Travel & Expat Blog

Australia/Destinations

Epic Perth to Exmouth Road Trip Itinerary (2024)

I moved to Geraldton a few years ago and set up a holiday stay (clocking 75’000km on the car in the process!) so I’ve come to know the Coral Coast like the back of my hand. This Perth to Exmouth road trip itinerary is a selection of my favourite things to see and do that I think will offer you the most memorable experiences. These highlights are what I recommended to guests and come with local insider knowledge. ❤️

The drive from Perth to Exmouth has become one of Western Australia’s quintessential road trips. The first time I drove up north I remember being blown away by the stunning seascapes, landscapes and rich marine life. I’ve driven around most of Australia and haven’t seen anywhere quite like it before.

It’s peppered with laid-back coastal towns, incredible beaches and unique experiences, like swimming with manta rays and whale sharks and walking through Australia’s version of The Grand Canyon.

As 91% of WA’s population lives in the Southwest, the north is a quieter drive and towns are spaced further apart, which means that taking a road trip is the best way to see all the highlights.

Stunning Bill's Bay Beach in Coral Bay

What can I expect?

The drive from Perth to Exmouth takes you along the scenic Coral Coast, which starts two hours north of Perth in Cervantes and extends 1,100 km to Exxy. Until I moved to WA, I’d never encountered so much remote, untouched wilderness. You can drive for hours sometimes without passing a settlement bigger than a few hundred, with endless open plains over the horizon. But that’s a part of its charm.

Most regional spots on this drive emerged from crayfishing and they’re sleepy towns where residents enjoy the simple life. They’re nowhere near as busy as places like Gold Coast or Byron on the East Coast, and one thing I enjoyed about living here was the tranquility and freedom; you’re bound to find some of that on this trip too.

Map of towns, villages and cities in Western Australia with their population // Travel Mermaid

Highlights include snorkelling the Ningaloo Reef (possibly with the Big 3!), visiting Kalbarri National Park – which has been compared to The Grand Canyon, swimming with sea lions, bush-walking to see some of the world’s most diverse array of wildflowers (seasonal), watching dolphins at Monkey Mia, quad biking the sand dunes, visiting the Abrolhos Islands, and so much more. 

A special shout-out should also go to astro-encounters. As the Mid-West isn’t as developed as the South, you should see some of the brightest starry nights on this trip. We had guests stay with us for meteor showers—watching the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds on a clear night is mesmerising, so binoculars are handy!

Observing wildflowers in Coalseam Conservation Park, Western Australia

Aerial drone shot overlooking The Glass House WA, the sand dunes and a sunset in Western Australia
Above: wildflowers at Coalseum Conservation Park near Geraldton; Below: My former Airbnb

Seasonal Considerations

The weather in Mid-West WA is best described as being somewhere between the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Having lived there for two years, I can tell you that each season has perks and considerations, depending on what activities you’re planning.

Summer – December to February

Summer days are usually stinking hot and windy but with perfectly warm ocean temperatures. Heat waves come every couple of weeks and range between 40 and 50 degrees, which can be quite overwhelming. It’s all about beach days, wind sports, and anything that revolves around water. It’s honestly too hot to do anything else at this time of year, so forget about planning any long walks or inland adventures (typically, temperatures increase about 1 degree per kilometre as you drive inland).

If you’re a kitesurfer or windsurfer, summer and its shoulder months are the best time to harness the wind. The Coral Coast is Australia’s wind sports capital and has endless spots to rig up and ride – here’s an article I wrote on Kiterr which highlights the best spots.

My Airbnb booked out almost a year in advance during the Christmas holidays, so booking stays as early as possible is essential if you plan on going between mid-December and the end of January.

A kayaker paddling by dolphins at Monkey Mia

Autumn – March to May

Autumn is one of my favourite seasons as temperatures move to a pleasant 30 or so degrees and the wind begins to subside. There’s a lot more you can do outdoors this season, with plenty of beach days on the cards. Accommodation is also more affordable and readily available, except for Easter which will be busy.

Winter – June to August

Despite being a summer girl and living in the tropics for years, winter became my favourite season in Mid-West WA – the days are still warm (around the low 20s), and bush flies don’t bug you as much, meaning there’s more time to enjoy walks and hikes to explore National Parks and wildflowers. This season is a little wetter, but it doesn’t rain much here, unlike the East Coast. This is the season to spot migrating humpback whales or swim with majestic whale sharks in Coral Bay. You will also get the best value on stays as it’s when most Perthlings go to Bali (also known as Perth’s most northern suburb!).

Spring – September to November

Spring is another great period to do this trip, with many blue-skied days and good value on accommodation.

Entertainers at The Shore Leave Festival in Geraldton

A plate of BBQ crayfish from the Shore Leave Festival in Geraldton
Above: entertainers at The Shore Leave Festival in Geraldton; Below: back-of-boat Lobster BBQ

Perth to Exmouth Road Trip ~ 1’250 km (13 hours)


I‘ve given ideas for potential overnight stops with things to do in between and places to eat, but you can easily tailor this itinerary to your needs and interests. The legs below are purposefully shorter to include enough time for exploring in between. If your daily drive exceeds 4 hours, then there won’t really be much time to do anything else.

The ideal timeframe for this Perth to Exmouth road trip would be 10 days to 2 weeks. If you haven’t been before, I recommend not skipping stopovers in Kalbarri, Shark Bay, and Coral Bay or Exmouth for the Ningaloo Reef.

Trip Map

To make things easier, I’ve added all the recommendations in this post to the map below 👇 so you can use it on the road. There’s also additional stops that I just didn’t have space to write about in this article! Hit the top right icon (that looks like a square), and it’ll open up on your phone in Google Maps.


Leg 1 // Perth to Jurien Bay

220kms / 2h20 hours (approx.)
Highlights: Lancelin, Wedge Island, The Pinnacles Desert, The Lobster Shack, swimming with “puppies of the sea”

There are no big supermarkets for the next 400km between Perth and Geraldton, only smaller IGA’s and local stores, which can get quite expensive. Better to stock up on supplies in Perth if you can and bring it up in an esky. The IGA and bottle shop in Dongara is the best one in between if you need it.

