Red Bluff, Kalbarri National Park, Coral Coast, Western Australia © Greg Snell
10 days along the Coral Coast
Discover white beaches, coral reefs, charming fishing towns and rugged national parks on this spectacular journey along Western Australia’s Coral Coast.
By Alissa Jenkins
Drive north from Perth along Western Australia's Coral Coast and take in the dazzling Indian Ocean, hike the bewilderingly beautiful gorges of Kalbarri National Park, swim with whale sharks, meet dolphins and return to Perth relaxed and refreshed.
What to expect
- Swim with magnificent whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef
- Hike the dramatic gorges of Kalbarri National Park
- See the bizarre rock formations of the Pinnacles
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 2,800 kilometres (1,740 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Perth
Day 1: Perth to Geraldton
Once you depart Perth in your hire car, head north along the Brand Highway. Stop for a lazy lunch, another hour north, at the twin coastal towns of Dongara and Port Denison (try the charming beach shack Seaspray Beach Cafe At Seaspray Beach Holiday Park or family-friendly Southerlys Tavern). Perhaps pick up some award-winning spirits from a tour at Illegal Tender Rum Co before continuing on for 30 minutes to Geraldton. Head straight to the beach for an afternoon swim, or get out on the water with a jetski, flyboard, waterski or stand-up paddleboard tour with Ultimate Watersports. After, buy dinner from the Geraldton Fishermen's Co-Op. Sleep at Ocean Centre Hotel, a four-star stay in the heart of town with oceanfront views and a coast-inspired decor.
Day 2: Geraldton to Carnarvon
Before departing Geraldton, visit the HMAS Sydney Memorial, a tribute to the ship sunk in battle off the coast of Western Australia in 1941, claiming the lives of 645 sailors. Then begin the five-hour drive north, passing Kalbarri National Park on the way (you'll stop here on your return). Continue past the dolphin sanctuary of Monkey Mia (also to be explored on the return trip) to Carnarvon, where banana, mango and papaya plantations thrive on the fertile land around the Gascoyne River. If you adore tropical fruit, take a tour of one of the plantations, or buy fresh produce from the Gascoyne Growers' Market.
Day 3: Carnarvon to Exmouth
Continue another four hours north to the township of Exmouth, which sits between the red cliffs of Cape Range National Park and the turquoise waters of Ningaloo Marine Park. Cool off at the beach, where you only have to swim (or snorkel) a few metres off the shoreline to see the tropical fish and multi-coloured coral of World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef. The most popular experience here is swimming with whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish. These ocean giants, which can grow up to 18 metres (59 feet) long, congregate around Ningaloo Reef between April and July.
Day 4: Exmouth to Coral Bay
Dedicate half a day to exploring the craggy landscapes of Cape Range National Park. There are many scenic walks here, but if you're not up for hiking, you can drive to the lookouts at Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon. Those keen to stretch their legs should consider the Badjirrajirra Loop Trail. On this moderate eight-kilometre (five-mile) hike you'll traverse the top of Cape Range, taking in rocky gullies and colourful gorges; keep an eye out for emus, kangaroos and echidnas. For a guided experience, Ningaloo Safari Tours offer 4WD tours of the area, as well as boat trips up the scenic Yardie Creek.
Day 5: Coral Bay to Denham (Shark Bay)
After an early morning swim, drive south to Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Detour off the highway to see the remarkable Hamelin Pool, home to the oldest and largest living fossils on earth known as stromatolites and taking the form of dome-shaped rocks. Drive a little further to Shell Beach which, as the name suggests, is made up of billions of tiny shells instead of sand, and admire the beach's beautiful aqua water and bright white curve of beach, which stretches for more than 70 kilometres (43 miles). Stay overnight in the nearby town of Denham, where you can enjoy fantastically fresh seafood at local restaurant The Old Pearler. Stay at Oceanside Village.
