Coral Coast & Ningaloo Reef by Motorhome
They say Western Australia is the ‘road trip state’, and when you consider the options before you when you land in Perth, it’s easy to see why. The 1500km journey north from Perth to Exmouth along the Coral Coast is as spectacular as they come, and to explore the region in a motorhome means having some of Western Australia’s most breathtaking scenery always at your door.
Wake up among rugged gorges and squeaky white beaches, admire colourful desert flowers and mesmerising coral kingdoms, and stumble upon places only seen by travellers willing to go the distance. The road is long but the wows are endless, so buckle up and let curiosity be your guide as we explore some of the best destinations, and top places to stay overnight, along the incredible Coral Coast.
Jurien Bay & the Indian Ocean Drive
After sorting out your motorhome hire in Perth, the trip begins with a bang along the Indian Ocean Drive – all ocean views and golden dunes as you cruise between Cervantes and Dongara. There’s a handful of charming seaside towns to explore, but thanks to its population of endangered Australian sea lions, Jurien Bay is a must-stop. A boat tour is a fantastic way to encounter these majestic creatures up close, or if you’re lucky you might spot them sun-bathing on the beaches within Jurien Bay Marine Park.
South of Jurien Bay, the Pinnacles Desert is a bucket-list mainstay when exploring by motorhome. Drive around the striking lunarscape of 30,000 year-old limestone pillars and learn about their mysterious origins at the excellent Discovery Centre. If you are travelling during spring, Lesueur National Park is the place to see Western Australia’s phenomenal wildflower displays. The 18km scenic drive through the park surrounds you with over 900 plant species including a variety of native orchids and kangaroo paws.
Where to stay
Jurien Bay Tourist Park is close to all the amenities of town and is a short walk from the jetty – a spectacular sunset location and popular among anglers. To get back to nature, head north to Milligan Island Eco Camping, a basic low-impact campground where you’ll be surrounded by bush and walking distance from idyllic white-sand beaches.
Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri is a charmer with its chilled out surf and fishing vibes, but it’s the rugged landscape of Kalbarri National Park that sets this place apart. The 500m walk to Nature’s Window is an unmissable photo opportunity, as the natural hole in the ancient rock perfectly frames the Murchison River carving through the gorge far below. If you’re feeling adventurous – and if the weather isn’t too hot – continue on the 9km Loop Walk where you’ll descend into the gorge and make your way beside the river, perhaps with no-one but a ballet of black swans for company. Top it off with the quick yet steep walk down to the emerald-green pools at the bottom of Z Bend lookout, before heading back towards the Kalbarri coast where dramatic 100m-high sea cliffs dominate.
Where to stay
What’s a trip to Western Australia without an authentic farm stay? Located on the Murchison River, park your motorhome in a powered site at Big River Ranch where you’ll enjoy use of the kitchen, bathrooms and swimming pool, as well as optional guided horseback rides with your hosts through the Kalbarri countryside.
Shark Bay World Heritage Area
Shark Bay earned World Heritage status thanks to its mesmerising natural environment, so it’s safe to say the extra 150km (each way) off the highway is well worth the effort. Along the World Heritage Drive you’ll first encounter the Hamelin Pool stromatolites, the oldest living fossils in the world. These unassuming ‘blobs’ in the shallows are evolutionary wonders – an example of Earth’s earliest lifeforms that existed over three billion years ago. Take a moment to let that sink in, as you float effortlessly in the high-salinity water of Shell Beach, named for the millions of tiny white shells that have collected here in place of sand. At Monkey Mia, wild dolphins have been coming to the beach for a feed almost every morning since the 1960s, and this remains one of Shark Bay’s most popular attractions.
Now it’s fair to say Shark Bay does some of its best work beyond the bitumen, so be sure to book yourself a spot with a 4WD tour operator for the chance to get off the beaten track. Shark Bay Coastal Tours offer a variety of full and half-day Nature Safaris to the northern end of Francois Peron National Park, as well as to Steep Point – the most westerly point in Australia. Out here the red dunes, white sand and crystal-blue ocean form a picture only Mother Nature could paint.
