The Coral Coast Highway Road Trip: a Perth to Ningaloo round trip self drive holiday.
The Coral Coast Highway winds its way from Perth to Exmouth in Western Australia (WA), offering you every opportunity to immerse yourself in all that Australia's Coral Coast has to offer. From trekking through rugged gorges in Kalbarri, to drifting weightlessly over coral reef at Ningaloo, this round trip self-drive itinerary has it all!
- We recommend at least 11-12 days for this road trip, but longer if you have the time so you can truly soak up everything Australia's Coral Coast has to offer!
- You don't need a 4WD to journey the Coral Coast Highway, although there are some areas which are 4WD-only. Many of these locations, such as the northern reaches of Francois Peron National Park, can be experienced on a guided tour. If you don't want to take your own car, would prefer a 4WD or want to camp out beneath the stars, you can hire a 4WD camper from RedSands Campers or Wicked Campers (just make sure to check any hire conditions relating to off-road and 4WD-ing)
- There are a range of accommodation options in Australia's Coral Coast to suit all interests, from hotels and motels, caravan parks, camping, glamping and eco-wilderness retreats, live-aboard cruises and outback station stays
Want to do this trip as a Fly + Drive holiday?
- Discover our Fly + Drive Coral Coast Highway itineraries. Drive one way between Perth and Exmouth with an Avis hire car, and fly the other with Qantas
Perth to Geraldton (~420 kilometres)
Travel north from Perth towards the scenic Indian Ocean Drive (which continues north from Wanneroo Road). The first leg of the Coral Coast Highway takes you through the coastal towns of Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Green Head, Leeman, Dongara, Port Denison and Greenough.
Your first stop is Cervantes and the splendour of the nearby Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. The road into the Pinnacles is sealed, and there is a car park within walking distance of the towering limestone structures. You can learn more about the mystical formations at the Desert Discovery Centre. In nearby Cervantes, enjoy a crayfish lunch, a swim at Hangover Bay or Thirsty Point, go sandboarding in the sand dunes, or discover the thrombolites at Lake Thetis, just south of the town.
Continuing north, there is no shortage of locations to stop into or activities to enjoy. Join a sea lion tour from Jurien Bay, have a go at skydiving, or relax on the pristine beaches of Sandy Cape Recreational Park. Go fishing, swimming or snorkelling in Green Head. Picnic in Lesueur National Park, which comes alive with colour during wildflower season (late-July to October). Go 4WD-ing and caving in Stockyard Gully National Park (4WD-access only) near Leeman. Or join a guided Distillery Tour to find out about all things rum at Illegal Tender Rum Co in Dongara.
As you continue on your way to Geraldton, you'll pass through the historic town of Greenough. Take in the bizarre sight of the leaning trees, before arriving to Australia's Coral Coast's only city. Gateway to Chapman Valley, Ellendale Pool, the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Wildflower Country, and boasting year-round sunny and warm weather, there is no shortage of things to see and do in and around Geraldton. Treat yourself to some of the freshest seafood in WA, particularly the region's famous western rock lobster, and enjoy Geraldton's cafe culture by eating out at one of the numerous spots such as Piper Lane, Skeetas or the Jaffle Shack.
Check out the street art around Marine Terrace and visit local jewellery shops to see the colourful pieces made from Abrolhos black pearls. Between July and September, the greater Geraldton region is home to expansive displays of wildflower carpets and individual species, many of which are endemic to WA. Make sure to head up to the impressive HMAS Sydney II Memorial for sunset, to soak up sweeping views across Geraldton and the Indian Ocean.
Overnight: Geraldton - discover Geraldton accommodation
Geraldton to Carnarvon (~480 kilometres)
Spend your morning strolling along Geraldton's Foreshore, watching the world turn upside down through the public art installation, Horizon, and discovering the history of Geraldton and the mutinous Batavia story at the Museum. Delve into the region's rich cultural heritage at the Yamaji Art Centre, or follow the Yamaji Drive Trail to discover sites of significance to the local Aboriginal people. There's something for adventure seekers too; go jet-skiing on Geraldton's city beach, take a scenic flight or joy ride over the Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) and nearby Houtman Abrolhos Islands, or join a full day tour or multi-day liveaboard cruise to the Islands to go fishing, snorkelling and diving.
Departing Geraldton, continue north to the tropical fruit town of Carnarvon - a popular holiday spot for those chasing the winter sun. Sample the abundance of fresh flavours at the local mango and banana plantations, or take a detour and follow the Gascoyne Food Trail along the affectionately named the Fruit Loop (don't forget to visit the #Instafamous Cactus Garden). Get up in the air and see the town from above on a scenic helicopter flight, or visit the Space and Technology Museum to learn about the fascinating connection between Western Australia and NASA's manned Space Program. Take an evening stroll along the Fascine, enjoying magnificent sunset views, before heading out to dine on fresh local produce.
Overnight: Carnarvon - discover Carnarvon accommodation
Carnarvon to Exmouth (~370 kilometres)
As you leave Carnarvon and head north along the North West Coastal Highway, you may want to take a detour to see the rugged Quobba coastline and the Quobba Blowholes before continuing on your way to your next destination - Exmouth, the northern tip of the Ningaloo region. Stop into Bullara Station to stretch your legs and enjoy barista-style coffee and homemade scones before arriving to Exmouth and the nearby pristine Ningaloo Reef. This fringing reef is teeming with unique marine life - should you visit between March and July, you'll have the opportunity to swim with the world's largest fish, the giant yet friendly whale sharks. From August to October, you can swim with humpback whales, and from September to December some Exmouth operators offer sea turtle snorkelling tours.