From Perth, there are two highways up the coast—the Brand Hwy- which is the inland route all truckies use; it’s marginally quicker and a little wider. However, I’ll guide you up the scenic Indian Ocean Drive, which passes through coastal towns between Perth and Dongara. It’s slightly narrower in some sections with fewer overtaking lanes, but it’s by far the more enjoyable route.

Lancelin

An easy hour up the coast is the stunning beachside town of Lancelin. It’s a popular weekend getaway for Perthians and so close to the city that it often feels like an extension of it. The beach here has almost-white sand, and behind it are impressively large sand dunes (which you can also surf down if that’s your jam!). There are plenty of accommodation options in Lancelin should you decide to spend a beach day here and bunker down for the night, otherwise chuck a left for a scenery pit-stop.

Wedge Island

Gorgeous Wedge Island beach in Western Australia

Western Australia is the complete antithesis of the East Coast, and Wedge Island is an example of why. Located only 51 km north of Lancelin, it’s home to Australia’s biggest shack community. Since the 50s, fishermen started coming here seasonally to make a living and rigged up shacks to live in temporarily, which later became permanent dwellings. While most have now been bought by city folks seeking an alternative lifestyle, technically, it’s still crown land that the council are keen to take back, and locals are petitioning for the community to remain. You certainly wouldn’t find anything like this 90 minutes up the coast from Sydney.

If you have time, Wedgie is a cool little stop and a quieter beach alternative near Lancelin. A couple of guests told me they went to see it and I was a bit confused as I thought it was actually an island! It is, in fact, the name of the small island opposite, but also the mainland area. The beach here is stunning- the sand is almost snow-like, and the ocean is calm. We saw a few happy campers perched on the sand for the weekend.

Note: The road down to Wedge Island is bitumen, but the last bit before the beach and to park up is sandy, so I wouldn’t come down in a 2WD unless you don’t mind a little walk. 

The Pinnacles Desert

Pointy limestone formations at The Pinnacles Desert in Cervantes, Western Australia

We visited The Pinncles on our very first Coral Coast road trip in 2021 and it’s a place I recommended that our guests see on their way up from Perth. It’s a huge desert filled with really cool and unique ancient limestone structures, formed by sea shells and shaped by the salty wind. It’s a great place to walk around for an hour and wonder how they came to be, but if you’re feeling lazy (or it’s shit hot!), you can also drive around via a 4.5km drive trail.

Note: there’s a $15 entry fee per vehicle, which contributes to park management.

The Lobster Shack, Cervantes

Lobster and chips from The Lobster Shack in Cervantes, Western Australia

The Western Rock Lobster 🦞, known locally as crayfish, is one of WA’s delicacies and despite being one of the biggest industries in many towns that you’ll pass, there are not many opportunities to eat one at a restaurant.

The Lobster Shack is the only dedicated lobster restaurant I’ve seen in Mid-West WA, and it’s a bit of an institution on the Coral Coast. The crays are sourced locally, so the meat couldn’t be fresher. They’re cooked in an unfussy way on a grill, shell-side down, then a lid goes on and they’re essentially steamed, and finally they’re topped with a drizzle of garlic butter. It’s sweet and succulent each time.

The Shack also offers many other seafood options like fish (‘n’ chips – which the Sailor always had), mussels, occy and for the more adventurous, abalone, or burgers if there’s that one person in your group who’s not into ocean proteins.

Note: their kitchen closes at 3 pm, and they get extremely popular on school holidays (my mates missed out a couple of times) so there may be a wait time, particularly on weekends. 

Lobster Factory Tour in Geraldton, Western Australia

Not of Spanish origins...
Visiting Cervantes, I was always intrigued as to how the town adopted its Spanish name. Despite sharing the surname of the famous writer who brought us Don Quixote – and having place names like Seville Street, Valencia Road, Iberia Street, Barcelona Way and Santander Way- it was actually named after an American whaling ship that wrecked off the Nambung coast in 1844. However, this little fact didn’t become known to the locals until after they’d already named half the town!

Swimming with puppies of the sea, Jurien Bay

Sea lions 🦭 are playful, curious, and undeniably cute, earning them the nickname puppies of the sea. Seriously, just look at those butter-wouldn’t-melt eyes! We had a couple of guests who told me about their experience swimming with sea lions, and their faces lit up with pure joy as they told me about their interactions.

Two cute sea lions on a tour with Jurien Bay Oceanic Experience in Western Australia
Photo by // Jurien Bay Oceanic Experience

Sea lions inhabit several islands in Jurien Bay Marine Park, which are accessible within a half-hour boat ride. A few operators offer sea lion tours here, but I’d recommend Jurien Bay Oceanic Experience, which is eco-accredited and well-reviewed. As such, they respect the sea lions’ habitat and don’t allow forced interactions, only authentic ones, should the lions choose to get close.

If you don’t want to get your hair wet or have mobility issues, tours are available for non-swimmers as well as snorkelers and typically last for 2 hours.

Accommodation in Cervantes and Jurien Bay: Combined, there are a few places to stay in both towns (they’re only 15 mins away from each other).
Cervantes Lodge would be my top pick. It’s owned and run by The Lobster Shack. Their refurbished rooms, which range from $150 to $190 per night, are modern with a warm coastal style.
Jurien Bay Apartments – also seem comfy and good value for money, positioned just 2 minutes from the beach, from $163.
Hill River Nature Reserve – a good option for something more private and secluded. It’s a tiny home perched on a 6-acre block and offers a bush experience under the stars, from $270 per night.

Where to eat🍴:
Pickings for dinner are more on the local side. We’ve eaten at Cervantes Bar & Bistro before which serves generous pub grub, otherwise, I’d consider The Oneh in Jurien for Asian/Vietnamese & cocktails. This could also be the night you cook up food you brought up from Perth, or whip out a light grazing platter if you feasted at The Lobster Shack earlier! I’d also recommend stopping for a schooner at Kakka Alley Brewing microbrewery up the road.

