The pristine water in Coral Bay

Road Trip from Perth to Exmouth

Back in 2009 I took a small bus trip up the coast from Perth to Exmouth over five days. I’d written about it at the time and the company I travelled with – WesternXposure Bus Tours – no longer provides this trip. They do however have a trip with the same first five days but instead of returning to Perth on days 6 and 7, it continues to Broome via Karijini National Park. This post covers the summary of the trip and a list of many of the sights between Perth and Exmouth. 

To read more about the tour and the company, click here.

Top sights on a road trip from Perth to Exmouth

Over five days, our tour had us stopping at pretty much every attraction between Perth and Exmouth. With lots of ground to cover, you need to get out and stretch your legs, so why not take in some pretty sights at the same time!

Along with 1,100km on the road, the itinerary over five days covered:

  • Perth to Kalbarri with a stopover at the Pinnacles and sand boarding in Geraldton
  • Kalbarri National Park and Shell Beach
  • Monkey Mia and the Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool
  • Coral Bay
  • Exmouth and Turquoise Bay

Alternatively, if you’re doing a round-trip, you could easily break up the trip north and south, picking and choosing your stops along the way.

Day 1 – Perth to Kalbarri

The 21 passenger bus left the Perth train station around 7:30am. After leaving Perth, our first stop was at a gas station about 2 hours outside of the city. Nothing too special about the stopover except that there were emus next to the station. In terms of wildlife sightings, this was a great start.

Emus at a petrol station between on the way between Perth and Exmouth
Why hello there? Emus at our first rest stop

The Pinnacles

Our first offical sight seeing stop was at the Pinnacles outside the town of Cervantes. It’s a collection of rocks in the middle of nowhere and, to be honest, a lot of them look like male genitalia. Needless to say, I took a bunch of pictures of the penis rocks.

Pinnacles outside of Cervantes
The very phallic shaped rocks in the middle of nowhere. A site not to be missed! There are a lot more than it looks in the photo.

For lunch we stopped at Jurien Bay which has a small park next to the beach where we enjoyed a ‘make your own sandwich’ picnic lunch. Considering we were only there for the use of the picnic tables, I was quite impressed by how pretty the area was but alas, we needed to keep on tracking to our next destination.

Sand boarding outside of Geraldton

After some more driving (about 200km) we reached Geraldton for some sand boarding on the sand dunes overlooking the town. This seemed to be popular for both 4 wheel driving locals and tourists alike. We showed up with our “sand boards” which looked like really cheap, wooden snow boards. I say cheap because while we were getting ready to sand board, we were watching some guys on dirt bikes and 4 wheeler buggies that looked like they were having a alot of fun.

I have to admit, sandboarding was pretty fun, although we didn’t go very fast until one of the guys waxed up the boards. Some people were going down the hill standing up. I went down on my bum knowing I would probably fall off and break an arm or something if I tried it standing up. The sand didn’t look as forgiving as snow!

Sand boarding outside of Geraldton
Sand boarding outside of Geraldton
Sand dunes outside of Geraldton
You can see all the tracks from all the use in the dunes. There’s so much pretty on this trip!

Overnight in Kalbarri 

After some more driving, we arrived at Kalbarri, our destination for the night. I finally had mobile reception for the first time since leaving Perth. YAY for civilisation (remember this was 2009 – things have improved, or at least I hope they have!).  Our accommodation consisted of dorm rooms with 9 beds in each dorm. Luckily there were only 5 of us in the room and we had an en suite shower and toilet.

Our group is made up of two Aussies, two from Britain, one from the Netherlands, five people from Japan, two from Switzerland and two from France. Once again, I’m the lone Canadian on the tour.

Day 2 – Kalbarri National Park and Shell Beach

This morning we left the hostel around 8am and headed inland to the Kalbarri National Park. There are two main sights: the Z Bend Gorge and the Loop Trail which includes Nature’s Window.

We first headed down the 2.4 km return trail to the bottom of Z Bend Gorge. The hike down wasn’t too difficult but did involve climbing over rocks and using a couple ladders. There was a place to swim at the base of the gorge but the water level was only waist deep at the deepest point. The water also looked green and not very inviting. But when in Rome! So I went for a quick dip, and then laid in the sun on the rocks, while Max, a guy on the tour from the Netherlands, took my camera and played around with it for a bit and took some pictures for me. He knows a bit about cameras (which is more than I can say) and he’s been teaching me how to use some of the functions.

