Coral Bay is a small village in Western Australia, renowned for Ningaloo reef, Australia's only fringing reef. Though recordings say that people came here back in 1884, it was not until 1968 that any serious settlement took place.
Coral Bay only has a small resident population, and the town is based almost exclusively on tourism. Although there are passing backpackers, much of the target demographic is families and groups, who can camp or stay close to the beach and live in and out of the water, swimming, fishing, and coral viewing.
Coral Bay is a significant settlement, but it is geographically very remote. The closest settlement is Exmouth about 120km to the North. Skywest and Qantas airlines fly to Learmonth, shuttle transfer to Coral Bay is available (Coral Coast Tours 0427 180 568), but must be booked in advance.
Coral Bay really is only one bay beach, with the supermarket complex at one end, and the Ningaloo Reef Resort at the other. The two are about 10 minutes walk apart.
With the world heritage listed Ningaloo Reef on the West Coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef on the East Coast, people are inevitably going to make comparisons between the two, and different experiences will vary. The Ningaloo is a true fringing reef. The reef extends from the land up to a few kilometres out to sea, and much of it is accessible from the coast. Chances are you can find a part of the reef for your own exploration, grab a snorkel and stay as long as you like. Snorkel as the sun goes down over the ocean. There is a large variety of marine life, tropical fish, lots of reef sharks, rays, and soft corals and sponges. There are some colourful hard corals too. By contrast the Great Barrier Reef is larger, and the northernmost parts have more hard corals. But to see it you will have to pay to stay or visit a coral cay, or take a boat out to the reef. The boats tend to go to the same parts of the reef, and these well visited parts tend to be damaged, with less variety of marine life, and bleached corals. It may be best not to compare, and enjoy each destination for yourself.
- Snorkelling - The snorkelling at Coral Bay is right off the beach. There are large cauliflower coral formations in the bay, but for the best variety of marine life walk around the headland and then head south about 500m, you can then enter the water and drift snorkel back to the bay.
- Coral Tours - There are a choice of snorkelling, glass bottom boat, and dive tours. A boat takes you out to the sea to explore the coral reef. If you are lucky you get the chance to see turtles, rays and dolphins. Snorkelling is available as well. Tours usually last four hours, including lunch. Prices start at $75.
- Whale Sharks - From late March to July each year the Whale Sharks converge on the waters of the Ningaloo Reef. Tours can be booked taking you out to the sea to swim with these huge but harmless creatures. Expect to pay a considerable premium for these tours, with prices starting at over $400 per person.
- Swimming. The beach around the bay is sandy with a shallow entry.
- Quad Treks - Guided tours with 4-wheel motorbikes. Usually 2 hours long, these tours take you around sand dunes to see turtles, to go snorkeling or just see the sunset. A valid driving license is necessary, prices start around $75 per bike. (Coastal Adventure Tours, Phone: +61 8 9948 5190)
- Kayaking - Boats are available for rent starting at $20 per hour. Snorkels, Masks and fins are available as well. Just head for the beach, you can't miss the shop.
Coral bay has a small shopping complex on the way into town. There is a dive shop, and boutique, a bakery and a supermarket in the complex. The supermarket is open daily from 7.30am to 7pm selling general groceries (although you would be best advised to stock up in Exmouth, as the food here is very limited and over priced) as well as locally caught fish.
There are some (rather cheesy) souvenir shops available as well if you are interested in buying T-Shirts or shells.
- Coral Bay Photographics and Mermaid's Cave Boutique has single use cameras and laminating service.
There are two cafes, a bakery, a pizza place, and a restaurant at Ningaloo Reef Resort. There is a supermarket for self-catering.
- Fins Cafe, ☎ +61 8 9942-5900. A tiny cafe serving superb seafood. It has two computers with internet access as well.
Be aware that Fins Cafe doesn't sell alcohol, but is BYO. There is a little store which sells alcohol located in the bar of Nigaloo Reef Resort.
Accommodation can be a problem when you are travelling during school holidays. Book in advance if you want to avoid spending the nights in your car.
- Ningaloo Reef Resort, 1 Robinson Street, ☎ +61 8 9942 5934. Apartments with cooking facilities for around 200 Australian Dollars and castaway units for around 150 Australian Dollars.
- People's Park A camping site with cooking facilities. Powered sites are available from $30-$60 Australian dollars depending on the distance to beach. Simple apartments are available as well starting from 180 Australian Dollars.
- Ningaloo Club. A youth hostel providing single and double rooms, dorm rooms, internet access and a laundry. Expect to pay $95 for a double room with shared bathroom. Dorm rooms start at $27 per night.
Coral Bay is very remote and fresh water is very limited and expensive, so all toilets, basins and showers source their water from bores - expect a salty taste on your lips after having a shower.