Leg 2 // Jurien Bay to Geraldton

230kms / 2h30 hours (approx.)
Highlights: Lesueur National Park, Dongara, rum distillery, leaning trees, Abrolhos Islands

Lesueur National Park 🌼

Beautiful native rose cone flower near Geraldton in Western Australia

When we ran The Glass House WA, two Scottish botanists stayed for a week. They worked at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and were holidaying in the Midwest to view the wildflowers that sprout in abundance during winter. With over 12’000 species of blooms in WA, the variety here is a botanist’s Christmas, displaying one of the largest collections in the world. We spoke for ages about wildflower hotspots we’d visited – I shared trails near Geraldton, and they told me about the really long walks they did at Lesueur National Park (over 25k!).

The Wildflower State puts on its colourful show from July, usually peaking around August to mid-September in the Midwest after a good dumping of rain (the wetter, the better). If you’re here around that time, there are many walks in Lesueur ranging from easy 1.8k to more committed 26k hikes- but you can also drive around the park, which should be easily navigated by an SUV. However, if you’re looking for one that’s not too long and offers the best value for your commitment, I’d recommend:

The Lesueur Trail ~ an easy/moderate 3.5 km return walk with views of the Indian Ocean at the summit. The starting point is by the Loop Walk. (Note: there’s a $17 entry fee per vehicle to access Lesueur National Park.)

For more wildflower 🌼 juice in the Midwest, check out the Trip Map where I’ve marked my favourite spots at Depot Hill, Coalseam Conservation Park and Kalbarri.

Dongara / Port Denison

A drone shot of South Beach, Port Denison

Locally pronounced ‘Dongra‘ – and its neighbour Port Denison are just next to each other at the tip of the Turquoise Coast, but for out-of-towners, the area is simply referred to as Dongara.

This sleepy and cute beach town attracts many families looking for a low-key, relaxing holiday to beach hang, fish or take the tinny out. There are some cute cafes and shops if you’re passing through, as well as an award-winning rum distillery.

As you drive in, head to stunning South Beach in Port Denison and grab lunch from Sea Folk Co, perched just next to the beach. Or if you’ve got a car with decent enough tyers (we’ve got a Jeep Cherokee 4×4) then you can drive on the sand here to enjoy your tucker or have a lazy beach day (the sand is pretty packed). Note that this beach gets properly windy in the summer months.

Otherwise, Poppies in the Park cafe serves great coffee and toasties in a historic former church. There’s also a really cute boutique gift and homeware store around the corner called Tyford & Co.

Illegal Tender Rum Distillery

Dongara’s secret little gem is this rum distillery. They usually do 45-minute tours (except in the summer because it’s too hot and uncomfortable for tourists! Great for the rum though), which the Sailor and I enjoyed. While there’s not a huge amount to see, it’s interesting to find out about their distillation processes and story- from humble beginnings to being so busy they can just about keep up with demand. Codie and his crew are a small team and clearly passionate about their products, which are all of high quality. We enjoyed a bottle of their award-winning Distiller’s Cut at Christmas, but they also make a handcrafted Abrolhos Gin using local botanicals.

Even if they’re not offering a tour, you can still visit their cellar door, which is open most days until 5 p.m. (Sunday until 4 p.m.). However, check their social media before heading down as they’re pretty good at updating their page if they need to close.

A bottle of Distiller's Cut rum from Illegal Tender in Dongara

Greenough’s Biggest Celebrity

I lived in this remote farming village, population 344, for two lonely years. You’ll know when you arrive in Greenough because all the trees look like they’re doing the limbo! Leaning trees get their bend from the mighty southerly winds that pelt in for about six months of the year (peaking in summer) and all the salty air that comes along with it. You’ll pass the most iconic one on the highway and it’s worth a stop for a picture.

FYI, it’s pronounced “gren-oof” not green-o which is how I called it for a while!

Greenough Leaning Tree in Western Australia

Greenough has always been a wheat-growing region since its European inception in 1851, and the canola break crops that bloom each winter make the area look particularly pretty. Back in the 1860s it rapidly attracted a more fruitful population of 1’000, which saw many stone buildings erected and can still be viewed today. Chuck a left towards S-Bend Roadhouse and a short detour down Company Road will lead you to some of its crumbling historic buildings, which form part of the Greenough/Walkaway Heritage Trail. You’ll also pass the driveway of my former Airbnb (which I think the new owner has marked with tyres), and Greenough Wildlife Park – a cute little stop if you have kids in tow.

Canola fields next to to The Glass House estate in Greenough, Western Australia

Albrolhos Islands

There’s approximately 1,600 shipwrecks littered along the rugged WA coast, and those are only the ones that are known. The most famous one is the horrific story of the Batavia, which was the bloodiest mutiny in Australian maritime history that took place at the Abrolhos islands circa 1629, long before European settlement. While the story is fascinating and I’d recommend reading about it, the real reason to visit the islands is for its beauty and awesome snorkelling.

The Abrolhos comprise 122 islands, split into 3 groups – just 60km off the WA coast.

They’ve been likened to the Galapagos for their marine diversity. It’s home to green turtles, Aussie sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, migrating humpbacks (July to October), and the cute Tammar wallaby. It’s also an important breeding ground for a range of seabirds.

The ecosystem here is unique because of the south-flowing Leeuwin current, which makes the water nice and warm year-round. It’s a perfect habitat for tropical and temperate marine life.

Aerial shot of the stunning Abrolhos Islands near Geraldton in Western Australia

Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, none of the islands have hotels or accommodation for tourists (though they’re talking about putting in camping facilities). About 22 of them used to be a base for lobster fishermen since the 50’s and have shack communities, so the only way to stay over is if you know one of them!

The only downside to visiting the Abrolhos is accessibility. When I lived in Geraldton, a brilliant operator called Abrolhos Adventures used to provide affordable day trips to the island by ferry. However, sadly they closed down a few months before I left. Now the only way to get over is by a scenic flight or a 5-day cruise. Both will provide an unforgettable experience, but it’ll also be pricier. We had a few guests who took a flight over and had a brilliant time, I was envious when they showed me aerial photos which looked insane.

If you’re deciding whether it’s worth visiting the Abrolhos if you’re heading to Ningaloo Reef, then I’d say they definitely are, if you can afford it. The islands are more remote and secluded with different things to see. Your day trips from Ningaloo will still be a wonderful experience, and it’s the more cost-effective option, though it’ll be off the back of a boat all day and will probably be busier.

