Western Australia is home to some of the most unique and breath-taking landscapes, an untouched coastline featuring pristine beaches and a thriving coral reef which offers world class scuba diving and snorkelling. Embarking on a Perth to Exmouth road trip is sure to be an adventure of a lifetime. It’s even better if you have a 4WD so you can explore some of the remote beaches and lesser visited areas!
Western Australia is a massive state and you can expect to spend many hours behind the wheel but each stop along this Perth to Exmouth itinerary will reward you with a different type of raw and natural beauty that you simply haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s true, this road trip is certainly one of Australia’s greatest hidden gems and an absolute must if you are visiting W.A.
After recently completing this road trip ourselves, we’ve put together the perfect 10 day itinerary including all the best stops to make on your Perth to Exmouth drive! At the end of the itinerary, you can either make the long trek back to Perth or you can leave your rental car in Exmouth and catch a short flight back.
We’ve also included the option to extend the road trip to 2 weeks (if you have extra time) and make the drive back to Perth via Karijini National Park. This will add a significant amount of driving time to the itinerary, but I promise you will not regret it!
Table of Contents
Perth to Exmouth Road Trip Overview
- The Pinnacles Desert – Nambung National Park
- Cervantes – 1 night
- Hutt Lagoon – The Pink Lake
- Kalbarri – 2 nights
- Monkey Mia – 2 nights
- Carnarvon Cactus Garden
- Coral Bay – 3 nights
- Charles Knife Canyon Gorge
- Exmouth – 2 nights
- Karijini National Park – 4 nights (optional)
Perth to Exmouth Road Trip Summary
Day 1 – Leave Perth early in the morning and drive 1.5 hrs to Lancelin to see the sand dunes. Continue the drive north for 1 hr to reach the Pinnacles Desert. Finish off the day in Cervantes only 30 min away from the Pinnacles.
Night 1 – Cervantes
Day 2 – Depart Cervantes first thing in the morning and begin the 3.5 hr drive to Hutt Lagoon (Pink Lake). From there, it’s only 30 minutes to Kalbarri.
Nights 2 & 3 – Kalbarri
Day 3 – Spend the full day seeing the highlights of Kalbarri National Park: Nature’s Window, Z Bend, Skywalk & more!
Day 4 – Begin the 4 hour drive from Kalbarri to Shark Bay. Make sure to stop at Shell Beach for some photos along the way.
Nights 4 & 5- Monkey Mia
Day 5 – Wake up early to watch the Dolphins feeding on the beach in Monkey Mia. Spend the full day exploring some of the highlights of Francois Peron National Park and maybe a visit to the Ocean Park Aquarium to see the sharks.
Day 6 – Leave Monkey Mia early in the morning to begin the long 6 hour drive to Coral Bay. Some short but awesome stops along the drive: Eagle Bluff Lookout, Carnarvon Cactus Garden.
Nights 6, 7, 8 – Coral Bay
Day 7 – Spend a relaxing day by the Coral Bay beach, enjoying the incredible snorkelling from the shore. Take a walk over to neighbouring bay to see the many reef sharks swimming at the Shark Nursery.
Day 8 – Book a snorkelling or diving day trip on the Ningaloo Reef to swim with whale sharks/manta rays (plus so much more)!
Day 9 – Depart Coral Bay at any time and drive 1.5 hrs to Exmouth with an easy detour to see the Charles Knife Canyon Gorge along the way.
Night 9 & 10 – Exmouth
Day 10 – Spend the day exploring some of the stunning beaches around Exmouth – Turquoise Bay cannot be missed!
Final Day – Fly back to Perth, begin the drive back to Perth (takes around 2 days), or continue the road trip to Karijini National Park.
Total Driving Time
13 hrs – Perth to Exmouth, one way
Longest Stretch of Driving
6 hrs Monkey Mia – Coral Bay
Total KM Covered
Perth to Exmouth Highlights
- The most spectacular and unique landscapes you’ll never see elsewhere: massive gorges, impressive rock formations, red cliffs + a pink lake!
- Crystal clear water and some of the best beaches in Western Australia
- World class snorkelling/scuba diving on the Ningaloo Reef
- Plenty of native wildlife: kangaroos, emus, dolphins, sharks, turtles, manta rays, many colourful fish + so much more!
↓ Check out the video below for a quick overview of some of the amazing experiences to be had ↓
How Long Will I Need?
If you plan to drive both ways, from Perth to Exmouth and then back again, we would allow for about 12 days total. The complete road trip itinerary will take 10 days but then to make the long drive back down to Perth, it’s best to allow 2 extra days to break it up (however, it can be done in one go if you have multiple drivers!)
If you plan to extend this itinerary and continue on to Karijini National Park, we would suggest allowing 2 weeks or more. The drive from Exmouth to Karijini is around 8 hours which takes up a full day. Karijini is a huge national park with so much to see, it’s best to allow 3-4 full days to complete all of the hikes in and around the gorges.
You will have many options when it comes to choosing where to stay along the way. A very popular way to do this route is by hiring a camper van or taking a 4WD and camping in a tent, which we did. If you don’t wish to camp, the good news is that you can easily do this road trip without camping. There are plenty of accommodation options at each stop for those who prefer some extra comfort. Look for our recommendations for where to stay in each section of this itinerary.
Best Time of Year To Go
The best time to drive from Perth to Exmouth would be anytime during the months of April – November. During these months you can expect blue skies, 30 degree days, and beautiful fields of wild flowers during the spring (Sept – Nov).
