Exmouth was my first choice when I looked for swimming with whale sharks tours on my first trip to Western Australia. Only later I discovered there is another small community located just meters from Ningaloo Reef. It is Coral Bay. I don’t know why Exmouth is called gateway to Ningaloo Reef. Maybe because there is airport in Exmouth and it much easier access it? Or maybe because there are more swimming with whale sharks tour operators in Exmouth?
Coral Bay and Exmouth are incredibly different. Coral Bay is very small village where everything is in walkable distance. You can see whole settlement on this map:
View Swimming with whale sharks in Australia in a larger map
There are two whale sharks tour operators in Coral Bay:
|Tour Operator||Adult||Child||Video/Photo||No sightings policy|
|Coral Bay Ecotours||$390||$280||Memory stick with videos and pics of the day. $55||If you do not see a whale shark on your first tour they will offer you a free repeat on their next available tour (this offer is open for two years after your first trip). Alternatively you can take ultimate Marine Ecotour for free.|
|Ningaloo Reef Dive||$390||$270||DVD $50||1 repeat opportunity per customer on the next available tour. It is an open ended Voucher with no expiry date and valid as long as the current owners are operating this business.|
Somebody could think s(he) could have more choice with seven tour operators in Exmouth. I am not sure about it. Tour prices are very similar in Exmouth and Coral Bay. I think Coral Bay is undeservedly overshadowed by Exmouth.
Exmouth is ~40 kilometers (~ 26 miles) from the reef. From the beaches of Coral Bay, the reef starts 40 meters out. Where would you prefer to stay overnight? On the beach or in the town?
Here are two other thing to consider.
Firstly, for whale shark tours in Exmouth there’s a 45 minute bus ride just to get to the vessel (which is moored nearer the reef), and then back again afterwards, whereas it’s a leisurely 5 minute ride in Coral Bay from any tour company office to the vessel. This means Exmouth tourists need to rise almost an hour earlier, and get back to their rooms at least an hour later or have much shorter tours!
Secondly, 10 vessels operating from Exmouth, whereas there’s only 3 in Coral Bay, so if there is only one or two whale sharks, as is common, your chances of quality swimming opportunities are much more limited from Exmouth vessels as each vessel has a maximum time allowed on the animal, and when that swim is done they have to go to the back of the line and await their turn before they can have another one.
And if you are lucky as a bonus in Coral Bay you also able to include swimming with manta rays when possible, which is almost never possible on any whale shark tour from Exmouth.
I went for whale shark tour in Exmouth, but I was swimming with Manta rays in Coral Bay. I it is up to you which place to choose, but want to note – Coral Bay Ecotours is the only tour company on the Ningaloo Reef to be fully carbon audited and 100% carbon neutral. If you are real wild life lover you should choose wisely.