Where to stay
Denham Seaside Caravan Park has absolute beach frontage and is central to many of Shark Bay’s attractions, while Hamelin Pool Caravan Park or the basic campgrounds at Eagle Bluff, Whalebone Bay and Goulet Bluff each make for a good overnight stop if you’re approaching or leaving Shark Bay late in the day.
The Coral Coast road trip takes a culinary turn in Carnarvon, renowned as Western Australia’s food bowl. Here the fertile banks along the Gascoyne River provide ideal conditions for growing tropical fruits such as bananas, pawpaws, mangoes, avocados and grapes, which are picked fresh and sold at the Growers Markets every Saturday between May and October. If you miss market day you can still drive the “Fruit Loops” through tropical plantations, fill up your motorhome with seasonal produce from roadside stalls, and marvel at the maze of giant succulents in Carnarvon’s famous Cactus Garden.
Carnarvon’s role in the live broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing is seldom told, but can be discovered at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Centre, which was built to commemorate the town’s scientific achievements, and is towered over by the mighty OTC Satellite dish. Back on the coast, a trip out to see the Quobba blowholes – which can reach heights of 20m – is an invigorating sight not to be missed.
Where to stay
Acres of lush, green campsites to park your motorhome make Winter Sun Caravan Park a true oasis in the hot northwest. The park has a friendly communal atmosphere thanks in large part to regular in-park events such as catered dinner nights with live music.
Coral Bay & Ningaloo Reef
While Exmouth is widely considered the gateway to Ningaloo Reef, the small tourist resort of Coral Bay makes for the perfect mini getaway. You can walk everywhere from the caravan park, including beaches where you can snorkel out to the reef, and if you’re after something different, there are plenty of boat tours to keep you busy. However our pick of the bunch would be swimming with manta rays!
Coral Bay has a local population of friendly, non-migratory manta rays, so it’s hands down the best place along the Coral Coast to swim with the acrobats of the sea. The local mantas share Coral Bay’s lagoons with a dazzling array of life, from lazy loggerhead turtles and dugongs, colourful fish and friendly reef sharks. To say it’s a pretty special day out in the water is a bit of an understatement.
Where to stay
Ningaloo Coral Bay and Peoples Park are the two paid caravan parks in Coral Bay and both are located a few minutes’ walk from the beaches of Bills Bay. There’s no free camping or national park camping nearby, so you’ll want to book your campsite in advance during peak periods like school holidays so you don’t miss out.
Once you’ve reached the tip of the Exmouth Peninsula, there’s nowhere to go from here but flippers-first into the Gatorade-blue sea. Travel between March and October when hundreds of whale sharks arrive to feed in the plankton-rich waters of the outer reef, and there’s every chance you’ll find yourself snorkelling – awe-struck– beside the biggest and most breathtaking fish that live in our oceans. Sure, it’s a pricey experience but money well spent – most of the tours have close to a 100% success rate and, importantly, Western Australia’s operators hold high eco-tourism standards that ensure the sharks’ natural feeding patterns and behaviours are not interfered with.
Closer to shore, Exmouth is your ticket to the wonders of Cape Range National Park, a place where ancient canyons, pristine reef, powdery white beaches and desert sands converge. Turquoise Bay earns high praise for its fantastic drift snorkel in sparkling azure water, while a boat cruise along Yardie Creek – or a walk high on the canyon’s cliffs – proves Exmouth’s natural beauty is equally impressive on land.
Where to stay
You need to be self-sufficient to camp in the 2WD-friendly reef-side campgrounds in Cape Range National Park, but with snorkel sites on your doorstep, the location is to die for. The best sites are snapped up quickly, so be sure to book online in advance. For a longer stay in a powered site, go for Ningaloo Lighthouse Holiday Park, it’s around 15 minutes from town but only a few minutes from the national park.
Where to Go Next
There’s more than one way to travel between Perth to Exmouth, but only a motorhome hire gives you the freedom to become completely immersed in all the Coral Coast’s gems throughout the journey. And the best part is that the adventure doesn’t have to end.
Venture inland to discover Karijini National Park, a surreal world of turquoise pools and flooded canyons. Go north towards Broome for sunset camel rides and scenic flights over Horizontal Falls. Or roll the dice and choose your own adventure, because in Western Australia there’s always something wonderful around the corner.