Geraldton is the closest launching pad to the Abrolhos (a distance of 60km). However, there is also a flight operator in Kalbarri (distance is about 90km). Here are my top picks for getting there :

~ Shine Aviation: Departs from Geraldton; these guys are really well-rated and offer a few different tours. I’d probably go for their full-day (6h) Fly & Flipper. It takes you to the Abrolhos on a small plane, and you can really make a day of it snorkelling and enjoying island time. They also offer a half-day option or just a scenic flyover if you don’t want to commit to a full day.

~ Eco Abrolhos: If time is on your side and you can afford a few days (and $$$$), then this live-aboard experience sounds truly epic. It’s run by a former crayfisherman, Jay Cox, who used to live on the islands so he knows them extremely well. This five-day cruise takes you to all three groups, where you’ll snorkel, catch and eat crayfish, visit historical sights, and just have an overall smashing time.

~ Nationwest Aviation: If Shine Aviation is booked out or you’d prefer to depart from Kalbarri, this operator offers a similar tour. (They do also have a base in Geraldton.)

Accommodation in Geraldton : 
Ecostays – perched near the beach on the dunes in Greenough, half hour from Geraldton. We stayed here when we first came to Gero. Expect a very basic, no-frills cabin, but the beauty here is the location which is really secluded and peaceful (it’s just around the corner from our old Airbnb). $140 per night.
The Gerald – if you want to be right in town, they’re the best hotel option in Gero and conveniently have a rooftop bar serving food, plus a bar downstairs. From $235 per night.
St Joans – a really cute, vintage Airbnb with lovely sea views, just outside the centre in Drummond Cove. $350 per night (2-night min).

Where to eat🍴:
  For brunch – hands down, Salt Dish (pictured) are the best modern eatery in Gero, open daily (bar Sunday, plus set menus for dinner on Fri & Sat). Quiet Life do the best coffee in town and delicious food. Burnt Barrel is a little out of town but does an awesome Texas BBQ (open Fri-Sun for lunch & dinner). For a grab-and-go option, hit up Banh Mi Up.
For din-dins, The Provincial (aka Prov) was always our go-to. It had banging Neapolitan pizzas, vibes, great drinks, and consistently good food.
Sunday – check out the Sunday Platform Markets, open until 12 pm – there’s great Malay eats from The Satay Man and Cocos Malay food from Ameenah’s, plus French crepes, Thai paw-paw salad & more.
Lunch at Salt Dish in Geraldton
Lunch at Salt Dish
Stock up before you leave Gero 🛒 ~ this is your last opportunity to pick up plentiful supplies at the supermarket until you reach Carnarvon, in about 500km (Shark Bay has a shop, but it’s expensive and limited). If you want super fresh local fish, lobster & seafood, head to Brolos Fresh by the fishing harbour; their produce comes straight off the boat into their shop. For top-quality meat that’s sourced directly from local farmers, head to Mick Davey Butchers on the high street. Geraldton also has two Woolies, a Coles and two really good IGA’s (Queens– great for fish, meat and local fruit & veg, and Rigters– has a good Asian section).

Leg 3 // Geraldton to Kalbarri

kms / h hours (approx.)
Highlights: Coronation Beach, Pink Lake, Kalbarri National Park 

Coronation Beach

Kitesurfers at Coronation Beach in Geraldton

Geraldton is known for its wind 💨. And not just the odd fart, I mean, it can get pretty bonkers! Which is why the West Coast is the wind sports capital of Australia. Kitesurfers (like us), and windsurfers flock here from all over the country and beyond to ride at this specific spot in WA and this beach becomes a spectacle in the summer months. Even if you’re not a kiter, it’s a good place to sit and watch the action.

Hutt Lagoon, Pink Lake

You think it's bad when birds shit on your car, then see this lake and it's like fuck me dead, flamingos have just ruined the place.
Anon (Reddit)

Walking out onto Hutt Lagoon, the pink lake near Kalbarri

When I first moved to Gero, a local who lives on a big estate near the lake (let’s call him Pete) told me that before Covid, heaps of Chinese tourists used to visit Hutt Lagoon by tour bus as it’s a lucky colour in their culture. Still, he otherwise couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about with the Pink Lake and told me it’s vastly overrated! At the time I thought he was just being a cynical old bloke, and I haven’t agreed with him on many things. But I have to admit, I also found it to be underwhelming!

Perhaps it’s because I came in the height of summer during a heatwave, when half of the lake had dried up and was more of a pinkish-tinge with slimy edges, than a metre-deep vibrant flamingo.

However, as you’re passing through anyway, you may as well stop by and take a gander. Some people love it, and perhaps you will too.

Note that the crystals at the bottom are extremely sharp, so it’s best not to take a dip.

Good to know
Just like flamingos 🦩 – who turn more flame-coloured from eating algae, Hutt Lagoon is also pink from the high levels of algae and salt. When exposed to sunlight, the algae produces beta carotene (the stuff that gives carrots and other veggies their colour).

Kalbarri National Park

The Sailor and I wearing netted hats at Kalbarri National Park

Similarly to Dongara, Kalbarri is yet another sleepy and scenic coastal town, gaining popularity as an alternative getaway from Perth. We’ve been here a few times for day trips and a weekender to enjoy beach time and bush walks, and it’s particularly pretty during wildflower season. The best way to see the blooms is simply pulling up the car when you spot some and taking a look!

I made the mistake of first visiting Kalbarri’s rocky National Park during a 50°C heatwave in January. I was covered in bush flies and my mouth was absolutely parched- it was like walking through an unbearable sauna! The area was about 10 degrees hotter than the coast, and we lasted about 5 minutes.

However, at other times of the year, it’s a delight to visit. It’s one of the few places in Mid-West WA that I’ve enjoyed a longer hike and there are many impressive viewpoints. You can also swim in the river if you wish, like our Scottish botanists did!

Views of the gorge and Murchison River at Kalbarri National Park

There are two viewpoints you have to see here – 1. Kalbarri Skywalk – an incredible lookout platform that suspends 100 metres over the gorge – the views here have been compared to The Grand Canyon. And a 5-minute drive away is Nature’s Window – a really cool viewpoint that looks out towards the Murchison River, through a huge wind-eroded opening in sandstone.