The north of Western Australia is a dry desert climate with higher temperatures than Perth and the southwest. This means that you’ll want to avoid the peak of the summer months from December – February. We would recommend heading south during summer, our Perth to Esperance road trip itinerary is perfect for that time of year.
We drove from Perth to Exmouth in September and found it was the perfect time of year to go. The crowds were minimal, we didn’t see a single drop of rain, and there was plenty of wildlife to see on the coral reef!
Perth to Exmouth Road Trip Tips
- Share the driving! The roads are straight and the drives are long and tiring. It’s easy to get sleepy at the wheel so make sure to switch up the driver often and don’t plan to do all the driving yourself.
- Avoid driving at night! If you’ve road tripped in Australia before, you’ll know this is the time when kangaroos like to hang out on the warm road. Hitting a kangaroo can do some significant damage to your car, plus it’s not a nice experience to hit an innocent animal when driving. Aim to stop driving before dusk.
- Fuel up often! In WA the distances are huge between towns and roadhouses. In some regions of WA (especially up north) you can drive for many hours through the desert without seeing a petrol station, so be prepared and plan your route ahead of time mapping out the fuel stops. You could also bring a jerrycan of petrol just to be on the safe side, a good idea particularly if you plan to do a lot of 4 wheel driving.
- Test your camping gear! If you plan to camp for this road trip, make sure to test out all of your gear before you go. We’ve made this mistake before and it’s not fun to have surprises when you’re camping in a remote location ie. that time we accidentally forgot to fill up the gas cylinder for our camp stove before we left Perth, oops!
►Looking for more tips? Check out our article on the 30 best Australian road trip tips you must know before you hit the road!
Travel Insurance for Road Trips
Make sure you get travel insurance before setting off on this epic adventure, it’s something that you cannot road trip without! We usually go with World Nomads as it’s the perfect insurance for adventure travel such as hiking, scuba diving, road trips etc.
Hiring a Car
Before you head out, you’ll need to organize your car hire in Perth. To search for car hire in all countries we travel to, we pretty much always go with Rentalcars.com. It’s an easy website to use, they have a large selection of providers with reasonable prices and no booking fees! Use the form below or click here to browse car hire options.
Perth to Exmouth Road Trip – An Epic 10 Day Drive Along WA’s Coral Coast
Day 1 – Perth to Cervantes
The first day of the road trip will take you on an easy 1.5 hr drive from Perth to Lancelin. The small seaside town of Lancelin is known for its white sand dunes and beautiful beaches. Sand boarding in the dunes is easily the most popular activity here and boards can be hired for around $12 for 2.5 hours. Click here to find more info about booking your boards beforehand.
Pinnacles Desert – Nambung National Park
After you spend a few hours in the Lancelin dunes, continue your drive to the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. This spectacular desert full of limestone formations is truly an impressive sight and will make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. The Pinnacles were formed around 30,000 years ago when the sea receded and left deposits from shells exposed to the coastal winds.
When you enter the park, you’ll have the choice of driving your car around the 4km loop that runs right through the Pinnacles. There are plenty of pull outs where you can stop and get out to take photos. The other option is to leave your car in the car park and walk, which takes around an hour return.
Before you leave, make sure to check out the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre which features beautiful displays explaining the history of the park and the formation of the Pinnacles.
Nambung National Park entry: $15 per vehicle / free for National Park pass holders
Cervantes is a small fishing town only 30 minutes away from the Pinnacles. It’s famous for seafood, more specifically lobster. If there’s one thing you must do in here, it’s eat at the Lobster Shack! Cervantes is quite small and there aren’t a ton of things to see and do in the town itself but it’s the perfect place to stop for the night to break up the journey.
Where to Stay in Cervantes
Pinnacles Edge Resort – We decided to spend the night here, as we didn’t want to set up the tent for just one night this provided the perfect option. With comfortable rooms and a restaurant attached, we couldn’t have asked for much more!
RAC Cervantes Holiday Park – A beachfront accommodation offering camp sites and fully equipped villas. With a large pool, BBQ area, playground and more, this holiday park is a great choice if you’re camping or traveling as a family!
Day 2 – Cervantes to Kalbarri
Day 2 begins with a 4 hr drive to Kalbarri with a stop at Hutt Lagoon aka the Pink Lake along the way. On the way out of Cervantes, you have the option to check out Lake Thetis to see the ancient rock formations called Thrombolites. This is one in five locations in W.A. where you can witness these fascinating living fossils! The lake is only 2 km inland from Cervantes making it easy to include as a stop along your drive, there is no fee to enter.
Once you approach the Pink Lake you won’t believe your eyes, the water really is that pink! Hutt Lagoon is a salt lake which gets its vibrant colour from a carotenoid producing algae, Dunaliella salina. Depending on the time of year, the weather or even time of day the lake’s hue can change significantly. The best time to see the Pink Lake is mid-day when the sun is high in the sky and there are no clouds.
There is an official Pink Lake lookout on Port Gregory Road but you can actually just pull over anywhere you like to see it. We decided to stop somewhere random along the drive from Cervantes to Kalbarri, there was no other person in sight which meant our photos turned out great!
Make sure your camera batteries are charged and ready to go, this Insta-worthy lake is the perfect spot to snap some really unique photos. If you have a drone, this is the place to get it out! You’ll notice that the lake appears even pinker from above.