Day 6: Denham (Shark Bay) to Monkey Mia (Shark Bay)
From Denham, it’s a 30-minute drive to Monkey Mia, famous for the wild, bottlenose dolphins that visit the shallow waters here every day. After years of being fed by local fishermen, the dolphins swim into shore to interact with humans, so expect to feed them, or even swim with them in the clear aqua waters of the bay. Along with dolphins, Monkey Mia is home to whales, manta rays, turtles, sharks, a huge array of fish and 10 per cent of the world’s dugongs, which you can spot while snorkelling, scuba diving or on a glass-bottomed boat tour. The animal encounters don’t end there: take your pick of daily pelican feeding or fishing for whiting, cod, snapper, mackerel and tuna. In the evening, learn about local Aboriginal culture and cook bush tucker on a campfire during the Didgeridoo Dreaming Night Tour. Stay central at RAC Monkey Mia Resort, a family-friendly spot offering both beachfront campgrounds and comfortable hotel rooms, or return to your accommodation at Denham.
Day 7: Denham (Shark Bay) and Surrounds
This morning you'll be picked up from your accommodation for a 4WD tour through Francois Peron National Park, where the red sand dunes contrast with blinding white beaches and crystal blue ocean. It’s also a haven for wildlife including rare lizards (such as thorny devils and racehorse goannas), and magnificent birdlife such as emus and fairy wrens. Spend the morning spotting manta rays, turtles and sharks at Skipjack Point before driving south to the dugong breeding area of Eagle Bluff, where there’s a boardwalk that extends over the ocean offering great views of grazing dugongs (known as sea cows for the hours they spend peacefully munching sea grass) as well as sharks, dolphins, fish and coral.
Day 8: Denham (Shark Bay) to Kalbarri
If you have a 4WD vehicle, detour to Steep Point, mainland Australia’s most westerly point. It boasts a spectacular view from the edge of a 170-metre (580-foot) tall set of sea cliffs named Zuytdorp Cliffs, which stretch for 150 kilometres (93 miles). If time permits, add an extra day to your road trip and take the barge (with your 4WD) to Dirk Hartog Island to explore its rugged sea cliffs, secluded white beaches and world-class fishing. Otherwise, continue on to the charming town of Kalbarri, a much-loved holiday destination for Western Australians approximately four hours south by car.
Day 9: Kalbarri
Spend the day bushwalking through the stunning Kalbarri National Park, with its rugged ranges and rust-red rock gorges, and the Murchison River running between them. Between July and October, this park is decorated with more than 800 blooming Australian wildflower species including banksias, grevilleas, kangaroo paw and red-blossomed eucalypts. While there are several shorter walks available, one of the most scenic options is the 8.5 kilometre (5.2-mile) Loop Hike. Starting and finishing at the park's most Instagrammed sight, a wind-eroded rock arch that frames the river view below called Nature’s Window, the path winds down to the banks of the Murchison River before climbing back to the top of the sandstone cliffs.
Day 10: Kalbarri to the Pinnacles
Rise early because today you'll drive four hours south to Stockyard Gully National Park, where you can walk through a series of limestone caves that lead to an underwater river system. You can admire colonies of sleeping bats overhead as you traverse the amazing caverns. From here, it's only one hour south to beautiful Jurien Bay, where you’ll find yet more white beaches and coral reefs perfect for snorkelling. You can also refuel with a selection of laid back eateries, such as Sandpiper Tavern and Pizzeria, before arriving at the day's final destination, just 20 minutes away.
Cervantes is a fishing village famous for its seafood. Check into Pinnacles Edge Resort, your accommodation for the evening, and when the sun begins to set, take the 15-minute drive to the Pinnacles, a much-Instagrammed desert in Nambung National Park, where thousands of ancient rock pillars rise from the sands like weathered tombstones. Of course, you can visit the Pinnacles at any time of day but sunset offers one of the most impressive viewing experiences.
Enjoy dinner at your accommodation's on-site restaurant. Stay for a night (or more!) before taking the two-hour drive back to Perth.