Indeed, both viewpoints alone are worth the visit. However, if you’re here during the cooler months, this National Park is a really awesome place to take a hike.

There’s a few trails on offer, but my top picks would be:

  1. Four Ways Trail – 5.8k, moderate: A local recommended doing this one. It’s an out-and-back walk leading you down an old creek bed to the bottom of the gorge, where you can have a refreshing swim.
  2. The Loop Trail – 9km, moderate: This was my favourite hike in the National Park. It was incredibly scenic and peaceful, and I haven’t done a walk anywhere like this in Australia- it felt like we were on an outback film set in the middle of nowhere! You can swim in the river here too, and we saw heaps of wildlife, from roos, goats and wallabies to a range of lizards and birds. The trail itself continues on from Nature’s Window and spurs down to the river. It’s easy to navigate, and there are markers along the way; just keep an eye out for them as you head around. The path is mainly over large rocks with some sandy terrain; the only more challenging section was one point when the path tightens near the river and you’ll need to use your hands and legs to get around- but don’t let that put you off; it’s fun to tackle.

Tip: take plenty of water, wear a hat and cream up as it’s exposed for most of the way. This walk is only suitable in the cooler months (May to Oct-ish); otherwise it’ll be like walking through a sauna for 2-3 hours.

Rocky hiking trail at Kalbarri National Park

Accommodation in Kalbarri: Kalbarri town is about a half-hour drive from the National Park. Here are my top picks for stays:
Sol’s Place – I wanted to book here a couple of times but missed out! If you can spare 3 nights in Kalbarri, Sol’s Place has stylish 2-bedroom boutique villas with a private pool for $310 per night.
Eight Knots – we stayed at this lovely Airbnb over Christmas. Very comfy and private with a central location, from $190 per night (2-night min).
Saltwater Chalet – a really cute and well-styled 2-bedroom Airbnb in the heart of town, from $180 per night (2-night min).
Glass Street Retreat – if you can only stay in Kalbarri for one night, this modern retreat is well-appointed with a garden, from $302 per night.

Where to eat🍴:
For coffee & a biteBean Drifting van serves great coffee and toasties before 11:30 am. They’re perched on the highway with ocean views 🌊 across from Jakes Point surf break.
For lunch & din-dinsFinlay’s is the best place to eat in town, set inside an airy vintage restaurant. They offer casual but tasty meals with local seafood and have a craft brewery too. OR on a weekend evening (5 – 7:30 pm) Wild Ocean food truck offers well-rated (and delicious looking) Indonesian cuisine, I was keen to try but they were closed over X-mas.

Leg 4 // Kalbarri to Shark Bay & Monkey Mia

375 kms / 3.5 hours (approx.)
Highlights: incredible landscapes & seascapes, Monkey Mia dolphins, holiday vibes, quad bike adventure

Drone shot of Monkey Mia beach in Western Australia

The road from Kalbarri to Shark Bay is the most remote you’ll encounter yet on the trip, with very few provisions in between. You’ll probably want to stop at Billabong Roadhouse along the way to refuel, then the landscape starts morphing into somewhere that looks like a mix between the Middle East and the moon. (Just be careful overtaking on these roads- they’re very long and straight but not completely level. At speed it may not look like there are oncoming cars when in fact, there are).

The Shark Bay region is the sticky-outy bit between Dirk Hartog Island and the mainland coast. It’s got some of the most stunning landscapes and seascapes I’ve seen in WA—from the twirling sandbars to the gorgeous greeny-bluey hues of the ocean and the reddest earth. Honestly, the whole coastline is one big melting moment. I’d recommend 2-3 nights here if you can spare the time.

The red sand at Monkey Mia resort

An emu at Monkey Mia RAC resort

As you come up the peninsula, make a quick stop at melt number 1: Whale Bone Point Lookout just off the main road.

Then about 20 mins (or 28k) further up is Ocean Park Aquarium – the beach here is melt number 2. I’ve heard from the locals that the restaurant does some of the better food in Shark Bay if you’re hungry (this isn’t a foodie destination though, so don’t expect too much). Entry to the Aquarium itself is $34 per adult and $26 per child. I think it would be interesting for the kids as an educational experience if you can afford it, but otherwise, there’s enough marine life to observe from the waters in Shark Bay.

Drive for another 10 minutes, and you’ll reach Shark Bay’s main town, Denham. It’s located on the west side of the peninsula, and on the opposite side is Monkey Mia.

Driving Safe
There’s a lot of wildlife around Shark Bay- from emus to echidnas and roos- the latter two are more active at dawn and dusk. I’d recommend getting to your accommodation before 5 pm and being cautious if you need to drive in the evening- the roos really aren’t road savvy after dark and the last thing you want is one through your windscreen. We had a couple of hairy moments at night in Greenough. 🫣
A gorgeous sandbar in the shallows at Sorka's Point in Shark Bay
Whale Bone Point Lookout – if you have a 4×4 you can drive down, and if the wind is up, get the kite out!

Monkey Mia

I’ve stayed in both Monkey Mia and Denham on separate holidays and if it’s your first time here, I’d 100% recommend staying in 🐒 Mia for a few reasons.

  1. It’s a flop-and-drop holiday and there’s just one resort, which is beachfront, and the place gives you big vacation vibes. Win.
  2. Dolphins frequently swim up and down the shallows here, and you can watch them from the beach or your beachfront balcony. Win win.
  3. The beach is awesome for swimming and kayaking. Melt 3.
  4. The resort restaurant & bar is really good and offers the best food in Shark Bay, IMHO. Winner winner, chicken dinner – AND a margarita. Yeehah!

Dolphins swimming in the ocean at Monkey Mia

The marine life in Monkey Mia is pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen so much just from the beach before. In the shallows around the sandbars, we saw huge stingrays and schools of fish hanging out, in front of the resort we spotted turtles 🐢 and watched the dolphins swim for hours up and down the shoreline, weaving in between swimmers and kayakers.

Each morning, the resort offers dolphin feedings from 7:30 if you’re good at getting out early (I wasn’t!). They’re quite strict about people not touching the dolphins or getting too close to them in the water throughout the day. During the busier months, a member of staff patrols the beach and tells swimmers to back off or to leave the water.

