Camping in Cape Range National Park and snorkeling on the Ningaloo Reef: Western Australia’s Coral Coast

While we camped in Cape Range National Park in our rented autocamper, we had the best days of our entire Australia trip. It was pure bliss – the beaches were white, the waters turquoise, the reef was teeming with colorful fish, corals, rays and we even snorkeled with a chill sea turtle!

Beach and vegetation
Sandy beaches in Cape Range National Park

Why you should visit Cape Range National Park

Cape Range National Park is part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area. It covers the Marine park with the coral reefs, stretching 300 km along the coast of Western Australia, and Muiron Islands to the north, the Bundegi and Jurabi coastal parks at the tip of Cape Range National Park, and the adjoining Learmonth Air Weapons Range.

Here you can dive and snorkel among sea turtles and whale sharks one day, and go hiking in arid and spectacular landscapes the next. My boyfriend and I came all the way to the Ningaloo Reef to snorkel, and did not prioritize hiking in Cape Range due to a limited time schedule.

We enjoyed it so much at the Ningaloo Reef that we took only a small number of photos there. We had an action camera we took snorkeling, but unfortunately the images were corrupted probably due to formatting issues (I hope we can fix them some day).

Keep reading this post to learn more about my visit to Cape Range National Park, some good advice for camping and driving in the National Park.

Three terns resting on the beach in Cape Range National Park.
Three Caspian terns resting on the beach in Cape Range National Park.

Things to do in Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef

This comes as no surprise perhaps, but in Cape Range National Park you may find some of the most beautiful beaches in the area. In general Western Australia has some pretty amazing views along the coastline, with dramatic scenery in Kalbarri National Park, blue shallows near Beekeepers Reserve and Jurien Bay with sea lions.

Beaches and snorkeling in Cape Range National Park

The wonderful thing about the Ningaloo Reef is that you can go directly from the beach into the water and start exploring the coral reef immediately without any boat.

Turquoise Bay is perhaps the most popular of the beaches in Cape Range National Park; here you can drift snorkel due to the currents in the area.

We loved Turquoise Bay because it was the first healthy reef we snorkeled in along the Coral Coast (the reef in Coral Bay, the city, had died during a failed coral spawning event in September 2022). At Turquoise Bay we saw the most beautifully blue-colored corals, but also red and yellow ones. And the waters were teeming with fish! We were so lucky we swam with a sea turtle while it was feeding on eelgrass off the sea floor.

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Never swim alone and study the currents, make sure you are fit enough to swim back to shore. Our experience was that morning swims were better, because the afternoon tide would draw in stronger currents.

I also really recommend buying flippers for swimming, it makes more powerful strokes and you feel more confident while snorkeling. It can feel so effortless with flippers!

Another great place to snorkel is Oyster Stacks, known for the three oyster-covered rocks in the water. Here you have to study the tidal schedule – because if you swim during low tide, chances are bigger you may kick and destroy some of the precious corals there. You can find the tidal schedule at the visitor’s center located in the National Park, or by the parking at Oyster Stacks. See the location of Oyster Stacks in the map at the bottom of this post.

Turtle Rookery

If you have time an afternoon, I recommend visiting the Turtle Rookery in the northern part of the NP. There are som good and educational information boards about the life cycle of sea turtles, that breed in the Ningaloo. This takes less than 40 minutes and is a good afternoon activity.

Vlamingh Head Lighthouse and the Mildura Wreck

Visit the lighthouse in the far north to see the views and read history about wartime and defense in Western Australia. If you continue after the lighthouse along the main road towards Exmouth a little further (going east that is), you can go to the beach and see the sunken shipwreck off the coast.

Hiking in Cape Range National Park

We did not prioritize hiking while we visited Cape Range, because we loved snorkeling off the coast so much. I read some blogs and saw photos from hiking in the area, and it looks beautiful. Probably hiking is more easy if you have a 4WD to take you close to the start of the hikes.

If you hike in the morning, chances are you will have more comfortable weather, plus you have the whole day ahead of you.

