Ningaloo Reef – Under the Water with Sail Ningaloo


Last Updated on May 15, 2021 by Amy

David and I left the Red Centre and flew to Perth, where we were welcomed by friends and stayed out in Fremantle. We did get to the Fremantle Market and spent a morning walking along the foreshore and out the jetty. After two nights, it was time to get out to our next major destination – Ningaloo Reef.

Disclaimer:  Some of the activities mentioned in this post were received free of charge or at a discounted rate.  We were psyched to have their support, but this post reflects our honest opinion on the activity.

Flying to Ningaloo Reef

To get to the Ningaloo Reef area you fly to Learmonth, which is a small civil airport on the Learmonth Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base. It used to be a US Air Force base, but the US handed it over to the Australian government. Also nearby is the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station, which has HUGE antennas that were designed to communicate with submarines in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.

How to Maximize Your Time in the Water

All the best activities in Ningaloo are under the water. The area is famous for it’s coral and migratory sea creatures, and the Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef (meaning it’s easily accessible from shore and you don’t have to cross open water to get there). Ningaloo is 160 miles long and extends along the west side of the North West Cape.

As such, we booked our visit at Sail Ningaloo, a liveaboard sailing catamaran based in the Coral Bay area. I am pretty sure Sail Ningaloo is the ONLY liveaboard boat in the area, and it’s an absolute bonus for us that it’s a sailing catamaran.


Sail Ningaloo provides transportation out to Coral Bay via a Sail Ningaloo shuttle (at additional cost), that picks all the guests up along the way. The boat, Shore Thing, was waiting for us at the dock, and we loaded quickly, got the safety briefing and tour, and took off!

Diving Ningaloo Reef

Sail Ningaloo provides guided dives with all the dive gear (at additional cost).  We went on four dives during our stay, and we could have done a fifth but opted not to.  We had a lot of time in the water!  Dives were first thing in the morning, usually the first at 8 am.  We’d resurface, snack and move the boat, dive again, and then have lunch after the second dive.

david looking pretty fly underwater

Black Douglas

This is a shallow dive (9 meters) with coral heads.  Our highlights were:

  • Blue Spotted Stingray
  • Nudibranch (Chromodoris lochi)
  • Toadfish
blue spotted stingray

Syd’s Harbour

A wall dive, this one was my favorite.  We saw at least a dozen nudibranchs, which, I’ve only seen one before in Fiji.  Who knew they were so hard to capture on camera?  The GoPro can’t focus that well on a close-up.

  • Nudibranchs GALORE!
  • Moray eels
  • Octopus
moray eel
gorgeous angelfish

Asho’s Gap

This dive has a shark cleaning station, where cleaning fish hang out and clean reef sharks of parasites.

  • Lots of reef sharks
  • Wobbegong shark!
  • Green turtle
  • Very good coral
green turtle
shark cleaning station
wobbegong shark

Mega Maze

Mega Maze is more about the landscape.  The dive goes through columns and pillars, weaving around.  A diver could easily get lost if you weren’t paying attention.

  • Sailfish catfish, an endemic species to the Ningaloo Reef
sailfish catfish
back to home base.

Snorkeling Ningaloo Reef

We went on snorkels in the afternoons at Ningaloo Reef, but if you aren’t a diver (there were 8 guests onboard with Sail Ningaloo, and 3 of them didn’t dive), you can snorkel in the mornings instead of diving.  After lunch was usually siesta time where everyone got quiet.  There was a snorkel around 3 pm and then the last snorkel was around 4:30 or 5 pm.  An awesome part of snorkeling with Sail Ningaloo?  Pickup whenever you want.  One crewmember was always in the water with us, and one crew member was always in the tender.  Getting tired?  Just raise your fist out of the water and they’ll come pick you up!

  • More sharks on the snorkels
  • Another octopus
  • Stingrays
I don’t know what this is, but it’s some kind of mollusk with it’s foot out!
blue spotted stingray
spider conch
An octopus in the sand next to some coral in Ningaloo Reef.
a very tolerant octopus
A porcupine stingray in Ningaloo Reef. It's a round gray stingray with small bumps on it's back.
porcupine stingray

Photographing Underwater

All of these shots are stills taken from GoPro footage from our GoPro HERO4 Silver.  Since then we’ve upgraded to a GoPro HERO6 Black.  We opted not to bring the underwater housing for our Panasonic camera while traveling around Australia.  For a complete look at all of our gear on board Starry Horizons, check out our Amazon shop.

Wildlife Identification Resources

Australian Museum

Nudibranch Identification

Sea Turtle Identification and Information from Ningaloo Turtles

Three books I highly recommend:  Tropical Pacific Reef Fish Identification, Indo-Pacific Nudibranch and Sea Slug Identification, and  Tropical Pacific Reef Creature Identification.  Almost every boat I know has these books, and Shore Thing had some of them in their library for us to peruse.

More Sail Ningaloo

That’s just the underwater part!  Next post is about living onboard Shore Thing.

PS.  Happy Anniversary to us!

Amy and David kissing while underwater with dive gear on in Ningaloo Reef.
*smooch* happy anniversary to us!

Watch the Video:  Cheating on Starry Horizons in the Ningaloo Reef

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  1. Its a long but easy drive from Perth. We landed at midday got to Gerro by sunset, left at 6 the next day and got to Coral bay around 4 after provisioning in Carnarvon. Coral Bay is a great spot, but food can be expensive there. Hence the stopover in Carnarvon.

    Heading back again in 2020 to see how its changed.

  2. Reading about your genset problems. Read the cataraman impi posts about how they solved the pump impeller problem.

  3. I guess we need to do another trip to Perth for this diving adventure. Lovely underwater photos! Thank you for sharing.

  4. So beautiful! I’m heading on a WA roadtrip in a month and am already so excited Have you had a chance to swim with whale sharks this time? Happy travels and thanks for sharing this info

  5. The colors in these pictures are phenomenal! Nudibranches are new to me – but they are now among my favorites.

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