Nothing is more certain to make you feel small and insignificant than swimming with a whale shark.
Nothing is more certain to make you feel small and insignificant than swimming with a whale shark and Ningaloo, as Lee Atkinson can attest, is the perfect place to jump right in.
Despite their fierce sounding name, these massive but harmless fish are truly the gentle giants of the deep; they can measure up to 18 metres in length with an adult whale shark weighing in at more than 15 tonnes with a mouth more than a metre wide. Ningaloo Reef is one of the few places in the world where they are known to visit on an annual basis (between April and early July) in large numbers, so close to the coast.
There are a number of tours that operate from both Coral Bay and Exmouth that allow you to get in the water and swim with these magnificent fish − and because they swim close to the surface, all you need is a snorkel and fins, although you do have to be pretty fit. Despite their massive bulk, whale sharks are fast swimmers and the day involves lots of clambering in and out of the boat and sprint-like swims to keep up. When you are choosing which company to go with make sure they have a safety zodiac that looks out for swimmers in the water – even though you might not be very far from land, you will be in deep water on the open sea side of the reef.
Whale sharks aside, Ningaloo Reef is every bit as magnificent as Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, and one of the highlights is the Coral Bay foreshore, which is great for novice snorkellers as the coral begins just metres from the shore and, unlike the reef trips of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, you don't have to spend an hour or so getting out there by boat – you can walk in from the beach. If you don't fancy getting wet or are nervous about your swimming there are glass bottom boat trips to see the coral and kayaking tours – both leave from the beach.
More: Coral Bay is 1133km north of Perth; Exmouth is a further 137km north. Coral Bay and Exmouth are dry and warm almost all year – perfect beach weather. Whale shark season is between April and early July. In winter you can also see humpback whales on their annual migration to and from warmer waters. For details of whale shark swimming tours see www.australiascoralcoast.com.
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