7 February 2023

Australia’s Coral Coast welcomes thousands of fellow Australians to the region each year. Until now, East Coasters wanting to experience the magic of this great stretch of land were obliged to make a stopover in Perth along the way.

As of April, that’s no longer necessary, as Qantas’ brand new Melbourne to Exmouth (Learmonth) route takes off. Departing every Sunday and Thursday from April to October (peak season), the flights mark the first direct connection between the eastern states and the Coral Coast.

If you’ve been toying with the idea of crossing the country to experience the region for yourself, there’s never been a better time. Book a flight, pack your bags, and come experience the ocean, outback, and adventure.

1. The Ocean

In it:

Famed for its incomprehensible size and unique inhabitants, the Ningaloo Reef is up there with Uluru as one of Australia’s greatest natural wonders. Both Exmouth and Coral Bay act as gateways to the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park, where unbridled adventure awaits.

Stash your snorkel, fins, and a little bit of luck in your luggage, and you could join the one in three million people worldwide who can lay claim to swimming with whale sharks in their lifetime. The gentle giants frequent the waters around Exmouth and Coral Bay from March to August, a consistent annual congregation for their non-stop filter feeding. Though they’re commonly docile creatures, giving them space to be while in the water with them is highly encouraged.

Not sure how to do that or where to find them? There are umpteen whale shark tour operators departing from either town who’ll take the guesswork out of it for you.

Make your trip to the west one to remember with sightings of not just one mystical creature of the sea but three. The tail end of whale shark season overlaps with a time of increased manta ray activity on the reef and the annual humpback whale migration. Guided swims with either are also available to visitors, on which you’re also likely to sight sea turtles and friendly wobbegongs.

On it:

Protected by the Ningaloo Reef, the bays and beaches around Exmouth are mirrorlike — perfect for a spot of kayaking or SUPing. Try paddling the highly-lauded Turquoise Bay or along the Bundegi Sanctuary Zone, where you can tie your board or kayak off to a buoy as you jump in for a snorkel. As you do, keep your eyes peeled for camouflaged sand rays and gliding sea turtles.

Keen anglers can get their kicks — and dinner — by throwing the line in off the Learmonth Jetty. Smaller species like whiting and Spanish mackerel are fair game on this side of the gulf, while the likes of barramundi and snapper are more common in deeper waters. Book yourself on a deep-sea fishing charter to snag the larger game.

Out of it:

Prefer to put more distance between you and the sea life? Take a swim-free tour of the Ningaloo Aquarium and Discovery Centre, or book a seat on a glass-bottom boat tour. You’ll have front-row access to the ocean's wonders without so much as getting your hair wet.

2. The Outback

Exmouth isn’t all white sand beaches and deep blue ocean; it’s also rugged outback ranges and scrubby plains. There’s no starker contrast from the likes of Turquoise Bay and Bundegi Beach than the craggy gorges of Charles Knife Canyon. Take the scenic drive along the top of the otherworldly canyon, stopping at the lookout points for views all the way back down towards the coastline. A bit further up the road is the entrance to Shothole Canyon, which leads you on a completely different drive along the bottom of the neighbouring gorge.

Getting to the region’s most famed beaches and bays necessitates driving through Cape Range National Park, bounded by the Indian Ocean on one side and the range on the other. The flat plain in between is home to kangaroos, dingos, and emus, all of which you can see readily from your camp, a hiking trail, or even your car as you drive through.

At the end of the park, you’ll find Yardie Creek. Take a boat cruise up the permanent water source, between the sheer cliff faces, and keep an eye out for the endangered rock wallaby along the way. To see the creek from a different perspective, take the Yardie Nature Walk or Yardie Gorge Trail (class 4).

3. The Adventure

Hiking is just the beginning of the adventures you can have in this part of the world. Up the adrenaline levels with something faster-paced like quad-biking or jet-skiing. Equally as thrilling but easier on the nerves is a scenic fly-over of the Ningaloo Reef. Count the different shades of blue from the comfort of a small charter plane, or play whale shark and turtle ‘spotto’ as you soar through the air on an ultralight flight.

Plan your trip


Once you've locked in your flight from Melbourne to Exmouth, it's time to start looking at where you'll stay. As the cosy community swells from around 2,700 to 6,000 people during the high season, accommodation is hot property and should be booked as early as possible. Options include everything from fully self-contained apartments with ocean views to outback station stays on working cattle ranches a few kilometres out of town.

Shell Beach Driving

Consider incorporating a one-way car rental into your itinerary to see more of what the Coral Coast has to offer. Fly into Exmouth with Qantas, explore the town, and then make the most of Avis’ discounted one-way rental relocation fees and road trip the Coral Coast Highway down to Perth. Key pit stops include Coral Bay, Shell Beach, Monkey Mia, Kalbarri, Hutt Lagoon, and the Pinnacles Desert.