Ningaloo Reef, 1200km north of Perth, stretches virtually untouched for 260km from Bundegi Reef at the tip of the Exmouth Gulf, then around North West Cape to Amherst Point, south of Coral Bay.
Ningaloo is the only large reef in the world found close to a continental land mass 100m offshore at its nearest point and less than seven kilometres at its furthest making it possible to walk from the beach straight on to a coral reef. It is the perfect feeding ground for fish, large and small. Over 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of soft and hard coral make up the reef, which is a protected marine park.
Corals found there are cabbage, brain and lavender, and delicate colourful branching corals which form beautiful gardens. Its fish life includes molluscs, crustaceans, algae, giant potato cod, sweetlip, spangled and emperor and lionfish. There are sea snakes, eels, starfish, clams, manta rays, seals, sharks and many colonies of turtles.
Exmouth Diving Centre operates a Whale Shark Adventure between late March and July each year, the time when the creatures converge on the Ningaloo Reef. The largest of the shark family and largest fish in the world, it is a harmless plankton eater. They can reach 18m but average around 12.
They are identified by their enormous size, wide mouth and white spotted pattern. They mainly inhabit temperate and tropical waters and rarely visit shallow coastal area, but thanks to the nutrient-rich waters of Ningaloo Reef they return year after year.
Tours start at 7am at the Exmouth Diving Centre dive shop where everyone gets their snorkelling or diving gear, and hops aboard a bus to the Tantabiddi boat ramp in North West Cape, around 45 minutes away.
You're on the water by around 9am and head to a site while the spotter plane is looking for the whale sharks. Once they have been seen, the boat heads towards them and passengers have the option of diving or snorkelling with the whale sharks. They stay close to the surface and move quite quickly and it can be difficult to keep up.
Lunch is taken at around 1.30pm and those who want to can hit the water at another location, without the whale sharks.
Exmouth Diving's policy is that if you don't see a whale shark on your first outing, they will take you out again the following day.