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Ningaloo Reef - A Protected Paradise
ningaloo reefAlthough often overshadowed by Queensland's Great Barrier reef, Ningaloo Reef is definitely Western Australia's answer to it! However, if you take a closer look you will discover both the similarities and the things that make Ningaloo come out on top!

Stretching for 260 kilometres up the North West Cape, the reef sits just off shore, making it easily accessible from land. The sheltered, shallow waters that lie between the reef and the beach are crystal clear, and the white sand beneath shines through the bright turquoise, giving the beaches an incandescent quality. Perfect weather, sparkling scenery and an astounding concentration of marine life make the Ningaloo Reef the ultimate holiday destination of Western Australia. The fact alone that it can so easily be reached from the shoreline is what draws in the tourists, but there is so much more that makes this area so appealing.

Ningaloo Reef is so precious that is have actually become a protected Marine Park. However, it remains a mecca for snorkellers and scuba divers who are keen to experience its underwater surprises. There is nothing more soothing and relaxing than gliding through these crystal clear waters lazily and discovering some of the 220 coral species and 500 fish species present here. Surrounded by thousands of tropical fish and all the colours of the rainbow imaginable, this underwater world can entertain and surprise you no matter how many times you visit it. The smooth waters and the shallow depths mean that anyone can enjoy snorkelling here, no matter how young, old or experienced you are. Even if you are simply wading through the shallows, the colourful fish swim and feed around your feet.

For those who aren't a fan of getting wet in the water, a semi submersible submarine in Exmouth does tours around the reef, and through its clear floors the coral gardens and the fish are clearly visible. This is perfect for those photographers out there and the expert commentary going on the whole time will educate you about the fascinating marine environment.

Scuba divers are often attracted here for the chance to dive with the amazing whale sharks. This can best be done in the deeper parts of the reef between the months of March and June. These gentle giants grow up to fourteen metres in length, and because of their strictly plankton diet are safe to swim with. Their presence attracts the presence of thousands of smaller fish, making a dive with these creatures a diverse and interesting experience.

The whale sharks are very important to the locals here, who organise an annual Ningaloo Reef Whaleshark Festival that is definitely worth a look. This festival uses live music and performing arts to highlight the local relationship with the whale shark. Another common sight in these waters are the giant turtles that come to nest on the beach between November and February. Green, Loggerhead and Hawkesville turtles are often spotted making their way through the shallows and amongst the coral gardens.

The multitude of life under the surface in Ningaloo means that this ia of course any fisherman's paradise.Fishing from the shore is simple and fun, as well as being safe for the younger children. However, if you head out into the deeper waters, the challenges will begin because this is where the monsters lurk. There are lots of species to be caught including Red Emperors, gropers, North West Snapper, mackerel and tuna.

If you are in search of a town to base yourself while visiting Ningaloo, you really can't go wrong with Exmouth. Situated 1270 kilometres north of Perth, any way you drive to Exmouth is going to be a long one. There is an airport in the town that caters to domestic flights so this is probably the easier option for visiting the region. Pick up a rental car at the airport and you will be able to explore the region to its fullest potential. Mobility is essential, because in this expansive part of the country the distances between any two points is normally fairly large!

Another favourite destination in the area is Coral Bay, which is situated about 120 kilometres south of Exmouth. Situated twelve kilometres off the main road, many visitors bypass this in favour of Exmouth. However, if you have the time, you should definitely check it out. It is a smaller and quieter town, and the access to the reef here is better than in Exmouth. As a destination, Coral Bay is very nature oriented. Don't come here with an expectation of busy shops and nightclubs, come here expecting to be blown away by the rugged terrain of the Australian outback and the crisp blue waters and white beaches of the vast ocean. The marine life is equally spectacular, with the whale sharks migration also bringing them within sight of the shore. Coral Bay is just as equipped as Exmouth to deal with tourists, with all the usual forms of charters operating. However in busy periods be sure to book in advance, as in the past the accommodation facilities here have become booked out.

Christine Barton

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