Kalbarri is a small town surrounded by incredible landscapes of dramatic coastal cliffs, spectacular inland gorges and beautiful beaches; a true gem of Western Australia. There are plenty of scenic hiking trails but for those who prefer to relax by the beach, you’ll have the option to do that too! Spending two nights in Kalbarri will give you plenty of time to see the National Park and a few of the highlights listed below.
A jaw-dropping coastal lookout of rugged red cliffs leading down to crashing waves. Head here with a few drinks to watch the sunset and take in the views. If you come during the day you can park your car on the top of the cliffs and walk the short trail down to the beach for a swim in the sheltered bay. This spot cannot be missed while you’re in Kalbarri.
A short drive down the road from Pot Alley will lead you to yet another epic lookout spot offering panoramic views over the ocean and coastline. If you’re lucky, this is also a great place to spot the humpback whales migrating north from May – November. Both of these viewpoints, among a few other ones, can be located only a 5 minute drive from Kalbarri town center.
A lovely beach with soft white sand and a popular spot for swimming in the calm waters. It’s conveniently located near Kalbarri’s town center making it a great place to relax and soak up the sun. Spend a chilled out afternoon here and take advantage of the BBQs and picnic area nearby.
Rainbow Jungle Bird Park
A colourful bird park featuring many native Australian parrots, cockatoos and more. Wander through the gardens with water features and admire the beautiful birds flying free throughout the aviary. Some of the birds are kept in cages but they all appeared to be well looked after with plenty of space to fly around. The park is open 9-4pm daily.
Tickets: Adult $16/Child $8
Where to Stay in Kalbarri
Camping / Holiday Park
Murchison House Station – During this road trip we wanted to stay closer to the National Park and we found Murchison House Station to be the perfect location for that. If you’re into remote wilderness camping, this is such a stunning spot and we really can’t recommend it enough. Disconnect from reality and enjoy being surrounded by nature and stargazing at night.
We set up our tent in a peaceful setting right next to the flowing Murchison River. Toilets, showers and a shared kitchen is provided a short walk from the camping area. Book a camp site here.
Kalbarri Tudor Holiday Park – Located in the heart of Kalbarri, this property offers the option of powered or unpowered camp sites or villa/cabin rentals. It’s close to all the shops, restaurants and the beach and is highly rated on Booking.com. Click here to book a villa or click here to book a camp site.
Kalbarri Beach Resort – Fully equipped apartments near Murchison River with a large pool area including hot tubs. Free parking is available, and Kalbarri National Park is only a 25 minute drive away. Book an apartment here.
Kalbarri Edge Resort – A centrally located hotel featuring clean and well kept rooms, a heated swimming pool, BBQ facilities and a restaurant/bar. Free parking is also available on site. Book your stay here.
Day 3 – Kalbarri
Kalbarri National Park
Today is all about exploring the wonders of Kalbarri National Park. There are a few must-see spots within the National Park and the good news is that you do not have to hike or have a 4WD to get to them. They are all easily accessible on sealed roads and 10-15 min walking trails. For those interested in hiking there are some awesome optional hikes to choose from as well.
Nature’s Window – An iconic landmark of Western Australia, this natural rock arch is truly a spectacular sight. It’s particularly impressive to see during sunrise or sunset, we couldn’t make up our mind so we went there for both on the same day! It’s easy to reach on a 1 km return walk from the Nature’s Window car park.
Z Bend Lookout – Another epic lookout at the top of the gorge at a section where the river bends quite dramatically. Needless to say, this is a prime photography location as well an awesome place to hike. See below for recommended hiking trail. To reach the Z Bend Lookout, you’ll follow a 1.2 km return walking trail from the car park. The walk is moderately easy with some uphill sections and steps.
Kalbarri Skywalk – The newest addition to Kalbarri National Park are two brand new skywalks, positioned right next to one another boasting breathtaking views over the Murchison River and Gorge. There are no extra fees to enter as it is covered under the park entrance fee. Access to the skywalks is directly from the car park, with ramps in addition to stairs, making it accessible for all. The Skywalk Kiosk serves food and drinks from 7:30am – 2pm daily, so grab a coffee and take in those insane views!
Ross Graham Lookout – A stunning lookout over the Murchison River Gorge with an easy 700m return trail from the car park to the river’s edge. This trail is the easiest in the park for those who wish to explore near the river’s edge. If you visit during spring July – September, you’ll be lucky to see the beautiful wildflowers in bloom. This lookout is accessible for all, directly from the car park.
Hikes in Kalbarri National Park
Z Bend River Trail – A fairly demanding 2.7 km return hike with steep descents, uneven surfaces and ladder climbs. The hike begins at the Z Bend lookout and takes you down to the river. Although it’s relatively short, the scenery will not disappoint through this hike. Highly recommended for those into more adventurous hiking terrain.
The Loop Trail – This 8 km hike begins at Nature’s Window and takes you along the edge of the gorge, down to the banks of Murchison River and then loops back up to Nature’s Window. The scenery of this hike is simply stunning. Make sure to wear proper hiking boots as the surface is very uneven and steep in areas. Allow around 3-4 hours to complete.
Kalbarri National Park Entry: $15 per vehicle / free for National Park pass holders
Day 4 – Kalbarri to Shark Bay
Begin the 4 hr drive to Shark Bay with a stop a Shell Beach before reaching your final destination of the day, Monkey Mia. Shell Beach is a unique and impressive place to see and only just off the main road. As the name suggests the entire beach is made up of small white shells stretching an amazing 70km and going down 7 to 10 metres deep in parts.
