Our Whale Shark Adventure on the Ningaloo Reef
Swimming-with-Whale-Sharks on the Ningaloo reef, was one of the most amazing experiences we’ve ever had, but wait a minute where is the Ningaloo Reef I hear you ask?
Off of the North Western coast of Australia, in the Indian Ocean, lies Australias largest fringing coral reef, the Ningaloo Reef.
It’s part of the Ningaloo World Heritage Site and is 160 miles long, and the only reef that is located near a landmass.
Australia is known for the Great Barrier Reef, but the little heard about Ningaloo reef is a pristine marine conservation area full of amazing sea life.
The reef is accessible right from the shore in some places, making it easy to snorkel right off the beach.
We did exactly that on our Western Australia Road Trip.
After driving all the way up the coast from Perth, we arrived at Exmouth, near the Cape Range National park.
Beautiful Beach Of The Cape Range National Park
The small town of Exmouth lies on the Western Coast of the Cape Range peninsula looking out over the Indian Ocean.
We explored the town and found ourselves at the tourist information centre, where we learnt about some of the tours available.
We really wanted to go on a Whale Shark trip, but it was late in the season and the Whale Sharks should, in theory, have already moved away from the area, but luckily according to the experts here, there were still plenty of whales in the area.
There were two tours we were drawn to, Kings tours and another outfit that took smaller groups out on their catamaran.
We decided on Kings because the boat was much bigger and had shade available.
Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours, run boat trips out onto the reef in search of whales.
They have two tours we could choose from, the Humpback Whale Tour and the Whale Shark Tour.
The Whale shark tour really spoke to us, but it was the most expensive trip.
After deliberating we went for the Whale Shark tour, and as luck would have it, there was a tour the very next day.
We would be picked up at our overnight campsite, and taken to where the boat was moored on the Western coast of the peninsula.
From there we’d go out onto the inner reef to snorkel, and then onto the outer reef, where hopefully we’d be able to swim with the Whale Sharks.
Annabel Snorkelling On The Ningaloo Reef
We drove from Exmouth out to the Ningaloo Lighthouse caravan park and found our spot.
Later that day we drove down the coast to some lovely beaches, where we could actually swim out onto the reef, and see lots of beautiful fish swimming around us.
The beaches in the area are breathtakingly gorgeous with white sand and turquoise waters.
It was going to be an early start the next day, but we were excited and apprehensive at the same time.
We’re not brilliant swimmers and we’d never snorkelled out into very deep water, so it was a bit scary.
At 7 am the next morning, an old fashioned bus pulled up outside our campsite and a woman named Sasha from Kings tours invited us onboard.
There were about fifteen other people on the bus, as we drove South toward the marina.
It was quite a drive, but Sasha introduced herself and gave us the lowdown on the area and the marine life on the Ningaloo Reef.
The bus pulled to a halt in a small parking area and we made our way down to the small jetty which jutted out into the blue water of the Indian Ocean.
Our boat Magellan was moored in deeper water, so a smaller launch came and got us from the jetty.
The blue of the sea water here is amazing and something we’d only ever seen in pictures.
Our turn came to board the launch, and we slowly made our way out the Magellan.
The Magellan is a 20-meter long cruiser and one of the best and biggest charter boats in the area.
Our launch positioned itself at the back of the boat, as we stepped out onto the diving platform.
Once we were all aboard, the Magellan’s captain took her out of the bay and into the open waters.
The Launch Out To The Magellan
Sasha is a marine biologist and gave us the lowdown on what to expect from the day, safety procedures and everything else we needed to know.
There was a crew of four who seemed to be very efficient in their roles.
Our first stop would be an area of the reef in quite shallow waters, where we would get our first taste of what was in store.
It was also a chance for us to get used to our gear and entering and exiting the water, before the big event later on in the day.
The crew handed us stinger suits because there were some nasty stinging jellyfish in the ocean.
The suits are just like regular wet suites but had short sleeves and legs.
We got into our snorkel gear and flippers and prepared to enter the water from the back of the boat.
Being that we’re not strong swimmers, we chose to use noodles to help with our buoyancy.
It was pretty scary jumping in the water from the platform but once we were in, it was magical.
Shasha took Annabel under her wing and helped her once they were in the water, staying with her and pointing out everything of interest in the ocean that they could see.
Below us, the ocean was alive with all sorts of coloured fish, giant sea clams, starfish and lots of other marine life.
The water was quite choppy, so it took a lot of getting used to the conditions as we weren’t used to swimming in the ocean.
We marvelled at the spectacle below us.
