16 May 2023

By guest blogger Emma Shaw

Western Australia's Coral Coast is a huge region, reaching from Cervantes in the south (about two hours north of Perth), for 1,100 kilometres to Exmouth in the north, about halfway along the West Coast of Australia. It's home to some incredible natural landmarks, beautiful tiny towns, white sand beaches, desert landscapes, and everything you can imagine in between.

Best explored on a road trip, there are so many incredible places to stop and explore on a Coral Coast road trip. You can literally travel from a barren outback landscape, to the most unbelievable underwater world in just a few hours. To help you plan your visit to the Coral Coast, we've made a list of 14 places to stop along the way, to really experience the very best this beautiful region has to offer.

The Pinnacles Desert

1. The Pinnacles Desert

The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park is a can't miss on any Coral Coast road trip, transporting you into what feels like a completely different world. With landscapes that look more like they should belong to the moon than earth, the Pinnacles are such a unique site to see, only a short drive from the city.

It's estimated that the thousands of ancient limestone columns across this desert are between 25 and 30,000 years old, with some reaching up to 3.5 metres tall, all completely covered in yellow sand. It's an easy 4km drive around the desert, or you can jump out and take the 1.2km walking trail right through the middle.

Pop into the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre before you leave, to find out more info about this dramatic landscape, as well as all the unique flora and fauna found in the park. This is also a great place to visit during wildflower season (July to October) with hundreds of thousands of beautiful colourful flowers creating a blanket over the ground.

Jurien Bay Sea Lion

2. Jurien Bay

Stop into Jurien Bay for your chance to swim with their resident pack of sea lions. Jurien Bay is a beautiful coastal town, with plenty of great beaches for swimming, fishing charters, snorkelling sites, and plenty of walking and cycling trails to explore. But the highlight of this little town is definitely taking a trip out to Jurien Bay Marine Park to swim with the friendly sea lions. Sea Lion Charters and Turquoise Safaris both offer tours out to the small islands within Jurien Bay Marine Park where you get the opportunity to swim with sea lions. The tours are about 2.5 hours long, with plenty of time spent in the water.

Hot tip: sea lions like to laze on the sand early in the morning when it's a bit cooler, and then hop in the water as they warm up throughout the day. Highly recommend choosing a midday or later tour, as the sea lions are sometimes reluctant to get wet early in the day, unless it's nice and hot.

Geraldton Foreshore Emu Eggs

3. Geraldton

A lovely small city along the coast, Geraldton is a great stop along the Coral Coast. The sixth largest city in Western Australia, Geraldton is home to great food, water activities, street art, culture and history and unique Indigenous drive trails. Spend your days here getting wet, with swimming, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving, flyboarding, jetskiing, wakeboarding and tubing are all on the menu. There's options to keep you going for days.

When you're back on the land, taste your way through the city, with all kinds of cuisine on offer. There's plenty of fresh seafood to try, including Geraldton's famous rock lobsters, caught right off the Geraldton shore, and an emergence of cafes as the coffee scene explodes here.

Abrolhos Islands

4. Abrolhos Islands

Take a day trip out to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands for an incredible day trip that you're sure to be talking about for a very long time. Fly Gero offers a unique tour to the Abrolhos Islands, starting with a scenic flight that flies you nice and low over the Abrolhos Islands, giving you a great view of the islands, the surrounding reef and lagoons and all the little colourful fishing shacks that dot the islands.

The Abrolhos Islands is an extraordinary archipelago of 122 tiny islands, divided into three groups, the Wallabi Group, Easter Group and Pelsaert Group. During your visit you'll get to land on East Wallabi Island and spend the day on one of the most stunning beaches in the area. Snorkel right off the beach where you can spot plenty of clown fish and cray fish hiding amongst the bommies, or take a walk to the tip of the island where you can spot the little tammar wallabies hiding amongst the low lying shrubs.

