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Ningaloo Reef - Whale Sharks and Humpbacks

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Ningaloo Reef - Whale Sharks and Humpbacks

When Is the Best Time 

Ningaloo Reef is most famous for swimming with whale sharks and manta rays. Since 2016 humpback whale tours are also offered. April, July, and late September are the busiest months because of Australian holidays. Continue reading to figure out the best time for your visit to Exmouth.

Seasons | Whale Sharks - Humpback Whales - Manta Rays

The more than 260 km long Ningaloo Reef is an excellent destination for whale sharks and whale interactions. The season starts late March and lasts until October. You always wanted to snorkel with a whale shark, seeing it close and passing by? Then April until July is your preferred time to travel to Exmouth. Coming up close to humpbacks even with a calf August to September are the best months for interactions.

Whale Sharks

Whale Shark

They arrive around mid-March depending on the full moon and stay for feeding until July and some until August. There are even sightings in September and October possible, but it's not any longer guaranteed. The highest chance for interactions and swimming with them is from April to July. The whale sharks are annually close to the reef at this time of the year. The water temperature is pleasant after the summer heat.  The reason for the whale sharks coming to Ningaloo is the release of millions of eggs and sperm by the corals, which always happens roughly a  week after the full moon in March. Masses of krill are swarming to feed on the spawn that provides a feast for the whale sharks. 200 to 400 whale sharks come for feeding to the reef each year. Whereas 2019 was different; very few sightings already in August.

Humpback Whales

Humpback mother and calf

Tours are offered from August to October. One of the largest population migrates from the feeding grounds in Antarctica to their calving grounds in the Kimberley region. Safety always first, but if it is possible, you may experience a truly unique interaction with these magnificent whales. We booked the humpback tour for two days in September, and both days were exceptional. This massive big whales came up close, just below and watching us. One circled us twice; These were the best whale trips we ever did in our entire life. Humpbacks are peaceful, curious, and often coming up close. The water temp was really cold in the deep sea below 20°C.

Usually, the very best month of the year is August, where you may spot whale sharks and humpbacks as well. However, 2019 was different at Ningaloo. There were just two sightings of whale sharks in the first three weeks.

Manta Rays 

Manta Ray close to our guided humpback whale tour

They are always present at the reef but in abundance from May to September. Only view tours are offered to swim with Manta Rays. Usually, Eco Tours are available in August and September to swim with whale sharks when they are still around. I addition you get the chance to swim and snorkel with the rays. We spotted several close to our boat, and one was jumping next to the vessel.

Avoiding Crowds

Ningaloo - empty beach during the shoulder season

It's quiet in March and again in May and June. Try to avoid April, especially if you don't like masses of tourists. It gets busy again in July and becomes quieter at the end of July. If you plan to visit in April or July book the tours and accommodation far in advance. Tours are usually fully booked for weeks. There are limited hotels in Exmouth and prices are at the highest in the peak season. Weekends are more crowded. August until mid-September is quieter until the spring break in late September.

Weather

Ningaloo during the end of the rainy season

The region of Western Australia has a tropical-hot-desert climate. In autumn and winter from April to September with pleasant temperatures around 25° C and cold night temps between 11 to 13°C on average. This causes an average water temp of about 22°C in the shallow sea. Overall after the "winter", the sea temp is chilly. A wetsuit is essential for snorkelling.  It's hot during the summer; expect a daily temp of 35 to 38°C, and the water temperature is around 26°C and higher. It doesn't rain much here; less than 30 days of precipitation with the highest chance for thunderstorms from January to April. Fewer clouds from August to December. Cyclones can occur and are more likely to happen from January to March. In March 2015 Exmouth was hit by the severe cyclone Olwyn. At the end of April 2014; record-breaking heavy rainfall caused flash floods.

Top Accommodations and Camping in Exmouth

Most visitors stay in Exmouth for two or three nights maximum. This is pretty short for all the opportunities in the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef. We hiked through the Mandu Mandu Gorge and spotted a black-footed rock wallaby. Snorkelling at Oyster Stacks close to the shore shouldn't be missed. Therefore we recommend staying here at least four nights. Due to limited hotel opportunities in Exmouth, pre-booking is advisable. Usually, more than 90 % is booked in advance. Our top accommodations in Exmouth:

Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort

Mantaray Ningaloo Beach Resort

It’s a lovely hotel with a sensational restaurant. Getting quality food in Exmouth is not easy, but this kitchen is outstanding. The staff is attentive, and on top, you have free access to the laundry facilities. The pool is overlooking the ocean. You may even spot humpbacks from here or chose a room with an ocean view and enjoy the scenery from your balcony.

