There are few experiences in the world to rival diving and swimming
with the giant whale sharks by a tropical coral reef. . The whale
sharks take centre stage between mid-March and mid-June.
Ningaloo - Western Australia's largest coral reef - protects
a lagoon rich in marine life and, unlike the Great Barrier Reef,
is onshore. It's home to more than 500 species of fish and around
250 coral species. Famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, has
rated the coral and marine life at Ningaloo superior to that of
the Great Barrier Reef.
As well as whale sharks, divers can encounter humpback whales,
dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, huge cod, sharks and turtles. All
are in abundance at Ningaloo Reef. Coral outcrops, home to the
reef fish, can be found as close as 20 metres to shore, displaying
an array of delicate formations almost beyond belief. There are
many ways to explore the reef - from a dive boat, catamaran, yacht,
a coral viewing boat, sea kayak, snorkelling or from the air.
Ningaloo, which begins just north of Carnarvon and straddles
the coast for 260-kilometres to the tip of the North West Cape
and Exmouth, is just one of many world class marine life and dive
sites around Western Australia's 12,500 kilometres of coastline.
From the pristine beaches of Cape Le Grande on the south coast
to the unspoilt continental shelf atolls of the Rowley Shoals
off the far north-west coast of Broome in the Kimberley, Western
Australia has a diverse range of diving experiences.
At Cape Le Grande, near Esperance, the rusting wreck of a 33,000
tonne tanker - the Sanko Harvest - has become home to schools
of blue groper fish and a major attraction for divers. It's the
second largest vessel in the world that can be dived. (Nearby
are 100 or more granite islands which form the 200-kilometre-long
Recherche Archipelago. Some of the islands are little more than
a stone's throw from the shore with submerged rocks and reefs
forming a paradise for divers).
The Sanko Harvest - wrecked in 1991 - is just one of a number
of shipwrecks and vessels purposely sent to Davey Jones' locker
around WA's vast coastline that have become a challenge to divers.
- The wreck of a former whalechaser, Cheynes Beach 111, sits
guard near the entrance of Albany's King George Sound, providing
home to a huge variety of marine life.
- A former Australian Navy warship - HMAS Swan - the largest scuttled
ship in the southern hemisphere. It was sunk purposely for divers
in 1997 in 35 metres of water in Geographe Bay, off Dunsborough.
It has already become home to many fish species. (Another old
warship - the former guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth - will
be sunk in King George Sound at Albany in the next 12-18 months
as a dive wreck and artificial reef).
- Seven vessels off Rottnest Island, near Fremantle - Lady Elizabeth
(a composite wood and iron vessel wrecked in 1878); Macedon (a
British-built iron screw steamer wrecked in 1883); Mira Flores
(a German-owned, British-built iron barque wrecked in 1886); Janet
(a three-masted schooner - at the time the largest vessel built
at Fremantle - wrecked in 1887); Raven (a British-built, three-masted
wooden barque wrecked in 1891); City of York and Denton Holme
(both iron barques wrecked in the 1890s); Kiryo Maru 1 (a Japanese
tuna boat which went aground in l984 and left in situ); and Miwok
11 (a flat top barge scuttled in 1983).
- Historical Dutch ship wrecks at the Abrolhos Islands, 40-kilometres
west of Geraldton. Called the Islands of Angry Ghosts, the Abrolhos
is probably the only place in the world where you can swim in
gardens of tropical coral with a pair of sea lions for company.
- The wreck of the Gudron, the biggest wooden shipwreck found
off Western Australia, lies in Shark Bay Marine Park. It's rated
by the Western Australian Maritime Museum as one of WA's best
wreck dives with its rich variety of fish life, including turtles,
giant groper, stingrays, spotted cod, many species of trevally
While the Rowley Shoals, 300-kilometres offshore from Broome,
cannot boast of any wreck dives, it offers some of the world's
best diving. The Shoals are famed for their almost untouched coral
gardens, giant clams and large and plentiful fish. Giant potato
cod and maori wrasse wait to be hand fed and follow divers around,
while colourful reef fish show little fear, and trevally, mackerel
and tuna hover in schools.
Western Australia is now regarded as one of the world's best
places for viewing the greater whales. Just about every major
tourist town along the vast coastline now offers visitors the
chance to view the giants on their way south.
Perth, the State capital, is the only city in the world where
enormous whales can be seen breaching, rolling, finning and tail
slapping during a short boat trip. The whales encountered are
usually humpbacks whose remarkable journey begins in the north
of WA, where they mate in the warm tropical waters required by
new born calves. However, they soon need to travel south with
their calves to the highly productive feeding grounds in the Antarctic,
to fatten up on tonnes of protein-rich krill.
While the whale shark and humpback whale season lasts for only
a couple of months, the bottle nose dolphins are a permanent year-round
attraction at Monkey Mia. World Heritage-listed Shark Bay is the
only place on earth where wild dolphins come in from the ocean
depths on a regular basis to interact with humans. (The South
West city of Bunbury also has its own dolphin family. At Koombana
Beach, visitors are encouraged to swim and wade with the wild
The Shark Bay Marine Park offers many shallow, but highly recommended,
diving and snorkelling sites. There are about 10,000 dugongs -
10 per cent of the world's population. Like marine turtles, they
inhabit all areas around Shark Bay and are frequently seen. Other
drawcards in the Shark Bay area are a 100 kilometre beach made
entirely of shells and 3800 million year old fossils known as
stromatolites at Hamelin Pool.
It's certainly no surprise that fishing in Western Australia
is an angler's dream come true, whether it's a spot of river fishing
for trout in the picturesque rivers of the State's South West
or true adventure fishing for barramundi in the far north. Many
beaches are accessible only by four-wheel-drive, but the fishing
can be as sensational as the scenery.
Game fish like marlin are highly prized and sought after by those
who can afford the sport. Renowned waters for big bites are the
continental shelf off Exmouth, and off Broome and Rottnest Island.
Record-breaking catches are commonplace along the WA coast, as
are the pub tales of the big one that got away. But there's always
another day for a true fisherman.