The otherworldly landscape gives way to some beautifully clear water which is great for a float. The water is very salty so you can easily float around on your back but the shells are quite sharp on the feet so bring some water shoes!
There are toilets here but no camping is allowed. You don’t really need to spend too long here as the beach is right near the car park. It’s a lovely spot to stretch your legs and take in the unique scenery.
On the opposite side of the Shark Bay peninsula from the main town of Denham is the protected area of Monkey Mia. This beautiful area just has this magical vibe and after visiting several times I still always look forward to coming back.
The undeniable highlight of Monkey Mia is the daily dolphin interactions. Many years ago fishermen in this area started feeding the local dolphins and they began appearing every day expecting their meal. Nowadays the dolphins still visit daily however the feeding is tightly regulated and monitored by marine biologists.
There is an entry fee applicable to enter the protected area of Monkey Mia and this includes the entry to any and all of the viewings each day. You stand near the edge of the water and get to see wild dolphins just metres away. It is a truly unforgettable experience.
The beach here is also beautiful and you can hire kayaks and other water sports equipment and can take affordable tours to see red cliffs dropping into the blue ocean or to snorkel with turtles. The resort on site has an amazing restaurant and beach front bars or you can pack your own picnic and find your own spot on the beach.
Entry Fee: Separate fees apply for entry to Monkey Mia Reserve and are payable at the park. Day entry passes purchased at other parks and extended period passes are not valid. Read more about Monkey Mia Conservation Park.
Day Permit (per person)
- $15.00 per adult
- $10.00 concession
- $5.00 per child 6-15 yrs
- $35.00 per family (2 adults, 2 children)
Holiday Permit (four weeks duration)
- $25.00 per adult
- $20.00 concession
- $10.00 per child 6-15 yrs
- $60.00 per family (2 adults, 2 children)
Day 5 – Shark bay
Spend the full day exploring the highlights of Shark Bay. The beautiful Shark Bay region is about as westerly as you can get in Western Australia. It’s a massive UNESCO World Heritage Area and it’s full of amazing natural sights to see and fun things to do that you could easily spend an entire holiday just in this spot, which many people do!
It’s a long straight drive after turning off of the main north-south highway but once you’re up near Denham all of the attractions are reasonably close together. You have the option to base yourself in one place and day trip around or you can stay in a couple of different areas for a mixture of camping and resort relaxation. We stayed at the Monkey Mia Resort and easily saw all of the sites from there.
Francois Peron National Park is 4wd access only however all of the other Shark Bay attractions can be reached by normal vehicles and there is plenty enough to do and even some great wild camping sites that are accessible without a 4wd.
See below for a detailed breakdown of each of the Shark Bay highlights.
Denham is the only town on the Shark Bay peninsula and as such it is the best place to stock up on supplies prior to heading out camping or to Monkey Mia Resort. It’s still a very small town however so keep in mind that you might not find everything you need here.
Denham is really well located to access all of the attractions in the area and is a lovely little town in itself. Monkey Mia Resort can be expensive as you have to pay a daily or weekly park fee on top of accommodation costs. Basing yourself in Denham might save some money and it’s an easy day trip to the Monkey Mia area.
This is also where you will need to buy permits if you wish to wild camp around the peninsula. The camp sites out in the national park are run under the state system however there are several 2wd accessible camp sites spread around the place which are run by the local council.
The visitor centre is on the main road and as well as buying camping permits there is a small gallery detailing some of the history and highlights of the Shark Bay region.
Francois Peron National Park
This national park covers the end of the peninsula past Denham and Monkey Mia. The entire park is only accessible to 4wds and offers some amazing wild camping sites right on the coast. This is where you’ll find those striking vistas of rich red dunes giving way onto white sands and turquoise water.
Big Lagoon is a great place to launch a kayak or do some paddle boarding and has shelters and BBQ facilities as well as a campground. This is only a short drive from the entrance to the park and is suitable for day trips.
At the very tip of the peninsula you’ll fine Cape Peron, a beautiful beach known for its striking contrasts of bright red cliffs, white sand and turquoise waters. Due to a strong current unfortunately swimming is not recommended here. Cape Peron can be reached by following a 50km 4WD track from the entrance of the national park.
There are several different wild camping sites throughout the park, see below for more info about booking. All have toilets and some have gas barbeques. Make sure you carry plenty of water and have recovery ability as there are some areas with very soft sand.
Entry Fee: Day Pass: $15 per car, $8 for seniors and $8 for motorbikes. Day entry passes are available at park entry points. Annual Pass: $120 per vehicle (all parks in WA).
Ocean Park Aquarium
This place is one of my favourite spots up North. The aquarium entry fee includes a guided tour by a marine biologist to explore and view up close a bunch of marine life from the local area.
It’s not just big glass tanks like a lot of aquariums, most things are in huge open topped tanks at waist level and the guide will feed some of the creatures to get them right to the surface.
The best part of all is the massive shark tank filled with all sorts of species as well as huge fish. You cross a boardwalk and can stand right in the middle of the tank with a 360 degree view. The guide will dangle some food down and you can see the sharks jump out of the water to get it.
After touring the aquarium they have a beautiful big deck outside with ocean views and cold drinks. The food here is excellent and it’s a great place to come for some lunch or even just a couple of drinks.