Exmouth Escape Resort

Escape Resort in Exmouth

The Resort is located a 15 minutes stroll outside of the town centre. The spacious apartments are spotlessly clean; very well equipped even with a washing machine. The large swimming pool is utterly amazing. The Whalers Restaurant is pretty popular for its sumptuous meals. If you don't stay here make a reservation for dinner and call 9949 2416
 

Sal Salis - Our Pure Luxury Tip

Sal Salis - Ningaloo with beach in front of the luxury tents

The exclusive eco safari tents are fantastically located next to the white sandy beach and the Ningaloo Reef. Enjoy kayaking and snorkelling directly in front of your tent. The outdoor dinner under the amazing night sky is top-notch. Kangaroos and wallabies are grazing around the tents in the evening. It's an hour away from Exmouth located in the Cape Range National Park. Very view places in the world offer such an outstanding location. The peak season is always fully booked many months in advance.

RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park - Our Budget Tip

RAC Exmouth - cabins and camping

For those who are looking for budget accommodation, the RAC offers cabins, double rooms, and dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. The cabins are well equipped and clean. Many campervans come here, but the space for unpowered tent sites is poor. There are plenty of camp kitchens, facilities, and laundries around the huge Holiday Park. Yoga classes are offered next to the swimming pool. If you are seeking a quiet place for camping the Manta Way and the Marlin Stretch are best. Map RAC Holiday Park

Discover 
Ocean Life
AU
Where  
Australia, Exmouth
Review and Tips 

We spent a couple of days in Exmouth for swimming with a whale shark, to snorkel at Ningaloo, and to explore the Cape Range National Park in 2015. When we figured out humpback whale interactions, not just whale watching is offered here in Exmouth now; we came here again in September 2019.

Whale Shark at Ningaloo Reef

We booked our whale shark tour far in advance. Usually, the guided interactions with the whale sharks and humpbacks as well are fully booked for days and in the peak season for weeks. We came here at the end of the rainy season and clouds and rain were predicted at the end of March. Luckily, it cleared up and became sunny. It was a well organized and professional trip. Lunch was included, and even sunscreen was provided. The crew did a great, fantastic job. First, we went snorkelling at the Ningaloo Reef for those who need to get familiar with the snorkel gear.

Sting Ray at Ningaloo Reef

Most of the tour operators have their own plane to spot whale sharks, manta rays, and humpback whales. If they are around, they let the boats know. We went in five times to swim with "our" young whale shark. We were pretty exhausted afterwards and gladded about the offered lunch. 

Quick Facts about Whale Sharks
  • Whale sharks found in warm tropical oceans.
  • It’s the largest fish and a filter feeder like the basking shark the second largest fish.
  • Reaching lengths of 12 meters.
  • They can get more than 70 years old, some even up to 100.
  • Whale sharks dive more than 1000 meters deep.
     

Snorkeling father and child with a whale shark at Ningaloo
Father and his young daughter are snorkelling with the whale shark

 

Regarding the tours, an awesome experience is definitely: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive - Ningaloo Reef (Thanks for providing the stunning photos!). 

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Comments

Jul 17, 2015

This looks fantastic!! Really only from March to August?

Jul 29, 2015

Of course you might see whale sharks in August, too. The chance is not as high and if there wasn't any sighting the days before they cancel the trip.

Sep 01, 2015

Ningaloo Reef, still on my list !

Sep 05, 2015

Stefan, you would like it. We were there at the end of March. Even while snorkeling we discovered several green turtles. Another great spot for diving are the Muiron Islands. Only one company offers this trip but not each day. I recommend to stay in Exmouth minimum for 5 days. Also the Cape Range National Park is worth a visit.

Jan 25, 2017

This experience was mind-blowing. We did this trip last year when it was sunny. A ranger at the Cape Range N.P. told us we should avoid overcast days. She mentioned sharks are more active on these days.

Sep 19, 2019

Swimming with the humpbacks was sooo awesome. An experience you will never forget. The whales came so close; just swimming underneath. Be prepared; the sea is pretty cold. We got a neoprene borrowed, but it wasn't enough. Just two groups of seven people are allowed to swim with humpbacks. The boats are quite big for just 14 people.