Outback Coast Region

May 1st, 2001 Features, Scoop Traveller

Things to do

The diving along Ningaloo Reef is perfectly suited to novices and experts alike because of its beauty and variety. Cape Range National Park is an unspoiled scrub and bush sanctuary and home to many of Australia’s unique animals. Snorkel, dive, swim, or work on your tan on some of the most pristine beaches in the state. Watch the sun and pack for fairly harsh conditions (if you intend to go beyond your hotel room door) because the north of the Outback Coast is unspoiled and unforgiving.

The entire area is crowded with diving and fishing spots. The coastal waters are home to some huge fish (including the legendary black marlin) and the continental shelf ends closest to shore of anywhere else in Australia, so the big fish are comparatively close. Fish the beach if you prefer solid land — it’s as much fun and just as fruitful.

There are heaps of places to stay in Carnarvon and the subtropical climate means that the water is inviting all year round so pack all your summer stuff. Inland can get quite cool at night in the dead of winter, but the swimming, diving, surfing, fishing and boat touring are always good.

Check out the Aboriginal rock carvings or visit the Lighthouse Keepers Cottage Museum for a look into the past. Drive past the OTC satellite communications dish that relayed Neil Armstrong’s voice across the world during the Apollo landing. Take the long walk along Long Mile Jetty, where the fishing and views are spectacular.

Look at the amazing engineering of Lake McLeod’s Salt Works and hire a 4WD out to the wreck of the Korean Star.

And don’t leave without frolicking with Monkey Mia’s famous dolphins. They come into shore virtually every day and you can feed and touch them but show respect — they’re wild and beautiful creatures and if you don’t watch yourself, there’s a full-time ranger in the water who will.

The Shark Bay area is also famous for some of the most stunning scuba diving spots in the world.

About the region

The Outback Coast is about as far north as you’d go if you want to avoid the stifling tropical summers of northern Western Australia. Covering an area of approximately 144,000 sq/km with 600km of coastline from Shark Bay to Exmouth, the region is rapidly growing as Australia’s eco tourism capital.

Dotted with some of the state’s most rugged national parks and most crystalline waterways, the Outback Coast is home to thousands of people employed by vibrant local industries and countless wondrous species of animals such as the incredible whale shark and the world’s friendliest dolphins at Monkey Mia.

Australia’s westernmost point, the coast was where Dirk Hartog found himself trying to ride the currents east across the Indian Ocean, becoming our first documented European visitor. Early European settlers clustered around the Gascoyne River, whose underground bed was the eventual foundation of the state’s biggest tropical fruit industry.

The industry has grown in leaps and bounds as the viability of tropical fruit farming went through the roof. Most of WA’s tropical fruit is now grown there in a rare blend of tropical temperatures and the fresh water tapped from the Gascoyne River.

Small settlements like Denham, Exmouth and Coral Bay have sprung up and grown along with the area, some made more famous than others for their flippered visitors. Pearling began further north in the 1850s and continues today.

The Outback Coast lies right on the Tropic of Capricorn, so it enjoys some gorgeous year-round weather but without the monsoonal rains of summer that blanket the top end. There’s not much to do but enjoy water sports and explore the rugged inland, so stay away if you can’t stand the heat or the water.

Spoiled by nature with more than its fair share of record breakers, the Outback coast is home to one of the world’s longest coral reefs (Ningaloo) and the world’s largest fish (the whale shark). Geographically, it’s a small pocket of civilisation made possible by the fresh water from the Gascoyne River and although the natural land and seascape is beautiful, the area is otherwise a wilderness of coastal scrub, desert and coastal reef.

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Hartog, Dampier and their successors in global exploration named towns, rivers and bays and moved on, believing the coast to be inhospitable. Some early pastoral land was established, but it wasn’t until an enterprising immigrant realised the possibilities that Australia’s westernmost point came into its own.

For much of the year, the Gascoyne River is locked in an underground river mouth whose unique topography actually reaches out into the ocean. Together with the hot, sunny weather, the Gascoyne gave Carnarvon the perfect conditions for farming tropical fruit, which the area now supplies to most of the state.

Hartog and his contemporaries were prudent in a way. The peninsulas of the outback coast are covered with scrub and bushland at the edge of Australia’s vast central desert of rocky ranges and low shrubs, and the ocean is full of beautiful and alien animal oddities. So from Carnarvon and the smaller tourist, pearling and fruit farming towns in the region, we can now appreciate some of the best sights in WA.

The history of the area tells of Aboriginal Australia’s first contact with Europeans as far back as the early 1600s. The waterways are not only home to the whale shark, dolphin, sea lion and some of the world’s most untouched coral, but the highway of the mighty whales on migration.

As you drift in the water at Monkey Mia’s beach with your squeaking, clicking hosts, ask them just what there is to do along the outback coast. Sure, you may not talk their language, but you’ll already have made a few friends there.

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