The aquarium also organizes dive trips and marine safaris around Shark Bay for an extra fee. See their website for further details.
Entry Fee: $27 adults $19 kids, includes a guided tour with marine biologist and shark feeding.
Where to stay in Shark Bay
Monkey Mia Resort
This is a great place to stay and we always spend at least a couple of nights here when we visit Shark Bay. The dolphin interactions start from 7:45 am and if you want the best spot on the beach you need to be at the office to get a token right on 7 so driving in from elsewhere would mean a very early start.
It’s not just for convenience however, the camp site is clean and well set up and the facilities are top notch. The whole place has been recently refurbished and there is a shop, beachfront bar, gourmet restaurant and other conveniences.
There is a large range of accommodation options here, from unpowered camping to dorm rooms to luxurious cabins and basic rooms. If you have the money to splurge then you won’t regret booking one of the beachfront cabins.
There are a whole range of wild camping options around this area. If you have a 4wd you can venture into Francois Peron National Park as mentioned above. There are drop toilets there and some sites have gas BBQs however you will need to bring everything else with you. To reserve sites in the national park use the online system to book.
Some sites do not take bookings and are run on a first come basis but check the website first as you will be fined if it is a site that requires bookings.
Around Denham are also several great sites accessible by 2wd vehicles. Some of these sites have a toilet however some have no facilities. The upside is that you are only a short drive from town so you can make trips to get whatever you need and come back to camp.
To book these sites you have to visit the Shark Bay Discovery Centre in Denham or call them on 08 9948 1590 and buy a permit. These cost $15 per night and can only be bought on the day you intend to camp. See the official Shark Bay tourism website for further details.
There are both caravan parks and hotels available to stay in Denham. They are sometimes (but not always) cheaper than Monkey Mia Resort so shop around and find the option that best suits you. From Denham you can easily access all the surrounding attractions as well as the restaurants and pubs in town.
Day 6 – Shark Bay to Coral Bay
Eagle Bluff Lookout
Prepare for a long 6 hr drive to arrive at Coral Bay with a few cool sights to see along the way. Just south of Denham along the highway is the Eagle Bluff viewpoint. These high cliffs offer sweeping views along the coast and a great angle to witness the beautiful tapestry of colours in the ocean below.
If you are lucky you can spot all sorts of marine life swimming in the sheltered waters so bring some binoculars if you can. Sharks and turtles are often seen and there is a boardwalk and viewing platform set up so you can get right out near the edge.
One of the wild camp sites is right near here so if you manage to book in town and are set up for wild camping then this would be an amazing place to watch the sunset. We camped at the Eagle Bluff site a few years ago and it was such a beautiful location to relax surrounded by stunning nature!
The Eagle Bluff Lookout is great to visit as a final goodbye when you’re leaving the Shark Bay area.
Carnarvon Cactus Garden
Carnarvon is a great place to stop for lunch and break up the long drive. A spot that has become well known on Instagram over the years is the Carnarvon Cactus Garden. It’s a fun spot to pull over, stretch your legs and take some cool photos. There is no cost to enter, it’s located in the front garden of one of the local fruit plantations. Someone clearly had the brilliant idea to plant a ton of cactus making it a perfect Insta-worthy spot!
As its name suggest, Coral Bay is an absolute paradise destination and home to one of the world’s largest and most beautiful coral gardens, the Ningaloo Reef. Brimming with marine life and only steps away from the shore, you can spend the day relaxing on the pristine white sand beach while jumping in to snorkel with turtles, sharks and colourful fish as you please!
Coral Bay is all about water activities: swimming, diving, snorkelling and fishing, there is something for everyone! There is truly so much to see and do, we recommend spending 3 nights here so that you get 2 full days to really experience this incredible place.
Where to Stay in Coral Bay
Ningaloo Coral Bay Bayview – We camped here during our stay in Coral Bay, it’s the biggest holiday park in town catering to all types of campers, RVs and vans, as well as the option of renting a studio or villa. It’s a great location across from the all the shops and less than 5 min walk to the beach. Book a camp site here or book a villa/studio here.
People’s Park – Directly across the road from Coral Bay beach, this park accommodates camping, RVs and fully equipped apartments, some with a sea view. Great location, clean well kept campsite, restaurant on site and direct access to the beach, you can’t really get much better! Find prices and availability here.
Ningaloo Coral Bay Backpackers – The only hostel in Coral Bay, so if you’re backpacking this will be your only option. It’s a clean hostel offering affordable dorms and private rooms with a shared bathroom. There is a pool, bar, BBQ, lounge area, free parking and air conditioning in every room. Book a room at the backpackers.
Ningaloo Reef Resort – Seeking a bit more comfort? Located right on the beachfront with comfortable air conditioned rooms and ocean views, this is a great option for those who are doing this road trip without camping. There’s a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool and free parking on site. With excellent reviews on Booking.com, you can’t go wrong with this place. Check prices and availability here.
Day 7 – Coral Bay
Coral Bay Beach Day
This road trip is pretty fast paced so this is the perfect time to relax and unwind a little. The beach at Coral Bay is simple stunning and definitely worthy of spending a day lying on that pristine soft white sand and taking a dip in the clearest water you can imagine! With a reef nearby, you can take advantage of incredible snorkelling so close to the shore.
