Guides

Your Guide To An Epic Long Weekend In WA’s Exmouth, From Whalesharks To Restaurants

Ningaloo Reef’s resident whaleshark population put Exmouth on the map. But, these mammoth marine creatures aren’t the only thing the tiny West Australian town has going for it.

Keen to discover more? Here’s a bumper 72-hour guide to the gem of the Coral Coast.

How to get there

You’ll want to pack some road trip snacks, because Exmouth is a 12 hour and 45 minute drive up the Coral Coast from Perth. You can break up the drive with stops in Geraldton, Carnarvon, and Coral Bay, or buckle up and tackle the drive in one day. If time is an issue, Qantas flies from Perth to Learmonth daily.

Friday

7.00am – Charles Knife and Pot Shot Canyons

Hit the road running with a few scenic stops straight out of Learmonth airport. On your way into town, keep an eye out for Charles Knife Canyon. It’s an easy drive up to the lookout, with plenty of spots along the way to stop and marvel at the Grand Canyon-esque gorges and views of the gulf beyond. Not far from Charles Knife is Pot Shot, another canyon drive, but this time through the bottom of the gorges. A word of warning: the rocky trail at Pot Shot is best tackled in a 4WD.

9.00am – Breakfast at Social Society

Experience a little bit of Melbourne in Exmouth at Social Society. This vibing little cafe-slash-retail-store has an eco-friendly ethos, keeping meat off the menu and plastics/non-environmentally friendly materials out of their store. Order the coriander, cumin, fennel, and lemon smashed pumpkin (topped with chickpeas, feta, and alfalfa) and we promise you won’t even miss the bacon. While you wait for your meal to arrive, check out the range of eco-conscious clothing and accessories on display.

10.30am – Go shopping

 

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For a small town, the retailers in Exmouth certainly punch above their weight. Start your spree at the Cape Hideaway surf store where you’ll find your usual suspects like Quicksilver and Rip Curl, but also aesthetic AF brands like Tigerlily, Auguste the Label, and Pastel Byron Bay.

Then, hit up Idaho Boutique and the bookstore inside the newsagent just down the road. If it’s homewares you’re after, head out of town to Rising Spirit. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of luggage room because you’ll be leaving the store with your arms full of gorgeous pots, leather goods, 70’s inspired throws, and a new Akubra.

11.30pm – Grab a bakery lunch on the run

Did you even go to Exmouth if you didn’t pop into the Ningaloo Bakehouse for a feed? The line for the bakery’s goods gets pretty epic around lunchtime, so head in early to have first dibs on their tiger bun or sourdough rolls, and buttery, flaky pies. For the full country WA experience, you can’t go past the reef and beef, or garlic prawn pies. It wouldn’t be a bakery visit if you didn’t leave with a stash of vanilla slice, cream buns, and lamingtons too.

12.00pm – Dive the Navy Pier

 

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Dive Ningaloo holds the sole license to dive this active navy pier that’s best described as ‘an aquarium without glass’. There’s plenty of surface area on the 300m long structure for soft corals and sponges to cling to, providing many hidey-holes for moray eels, shrimp, octopus, and scorpionfish to call home. Pack your Go-Pro because you’ll also, no doubt, see big schools of snapper and grouper swimming through the pylons — possibly even a grey nurse, wobbegong, or reef shark. Dive sessions last for around 4 hours.

6.00pm – Sunset at Vlamingh Head Lighthouse 

Just a 10-minute drive from Navy Pier (and 15 mins from town) is the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, a popular spot to sit and watch those famed WA sunsets. Throw down a blanket on the side of the hill, crack a beer or two, and take in the sweeping views of the northwest cape, Indian Ocean, and Ningaloo Reef. If you’re in town at the right time, you might even catch a glimpse of the whales on their annual migratory journey. 

8.00pm – Dinner at Froth Craft Brewery

Head back into town for a night of live music, laid-back vibes, and hoppy goodness at Froth Craft Brewery. The microbrewery has no less than 16 taps on the go at any one time, so have fun trying to pick your poison. Peckish pub-goers can chow down on dishes like the Pilbara mackeral and chips or a falafel burger, or select from a range of tasty snack foods. If you’ve got your adventure pants on, give one of the microbrewery’s unique beer cocktails a go (spiced rum, amber ale, and ginger beer anyone?).

