With a coastline stretching over 20,000km, roughly a third comprising islands, it’s no surprise that WA is Australia’s aquatic adventure capital. Huge, remote and sparsely populated, its reefs, bays, islands, rivers and ocean swells draw countless intrepid travellers who don’t mind getting their feet wet. From dabbling your big toe to total immersion, here’s some of WA’s most wet ’n’ wild.
Swimming with whale sharks – Ningaloo Marine Park, Coral Coast
Between late March and July each year, the world’s largest fish, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), arrives in Ningaloo Marine Park. Majestic yet enigmatic, the whale shark – a gigantic filter feeder – attracts tourists and marine biologists alike. Many claim swimming with these gentle giants is a life-changing experience. Should you miss the season, fret not, there’s plenty of resident manta rays to paddle with all year round in these World Heritage waters.
Horizontal Waterfalls – Buccaneer Archipelago, Derby
Derby, on the West Kimberley coast, is home to Australia’s largest tides. The ‘horizontal waterfalls’ are a result of the incoming tide being squeezed between two narrow gaps, creating a 4m wave rushing along at 30 knots. Depending on the amount of adrenalin you’ve paid for, you can fly over this phenomenon, cruise past it at a safe distance or ride the crazy beast in a screaming speedboat. Bring a raincoat.
Kimberley Coastal Cruise
The most relaxing way to explore the Kimberley coastline is from a luxury cruise ship. Sit back with an ice-cold drink and enjoy the show as you slip past amazing landscapes, hidden waterfalls, saltwater crocodiles and islands too numerous to name. There are various operators (and itineraries) to choose from, and most will include on-shore excursions to Indigenous rock-art sites or safe-swimming gorges.
The WA coast is blessed with some of the best and gnarliest waves on the planet. You can grab a board and bag some action anywhere from Esperance to North West Cape. Winter is the time for the biggest swells, though you’ll be able to find a great ride most of the year. The Margaret River area south of Perth has the greatest collection of world-class breaks, though experienced surfers also flock to Red Bluff and Gnaraloo, north of Carnarvon. While there’s a wave for every skill level, know your limitations – breaks like Suicides, Tombstones and Boneyards get their name for a reason.
Dolphins – Monkey Mia, Shark Bay
The sight of wild dolphins interacting with humans in the shallows of World Heritage-listed Shark Bay never ceases to amaze, no matter how many times you experience it. Arrive early and pick a good spot on the pier and you’ll see a lot more, especially if you hang around after the crowds depart, as the dolphins routinely return. To top off your morning, consider a dugong-sighting cruise.
Diving – Coral Coast
WA’s Coral Coast is a diver’s paradise offering world-class reef, shore and wreck diving. Geraldton, gateway for the fabulous shipwreck-strewn Houtman-Albrohos Islands, and the Ningaloo Reef base-camp of Exmouth, book-end the region. Ningaloo Reef in particular is exceptional and the Navy Pier dive at Bundegi Beach just north of Exmouth is routinely quoted in the top ten shore dives in the world. Lighthouse Bay and the nearby Muiron Islands also provide excellent diving with a myriad of pristine coral, fish and larger species like turtles and manta rays.
Kayaking and Canoeing
For a more leisurely water activity, WA offers several interesting paddling options. Kununurra in the East Kimberley is the best place to organize a self-guided trip down the Ord River, overnighting at selected camps along the way. For a more remote experience, Mornington Wilderness Camp, off the Kimberley’s famous Gibb River Road, provides a network of canoes that can be used to link together an epic gorge exploration. Further south, sea-kayakers won’t want to miss the purpose built moorings placed along Ningaloo Reef where they can tether their kayaks safely while jumping out for a quick snorkel. Or for a guided option, Monkey Mia’s Wula Guda Nyinda offers kayak tours led by a local aboriginal.
With all that coastline, it’s no wonder WA’s fishing is legendary. The state reportedly has the highest per capita boat ownership in the world. Take the hassle out of fishing and go with an expert. Virtually every town on the WA coast, from Esperance to Wyndham, has a fishing charter just waiting for you to bait your hook – from a leisurely few hours, to week-long extended trips staying at remote campsites.
Since so many southern right and humpback whales (upwards of 30,000) cruise along the WA coast, it has become known as the Humpback Highway. From June onwards their annual pilgrimage begins from Antarctica to the warm tropical waters of the northwest coast, and mothers with calves seek out the shallower bays and coves of Ningaloo Reef, Bremer Bay and King George Sound in Albany until November. Stake out a good spot on coastal clifftops, and often the beach as well, to see mothers playing with their calves in their giant aquatic nursery.
While WA’s surfers salivate at the sight of winter’s big swells, it’s the strong winds of spring and summer that get the kiteboarders’ mojos going. Anywhere between Esperance and Exmouth is fair game, and Perth has a very lively kite scene with lots of premium locations, hire shops, and tuition (should you need it). Further north, Geraldton is also popular and has gear hire and tutelage options. Carnarvon to Gnaraloo is for the more experienced, and Exmouth has some fantastic deserted locations on Ningaloo Reef.
Cocos Keeling Islands
If there’s one destination in WA that packs almost all of these adventures into one place, it’s the far-flung Cocos Keeling Islands. Bobbing out in the Indian Ocean, and closer to Asia than the Australian mainland, the coral lagoon-shrouded islands are any water-lover’s ultimate nirvana. Twenty-seven low-lying islands (only two are occupied) offer diversions so low-key and relaxing, you may never set foot in an office again (let alone wear shoes).