Z Bend Gorge in Kalbarri National Park between Perth and Exmouth
The pools of Z Bend Gorge. Thanks to Max for the lovely photos.
Z Bend Gorge between Perth and Exmouth
The pools of Z Bend Gorge

After the climb up to the top, we drove over to the Loop Walk. Since the trail is 8km, we only walked to Nature’s Window and took a bunch of pictures. A few people saw a kangaroo but besides that it was all Nature’s Window and river in the gorge below. Very spectacular scenery.

Nature's Window in Kalbarri National Park
The view around Nature’s Window
Nature's Window in Kalbarri National Park
Doing the typical tourist pose in Nature’s Window
Nature's Window in Kalbarri National Park
Cool rock formations at the Loop Walk

Lunch and the non-town of Billabong

Our tour guide was cooking up hambugers while we were sightseeing. When we got back, they  were waiting for us and were so good (I could get used to this tour group thing!). It was then time to go back on the bus. The next stop was for food and petrol in a town called Billabong. I use the term town lightly as it consisted of  petrol station, a hotel and a restaurant.

Billabong Roadhouse between Perth and Exmouth
This is pretty much all there is to Billabong!
Billabong Roadhouse Sign
Gotta love the Aussie sense of humour!

Shell Beach 

We then drove to Shell Beach which is literally a beach made of shells. It was pretty cool and was nice to be at a beach and not leave covered in sand! The water looked really calm and very inviting for a swim but it was getting a bit late and we didn’t have much time to linger. So instead I spent most of my time taking pictures of all the shells.

Shell Beach in Western Australia between Perth and Exmouth
Shell Close Up!
When at Shell Beach, one must do Shell Angels
When at Shell Beach, one must do Shell Angels

Our accommodation for the night is was a caravan park in Monkey Mia (unfortunately not the resort!).

Day 3 – The Dolphins of Monkey Mia

This morning we had free time until we had to board the bus at 10:30am. Since the main attractions of Monkey Mia (besides the gorgeous coast line, beaches and hot, sunny weather) are the local dolphins, everyone in my dorm room got up early and went down to the beach. After a quick breakfast at 7am, we walked down to the beach near the pier.

Dolphin Time!

The amazing thing about the dolphins in the area is that they are wild but they show up at the same spot every day. I like to think that they show u not for the food, but because they love of putting on a show.

dolphin at monkey mia in Hamelin Bay
Hi everybody!

There were already about 40 people lined up along the beach in knee deep water by the time we arrived. The dolphins were swimming near the crowd and doing some jumps and splashing their tails (and no beach ball balancing on their noses). Altogether there were about 8 or 9 dolphins, being females with their young off spring.

After a talk about the dolphins by the ranger, a few volunteers came down with fish in buckets. Each dolphin has a bucket and for whatever reason, they have to be fed from their bucket. Why, I’m not sure. I was too busy taking pictures to listen to the “talk”. The other cool thing about the dolphins is that they each have their “spot”. So along the beach there’s the volunteers with a dolphin floating right next to them. Next, they pick someone out of the crowd to feed the dolphin. For feed time #1, each dolphin was fed three fish and there were three of them.

Over the course of the morning, they feed them three times. The time between the feeds can vary, depending on when the dolphins come back. We were lucky this morning because we saw all three feeds by 9:30. The ranger told us this can take until lunch time.

Out of our 19 person group, three people got the chance to feed the dolphins, including the two people I’ve been hanging out with. They tried to blow it off like it wasn’t the coolest thing ever, but I wasn’t convinced! And no I wasn’t jealous that I didn’t get picked despite using my “pick me please to feed the dolphins” eyes.

The Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool

After the dolphin frenzy, we were back on the highway the same way we had come the night before. Instead of stopping at Shell Beach, we stopped at the Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. It’s tough to explain what they are. All we were told is that they are rock “structures” that are in different parts of the world and are incredibly important. Because of something they did a long time ago, they were able to produce oxygen and increase the oxygen level in the atmosphere to enable oxygen needing organisms like me and you to be able to live on earth. It sounds impressive but I think we were a bit underwhelmed by them. The massive amounts of flies flying into our faces didn’t help either.

