or undersea walking tours. WA is also home to extraordinary shipwreck dives including HMAS Swan at Dunsborough, HMAS Perth in Albany and 19 wrecks around the Abrolhos Islands, off Geraldton, including the Batavia, whose sinking in 1629 led to one of the darkest chapters in WA history. If this isn’t remote enough for you, take a tour to the ‘aquarium in the middle of the ocean’ at Rowley Shoals, 300 kilometres west of Broome, where it could just be you diving among coral gardens with giant clams and schools of tuna and mackerel.
• Staircase to the Moon. From March to November, when conditions are just right, visitors to Broome are treated to a breathtaking natural spectacle – the Staircase to the Moon. The phenomenon occurs around three times a month at extremely low tide when the full moon rises over the exposed mudflats of Roebuck Bay, creating the optical illusion of lunar stairs. Check in at australiasnorthwest.com for dates and times to see the staircase, which can also be experienced at other north-west locations including Karratha, Port Hedland and Onslow.