Hugging the Indian Ocean coastline from Perth through to Exmouth, the Coral Coast Highway is arguably one of the most spectacular drives on Earth.
Gaze out the window along this 3448-kilometre route and see deep, craggy gorges, endless stretches of brilliantly white beaches, natural lakes in seemingly unnatural colours and, at certain times of the year, colourful carpets of canola or the pink and white of the everlastings.
The tuarts and marris thin out and make way for outback landscapes just north of Perth. Among them is the spectacular Nambung National Park, home to the Mars-like structures of the Pinnacles Desert. Often mistaken for termite mounds, the towering structures are actually ancient shell deposits, worn into their knobbly form by the elements.
Further up the coastal road, striking 100-metre red cliffs break the horizon as you roll into Kalbarri. Rocky structures abound, with the nearby Kalbarri National Park home to the natural photo frame at Nature’s Window, as well as the ancient Murchison Gorge. Walk, kayak or abseil the gorge, or opt for a less adrenaline-inducing and more accessible view from the cantilevered skywalk above.
The remainder of the highway is where oceanic adventures shine. Deep sea fishing charters off Shark Bay, wild dolphin encounters in Monkey Mia and world-class snorkelling on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef are just some of the activities on offer. Join a guided tour from Exmouth or Coral Bay for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming alongside majestic whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays.
An iridescently blue body of water can be spellbinding, but a cerise pink lake takes it to a whole other level. Known as ‘The Pink Lake’, Hutt Lagoon is coloured by harmless beta-carotene-producing algae. There are plenty of parking spots and lookouts around the perimeter from which to admire the water, but the best view is from the air, with many companies offering scenic flights from Geraldton and Kalbarri.
Join Darren ‘Capes’ Capewell where the red sand and turquoise waters meet. He’s the owner of Wula Gura Nyinda and a descendant of the Nhanda and Malgana people of Gutharraguda (Shark Bay). ‘Capes’ runs both land and ocean-based tours where he invites you to learn the history and culture of the region’s First Nations people through story, food and music. Gently kayak or SUP through the crystal clear waters of Monkey Mia and Francois Peron National Park to see the abundance of sea and birdlife, or join him around a campfire under the stars for a didgeridoo meditation and bush tucker dinner.
Did You Know?
Exmouth is one of the few places in Western Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set over the water. Wake up early to welcome the sun over the Exmouth Gulf at Bundegi or town Beach, then bid it farewell over the Indian Ocean from the Ningaloo Lighthouse peak.
Coral Coast Highway Route Details
When to visit:
The Coral Coast Highway is at its best from March to November, when the weather is mild to warm and the skies clear. Between March and October the countryside is covered in a carpet of wildflower blooms. Between March and July you can swim with whale sharks.
The looped drive from Perth to Exmouth and back is sizeable but can be shortened on a one-way Fly + Drive holiday. Start in Perth, drive to Exmouth, and book a Qantas flight back to your starting point, or flip it by flying up to Exmouth then slowly making your way back to Perth by road.