⁠⁠There are also dugongs around Shark Bay (nicknamed sea cows), but they’re usually spotted further out amongst the seagrass. A Catamaran Cruise departs daily from Monkey Mia as a marine life tour and they have access to the Dugong Exclusion Zone; the season to see them is August to May. It’s a very well-rated experience and visitors say it was a highlight of their trip.

Note: as it’s a conservation park, even if you’re staying at the resort there’s a fee to visit Monkey Mia ($15 per adult/ $5 per child), payable upon entry, and other National Park passes aren’t valid here.

Emus at Monkey Mia RAC resort

Quad Bike Tour

This was another highlight of our time in Shark Bay. It was such a fun land-based experience that the Sailor and I were buzzing afterwards. The sand dunes are just begging for a quad bike adventure, and there are many awesome scenic viewpoints that would otherwise be difficult to access. Plus, you don’t get bugged by bush flies (unless you stop) as you’re whizzing around!

We booked the sunset tour, which I think is the better option in summer as there’s a bit of respite from the sun and the southerly winds will cool you down. Our guide Laurie took us around the beautiful Little Lagoon (which you probably passed a couple of times in the car, pictures below), and then to a couple of inland spots before skimming the coast.

For more info, check out their website. I booked by calling the Shark Bay Discovery Centre (+61 (0) 899 481 590), or you can call Laurie directly, (+61 (0) 429 110 105).

Scenic quad bike tour in Shark Bay

Little Lagoon in Shark Bay

Accommodation in Monkey Mia & Denham:
Monkey Mia RAC Resort
– we booked the Beach View Room, which is a good affordable option at $275 per night (2-night min). At times it got a bit noisy from neighbours, but the balcony is made private from adjoining rooms and you have the luxury of watching dolphins from your bed. The Superior Beach View Room would be a nice little upgrade for $435 per night and has BBQ facilities. If you’re a larger group, the 2-bedroom Beachfront Villas we saw looked gorgeous, at $650 per night.
Wildsight Villas – for an option in Denham, these 2-bedroom villas look comfy and are perched a stone’s throw away from the waterfront and main strip, from $229 per night. The company that owns these villas also run tours which one of our guests recommended.

Where to eat🍴: Monkey Mia Resort’s Boughshed Restaurant offers the best food in Shark Bay for lunch and dinner, even when we stayed in Denham we drove here to eat. Shark Bay Hotel does decent enough pub grub if you’re eating in Denham for 1-night.


Leg 5 // Monkey Mia to Coral Bay

555 kms / 5h 40 (approx.)
Highlights: Ningaloo Reef! 🪸

The stretch of road from Monkey Mia to Coral Bay is even more remote and barren. Along the way is Carnarvon, which is a good stop to stock up on supplies if needed (there’s a Woolies here) and maybe get a quick bite to eat. We stopped at a cute shack called 6701 Waterfront Cafe which had surprisingly tasty food and healthy options. They source ingredients locally and use coffee from Ningaloo Roast (we used to stock it in our guesthouse).

Standing next to a huge termite nest in Western Australia
There are some seriously huge termite nests by the side of the road!

Coral Bay

I first read about Coral Bay in an article by travel blogger Nomadic Matt a few years before I moved to WA. It sounded like a quiet idyllic paradise in the middle of nowhere. In part that’s still true. It’s still as remote as it comes, with one road in and out, and one beach.

There’s not a township as such in the bay, it’s literally a small village made for tourism with a handful of eateries, holiday shops and no-frills hotels.

Like most of the WA coast, it’s much more touristy than it used to be. On our visit, it was the tail end of the school holidays, so campsites were filled to the brim and all the hotels were at capacity. I thought it had a bit of a transient Holiday Park vibe rather than a far-flung remote paradise.

However, the beach is breathtakingly beautiful, and the snorkelling was brilliant, which alone was worth the drive. If you’ve been to good areas of The Great Barrier Reef then the coral at Ningaloo isn’t as diverse – I think it’s hard to rival the GBR in that respect, but the coral gardens were healthy, vibrant and full of life. We had all those feel-good vibes after seeing turtles, stingrays, reef sharks and a whole array of fish.

Stunning Bill's Bay Beach in Coral Bay

Bill’s Bay is the main beach in Coral Bay, and it’s nicely protected from the prevailing winds. Unlike the offshore Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is a fringing reef, which means it hugs the mainland. I read about how you could flop into the ocean here, paddle a bit and have awesome snorkelling within 50 metres of the shore. So you can imagine my surprise when I got in, swam double that, and saw nothing but a graveyard of dead coral covered in algae. It was fucking devastating.

I wasn’t aware that just a few months before our visit, there was a tragic marine event that killed off one square kilometre of vibrant coral around Bill’s Bay. It was caused by the annual coral spawning event which took a turn for the worst. In Sept ’22, unusual wind conditions had pushed all the spawn into the bay which starved the coral of oxygen. I saw pictures of the beach afterwards, and you couldn’t see the sand because of all the dead fish. Marine biologists predict that the reef will come back in the next 5 years, which is one thing I learnt from my time in Queensland- the reef is incredibly resilient (just as our land-based forests are) if given the chance to recover. But don’t let that put you off coming here.

A huge perk to visiting Ningaloo from Coral Bay is that it only takes half an hour to reach awesome snorkelling spots on the reef (in Queensland, I had to travel for 2-hours). There’s also a great snorkelling beach about 5k down called Five Fingers Reef, accessible by 4×4 (if you let your tyres down), or you can get there on a quad-bike tour.

Healthy coral gardens at Ningaloo Reef from Coral Bay

Healthy coral gardens at Ningaloo Reef from Coral Bay
Sadly our GoPro broke before our trip and we had to make do with a basic fill-me-in, so these pics don’t do the reef justice!
Snorkelling in Coral Bay Vs Exmouth

If you’re deciding whether to do a reef tour in Coral Bay or Exmouth, here are a few considerations.

