The Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is rated better these days than the Great Barrier Reef by many people. We had no idea, we simply hoped to end up in a big city after 1000 kilometres of emptiness. Unfortunately though, Exmouth seemed to be nothing more than a supermarket, 2 pubs, a couple of bait shops & a visitor centre. The visitor centre however was stuffed with promotional videos about swimming with whale sharks and Arno, my hubby, got interested. I was a bit reluctant, I mean swimming with sharks that could grow up to 16 meters long?! I like living and didn’t think of ending that soon. Anyway, Arno convinced me and on a Tuesday morning at 7AM there we were, waiting for our pick-up service. We booked our trip with the Exmouth Diving Centre, the shuttle picked us and 8 other young travellers up at our campgrounds and we left off towards the ocean.
Again I felt a bit ‘not in the mood’ as being dropped in a group of younglings I felt a bit uncomfortable, and to my astonishment after being brought with small boats to one bigger boat, another 10 people came along. The crew started their info talks and I started to feel a bit more at ease, even though I was still terrified on the inside but I couldn’t give in to that because I felt like being the only one. Before the whale sharks we were going for a snorkelling tour down the reef to test our gear. I hadn’t snorkelled before, like ever, so to be honest this was pretty cool to me, I saw some cute fish, nothing that could kill me instantly so I was happy.
In between the super friendly crew had set up tea, coffee, water and a big assortment of cookies, which believe me are very welcome after trying to move your legs in the most gracious way with those gigantic fins for about half an hour. The atmosphere was good and actually everyone was very nice so I was feeling better by the minute.
While we were off snorkelling the private plane of our company took off to search for whale sharks so our boat could head to the place to be immediately. We were divided into two groups and on the signal of the crew, had to be ready and seated at the back of the boat in 2 rows with our gear on, so we could all jump in the water in like 30 seconds. Sounds a bit weird and primary school-ish but it was actually very efficient and simply because the crew wanted to ensure us every second we could get with the whale shark. So the very first time I sat down there, my goggles washed, my wetsuit nice and warm, I was so excited and still a bit scared. But there it was, “Go Go Go!”, we jumped in and followed the guide for about 10 metres and then she said to look down and swim along with the whale shark. From the minute I looked down and saw this magnificent creature my heart jumped! This was amazing, the whale shark was gorgeous and looked so relaxed, it’s like you dive in a different universe at once. As you’re only with 10 people max. in the water with the shark it never feels crowded as this fish is big enough to share. So sometimes you actually feel like you’re alone with your new best buddy.
And this crew really does everything in their powers to make this experience as extraordinary as it can be. One time, I was a bit unlucky to have a guy in my group that had his own fins (so obviously thought he could conquer the sea with those), however he created the biggest splashes humanly possible by flapping his fins on the water surface the whole time, and 5 seconds after I had put my head under water one of his fins hit me right on the head. For a moment there I was a bit puzzled, my guide had seen it and to my gratitude she grabbed the back of my wetsuit and pulled me all the way to the head of the whale shark. (I say “pulled” but it felt more like she had an invisible high-speed motor as we went super fast!) Back on the boat afterwards I heard from a lady who couldn’t keep up with the shark anymore, as it does get pretty tiring, the guide had done the same for her. Thus a big thumbs up for that crew!
In total we went for about 5 swims with the whale shark, I skipped 2 I think as I was pretty exhausted and to my joy I wasn’t at all the only one. But every time it was simply marvellous! After lunch we could go for some more snorkelling or simply enjoy the sun on the deck of the boat. To top it all we all shared a complimentary glass of sparkling wine or a beer to celebrate this day! This sure will be a memory I’ll cherish for a very long time.
A bit more practical info:
- The trip costs 380 AUD per adult, I know that’s a lot, but every excursion in Australia is crazy expensive and I truly believe that this is probably one of the very few where the price/quality ratio is very high. (e.g. I wanted to see the horizontal falls in the Kimberleys but the cheapest option there was 700 dollars per person, so we took a rain check on that one)
- All your gear is included: fins, goggles, snorkel, wetsuit, cookies, drinks, lunch and a glass of sparkling wine or beer
- You’re being picked up around 7AM in the morning either where you’re staying in Exmouth or at the Visitor Centre and you’ll be back around 4PM
- They have a free one time return ticket policy if they couldn’t spot a whale shark that day.
- Photos and a film are included if you choose to
- Whale sharks aren’t dangerous, they don’t bite nor eat people
- It’s possible to join as an observer for a lower price of course, you might be in for a treat because we also spotted some humpback whales waving at us!