Don’t miss out on a walk to the Shark Nursery while you’re hanging out at Coral Bay. If you follow the coastline 20 minutes to the north from the main beach, you’ll be rewarded when you come to the neighbouring bay. Watch as hundreds of reef sharks swim right up to the shoreline in the shallow waters! Between the months of September – March is when you’re more likely to see the sharks.
You might be tempted to hop in and swim with them but this is actually prohibited. This is a protected area and interacting with these sharks is not a good idea, there are even signs posted advising people not to swim with the sharks (there are always some who ignore them!). Simply admire the sharks from the shore, you’ll be surprised at how close they come!
Day 8 – Coral Bay
Full Day Snorkelling/Scuba Diving Trip
One of the absolute best things to do in Coral Bay is going on a snorkelling or scuba diving day trip. The guides will take you to the best spots where you’ll see an amazing variety of coral, reef sharks, turtles, exotic fish, manta rays and at certain times of the year you can even see whale sharks!
We booked the full day manta ray tour with Coral Bay Ecotours and had such an epic day. There were both divers and snorkelers on the same boat (Rick dived, I snorkelled) which was great so that we could still be on the same tour. The boat leaves Coral Bay at 8am and you’ll get to do 3 dives/snorkels on the Ningaloo Reef, lunch is also included in the cost of the trip.
Besides seeing tons of marine life, our highlight of the tour was swimming up close with the majestic manta rays, truly an experience of a lifetime. The tour company uses a spotter plane that flies around searching for manta rays to alert the boat captain where to go. This pretty much guarantees that you will see at least one on your day trip. Don’t forget to bring your GoPro!
We were also lucky enough to spot a family of humpback whales as we were returning to Coral Bay at the end of the day! The boat was able to get pretty close up so that we could easily take photos/videos. This day definitely stands out as a huge highlight of our Perth to Exmouth road trip and we cannot recommend doing this tour enough!
Glass Bottom Boat Tour
If snorkelling or scuba diving isn’t your thing but you still want to get up close to the Ningaloo Reef (without getting wet), this might be a better option for you! This 1-hr tour will cruise around the reef allowing you to marvel at the coral and marine life from the comfort of a boat with a large glass bottom. The guides will talk you through what you’re looking at as you go. This tour is also run by the same company as above, Coral Bay Ecotours.
Other Fun Activities in Coral Bay
4×4 Quad Tours – Explore the beaches and spectacular coastal landscapes on a quad tour. This allows you to get off the beaten path and see some really beautiful spots. There are a number of tours to choose from, snorkelling quad tours, sunset tours and more. Check out the official Quad Tours website for more info.
Fishing – With an abundance of fish, Coral Bay is a great place to go out on a fishing trip. If fishing interests you, find more info about Coral Bay fishing tours here.
Scenic Flights – Sometimes the best way to see a place is from up above! Taking a scenic flight over the Ningaloo Reef is an awesome way to see whales, sharks and more. The coastline also looks pretty amazing from up high. Visit this site for more info.
Learning to Scuba Dive – Have you always wanted to take up scuba diving? There’s nowhere better to do it than on the Ningaloo Reef. Get PADI certified surrounded by the most amazing variety of marine life. Find out more about booking a Ningaloo Reef diving course here.
Day 9 – Coral Bay to Exmouth
Charles Knife Canyon Gorge
Getting from Coral Bay to Exmouth is an easy 1.5 hr drive, it’s definitely worth a stop at the jaw-dropping Charles Knife Canyon Gorge along the way. Located within the beautiful Cape Range National Park, this gorge is particularly spectacular with the Exmouth Gulf as a backdrop.
The entrance to the gorge is just off the main road that you will be following to Exmouth, so it’s easy to find. The 11km winding road leading into the gorge is paved at the beginning but turns to gravel on the way up.
You don’t really need a 4WD for this road but it does get quite steep in parts. There are plenty of spots where you can pull over and get out of the car to take in the views. If you have a drone, this is an awesome spot to fly it.
After you finish up at the gorge, continue into Exmouth to stock up on food and supplies before making your way to your campsite of choice.
Where to stay near Exmouth
If you’re looking to do some wild camping, this is definitely the place for it. There are many beach campsites along the Ningaloo Coast on the other side of the peninsula from Exmouth town. Just imagine camping right on a secluded beach with crystal clear water only steps away from your tent!
Some of these camp sites are quite remote and are only accessible with a 4WD. For a complete list of campsites and a map showing where each one is located, check out the WA Parks website.
I should also mention these campsites tend to book out pretty far in advance between the busy months of April-October. Some particularly nice ones to try and book are: Winderabandi, North Lefroy, Janes Bay, Point Billie, South Lefroy Bay. These are all located on the Ningaloo Station and require a 4WD to access. Wild camping at these locations costs $8 per night and it’s best to book online in advance.
RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park – Located near the beach 1km south of Exmouth, this is a big holiday park offering a range of accommodations. From camp sites to cabins this holiday park has something to suit everyone. There are 3 swimming pools, a convenience store, 2 kitchens, BBQ area and much more. Find out more info and book your stay at RAC Exmouth.
Yardie Homestead – Located on the opposite side of the peninsula from Exmouth, this is a great spot to base yourself if you plan to hang out at Turquoise Bay or any of the other beautiful beaches along the Ningaloo Coast. We stayed here for a few nights and the park was clean, has toilets and showers, a shared cooking area and a restaurant.
