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Western Australia: Journey to Australia's Secret Reef

When you imagine an underwater wonderland in the land downunder The Great Barrier Reef is probably what comes to mind… Well think again. On Australia’s lesser visited West Coast there lies a reef warranting even greater awe. Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth, Western Australia.

Getting to Ningaloo is half of the fun. Like all gems off the beaten path, the journey to Ningaloo/Exmouth is an adventure in itself. First you must get to Perth, the most remote city in the world. With two million people, clear on the other side of the outback, there is no other comparable size anywhere in the world that is so remote.

From Perth begins the 775 mile drive north. Now this is not any old road trip. The drive from Perth to Exmouth is wrought with kangaroos, micro-nations, and friendly farmers.

Australia’s favorite micro-nation - The Principality of Hutt River - is a small detour off the road, some 350 miles north of Perth. Hutt River issues its own stamps, currency, and passports. While not a legally authorized nation, it is taken ever so seriously by its “citizens” and fun to play along.

Prince Leonard of Hutt - Image Credit Andrew Quilty

Roadside stops in Western Australia are far from the welcome center experience of my childhood road trips in the American Deep South. Tropical fruit farms line much of the highway which gives rise to small farmers (or children) selling surplus fruit roadside. I stopped at one such establishment to buy mangoes, avocados, and mango popsicles. Plastered all over the stand were signs that read “do not squeeze the fruit”.

Out of habit I picked up an avocado and gently squeezed, to determine its ripeness… Much to the dismay of the 10 year old farmer…absolutely aghast by my atrocious action, the young farmer educated my travel buddy and I the proper avocado cupping method to determine ripeness. After my fruit stand fauxpau. We loaded the car with fruit and continued continued the drive.

Roadside Termite Mounds

Roadside echidna's

As emus, termite mounds and echidna's dotted the landscape the sun began to set. Heralding the most dangerous time to be on the road in Western Australia.

I had been forewarned about the plethora of kangaroos that descend upon the road at dawn and dusk. But after days of traveling we were tired and ready to get to our beach side campsite, even if it meant going slow past a few kangaroos.

Afterall, how bad could it really be… Oh boy was I wrong. Initially I was ecstatic. Kangaroos! Everywhere! The furry marsupials I had dreamed about. But after 15 minutes and 50+ kangaroos, I realized we were in for a long drive.

The kangaroos descend upon the road at dawn and dusk, which makes driving almost impossible - in an effort to not hit any kangaroos, we inched along at 10 kph.We tried everything to encourage the kangaroos off the road. The following were completely unsuccessful: Honking, blasting music, and flashing headlights. The only intervention that proved to temporarily frighten kangaroos enough to get them off the road and safely into the bush was clapping.

Perhaps feeling unappreciated, the kangaroos wanted an applause. So there we were, sweaty and salty, five Australians and one American cramped into a VW Golf, with kayaks and tents latched to the roof, with all of the windows down, clapping at the presence of the kangaroos.

An hour later we made it to the Cape Range National Park and set up camp underneath a starry sky. As winds roared off the Indian Ocean and through our campsite, I nodded off I dreamt of the aquatic adventures that awaited me in the next 10 days.....

Image by Craig Wells

Stay tuned for next week, for field notes from the Ningaloo Reef.

Wander Wisely,


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