Ningaloo Reef Top Spot for Whale Sharks and Humpbacks

Ningaloo Reef Top Spot for Whale Sharks and Humpbacks


When Is the Best Time

Ningaloo Reef is most famous for swimming with whale sharks and manta rays. Since 2016 humpback whale tours are also offered from Exmouth. April, July, and late September are the busiest months because of the Australian holidays. Continue reading to figure out the best time and what to experience for your visit to Exmouth.

Breaching humpback at Ningaloo

Seasons | Whale Sharks - Humpback Whales - Manta Rays

The more than 260 km long Ningaloo Reef is an excellent destination for whale sharks and humpback whale interactions. The season starts late March and lasts until October. You always wanted to snorkel with a whale shark, seeing it close and passing by? Then April until July is your preferred time to travel to Exmouth. Coming up close to humpbacks even with a calf August to October are the best months for interactions.

Whale Sharks

Whale Shark

They arrive around mid-March depending on the full moon and stay for feeding until July and some until August. There are even sightings in September and October possible, but it's not any longer guaranteed. The highest chance for interactions and swimming with them is from April to July. The whale sharks are annually close to the reef at this time of the year. The water temperature is pleasant after the summer heat. The reason for the whale sharks coming to Ningaloo is the release of millions of eggs and sperm by the corals, which always happens roughly a  week after the full moon in March. Masses of krill are swarming to feed on the spawn that provides a feast for the whale sharks. 200 to 400 whale sharks mostly juveniles come for feeding to  Ningaloo each year. Whereas 2019 was different; very few sightings already in August but again in October.

Top Tours to Ningaloo Reef

We already went on three snorkel trips from Exmouth and all of them were breathtaking. After the hot summer months in April and May, the sea temperature is bearable whereas September is pretty cold. However, we swam several times with a whale shark and humpback whale. We were in absolute awe the entire time watching these majestic giants. 



Humpback Whales

Humpback mother and calf

Tours are offered from August to October. One of the largest population migrates from the feeding grounds in Antarctica to their calving grounds in the Kimberley region. Safety always first, but if it is possible, you may experience a truly unique interaction with these magnificent whales. We booked the humpback tour for two days in September, and both days were exceptional. Words cannot describe these mind-blowing days out on the sea. This massive big whales came up close, just below and the baby was watching us. One circled us twice; These were the best whale trips we ever did in our entire life. Humpbacks are peaceful, curious, and often coming up close. The water temperature was really cold in the deep sea below 20°C.

Usually, the very best month of the year is August, where you may spot whale sharks and humpbacks as well. However, 2019 was different at Ningaloo. There were just two sightings of whale sharks in the first three weeks.

Manta Rays 

Manta Ray close to our guided humpback whale tour

They are always present at the reef but in abundance from May to September. Only view tours are offered to swim with Manta Rays. Usually, Eco Tours are available in August and September to swim with whale sharks when they are still around. In addition, you get the chance to swim and snorkel with the rays. We spotted several close to our boat, and one was jumping next to the vessel.

Avoiding Crowds

Ningaloo - empty beach during the shoulder season

It's quiet in March and again in May and June. Try to avoid April, especially if you don't like masses of tourists. It gets busy again in July and becomes quieter at the end of July. If you plan to visit in April or July book the tours and accommodation far in advance. Tours are usually fully booked for weeks. There are limited hotels in Exmouth and prices are at the highest in the peak season. Weekends are more crowded. August until mid-September is quieter until the spring break in late September.


Ningaloo during the end of the rainy season

The region of Western Australia has a tropical-hot-desert climate. In autumn and winter from April to September with pleasant temperatures around 25° C and cold night temps between 11 to 13°C on average. This causes an average water temp of about 22°C in the shallow sea. Overall after the "winter", the sea temp is chilly. A wetsuit is essential for snorkelling.  It's hot during the summer; expect a daily temp of 35 to 38°C, and the water temperature is around 26°C and higher. It doesn't rain much here; less than 30 days of precipitation with the highest chance for thunderstorms from January to April. Fewer clouds from August to December. Cyclones can occur and are more likely to happen from January to March. In March 2015 Exmouth was hit by the severe cyclone Olwyn. At the end of April 2014; record-breaking heavy rainfall caused flash floods.

Top Accommodations and Camping in Exmouth

Most visitors stay in Exmouth for two or three nights maximum. This is pretty short for all the opportunities in the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef. We hiked through the Mandu Mandu Gorge and spotted a black-footed rock wallaby. Snorkelling at Oyster Stacks close to the shore shouldn't be missed. Therefore we recommend staying here at least four nights. Due to limited hotel opportunities in Exmouth, pre-booking is advisable. Usually, more than 90 % is booked in advance. Our top accommodations in Exmouth:

Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort

Mantaray Ningaloo Beach Resort

It’s a lovely hotel with a sensational restaurant. Getting quality food in Exmouth is not easy, but this kitchen is outstanding. The staff is attentive, and on top, you have free access to the laundry facilities. The pool is overlooking the ocean. You may even spot humpbacks from here or chose a room with an ocean view and enjoy the scenery from your balcony.