Yardie Homestead caters to all types of campers offering both powered and unpowered sites. For those who choose not to camp there are also cabins/chalets available. Book your stay at Yardie Homestead.
Ningaloo Lodge Exmouth – A beautiful property in the heart of Exmouth with a lovely pool surrounded by palm trees. There is a BBQ area and shared kitchen for guests to use. Snorkelling equipment is available to use for free and there is free parking on site. See prices and availability here.
Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort – Seeking some luxury? This stunning resort features ocean views from your private balcony. It’s only a 5 minute drive from Exmouth, has an infinity pool, a restaurant and bar, gym and tastefully decorated rooms. See prices and availability here.
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef – Tucked away in the white dunes of Cape Range National Park is this unique and amazing accommodation. Only steps from the waters edge are glamping style tents with beds and private bathrooms. There’s a chef on site preparing delicious meals made with local ingredients so you can dine while taking in the ocean views and watching the sun set.
If you want to camp on the beach with all the comforts of a hotel, this is an excellent choice! Staying at Sal Salis really is the ultimate getaway and a once in a lifetime experience. See prices and availability here.
Day 10 – Exmouth
On the last day of the road trip, you will spend a full day exploring the Exmouth area. There are plenty of fun things to do in Exmouth but I would highly recommend heading over to Turquoise Bay for a relaxing beach day or booking a whale shark swimming excursion.
Whale Shark Excursions – Spend the day cruising around on a catamaran, swimming alongside the largest fish in the ocean! Exmouth is home to whale sharks for 6 months of the year. The best time of year to see them is from March – July. The full day whale shark excursion will take you to a number of the best snorkelling spots around the Ningaloo Reef followed by a chance to swim with the majestic whale sharks.
The tour includes hotel/caravan park pick up and drop off, lunch and morning tea, and snorkelling equipment. These tours are very popular during the high season (April – July) so it’s always best to book ahead of time to avoid missing out. Check tour prices and availability here.
Turquoise Bay – We’ve both seen a lot of beaches over the years but this one takes the place as the most impressive beach we’ve ever laid eyes on. Picture the softest white sand and the most clear turquoise water you can imagine! Now add in a thriving reef full of turtles and colourful fish only meters away from the shore and you’ve got yourself a pretty amazing place to spend a day.
Turquoise Bay is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. If you want to snorkel, be aware that this is a drift snorkelling spot with a current running through. Snorkelling here is definitely worth while as there are few places in the world with a reef as good as this one so close to the beach!
Sunset Humpback Whale Watching Tour – If you choose to spend a relaxing day at the beach, a great way to end the day would be to take this sunset whale watching tour. Watch as humpback whales play in the ocean while the sun sinks below the horizon as you enjoy a complimentary glass of beer or wine. You can also bring your own alcohol on board. Find more info about this tour here.
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse – Only 11km north of Exmouth is a historic lighthouse with an awesome panoramic view of the Indian Ocean and Ningaloo Reef. You can take a tour of the lighthouse to learn about its history. This is a particularly nice spot to watch sunset.
Ningaloo Centre Aquarium – A great introduction to the Exmouth region is a visit to the Ningaloo Aquarium. Interactive displays and large tanks of fish showcase the history of the area and provide information about the marine life that inhabit the Ningaloo Reef.
Get your ticket to the aquarium online before you go.
Tickets – $19 Adults, $14 Children.
Day 11 – Exmouth to Perth
The quickest and most convenient option to return to Perth is obviously to drop off your car rental and fly. Qantas flies between Perth and Learmonth Ningaloo Airport 12 times per week.
Keep in mind you also have the option to first fly to Exmouth, rent a car at the Learmonth Airport and do the road trip in reverse. Either way, the car rental companies will charge a relocation fee if you decide to drive one way and fly the other.
The cost of flying from Exmouth to Perth starts at around $150 depending on the time of year you wish to fly. Find more info here about booking your flight.
If you didn’t rent a car, you’ll have to make the long drive back down the coast. I would recommend splitting the drive between 2 days. Spend a full day (8 hrs) driving from Exmouth to Kalbarri, spend the night in Kalbarri and then continue the rest of the drive (6 hrs) to Perth the following day. This is definitely easier to do with multiple drivers so that you can switch it up every few hours!
Continue to Karijini
Getting from Exmouth to Karijini National Park takes 8 hours which makes for a very long day of driving. I would recommend adding an extra 4-5 nights to this itinerary if you’re hoping to make it to Karijini.
Spend 2 nights in the Eco Retreat camp site and then another 2 nights on the other side of the park at Dales Campground. This way you’ll have easier access to the gorges closest to each camp ground. There is so much to see and do in this national park, it’s definitely worth all the long drives!
Karijini National Park
Karijini National Park first appears on the horizon as a collection of large hills arranged haphazardly upon the otherwise flat and featureless desert that stretches over a vast distance in every direction. There is little hint as to the existence of the fabulous gorges and sacred springs that await you until you are right on top of them.
There are two entrances into the national park, one from the east and one from the west. These coincide with the two camping areas with the east side housing Dales Campground and the west side housing Karijini Eco Retreat and their campground.
There are so many amazing sites to see in Karijini and it is hard to fit them all in unless you have a solid week in the park. It can get really hot in this region so even though some of the hikes are only a few hours it can really take it out of you. You can probably do 2 hikes in a day if you are fit but you don’t want to do this every day!
