Local's guide: Exmouth

Sal Salis Exmouth my nrma locals guides
Sal Salis Exmouth my nrma locals guides

With a spectacular coral reef, pristine sandy shores, majestic wildlife and water adventures galore, Exmouth is well worth the 1250km journey from Perth.

  • Take a microlight flight
  • Swim with whale sharks
  • Go glamping at Sal Salis

Exmouth – famous for its World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef – can’t quite decide if it’s a beach resort or the Australian outback. On one side of the road palm trees sway and turquoise bays beckon. On the other, kangaroos and emus roam through rugged red terrain. It’s epic to look at, and even better to explore. From hang gliding over spectacular rocky gorges to swimming with majestic whale sharks, you can tick off a bounty of bucket list activities.

It may be one of the world’s most isolated cities – more than 2000km away from the next nearest capital – but with so much to do, you’ll be in no hurry to look elsewhere.

Where to eat

Start your days with breakfast and coffee at See Salt, a mellow cafe in the heart of town. The Ningaloo Bakehouse and Cafe has queues snaking out the door for its delectable pies, pasties and cakes – step in line to pick up some provisions for a day out on the water.

After a big day of adventuring, refuel with hearty slabs of meat at The BBQ Father, flavoured with a special Texan smoker. For a drink, head to microbrewery Froth Craft, a hoppy oasis in the desert, pouring artisanal beers brewed on site, alongside great local produce. Try the Shark Bay cockle linguine or the Aussie roo burger served with house made bacon jam.

Of course, you can’t leave Exmouth without sampling the seafood. Nemo’s has arguably the best fish and chips (it’s all down to the chef’s special batter), while the fish burgers from the unpretentious Blue Lips have a fan following. For something a bit fancier, make a booking at Whalers Restaurant, a slick restaurant with a poolside view. Their signature New Orleans style seafood gumbo, made with local fish, mussels and soft shell crab, is a must.

Where to play

Ningaloo’s crystalline lagoon teems with more than 500 types of marine species, from manta rays to sea turtles, dolphins to dugongs. Discover it your own way, whether that’s sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, or snorkelling. In summer, it’s turtle nesting season, so book a night tour to watch the adorable hatchlings scramble to the water’s edge. Visiting in winter? You haven’t missed out – you get the rare chance to swim with humpback whales, who have migrated their way from the Antarctic to Exmouth’s warm waters.

But if you only do one thing in Ningaloo, it’s got to be swimming with whale sharks. Getting dwarfed by these gentle, graceful giants is an incredible experience, don’t be scared, they prefer plankton to people.

There are also plenty of bays and beaches of note. Turquoise Bay isn’t just stunning to look at – it has a strong natural drift that makes for killer snorkelling. With flat shallow waters, Sandy Bay is a perfect spot for the kids, and when the wind picks up, it’s prime for kite surfing, too – hire equipment or learn the ropes with the friendly folks at the Exmouth Surf Centre. For divers, Navy Pier is the place to go to explore an underwater world of technicolour tropical fish in a protected enclave.

Back on land, dust off your hiking boots and hit the Cape Range National Park. Charles Knife Canyon offers incredible views of the multicoloured gorges, while Vlamingh Head Lighthouse looks over the wide expanse of the ocean and provides a magic spot for watching the sun go down. With a bit of luck, you might even glimpse some humpback whales.

And why not take in the dazzling landscape from above in a hang glider? Birds Eye Ningaloo offers microlight flights with a qualified instructor, so you’ll soar high above the gorges and marine gardens, enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

Where to splurge

Tucked behind gleaming sand dunes in the Cape Range National Park is Sal Salis’ eco luxe Wilderness Tents, poised right near Ningaloo’s pristine coast. With prices starting at $750 per night, barefoot luxury doesn’t come cheap. But it’s well worth it – Lonely Planet has dubbed it one of the world’s best places to stay. Take the extravagance to the next level with a private chartered jet package, which includes airport transfers, private guided activities and special occasion dining.

Where to stay

Exmouth attracts a motley crew – expect to see dreadlocked backpackers, young families and city slickers rubbing shoulders. RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park caters for everyone. Choose from spacious self contained cabins, motel style rooms, backpacking dorms, powered caravan sites, and grassy stretches to pitch a tent. At sunrise, wander down to the entrance of the park where you’ll find the sundrenched food van, The Short Order. It serves seriously good coffee, toasties and muffins (although you might have to resist sharing them with a roving emu).

Image credit: Tourism Western Australia

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