Exmouth Escape Resort

Escape Resort in Exmouth

The Resort is located a 15 minutes stroll outside of the town centre. The spacious apartments are spotlessly clean; very well equipped even with a washing machine. The large swimming pool is utterly amazing. The Whalers Restaurant is pretty popular for its sumptuous meals. If you don't stay here make a reservation for dinner and call 9949 2416

Sal Salis - Our Pure Luxury Tip

Sal Salis - Ningaloo with beach in front of the luxury tents

The exclusive eco safari tents are fantastically located next to the white sandy beach and the Ningaloo Reef. Enjoy kayaking and snorkelling directly in front of your tent. The outdoor dinner under the amazing night sky is top-notch. Kangaroos and wallabies are grazing around the tents in the evening. It's an hour away from Exmouth located in the Cape Range National Park. Very view places in the world offer such an outstanding location. The peak season is always fully booked many months in advance.

RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park - My Budget Tip

RAC Exmouth - cabins and camping

For those who are looking for budget accommodation, the RAC offers cabins, double rooms, and dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. The cabins are well equipped and clean. Many campervans come here, but the space for unpowered tent sites is poor. There are plenty of camp kitchens, facilities, and laundries around the huge Holiday Park. Yoga classes are offered next to the swimming pool. If you are seeking a quiet place for camping the Manta Way and the Marlin Stretch are best. Map RAC Holiday Park

Best Months to Visit


Location and Tips


We spent a couple of days in Exmouth for swimming with whale sharks, to snorkel at Ningaloo, and to explore the Cape Range National Park. When we figured out humpback whale interactions, not just whale watching is offered here in Exmouth now; we had to get here again two years later in September. There are very few places in the world where you can swim with these peaceful and curious whales. The advantage of Exmouth; it's easy to get here, humpbacks are close to the shore, and tours are more affordable than anywhere else.

Juvenile whale Shark at Ningaloo Reef

Usually, the guided interactions with whale sharks and humpbacks as well are fully booked for days or weeks in the peak season. We came here at the end of the rainy season; clouds and rain were predicted at the end of March. Luckily, it cleared up and became sunny. In September, the temps were pleasant at daytime but nights still cold. The whale sharks and humpback whale tours are well organized and very professional. They use a spotter plane to find a whale shark/humpbacks to swim with. First, you get an introduction about the procedure on the vessel and the interactions. You have to follow the code of conduct; respect the distance, don't touch them, don't make any noise.

Humpback whales and snorklers at Ningaloo Reef

All people on board are split into two groups, eight for the whale sharks and seven for the humpbacks. The maximum of swimmers on a tour are 16 for the whale sharks and 14 for the humpbacks. After the summertime in March, April, and May, the sea temp is pleasant for snorkelling. During the humpback tour, you get a wetsuit borrowed which is well needed. On both tours, whale sharks and humpbacks, we went into the sea several times, first at the reef to get familiar with the gear and then as often as possible with the whale (we always went 5 times).

Snorkler and Ray at Ningaloo Reef

Afterwards, we were exhausted and full of joy about our moments with the whales. We were gladdened about the lunch and champagne provided after the interactions. The crew did a fantastic job that we can spot whale sharks and humpbacks at Ningaloo Reef. We are spoilt for the rest of our life. These were the best whale tours ever.

Facts About Whale Sharks

Father and young daughter are snorkeling with a whale shark at Ningaloo

  • Whale sharks found in warm tropical oceans
  • It’s the largest fish and a filter feeder like the basking shark, the second largest fish.
  • Reaching lengths of 12 meters and more.
  • They can get more than 70 years old, some even up to 100
  • Whale sharks dive more than 1000 meters deep
  • Mostly juvenile whale sharks with an average length of 5 meters are spotted at Ningaloo.

Facts About Humpback Whales

Breaching whale at Ningaloo Reef - Exmouth

  • Average lifespan around 50 years
  • Length of 14 up to 19 meters - 46 up to 68 feet
  • Weight 25-30 tons on average and up to 40 tons
  • Newborn calf weight one ton
  • Feeding on small fish like sardines and herrings, krill, plankton
  • Baleen whales are filter feeders
  • Famous for their whale song
  • Migration of up to 16.000 miles - 26.000 km
  • Migration from the poles; Antarctica, and Alaska to warmer water in the winter for feeding, mating, and breeding
  • Still not clear why humpbacks breach - can be seen pretty often here at Ningaloo

Regarding the tours, an awesome experience is definitely: 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive - Ningaloo Reef (Thanks for providing some of these stunning photos!). 



Swimming with the humpbacks was sooo awesome. An experience you will never forget. The whales came so close; just swimming underneath. Be prepared; the sea is pretty cold. We got a neoprene borrowed, but it wasn't enough. Just two groups of seven people are allowed to swim with humpbacks. The boats are quite big for just 14 people.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I love adventurous trips and my husband…