Pink Lake

5. Hutt Lagoon

Stop for a photo opportunity at Western Australia's most famous pink lake - Hutt Lagoon. In fact, it might even be the most famous pink lake in the whole country. Sitting alongside Port Gregory, Hutt Lagoon covers about 70 square kilometres, with different shades of pink as far as you can see. It's quite a sight to see up close, and is definitely worth the stop on your travels. The lakes change colour throughout the day, sometimes appearing bubblegum pink, sometimes reddish and sometimes even a little more lilac. The middle of the day is considered the best time to visit, when the sun is nice and high in the sky.

Why is it pink? Hutt Lagoon gets it's colour from the presence of a carotenoid-producing algae, dunaliella salina, which is a source of beta-carotene, a food colouring agent and a source of vitamin A!

Kalbarri National Park

6. Kalbarri National Park

Stop in Kalbarri for some jaw-dropping incredible landscapes, that you will not be able to believe are just a short drive off the main highway. Kalbarri National Park is just such a beautiful spot to visit, with expansive gorges, unique rock formations, spectacular hiking trails, breathtaking lookouts and refreshing swimming holes. It's been forming for more than 400 million years, stretching over 186,000 hectares in size and sitting along the Murchison River. It's also considered one of the best places in the world to find ancient traces of the first life on land. Some highlights from within Kalbarri National Park include:

  • Kalbarri Skywalk - boasting the most beautiful sweeping views over the Murchison River Gorge's red cliffs and flowing river.
  • Nature's Window - where a unique stack of rocks have formed a frame that perfectly looks over the Murchison River.
  • The Loop Walk - taking you for a walk right along the edge of the cliff, overlooking the river.
  • Hawk's Head Lookout - just another spot for incredible views over the gorges.
Shark Bay aviation

7. Shark Bay

Oh, Shark Bay. Where the rust-red sand of the outback meets the bright turquoise water of the ocean. Shark Bay is such a beautiful spot to visit, with landscapes that are sure to blow you away even more in real life. The colours of Shark Bay are bright and vibrant, as if someone has turned the saturation up right in front of your eyes. Shark Bay was named a World Heritage Area in 1991, the first location in WA to receive UNESCO status.

Denham is the main town of Shark Bay, and is a great place to base yourself to explore the region. While you're here make sure you take the time to explore Francois Peron National Park. A 4WD adventure, you will need your own car to tackle this one, but Francois Peron offers some of the most dramatic and contrasting views of Shark Bay, where red dirt roads turn abruptly into white sand beaches. If you don't have your own car during your visit, there are plenty of 4WD tours you can hop on so you don't miss out.

To experience Shark Bay and Francois Peron from the sky, book a scenic flight with Shark Bay Aviation. An incredible way to see these landscapes from above, depending on the flight you choose you can see the Big Lagoon, Useless Loop, Hamlin Pool, Zuytdrop Cliffs and the pink lakes from the sky.

Dirk Hartog Island

8. Dirk Hartog Island

Take a day trip across to the unique little paradise of Dirk Hartog Island, the site of the first recorded landing on Australian soil by Europeans in 1616. While most of the island is covered in thick national park, a small Homestead has been built on the island by the Wardle family (the island has been in their family for three generations), offering a range of day trip options for you to explore the island, as well as a unique island lodge experience for those looking to stay a little longer.

Explore the remote landscapes across Dirk Hartog Island, including guided 4WD tours out to the Blowholes, Surf Point, Turtle Bay and Cape Inscription, or spend the night and experience the last sunset in Australia, as the most Western Point of the country. There are options for snorkelling, paddleboarding and kayaking, on the calmer side of the island, as well as hiking, fishing and camping around the national park.

Monkey Mia

9. Monkey Mia

You can't go past a stop at Monkey Mia, one of the most surprising stops along the Coral Coast. A caravan park of the brightest white sand appears almost out of nowhere in a landscape of deep red dirt, and rolling right into the blue ocean that lies alongside. Famous for it's pod of friendly dolphins that love to pop up and surprise visitors swimming in the water, Monkey Mia is such a special place to spend a night or two.