10.00pm – Stay at RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park

Whether you’re pitching a tent, driving your van in, or looking for a cabin somewhere, you can’t go wrong with booking at RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park. The caravan park quite literally has it all – including a brand new lagoon pool, barbecues, an impressive camp kitchen, and showers you could almost consider going plugger-less in (almost). While it’s a little further out than other caravan parks in Exmouth (it’s a four-minute drive or 20-minute walk from town), the spanking new amenities are worth that extra distance.

Saturday

7.45am – Whaleshark tour

Exmouth’s biggest drawcard is their whaleshark population. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t bucket listed a swim with the friendly giants. Board the Ningaloo Discovery’s catamaran at Tantabiddi boat ramp for a full day out on the reef with the whalesharks, manta rays, and turtles.

The season runs from March to August but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the world’s biggest fish outside of those months. Ningaloo Discovery’s ‘fringe season’ tours are cheaper than a peak season tour, but give you the opportunity to upgrade onboard (a flat $50) if the spotters find a whaleshark to jump in with.

7.00pm – Dinner at Whalebone Brewing Company

Beer, bangin’ pizzas, and live music — what more could you ask for from a small-town brewery? A session at the laidback Whalebone brewing shed feels much like hanging out in your mate’s backyard. Most of the action happens outside in the wine barrel, wooden spool, and fire pit dotted courtyard, including regular music gigs by local musicians (even Drapht has played the stage). Order yourself a pizza, grab yourself a tasting paddle to familiarise yourself with the frothies before committing to a full pint, and settle in for the night.

10.00pm – Stay at Yardie Homestead Caravan Park

The Homestead is the only campground along the remote Yardie Creek Road that offers cabins, powered sites, ablution blocks, and a camp kitchen. If you didn’t bring your camping gear with you but still want the ‘camping on the cape’ experience, don’t panic. You can always hire equipment from the team at Exmouth Tackle and Camping. For a nominal fee, they’ll even head out and set up your site for you prior to arrival. They’re happy to set up at campsites like Osprey too if you fancy an off-grid camp experience by the ocean.

Sunday

9.00am – Check out Yardie Creek Gorge

The gorge is the southern-most point on Yardie Creek Road and a site well worth exploring. Take the 4km return hiking trail along the top of the gorge for stunning views of the creek below and the Ningaloo Reef to the west. If you start the trail early in the morning, there’s a good chance you’ll catch sight of some dingos along the way. For a different perspective of the gorge, hop in a kayak or jump on board the Yardie Creek Boat Tour. While on the water, keep an eye out for the endangered black-footed rock wallabies in the crevices of the gorges, and the huge, century-old osprey nests clinging to the rock face.

11.00am – Swim at Sandy Bay

 

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Sandy Bay lives in the shadows of Exmouth’s poster girl, Turquoise Bay. It’s got everything that punters love about Turquoise Bay – the gleaming white sand, azure water, and abundant sea life. What it doesn’t have is the crowds. Enjoy a spot of SUPing on the calm waters, throw a line in off the beach to catch a feed, or, if the wind’s up, pull out your kitesurf. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach.

1.00pm – Head out for a snorkel

There are, quite literally, hundreds of spots to jump in and have a snorkel along the cape. Lakeside is favoured for its large coral bommies that bring turtles, large reef fish and stingrays to the area.

An easy snorkel for beginners is the Turquoise Bay drift snorkel. Walk 100 metres to the left of the carpark, swim out to the reef, and let the current take you north over the fish-filled coral gardens. If the tide is right (we’re talking 1.2m or higher), then be sure to paddle about with the giant plate coral at Oyster Stacks. This is a super shallow snorkel along a rocky shoreline so, to protect the coral, it can only be attempted at high tide. Don’t stress if you can’t tell the tides – there’s a sign at the top of the stairs that clearly states whether or not the site is snorkel-able.

3.00pm – Start your journey home

(Lead Image:Tourism Western Australia)