Overnight: Exmouth - discover Exmouth accommodation
Spend your days exploring the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area. Take a glass bottom boat cruise, go kayaking to view the reef's diverse marine life, or spend your day snorkelling the vibrant coral gardens of the Ningaloo Marine Park with its amazing snorkel spots. Swim with whale sharks (March to late-July) or humpback whales (July to October). Go diving on the Ningaloo Reef, at the nearby Muiron Islands, or at the world-class Navy Pier dive site. On land, Cape Range National Park offers rugged scenery of deep canyons, limestone ranges and spectacular gorges such as Yardie Creek, Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon. Explore the park in your own 4WD, or join a guided tour.
Exmouth to Coral Bay (~150 kilometres)
Just 1.5 hours' drive south of Exmouth is Coral Bay, a marine-lovers paradise with calm, protected waters and hundreds of fish and coral species. The coastal town gets its name thanks to the coral gardens lying mere metres from shore - an endless underwater garden of marine life begging to be explored.
Spend your days in Coral Bay swimming and snorkelling, throwing in a line and trying your luck at beach fishing or join a fishing charter. Further out in the coral gardens, take a glass bottom boat tour or join a snorkelling or diving tour. Manta rays reside in Coral Bay's waters year-round so make sure to add swimming with these graceful creates to your must-do list. You can also swim with whale sharks (mid-March to mid-June) and humpback whales (July to September) from Coral Bay. When it's time to dry off, take a 4WD along the coast or join a quad bike tour for some rugged adventure, before watching the sunset from the beach and dining at one of Coral Bay's restaurants.
If you want to spend days out on the big blue and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping, join a multi-day live aboard cruise.
Overnight: Coral Bay - discover Coral Bay accommodation
Coral Bay to Shark Bay (~590 kilometres)
Head south on the North West Coastal Highway to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area and follow the interpretive signs along the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive. Sites along the drive include the remarkable Hamelin Pool Stromatolites, the world's oldest living lifeforms, and the calm, crystal waters of Shell Beach, a 70km stretch of beach made entirely out of millions of tiny shells.
Stop at Eagle Bluff for spectacular ocean views along a 100m walkway, where reef sharks, dugongs and rays are often spotted, and at nearby Ocean Park Aquarium, a rehabilitation centre for injured or sick marine life. If you have time this afternoon, head to Peron Homestead, with its remarkable history of a late-era around Shark Bay. Enjoy a drink on the foreshore at Denham or Monkey Mia and watch a magical sunset.
Start your day by meeting the friendly Monkey Mia bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins are fed up to three times each day, which accounts for just one-third of their daily diet. The first feeding is at around 07:30am.
Take one of the many tours on offer, such as 4WD-ing in Francois Peron National Park, soaking up views of Steep Point from above on a scenic flight, or visiting Dirk Hartog Island. Unwind on a sunset cruise aboard a magnificent catamaran before ending your day wining and dining by the beach. After dinner, join an Indigenous Cultural Tour.
Overnight: Denham or Monkey Mia
Shark Bay to Kalbarri (~390 kilometres)
Continuing south, head towards the popular coastal town of Kalbarri, located at the mouth of the Murchison River, soaking up the rugged coastal scenery as you approach the township. Kalbarri offers an array of water-based and land-based activities, and is a popular destination for holidaying families, home to impressive river and coastal gorges, calm swimming bays, superb walking trails and over 1,000 species of seasonal wildflowers.
Take in Kalbarri's famous sunset views from one of the many coastal walk trails, such as the Bigurda Trail, or swimming spots, like the Blue Holes. Grab a surfboard and head for the renowned surf break Jacques Point, before tucking into a fresh seafood feast for dinner at one of the many local restaurants such as Finlay's. After dinner, sit back and relax under the stars at the outdoor cinema at Rainbow Jungle.
Overnight: Kalbarri - discover Kalbarri accommodation
Wake up early and watch the daily pelican feeding on the foreshore at around 08:45am, before spending the day exploring the magnificent Murchison River gorges in Kalbarri National Park. Don't forget to visit Nature's Window and Z-Bend! Enjoy a fishing tour, river cruise or spend your day relaxing and taking in the sights of this unique coastline. Adventure lovers can join a range of tours including abseiling, canoeing, sand boarding or touring the region on quad bikes.
Head to Kalbarri's Coastal Cliffs for sunset, soaking up impressive views as the sun sinks below the Indian Ocean.
Kalbarri to Perth (~590 kilometres)
Pack up the car this morning and head south for the final leg of your Coral Coast Highway road trip, stopping in at Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) at Port Gregory to marvel at the pink colour. Further south, you'll pass the coastal town of Horrocks, nestled among white sandy beaches with sheltered waters, rock pools and waves along the reefs. Stop for a dip, some fishing, surfing, diving, windsurfing or beachside games.
Stop into the charming town of Northampton, declared a historic town by the National Trust in 1993. Explore the sites around town before continuing on your journey south to Perth.
During wildflower season (late July to October), take the inland route back to Perth, travelling through Mullewa and Coalseam Conservation Park to see brilliant carpets of everlasting, then south through Mingenew, Three Springs, Carnarmah and Coorow towards Perth.
As you arrive back to Perth, your Coral Coast Highway road trip may come to a close but you'll be left with countless new memories.