  • For an easy half-day snorkelling trip that’s the most cost-effective, I’d recommend Coral Bay. I did a wonderful four-hour tour here for $150. Comparatively, most trips I’ve seen from Exxy last the whole day or are quite a bit more expensive. (An equivalent four-hour tour in Exmouth with Live Ningaloo is $260.)
  • If you’re here to snorkel with Manta Rays, locals say Coral Bay is the best place to do it.
  • If you’re here to snorkel with Whale Sharks, Exmouth is the better option. Not only is the season there slightly longer (typically until the end of August), unlike Coral Bay, all of Exmouth’s tour operators seem to have a ‘no-sighting’ policy, which gives guests the option to board another trip for free if you don’t spot any.
  • If you’re a scuba diver, Exmouth has many more operators that offer diving tours – check out Dive Ningaloo for trips and courses.

Snorkelling tours from Coral Bay

There are a few tour operators from Coral Bay to Ningaloo Reef. We went with Coastal Adventure Tours who were efficient, knowledgeable and friendly, but I don’t think you can really go wrong out here. We did the half-day Reef Explorer Turtle Snorkel which took us out on a sailing catermaran- it departed after brekkie at 10 am and we were back by 2 pm. We had about 3 hours in the water at two different sites, which was long enough. At $150 per adult, I think these guys are very good value for money (they also do the quad bike tour + snorkelling to Five Fingers).

If you’re not planning on going in the water or you’d prefer a glass-bottom boat, Coral Bay Ecotours offers an almost identical 3-hour trip for the same price. Alternatively, you can take a 2-hour tour with Ningaloo Coral Bay Boats (affiliated with Bayview Resort) for $99.

If possible, it’s better to go snorkelling earlier as the wind usually picks up in the afternoon (take a jacket or jumper with you regardless of the weather; believe me, it gets nippy!). Wetsuit hire is an additional $10 per suit from the dive shop in Coral Bay. Bring your own if you have one though, as they desperately need an upgrade! Almost every one had holes (which became a bit of a comedy topic on the boat… some of the holes were erm, in funny places! 😂)

Boat ride to Ningaloo Reef on a sailing catarmaran

Manta Ray Tours

Manta Ray season runs from May to November at Ningaloo. They’re the biggest ray species and have a wing span of up to 4 meters! Unlike stingrays, they don’t have a barb so they’re not a threat to humans.

Operators that offer manta tay tours from here are Coral Bay Ecotours, which charges $270 per adult for a 5-6 hour tour, and Ningaloo Coral Bay, which charges $200 per adult for a four-hour tour.

A sunset from Bill's Bay Beach in Coral Bay
daily sunset drools from Bill’s Bay Beach
Accommodation in Coral Bay: Aside from a backpacker resort, there are currently only two other hotels in Ningaloo as RAC are renovating their resort (Ningaloo Reef)- it’s set to open in 2026 and the plans look great, although it’ll add capacity from 160 to 270 people, at an already busy location.
Ningaloo Coral Bay (Bayview) – I stayed here at their Ningaloo Villa which was the better 1-bedroom cabin on offer, from $285 per night. It was a basic no-frills setup and was self-contained. As it was duplex-style and the balcony was more communal, you can’t have a private convo out there if your neighbours are outside too, which was my only qualm. They have a variety of other room types available, some of which are currently under renos.
People’s Park – If I were to return to Coral Bay, then I’d book here. They’re marginally more expensive but the villas look more peaceful and private. They have a Garden View Studio for $390, or add an ocean view for $430, plus more options.

Where to eat 🍴: Bill’s Bar is the number 1 place to dine for din-dins, and they open for lunch. Bill’s has a few local seafood options on the menu and we enjoyed our meals there. Otherwise, the Bay has a few basic brunch options like Fin’s and Reef Cafe (at Bayview Hotel) which were decent enough.


Leg 6 // Coral Bay to Exmouth

150 kms / 1h 40 (approx.)
Highlights: More idyllic beaches & snorkelling! 🪸

Some of you who have had your Ningaloo Reef fix at Coral Bay may decide to skip Exmouth altogether, like I did. Getting to Coral Bay from Perth is a really long drive and for me, I didn’t think that Exmouth would add anything I haven’t already seen. However, if you have time to spare or you’re here specifically to see whale sharks, then Exmouth is only another 150 km away.

Whale Shark Tours from Exmouth

Swimming with whale sharks is usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These tours typically take the whole day as you need to travel much further out to see them (to the outer reef). Operators use spotter plains to locate the sharks, so prices are steeper – around $500+. But it sounds truly epic.

Whale Sharks are the biggest fish in the world and can grow up to a whopping 12 metres long. They’re dubbed gentle giants because they’re not aggressive or a threat to humans.

Whale Shark season in Exmouth is from mid-March to August. They migrate here to feed on plankton, which booms after the coral spawning event. The spawning cycle starts about 5-10 days after the full moon in March and peaks in April. Therefore, some operators start their tours earlier and go on later, depending on the lunar calendar.

A whale shark next to a tour boat in Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth
Photo by // Kings Ningaloo Reef

There are more tour operators from Exmouth, however these trips can book out months in advance so try to get in early. It’s cheaper to book directly (as linked below) instead of through booking platforms like Viator, who charge a premium. Operators that offer whale shark tours from here are:

  • Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours—$475 per adult for an 8-hour tour with swimming, or $250 for an observer only (no swimming). Tours run from April to July and are very well-reviewed.
  • Ningaloo Whalesharks—$550 per adult for a 10-hour tour with swimming, or $290 for an observer only. They’re also really well-reviewed.
  • Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks—$550 per adult for an 8-hour tour with swimming; observer-only tours are $299 for 7 hours.
  • Live Ningaloo— if you’d prefer travelling in a smaller group and can afford it, this operator caps numbers at 10 guests. Full-day tours are $750 per adult, for both swimmers and observers.
If you’re here around August, you may be lucky enough to spot Ningaloo’s Big 3! As well as whale sharks, manta rays are active here between April & November, and humpback whales migrate here from August to November.

Beach Days in Exxy

A drone shot of Turquoise Bay in Exmouth

Exmouth’s beaches are also stunning and bigger than Coral Bay. One is regularly voted the most beautiful in the South Pacific, and there are a couple of beach snorkelling spots. However, unlike Coral Bay, they’re a bit of a drive away from town.