Stromatolites between Perth and Exmouth
The Stromatolites are very delicate so there’s a walkway for visitors so they aren’t damaged
Hamelin Pool stromatolites
The Hamelin Pool stromatolites are oldest and largest living fossils on earth.
Stromatolites with a view
Even these old rocks look pretty in this setting

To learn more about the Stromatolites, click here.

We had lunch at the caravan park next to the Stromoalites, which was a pretty creepy looking place that I wouldn’t want to be visiting at night time alone. There were a few shanty type buildings and they each had old post office signs from different random towns on them. There was also a shop that had the most random stuff in it. It had lots of alcohol and other drinks, but also had $45 silk ties with kangaroos on them, stubby holders that said “I associate with the lowest level of life form”, Indian scarfs and miniature buddah statues. Name something random and it was probably there.

Shanty in the middle of nowhere near Hamelin Pool
Shanty in the middle of nowhere

Our next stop was a roadhouse where we were going to change buses and half the group was going on a different bus to return to Perth. I missed them (kind of) but was happy with the extra room in the bus. I went from having a single seat to a double seat I can stretch out on and a single seat to put my feet on. We spent a lot of time on the bus today but it was way more comfortable!

Day 4 – Carnarvon and Coral Bay

One of our stops en route to Coral Bay was Carnarvon, but the only area of the town we saw was the BP petrol station. What’s significant about this stop is that there was mobile reception. The weird thing was that we had reception right until we turned into the station parking lot. So after I got out of the bus I ran down the road until my phone work. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

Wildlife between Perth and Exmouth

Over the past two nights we have encoutered the following wildlife either running across the road, standing on the road or on the side of the road and looked like they were about to walk in front of the bus:

  • one emu
  • one kangaroo
  • 2 sets of 3 cows
  • 4 sheep
  • 1 rabbit
  • 1 fox

Death toll: 0

Arrival in Coral Bay

Today we had the option of going on one of the many tours out of Coral Bay or to do absolutely nothing until 4:30pm. Most people did a tour, while I did the “nothing”. Some of the tours the other people did included: two dives on the reef, quading on the sand dunes and a glass bottom boat tour along the reef to see turtles, dugongs and sharks.

My “lay on the beach all day and not be anywhere near a bus” day suited me just fine.

Clear water in Coral Bay between Perth and Exmouth
Water doesn’t get much more clear than this!
Seagull at Coral Bay
Such a tough life for the little seagull

A free day in Coral Bay

After a sleep in, I grabbed some brekkie and headed to the beach. I brought my snorkelling stuff with me and went out on the reef. For snorkelling straight off the beach, it was pretty decent, but no where as good as the snorkelling at Turquoise Bay the following day (more on that below). There was a bunch of different types of fish and no current so you could swim around as you pleased pretty easily.

Rush hour at Coral Bay
Rush hour at Coral Bay

Differences between Turquoise Bay and Coal Bay

It’s hard to do the area justice after the beforementioned trip to Turquoise Bay. The major differences between the two areas are as follows:

  • Coral Bay has a giant caravan park, shops, hostel, another caravan park (I think) and the beach is about a 5 minute walk from these places. It’s nice to be able to leave the beach and grab some food, ice cream, water, etc.
  • Turquiose Bay is in a national park and has no services besides an outhouse and a shaded area to eat. The benefit of Turquiose Bay, if you’re into that sort of thing, is the fact that there were hardly anyone there. Had a cruise ship not have docked in Exmouth with day trippers on a bus tour, there would have been pretty much no one there other than the eight of us.
  • The water in Coral Bay was nice and by no means cold, but the water in Turquoise Bay felt like bath water.
  • There’s plenty of turquoise water in both places, but the water in Turquoise Bay was so clear it looked like it was from a tap and that was in two metres of water.
  • When I first walked down to the beach in Coral Bay the tide was high and there was practically no beach. I literally had to walk through ankle to half knee deep water because there was no beach in some spots. Although the beach did appear later in the day, Turquiose Bay had a gorgeous white sand beach with heaps of room.
  • There are way more fish at Turquiose Bay, not to mention turtles and sharks!
  • Lots of kids at Coral Bay because of the camping facilities and easy access to the beach. Turquiose Bay had no kids and a hot aussie snorkelling instructor named Dave 😉

All in all, my day in Coral Bay was absolutely fantastic, only to be topped by a day in Turquoise Bay.

