Coral Bay or Exmouth?

Swimming with a manta ray in the Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia

Swimming with a manta ray in the Ningaloo Marine Park

Which is the Better Base for a Ningaloo Holiday – Coral Bay or Exmouth?

Kylie from Victoria wrote in with the question of whether to base herself in Coral Bay or Exmouth for her Ningaloo trip.


I’m wondering if you think it’s best to stay at Coral Bay or Exmouth. I want to swim with the Whale Sharks and the Mantra Rays. So which location would be best for each. (I can spend some time at each please if necessary, but would like to know which activity goes with which location). Also if you can please advise any other activities you recommend.



Hello Kylie,

Thanks for getting in contact. I think I can help you make this decision, but it depends on a few different factors… Firstly, what time of year are you planning to head up to Ningaloo and how long will you be there? Will you have a car to drive?

If you’re up at Ningaloo for a week or more, and will have your own car or a hire car, then I’d recommend spending 2 days to do the manta ray and whale shark tours from either town, with 2 or more days relaxing and snorkelling at Coral Bay another 2 or more days in Exmouth and exploring the Cape Range National Park. Spend half a day in between Exmouth and Coral Bay to see Charles Knife Gorge and Shotover Canyon.

Any less than a week, and you’re better off choosing one town or the other and really just making the most of being there.

If you don’t have a car to drive, then you’ll enjoy Coral Bay way more than Exmouth. In Coral Bay there’s enough to see and do for a week or more just within walking distance, and the beach is just a two minute’s walk from anywhere in town. Exmouth on the otherhand is a big town and the main reason
for staying there is to explore the Cape Range NP, for which you need a car (or spend $$$ on lots of tours).

On the otherhand, if you do have a car and enjoy venturing somewhere new each day, or bush camping, then you’ll love visiting the beautiful beaches, gorges and camp sites of Cape Range NP (out of Exmouth).

And basing your choice of town depending on whale sharks and manta rays:

This depends so much on the time of year you’ll be visiting!

The manta ray tours run year round out of Coral Bay with an excellent success rate, but from Exmouth they only operate between May and November.

As for the whale sharks, they arrive shortly after the mass coral spawning – usually the second half of March or the beginning of April – and stick around until June or July. Whale shark tours operate out of both Exmouth and Coral Bay for the duration of their stay in the waters off Ningaloo.

Both towns offer excellent tours. Exmouth has a lot more tour companies to choose from, but boat trips out of Coral Bay usually (but not always) take less time to reach the area where whale sharks are visiting the surface.

You might like to check out this section of my website if you haven’t seen it already: Whale Sharks

I’ve only swum with the whale sharks once, and went with the Coral Bay dive shop. I had a great time and would recommend them, but can’t comment on any of the Exmouth tour operators.

So in short, Coral Bay will be your best option if your plan is to visit Ningaloo between December and April and you want to see the manta rays.

Between May and November, both tours are possible out of either Exmouth or Coral Bay.

This page has more detailed info about when/where you’re most likely to see the Ningaloo wildlife: Ningaloo Wildlife Calendar and Facts

I hope this info will help you make up your mind. Have a nice day!

Do you have anything to add to this answer? Please leave a comment if you do.

Last Updated: 23rd November, 2014.

First posted on 17th October, 2013 by Bonny.

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About the Author


Bonny is the founder and writer/photographer for Wild Western Australia. As much as she loves travelling elsewhere in Australia and around the world, she is always happy to come home to Perth and never gets tired of exploring the towns, beaches, forests and outback of Western Australia. Google+.