For retirees enjoying travel around Australia the last thing we thought we would be doing was swimming with whale sharks. But that’s exactly what we did during our visit to Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef, on the North West Cape of Western Australia.
During our travels in Karijini National Park we began hearing other baby boomers talking about Ningaloo Reef and their adventures swimming with whale sharks. We had never heard of Ningaloo Reef, or of swimming with whale sharks! But after listening to retirees talk excitedly about their wonderful experiences, we decided this was something we would do.
We booked our tour through the Ningaloo Visitors Centre, once we arrived in Exmouth. There are multiple swimming with whale shark tours available. But, we were at Exmouth during school holidays, and the tours were heavily booked. We decided to go with Ocean Eco Adventures and had to wait six days to go on our tour. So, book ahead!
About Ocean Eco Adventure
Ocean Eco Adventures offers cruises in the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef Marine Park of Western Australia. They specialise in marine interactions with Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Turtles, Manta Rays and reef fish within the Marine Park.
The well appointed cruise boat was very spacious and comfortable.
The cost of the day tour was $410.00 per adult, all inclusive. The price included pick up from our accommodation, free access to professional photographs taken on the day, gourmet food, wet suits and snorkelling equipment. The majority of staff on board were Marine Biologists & Dive Masters.
Please note: All photographs in this blog posts are from Ocean Eco Adventures (see watermarks). These photographs were taken by a professional photographer who swam with us throughout our day tour. All passengers were able to access these photos, free of charge. Passengers were given permission to share the photos on social media and I obtain written permission to use the photos in this blog post.
Ocean Eco Adventures have it’s own aeroplane to spot the whale sharks. This provides people on the tour maximum opportunity to swim with the Whale Sharks.
Snorkelling on Ningaloo Reef
After a safety briefing we enjoyed our first swim at Mangrove Bommie, out on Ningaloo Reef. This swim was an opportunity for staff to check everyone’s snorkelling skills.
The water temperature was 24 degrees – just perfect! It was a wonderful experience snorkelling over the beautiful coral reef and viewing all the species of reef fish.
It was at this stage we realised we were the oldest people on the boat. Getting back on the boat was not as easy for us baby boomers, as it was for younger people on the tour. Rather than a kick and twist back onto the boat ledge, we found we needed to pull and roll ourselves back onto the boat. Rather tiring after a number of swims!
Swimming with the Whale Sharks
People enjoyed eight swims on the day, including the initial snorkel over the coral reef. The other swims were all with the Whale Sharks. In total, people swam with the whale sharks for approx 1.5 hrs.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, it is safe to swim with Whale Sharks. There are strict rules about how long and how often people can swim with the Whale Sharks. We were briefed about safety conditions before we commenced swimming. Plus, Whale Sharks are filter feeders, only eating plankton.
We swam in teams of ten. Each team had a tour leader (qualified dive master), who directed our swim experiences.
The first whale shark was a female about 5.5 – 6 metres long. Thankfully this whale shark swam along slowly. But after a while she must have become sick of all the people swimmers near her, as she swam to the bottom of the ocean.
On the first swim, it was like WOW!!! We were SO close to the Whale Shark. It was rather mind blowing.
The second Whale Shark was about 4 metres, and a male. Initially it was swimming slowly. But then it began swimming faster.
At first we were snorkelling with the whale sharks outside the reef.
On the second and third occasion of finding a Whale Shark, they were found inside the reef, close to Oyster Stacks and Turqouise Bay. We were told it was unusual for the whale sharks to be swimming so close to the beach.
After the initial snorkel, I swam with the Whale Sharks on three occasions. Whereas, Greg enjoyed four swims with the Whale Sharks. The Whale Sharks were not swimming very quickly. But, while we enjoy water activities, we are not as fit in the water as we are on land. We both tired and were happy to say we had enough. Thereafter we were happy to watch other passengers swimming.
We also saw turtles swimming in the ocean.
Watching Humpback Whales and Spinner Dolphins
After lunch the skipper offered everyone the choice of another snorkel over the coral reef, or to go and see Spinner Dolphins and Humpback Whale, spotted 4km out to sea. Fortunately the majority voted to go and see the Dolphins and Whales.
We saw numerous Humpback Whales, probably 30 in total. We were told the Western Australian coastline sees the biggest migration of Humpback Whales (38,000 annually) – back to pre whaling numbers. During the whaling period Humpback Whale numbers declined to about 600.
We greatly enjoyed watching a large pod of Spinner Dolphins. It was thrilling to watch numerous Spinner Dolphins jump in the air and spin around, plus surf the waves, and race in front of the boat bow.
The Catering Onboard
After settling onto the boat, a continental breakfast was available. A morning tea included a savoury platter with dips, mango chutney, crackers, cheese and vegetables. A buffet lunch included a selection of cold meats and gourmet salads, local prawns, vegetarian sushi, cheese, bread rolls. For afternoon tea there was fruit platter and tea cake.
Organic products with ginger were available for seasickness.
At the end of the tour, as we sailed towards land, we were offered a complimentary glass of champagne or can of beer.
Review of the Ocean Eco Adventures Whale Shark Tour
This review is independent of Ocean Eco Adventures and is simply a review of our experience on their Whale Shark Tour.
Our experience on the Ocean Eco Adventure Whale Shark Tour from Exmouth was simply the best. Indeed, Greg and I would say it was one of our favourite experiences throughout our travels around Australia! Here are the reasons we rate the tour so highly:
- Swimming so close by a Whale Shark was thrilling; something we never dreamt of doing.
- All staff on board were extremely professional, well organised, very informative and great fun
- We felt safe throughout the tour. We acknowledged we were not strong swimmers. Throughout our swims we were provided great support and encouragement from staff. This support ensured we were able to enjoy this most amazing experience.
- The spotter plane not only sighted two Whale Sharks to swim with, but also Humpback Whales and Spinner Dolphins. This meant we experienced a full day of delightful marine interactions.
- The needs of people of all ages and competencies were well catered for. Some people were diving down towards the Whale Sharks. Others, like us and young children, were given additional support.
- Snorkelling Ningaloo Reef was a stunning experience in itself. The coral and reef fish are so beautiful.
- Throughout the day we enjoyed simple, yet beautiful fresh food.
- The boat was in great order, clean and tidy, with plenty of room for everyone on board to be comfortable
- We were on the water from 9am – 4pm
Yes, the tour was expensive. But, we came away with only praise and amazing memories! Even though we were not fit enough to complete all the swims, we were delighted with what we did. We totally recommend Ocean Eco Adventures for a fabulous Whale Shark Tour.
The only thing we would say is we wouldn’t recommend anyone pay to go on the tour as an observer. When standing on the boat you do not see the Whale Shark. It is only when you are snorkelling, with your head in the water, that you actually see the Whale Shark.
For us as retirees enjoying travel we love nothing more than doing something adventurous, thrilling, exciting, and fun – yet safe! For baby boomers seeking travel adventures, put swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia on your bucket list. And, if you want to best chance to enjoy the most swims possible with the Whale Sharks, choose Ocean Eco Adventures. If you do, you will enjoy a top day.
What about you?
What are your thoughts about swimming with Whale Sharks? Would you give it a go? What about Ningaloo Reef, with the beautiful coral and all the marine life? Have you considered a visit? Please join in the conversation, as we would love to hear your thoughts.
Wishing you safe and happy travels
From Estelle & Greg – Retirees Enjoying Travel