A favourite fishing spot, there are boats coming and going here all the time, while turtles and dolphins can regularly be spotted from the main jetty and even the sand. Families of emus are often spotted running through the campgrounds, and palm trees dot the foreshore. It really is such a unique little spot. A reserve fee applies per person visiting the area, you can pay at the pay station when you arrive.

It's extremely important to book in advance if you're hoping to stay at the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, particularly during school holidays and public holiday long weekends, as the resort can be booked out months in advance.

Carnarvon Quobba King Waves Kill

10. Quobba Station

Home to the infamous King Waves Kill sign, Quobba Station is a great little spot to spend a couple of nights camping amongst the sand dunes. The station stretches for 80km along the Indian Ocean, with two campsite choices - Quobba Homestead and Red Bluff.

A stay here offers plenty of beach time, incredible ocean views, great game fishing, and snorkelling, with turtles and bottlenose dolphins regularly spotted in the area, as well as the odd humpback whale or two during the season.

Coral Bay

11. Coral Bay

We have to admit, Coral Bay might be one of our favourite places so far in Western Australia. This sleepy little seaside town is windswept with vivid white sand, with everything lying alongside the most beautiful calm little bay, with turquoise water filled with coral gardens, colourful fish, peaceful rays and reef sharks. It's famous for it's manta rays, with tours to swim with them on offer daily and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks from March to June, or humpback whales from July to October. There are 4WD tracks to explore, sand dunes looming over the town, and an endless amount of hours to spend under the water.

It might seem small on the map, but don't skip over it on your Coral Coast adventures, it's definitely one that you'll remember forever.

Cape Range NP HDR Pano 2

12. Cape Range National Park

Covering more than 60,000 hectares, Cape Range National Park is home to deep canyons that divide the landscape in two, limestone ranges and untouched coastline for as far as the eye can see. It’s home to an incredibly diverse amount of wildlife, with emus, red kangaroos, dingoes and echidnas all calling the national park home. The winter months are wildflower season, blanketing the landscape in tiny colourful blooms.

For some of the best views, head to Charles Knife Canyon, Shothole Canyon, Mandu Mandu Gorge and Yardie Creek Gorge, as well as Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. You can also take a one hour boat cruise along the creek with Yardie Creek Boat Tours, a great way to see the cliffs towering above you. Pop into the Milyering Discovery Centre before you leave.

Swimming with a whale shark at Ningaloo

13. Ningaloo Reef

WA’s answer to the Great Barrier Reef, the less famous Ningaloo Reef is no less beautiful. In fact, with its clear waters, countless species of tropical, colourful fish, and seasonal whale sharks it definitely gives the GBR a run for its money. The world’s largest fringing reef, you will be snorkelling just metres from the shore, likely from a beach you have all to yourself.

If you’re planning a visit here between March and August, make sure you book a day swimming with whale sharks for an incredible experience you will remember forever, or jump on a humpback whale watching cruise from August to October. For the turtle lovers, November to March is turtle nesting season, and you’re likely to spot baby turtle hatchlings making the dash for the ocean from February to May. Pop into the Ningaloo Aquarium & Discovery Centre to learn more about this incredible region.

Turquoise Bay

14. Exmouth

Sitting approximately halfway up the Western Australian coastline, the gateway to the World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Marine Park is the beachside town of Exmouth, where the reef and the range collide. A laid back place to visit, with a whole underwater world to explore, Exmouth itself is definitely worth spending some time in.

A favourite spot for anyone who visits, spend as much time as you can at Turquoise Bay snorkelling or checking out the marine life from a glass bottom boat. It’s a hotspot for swimming with turtles and manta rays right off the shore. For good food check out Whalebone Brewing Company, BBQ Father (across the road from the Big Prawn), The Social Society, Froth Craft Brewery, and Whalers Restaurant.