Did I mention the forecast for Exmouth for the next five days was 33 – 34 degrees and sunny??

Day 5 – Turquoise Bay and

Just as a quick intro … today was absolutely spectacular. Definitely the best snorkelling I’ve ever done. I heart Western Australia!

We had the option of going on one of the many tours based out of Exmouth, or to go with our tour leader to Turquoise Bay. Since I was in Exmouth for 4 more days for diving and whale sharks, I decided to take the trip out to Turquoise Bay for some snorkelling and beach lounging.

Once we arrived at the beach, I knew I made the right decision.

It’s bad to say, but after seeing turquoise coloured water and white sand beaches for four days straight, it was almost tempting to (sarcastically) say “oh wow, another white sandy beach …” and not be overly excited about it. For one, I doubt I’ll ever quite get to that point*, and secondly, this Turquoise Beach is quite special. The Ningaloo Reef is just a few metres off shore.

(*edited to add – in the 10 years of living in Western Australia, the turquoise water and white, sandy beaches are still impressive).

seagull in Turquiose Bay
I think the seagulls love to pose for me
Swimming in Turquoise Bay
Can you tell that I loved Turquoise Bay?
White sand beach in Turquoise Bay
There’s lots of pristine beach looking just like this

How to spend a day in Turquoise Bay

This is how you spend your day in Turquoise Bay: Walk down the beach about 200m, float over top of the reef, let the current take you back to where your towel is waiting for you (for some much needed sunbathing after all that “hard” work), repeat.

If you’re not into snorkelling, laying on the gorgeous beach looking at the turquoise water isn’t a bad way to spend a day either.

We arrived at the beach around 10:30am and left around 4pm. Here’s how the day went:

  • walked to our towel laying spot, grabbed snorkel gear, walked down the beach to start snorkelling
  • swam out about 20m to the reef, floated aimlessly
  • saw 4 turtles (two swimming, one laying on the bottom, one eating in the corals)
  • saw pretty much every kind of fish I saw on the Great Barrier Reef
  • floated to the towels, laid on the beach, got some sun, listened to ipod, almost fell asleep
  • ate lunch
  • walked 150m to the snorkelling spot, floated aimlessly
  • saw a turtle missing his right front leg and with a non-working back left leg (probably so he wouldn’t swim in circles)
  • saw a black tip reef shark! (only on a reef do you want to hear your swimming partner yell “SHARK!!”)
  • saw about 300 yellow and black fish all in a school, all swimming together almost like they were on a road. The hundreds of fish only spread out about a metre. It really looked like a bunch of fish on a freeway.
  • laid back on the beach
  • discovered where the shore goes from ankle deep to shoulder deep water after about 2 feet. Jumped off the side like I was in a swimming pool. And yes the water was 25 degrees and the air was about 34 so it felt like a big, saltwater swimming pool 🙂
  • hopped back on the bus and sadly say goodbye to Turquoise Bay

More Wildlife

More animals that we almost hit while driving today:

  • 3 or 4 or 5 kangaroos (I lost count)
  • a 3 foot long lizard
  • a 3 foot lizard, who, at the last minute, decided to run from the right side of the road to the left, underneath the bus so we almost hit it. I screamed and I think our bus driver did as well!
  • a daddy emu with three little emus running behind him
  • an eagle munching on some dead kangaroo

Vlaming Head Lighthouse

On the way back to Exmouth, we stopped over at Vlaming Head Lighthouse for a cute lighthouse and a spectacular spot for epic sunset photos.

Vlaming Head Lighthouse in Exmouth
Check out the view from up here!
Vlaming Head Lighthouse
Vlaming Head Lighthouse

Tomorrow is whale shark day. Hopefully we’ll see at least one (and hopefully more like 6!)

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