After what seemed like minutes but in reality was probably half an hour or more, we were asked to get back on the boat.
Reluctantly we pulled ourselves up onto the diving platform ( which was no easy feat ).
Preparing To Jump Into The Indian Ocean
Now we had to go out into the deeper ocean where the Whale Sharks would hopefully be feeding.
The tours use a spotter plane that’s flying high above to spot whales and their position and radio back the information to the boats below.
But first, we had to make our way out through a gap in the reef to deeper waters.
The swell got bigger as we made our way out.
Sue and Annabel are a bit susceptible to travel sickness, so this didn’t help them as the boat pitched and rolled.
By the time we’d gotten out to deeper waters, they both felt very ill and poor Annabel was sick several times.
The crew gave Annabel some fresh ginger but it didn’t seem to help at all.
Lunch On Board The Magellan
As quick as a flash a Whale shark had been spotted close by.
There is a very strict protocol for tours to follow when they spot Whales.
Unlike some other situations we’ve seen, there are only a small number of boats allowed to be in the vicinity of the Whale, and they have to be a certain distance apart from one another.
I think we only saw one other boat on our trip.
Our boat positioned itself in the Whales path, and then only ten people were allowed in the water at one time.
They then swam with the whale before giving way to another group
It’s a very respective system and seems to work really well.
If there is more than one boat, they must keep their distance from one another, and take turns at viewing the Whale Shark.
Everything happens so fast.
Once a whale is spotted you have to be at the back of the boat and ready to jump in.
Not being a strong swimmer meant that I swam slowly, only catching glimpses of the Whale Shark before it disappeared into the distance.
Waiting For A Whale Shark Sighting
The thing is that every time I swam I got more and more tired.
Sue wasn’t keen on going in, plus Annabel was very sick.
I think I jumped in about five or six different occasions with different Whales, but it got very tiring.
Once you stop swimming with the Whale, you have to wait for the boat to come and collect you, and one time we had to tread water for a very long time as the boat had to circle back for some other swimmers.
Even though there were a group of us it felt very isolated there in the middle of the ocean treading water and got even scarier when stinging jellyfish started swimming toward us.
Luckily, somehow we all managed to not get stung by moving out of the way.
The boat appeared and we swam thankfully toward it, relieved.
Annabel didn’t want to swim as she felt so ill, but Sasha spoke to her.
She told Annabel that if she didn’t swim with the whale sharks she would regret her decision
With determination, both Annabel and Sue ( who was ill too ) decided to go in and were pleased with their decision. because they both had an amazing experience of seeing a Whale Shark up close.
Sasha was a very strong swimmer and as she knew the movements of the Whales really well, so she was able to assist both Sue and Annabel into a front row position.
Sasha, The Marine Biologist
My last swim of the day was totally amazing.
I jumped in and luckily this time the Whale was swimming right towards us, so I didn’t have to do too much but wait.
It was out of this world to see it up close, as it swam to one side of us.
I swan to keep up with it but they are such powerful creatures, it just glided off into the distance.
It was a magical experience and one we’ll never forget.
Getting Up Close And Personal With A Whale Shark
The crew prepared a delicious lunch for us that we were ravenous for, after all the swimming.
Unfortunately, Annabel couldn’t keep any down, but they made up a packed lunch to take away for her to eat later.
As we sailed along we saw a tiger shark from the boat, swimming just below the surface as well as sea turtles.
We followed the reef and the captain spotted two Humpback Whales that he tracked for some distance.
What a sight to see these two beautiful creatures surfacing and diving alongside our boat.
All too soon we were back in the bay and the end to a very special day.
But there was one more surprise.
The crew of the boat award a King or Queen of the day crown to whoever they think deserves it, and with Annabel being so ill but still going in to see the Whales, they decided she should get the crown.
Annabel, Queen Of The Day
Oh, what can we say?
We were totally blown away by the whole experience of swimming with Whale Sharks.
The Kings crew were brilliant especially with Annabel, who they supported to get the best possible experience she could have.
They went above and beyond their duties and really cared for her.
We loved that Kings are very ethical, ECO certified and take Eco Tourism very seriously.
There are too many places in the world where encounters with wildlife are out of hand and subject to mass tourism, so it was very refreshing to have a different experience for once.
An experience where the wellbeing of the wildlife comes before the wants of the tourist.
The Nitty Gritty
Kings Tours is based in Exmouth, Western Australia.
They have offices in town and you can view their website here
We stayed at the Ningaloo Lighthouse Caravan Park overnight ( Kings came and picked us up )