Always bring plenty of water with you (3+ litres per person!). As it is not possible to collect water in Cape Range National Park, be sure to buy enough water when you leave from Exmouth. There is a water tap along the main road in the park, but it’s not safe for drinking.

Sunset in Cape Range National Park
Relax and behold the magnificent sunsets in Cape Range National Park

Entry to Cape Range National Park

Entry to the Cape Range National Park is not free, and tickets can be bought at the entrance or online. If you have visited any of the other stunning National Parks in WA such as Kalbarri National Park, Yanchep National Park or Cervantes (Pinnacles), you hopefully already purchased a Holiday Park Pass or similar to save som AUD$. Always have your Holiday Park Pass displayed in your vehicles driver’s mirror while parked – not while driving.

How do you get to Cape Range National Park?

The main road in Cape Range National Park is sealed. You need to enter the national park through Exmouth, and that means driving all the way north, before coming down. The roads to the campsites are gravel, but safe for heavier vehicles like an autocamper. This means you do not need a 4WD to enter Cape Range NP and stay overnight! Where we camped inside Cape Range NP it was roughly 40 minutes drive in our autocamper from the city of Exmouth.

As for the rest of Western Australia’s Coral Coast it is difficult to get lost there – just follow the main road and if in doubt Google Maps will pave your way.

Birds on the beach
Terns and waders standing in the shoreline

Where to stay in Cape Range National Park

It is not allowed to do free-camping anywhere in the National Park (Fines do apply). Camping is extremely basic, and the only things provided in the campsite is a pit toilet (bush loo) and some benches. It is very remote, and you have to be prepared for emergencies such as tropical cyclones (November to April) and storms are frequent between May and October.

You must pre-book your stay on the official Park Authorities’ website here.

Camp sites in Cape Range National Park includes:

  • Osprey Bay
  • Yardie Creek
  • North Kurrajong
  • Kurrajong
  • Ned’s Camp
  • Mesa
  • Tulki
  • North Mandu

Prices and booking campsites in Cape Range National Park

All sites has to be booked beforehand, and a booking confirmation must be in place first. If you show up later in the day, like we did, someone else may have taken your spot – because they liked it more, or someone else took theirs. We had chosen a spot closer to the beach and therefore we gently asked the person to move away from our prime spot in Mesa Camp :). Any disputes may be solved by the campsite manager, who stayed at Ned’s Camp. The campsite is yours from 10 am to 10 am the following day.

In late November (late spring) we booked the site the day before, and there were several available sites then. Other times may be more busy, especially during astronomical events and summer.

We paid 22$ per night and stayed two nights in campground site number 15 in Mesa Camp. As already mentioned, we absolutely loved it there 🙂

If you prefer more luxury, access to water, restaurants etc. you can stay in Exmouth. We stayed at one of the RAC camping grounds in Exmouth for 50 AUD/night after the two nights in the National Park, as we needed to recharge and refill the freshwater tank.

Wildlife and birds in Cape Range National Park

Mangrove Bay and the beach in general offers great spots for wildlife viewing. I spotted a variety of birds including tern species (Caspian tern, Australian fairy tern), Little pied cormorants, waders and the Australian Pelican at the beach. Head to my e-bird list for the full species account at Mesa Camp.

A wader of the species Red-capped Plover and a fish jumping in the background
Red-capped Plover and a fish jumping in the background

In the sea, you may be lucky to swim with octopuses, sea turtles, stingrays, whale sharks and the hundreds of fish species living in the coral!

On land you may also encounter wild emus, birds of prey, mice, dingoes and kangaroos. Beware of your surroundings and always respect wildlife. They have the right to be there 🙂

When we visited in late November we had no issues with flies or whatsoever. The only slight nuisance we had was when a little long-tailed mouse came and nibbled my angle when we were having dinner in the dark outside the autocamper. It was part of the charm, but be prepared for other unexpected wildlife encounters, especially when you bring food outside.

In the map below you can find the mentioned places in Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Area.

I truly recommend anyone who loves the great wilderness and nature, the ocean and basic life to pay a visit to Cape Range National Park. You will not regret it!

© All photos are my own unless stated and may not be used without permission.

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