Helen Janneson Bense: Coral Coast road trip
Photography – Bobby Bense | Helen Janneson Bense
Photo Locations – Morels, Cactus garden – Carnarvon | Pink Lake | Wooramel River Retreat | Beach Shack cafe – Exmouth | Turquoise bay, Oyster Stacks, Osprey bay, Yardie Creek gorge – Ningaloo Reef
Where we stayed – Wooramel River Retreat (1 night) | Exmouth (8 nights) | Horrocks (2 nights) – Western Australia
What to do at Ningaloo reef – Scenic flight over Ningaloo reef | Swim with whale sharks | Turtle Kayak tour | Yardie Creek boat tour | Hike and/or paddle along Yardie creek gorge | Snorkel at Turquoise bay, Osprey bay, Oyster stacks to see turtles | Watch sunset from the lighthouse (bring mosquito repellant)
My favourite easy road trip stops – Natural Bridge (Whale watching from shore) | Pink Lake | Cactus garden | Morels | Artesian Baths | Coral Bay | Turquoise bay | Yardie Creek gorge
Oufits – Spell Bo Mini Dress | Spell Utopia Blouse + Skirt | Spell Basecamp Scarf | One piece swim | Tiare Hawaii Holly Dress | Heartbreaker Maxi Dress
Accessories – Linjer Peaceful Heart Necklace | Rings | Wandering Folk Arctic Folk picnic rug + Crystal Forest picnic rug | Wandering Folk Glassware
I’ve lost count now how many times we’ve made this road trip. What I do know is, it won’t be our last. Every time is unique with new discoveries of pristine, remote beaches, unexpected wildlife encounters, and family bonding time that is more precious to me than anything else in this world. This trip had it all! My favourite part was watching my teen kids connecting, laughing, playing in the ocean with joy soaked faces like they were 5 years old again.
Our final destination, Ningaloo reef, is about a 13+ hour drive from Perth. We started our trip with an overnight stop about 8 hours north at Wooramel River Retreat. We love the slow paced, outback vibes at Wooramel and the facilities are excellent. We’ve stayed in both the camping area and the self contained family rooms with the hammocks out front. Both experiences were amazing. After the long drive we enjoyed a soak in their famous Magnesium rich, artesian baths before cosying up by the communal fire. Wooramel is such a great place to meet travellers, share stories and laughs by the fire.
Along the way we have a family tradition to stop at Morels in Carnarvon for mango ice creams. They’re delicious, plant based, nothing but pure, tropical mango, and it sets the tone for what’s to come. Close by is the Carnarvon food trail, filled with tropical fruits and beautiful photogenic spots like giant, pink bougainvillea and a super sized cactus garden that is open to the public for viewing and photos. The garden will show up on maps when you’re in Carnarvon, but it is located on South River road in case your reception drops out.
Next stop for us was Exmouth, situated close by to Ningaloo reef. Once we settled into our holiday home we mapped our must visit spots to snorkel and paddle for the week. It was about an hour drive from town into Cape Range National Park each day. It honestly isn’t that bad at all, as the drive itself is simply stunning with wildlife spotting along the way. If you want to stay closer to the park, or within the park, there is camping and some self contained chalets at Yardie Creek campgrounds. There is also camping all along the national park, though very few facilities are available at the beach campsites. For a luxurious glamping option there is Sal Salis, though there is a hefty overnight rate that comes with this option. While I liked being in town for the ease of shopping, going out to cafes, etc we did spend almost all our time on the range and reef. Next year we have booked a Yardie creek chalet and will be trying some camping out too. I found an off grid campervan for hire through airbnb and they set it up/pack it down for you. All we have to do is book a campsite and show up. Pretty excited to trial this out. Will let you know how it goes next year!
This trip really exceeded expectations. We found pristine, secluded beaches and some of the best snorkelling spots we’ve ever experienced. We paddled with dolphins and swam with more turtles each day than we could actually count. The turtles were very friendly and curious and we even saw them eating jellyfish and seagrass. We were lucky enough to see leopard, white tip and black tip sharks, giant sting rays, unicorn fish, octopus, cuttlefish, lion fish, catfish, flatfish and so many different species of tropical fish I lost count! The reef is so healthy and it’s a joy to be able to experience it thriving with life. In between snorkeling and paddling we spent some time hiking at Yardie creek gorge. It’s an ancient spot with some of the cutest little rock wallabies hopping about. At first they will blend in quite well, but if you look closely and sit for awhile, you’ll start to see them in the cracks along the rock wall. You’ll also see Ospreys flying overhead and bats hiding amongst the trees. You can take a boat tour along the gorge or paddle with your stand up paddle board or kayak.
Another really amazing new experience for us was taking a scenic flight over the reef with Ningaloo Aviation. It’s an hour long flight and every moment is mesmerising. My top tip is to go around 1-2pm as the reef will be looking it’s absolute best. We saw whales, turtles, dolphins, dugongs and sharks with great clarity. The reef itself was iridescent, glowing with all shades of dreamy turquoise and blue hues. I’d definitely do this tour again as you never know what new wildlife experience awaits.
Ningaloo reef is the largest fringing reef in the world and the perfect spot to swim with whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. These are season dependant, though it’s worth planning your trip around what you want to experience most. For us late June/early July is the perfect time. We escape our winter in Perth, and enjoy some sunshine and warmth. We get to see all the marine life and especially love that we make it in time to see the whales which start showing up around the beginning of July. Swimming with them is still on my bucket list so maybe next year we might tick that one off.
While there are so many incredibles stops along the Coral Coast highway, like Kalbarri, Pink Lake, Shark Bay, Monkey Mia, Shell Beach, Gnaraloo, Blowholes and Coral bay, we are always so very eager to get to Exmouth and get in that water. We usually choose a couple of these stops along the way to Exmouth and back to Perth, and each year we change it up. This year we explored a new quiet coastal town called Horrocks, which was a stones throw from Pink lake and Kalbarri. It was a beautiful way to end our trip and take in a few more majestic sights along the way. We watched some of the most vibrant sunset skies that I’ve ever seen in my life. If you’ve ever watched a sunset in Horrocks you’ll know what I’m talking about. It lasted for what felt like forever. It was an otherworldly experience for sure. I actually feel like the entire trip was so dreamlike. I’ve even noticed now, a month later, I’m still dreaming of underwater experiences. How wonderful that my mind takes me back to these beautiful spots even after I’m home.
If you haven’t visited Ningaloo reef, put it on your list. And as always feel free to reach out for travel tips, questions and help to plan your dream Coral Coast trip!
With love and gratitude,