Exmouth is located on the east of the peninsula, and the nicer beaches are about a 30-50-minute drive away on the west, in Cape Range National Park. These beaches are very remote and offer near-zero provisions apart from a couple of drop toilets (no shade, no water, nowhere to dine) so one or two days there is probably enough.

Turquoise Bay is the most popular beach in Exxy and a multiple frontrunner for the top 5 beach lists in Australia, the South Pacific, and the world. The water is calm and crystal clear, and you can also drift snorkel by swimming out for 50 or so metres and letting the current bring you back.

Another popular spot to check out is Oyster Stacks, which many people say offers the best beach snorkelling in the area.

Cape Range does have plenty of public campsites if you want to stay closer to the snorkelling beaches. Otherwise, for non-campers there are only two options – one is super expensive (Sal Salis), the other is basic accom (Yardi Homestead).

Accommodation in Exmouth: Exxy town has more accommodation and restaurant options compared to Coral Bay. Here are my top picks for stays:
Ningaloo Lodge – This family-run operation probably offers the best value for money. A Queen Room costs $220 per night.
Exmouth Escape Resort – For a few more frills, these apartments are well-equipped and have a kitchenette, which could come in handy. From $408 per night.
Mantarays – As a little treat, if your budget can afford, this hotel looks like the cosiest and most bougie in Exmouth, from $515 per night.

Where to eat 🍴: For beers, pizzas and al-fresco vibes, check out Whalebone Brewing Co, open lunch and din-dins. Exhale Exmouth would be my pick for slightly more fanciful tapas and cocktails. Otherwise I’d be tempted to try out Yummy Thai food truck.


To caravan, or car?

Whilst this trip still attracts many caravaners, unless you have one already or you really need to tick it off your bucket list, then I’d just rent a car. I travelled in a campervan from Cairns to Noosa once in the summer and think the whole caravanning thing is overrated! The only real experiences I remember was that it was stinking hot (with no AC), slow, a bulky pain in the butt to drive and park up each time, and it wasn’t very aerodynamic on the highway when the wind picked up which meant it rocked and felt unstable (WA is also hotter, and windier). Driving one is a learning curve too and there were a couple of minor insurance claims. Let’s just say it didn’t add any value to our holiday. Driving from Perth to Exmouth and back is long and tiring, and if given the option, it’s nice to have a cosy room and comfy bed to wind down in at night.

However, if you are caravanning it then most towns here are RV friendly and there’s plenty of spots to stop overnight. Check out Anycamp for a comprehensive list.

Care Hire
If you need a car rental, we’ve always used No Birds in Perth who are the best value for money and have a great fleet of cars. All spots in this article are accessible via 2WD, but if possible, it will be more comfy to do this journey in an SUV or 4WD as there’s the odd gravel road. Note, there is a $150 additional flat fee if you travel beyond Geraldton.

Vintage truck at The Shore Leave Festival in Geraldton, Western Australia

Sea shanty singers at The Shore Leave Festival in Geraldton, Western Australia

As another option, to avoid the return journey if you’re short on time, you could drive from Perth to Exmouth and then fly back. We had guests on their honeymoon from Europe who did this once. The only slight downside is that most car and caravan hire companies in Perth don’t allow a one-way drop-off in Exmouth (most only seem to have depots in Broome, which is another 14 hours away), or they do allow it but there’s an expensive relocation fee. The cheapest car hire company I found that does it is Avis who charge an extra $400 (their cars are also much pricier than No Birds). I wouldn’t purchase their insurance & reduced excess add-ons as they’re overpriced, instead I’d recommend getting comprehensive protection with Rental Cover who offer a great rate.

The only campervan hire company I found that allows you to drive one-way is Exmouth Camper Hire, but you’ll need to do this trip in reverse, from Exmouth to Perth, and there’s a $1’200 relocation fee. They’re also quite a small business and don’t have many vehicles.

Flight-wise from Perth to Exmouth, Quantas are the only airline carrier. They have about 12 flights per week from Learmonth Airport which takes only 2 hours. If you book ahead, you can get them as cheaply as $200, if it’s last minute then it’s more like $700.

A drone shot of Shell Beach near Shark Bay in Western Australia

Tips for the trip

🐬 Phone reception – Telstra offers the best cell coverage across the Coral Coast. There will be periods on the road where you’ll get minimal reception (enough for Google Maps though) but you should have good reception in each town. The Sailor is with Amaysim (which uses the Optus Network) and sometimes he’d have good reception when mine was crap.

🐬 Shade – with very few palms and coastal trees, WA beaches aren’t fringed with natural shade like the East Coast. If you’re planning on spending long days by the beach, I’d recommend getting a decent shade that can be secured to the ground. As it also gets very windy here in the summer and shoulder months, the lightweight pop-out ones are best avoided as they can easily blow away (I’ve been there!).

🐬 The Aussie Salute 🫡 after living remotely here for 2 years, and as someone who loves hiking and the outdoors, I’ve come to know all too well that WA bush flies are some of the most annoying little gits in the country! They relish the bone-dry Mediterranean climate and they’re at their worst on days where the easterly winds blow, because this wafts them all from inland. Bushies usually start coming out again when the weather begins heating up (from spring, when they’re particularly excited). Coastal winds generally keep them at bay by the beach, but inland spots are often quite still. So, if you want to enjoy a walk on those warmer days then I’d highly recommend getting a neat new netted hat like this one. Don’t worry about looking a bit goofy, you’ll certainly be the vision of admiration when walkers see you on the trail and (unlike them) you can say g’day without a few flies inspecting your gob.

Views of the gorge along The Loop Trail in Kalbarri National Park

 

* * *

Wowza guys, that was by far the longest article I’ve ever written! Well done if you stayed through to the end.

This coastline is a unique part of Australia and holds a special place in my heart. As always, I hope this post has given you some ideas to make the most of your experience on the Coral Coast.

I’d love to hear all about your Perth to Exmouth road trip adventure so share your travels (good, bad or fuggly) in the comments below.x

Keeping it real: No activities or stays were comped on this trip and all views are my own – I pay my way so that I get the same authentic experience you do. In this article, I’ve included some useful links so you can easily book activities and stays, and a few of these are affiliates, of no cost to you. 🤙🏻

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