We’ll list our recommended gorges here and some other options if you have a little more time. We spent 3 nights in the park which in hindsight wasn’t really enough. Each campground is located near a group of sights and we found it best to stay in each one so as to avoid driving for hours down bumpy gravel roads only to have to drive back at the end of the day.
Entry Fee: Day Pass: $15 per car, $8 for seniors and $8 for motorbikes. Day entry passes are available at park entry points. Annual Pass: $120 per vehicle (all parks in WA).
I’ll first describe each campground and then list the gorges that are in proximity to it.
Karijini Eco Retreat
As the name suggests this is an environmentally friendly accommodation complex and also the only one in the park. They offer cabins, eco-tents and a regular campground in addition to on-site facilities such as a restaurant and bar.
The eco-tents are really stunning and a great experience to stay in. If you have been wild camping for a while and need a break, this is a great place to spoil yourself a little. The campground however is also well equipped, with BBQ facilities, flushing toilets and hot water showers.
This is the best place to base yourself to explore the surrounding gorges and also if you are planning to climb Mt Bruce, which is best started very early and is a closer drive to here than to Dales Camp.
About a 10 to 15 minute drive from the eco resort down a bumpy gravel road you will find the car park for both Hancock Gorge and Weano Gorge.
Out of many highlights in this park Hancock Gorge is probably at the top. The fantastic geology of this narrow canyon amazes you at every turn. The walls are almost like artworks and the colours and contours are so pleasing to the eye.
On top of the raw natural beauty is the great fun of the hike itself. A fairly challenging traverse will have you clinging to rock walls above water, fording streams and sometimes walking waist deep in water. Best to wear swimming gear on this hike and if you have electronics keep them in a watertight bag.
The end of the hike is the famous ‘spider walk’ where you can use the extremely narrow walls as a support to scamper down to the final pool. Your reward is a swim in the refreshing emerald waters of Kermit’s Pool with the gorge rising high up above you.
Located in the same area as Hancock Gorge, the Weano Gorge trek is a long easy stroll through the bottom of the gorge. This is similar to the Dales Gorge trek which we had already done so we chose not to do this one and instead tackle the more difficult Handrail Pool trek which is an offshoot at one end of Weano Gorge.
If you want to do this and skip Weano then make sure you start at entrance furthest from the entrance to the car park. Here you will also find the road that leads to a lookout with amazing views from atop the gorges and another small car park.
You can either leave your car near the lookout or at the far end of the original car park. The entrance to the gorge is along this short stretch of road.
Handrail Pool – The trek down to Handrail Pool is not long but has some challenging areas. The last part of the trek is given away by the name and involves using a rail to negotiate the steep descent into the large pool at the end.
There is actually a second pool and a really beautiful winding gorge that connects to this pool. It is however only accessible by swimming down a narrow channel in super cold water! I’d recommend braving it because the views are well worth the commitment.
This is the government managed campground and the only other area to camp aside from the eco retreat. This huge campground has a lot of sites but still gets busy so try to book ahead. The site has drop toilets and you can get fresh water a short drive away. Keep in mind that there are no showers here.
Dales is on the east side of the park and is located right next to Dales Gorge. It is separated into a number of different areas or ‘loops’, we stayed in the ‘Euro Loop’ and had a trail leading right from our campsite to the top of the gorge in a short 5 min walk.
The ground is rough gravel so it isn’t the best for tents however the sites are surrounded by short metal poles so if you are tenting then make sure to bring enough rope to reach them. There is no power or water immediately at the campsite so you need to be capable of bringing/storing everything you need for your stay.
The massive Dales Gorge is the most accessible in the park as its located a stones throw from the campsite. There is a hike along the top of the gorge with some spectacular viewpoints and another along the bottom with equally stunning views.
The best part however is the pools and waterfalls hidden within the gorge. The first one you will come across is Fortescue Falls, this perfect swimming hole is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre where you can sit and warm up after a refreshing dip. Indeed getting wet is the only way to get a proper view of the waterfall and it’s in a rather awkward location.
Near the top of this pool is a trail leading to Fern Pool. This beautiful tree lined pool is another brilliant spot for a swim. The waterfall here has a super cool cave behind it where you can climb in and sit underneath the falling water.
At the other end of the gorge walk is the circular pool site. This was closed when we were there however still offers amazing views from the lookout high above.
Dales Gorge is also the only one where you are permitted to fly drones, so if you want to get some great birds eye views then make sure you do it here.
Other Gorges in Karijini National Park
Kalamina Gorge, Joffre Gorge/Falls, Knox Gorge – These sites are all located along the road that stretches between Dales Camp and the Eco Retreat. They all offer hikes and great views and if you have the time then you might find them less busy then the more popular sites closer to the campgrounds.
Hamersley is the most remote of the Karijini gorges but it has been said by many that it is the best. Located on the outskirts of the park, to get there requires driving along a very dusty and bumpy 50 km (each way) unsealed road. If you make the effort then you will be rewarded with perhaps the most beautiful natural pool in the park and likely a lot less crowds.
This is the second highest mountain in WA and can be accessed just off the main sealed road running through the park. The summit climb is 9km return and is listed as taking 4 hours however as with most estimates in the park it can be done in much less time. You want to start early as it can be dangerous to do this climb in the heat of the day.
There is also a short and a medium length trail which lead to scenic viewpoints if you don’t want to complete the entire climb. The short trail gives you views out over a mine-site, which is a quintessential part of the Pilbara landscape.
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