Coral Bay, Western Australia

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Coral Bay
Western Australia
Coral Bay, Western Australia.jpg
Coral Bay
Coral Bay is located in Western Australia
Coral Bay
Coral Bay
Coordinates23°8′41″S 113°46′35″E / 23.14472°S 113.77639°E / -23.14472; 113.77639Coordinates: 23°8′41″S 113°46′35″E / 23.14472°S 113.77639°E / -23.14472; 113.77639
Population207 (2016 census)[1]
Elevation5 m (16 ft)
Time zoneAWST (UTC+8)
LGA(s)Shire of Carnarvon
State electorate(s)North West Central
Federal Division(s)Durack

Coral Bay is a small coastal settlement located 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) north of Perth, in the Shire of Carnarvon in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.

Bordered by the Ningaloo Reef, it is a popular tourist destination and largely owes its survival to revenue derived from wildlife tourism.[2] Coral Bay is a unique location in that the reef fringes the water's edge, making it easily accessible for snorkellers.[3] The climate is arid, and waters are generally warm year-round due to the subtropical nature of the area.[4] The 2016 census recorded a population of 207.[1]


Coral Bay is located on the North West Cape of the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. It sits adjacent to Ningaloo Reef, the world's largest fringing reef system, which covers 604,500 hectares (6,045 km2) of the eastern Indian Ocean and stretches over 300 kilometres (190 mi) along the coast of Western Australia.[5] Coral Bay’s geographical coordinates are 23°8′41″S 113°46′35″E / 23.14472°S 113.77639°E / -23.14472; 113.77639. The closest towns are Carnarvon, 238 kilometres (148 mi) to the south, and Exmouth, 152 kilometres (94 mi) to the north. To the east, Coral Bay is bordered by the Lyndon pastoral station. Approximately 43 kilometres (27 mi) south along the eastern boundary is the wetland system Lake Macleod. The town is accessed via Coral Bay Road, which connects to Minilya–Exmouth Road. The closest major highway is the North West Coastal Highway.


Soils in Coral Bay are sandy and calcareous due to oxide leaching. Coral Bay forms part of the Carnarvon Basin, an area consisting of undulating sand plains that slant toward the ocean, resulting in a low relief open drainage pattern.[6] The surrounding coastline is characterised by limestone platforms. Coral Bay also lies upon the Bullara Sunklands, a depression that runs along the eastern coast of Western Australia from Shark Bay to Exmouth Gulf.[6] The natural vegetation in the area consists of the spinifex, wattle and poverty bush shrub varieties. There is also a strong mangrove presence with Avicennia marina being particularly dominant. Buffel is the most common grass in the region.[6] In the Ningaloo Marine Park more than 200 species of coral fauna can be found, alongside animal species such as green and hawksbill turtles, humpbacks whales, dugongs and whale sharks.[6]


The Gascoyne region was originally populated by the Thalandji Aboriginal people. Evidence found by archaeologists indicates that Indigenous people have been present in the Ningaloo region for over 32,000 years. The world's oldest beaded necklace was discovered in the Mandu Mandu Creek Rock-Shelter, alongside camp fire residue in the layers of surrounding limestone caves.[7]

The first known European sighting of the North West Cape was made in early 1618 by a crew member of the Dutch ship Zeewolf. Later that year Captain Jacobz of the ship Mauritius made contact with land, however the district remained largely uninhabited for decades following due to its dry climate and remote location.[8][9]

The earliest recorded European activity in the Coral Bay region was at Mauds Landing, which acted as a shipping point for wool, sheep and cattle from 1884 to 1946. The port was named after the schooner Maud, whose captain discovered the site 2 km (1.2 mi) north of Coral Bay. The area saw the construction of a jetty in 1896, followed by a tramway, a well and a wool-shed.[10] A hotel and store operated at the site between 1911 and 1921.[11] In 1947, however, Mauds Landing was closed as a coastal port due to funding shortages and its constant need for repairs.[12] The surrounding area formed Cardabia Station, owned by Charles French, which encompassed Bills Bay. The cove was named after his wife Ruby May French, or "Auntie Billie" as she was more commonly known. In 1933 the first building was constructed by Jack McKenna as a holiday retreat.[13]

It was not until the late 1960s that Bills Bay began to form a functioning township, when a section of Cardabia Station was sold to Ken Ryan. Upon this he built a caravan park, a hotel and a service station.[14] The town name Coral Bay likely derived from the Coral Bay Hotel built by Ryan.[15] The area was visited a few years later in 1973 by Bill and Alison Brogan who recognised the potential of the region to become a popular tourist destination. Bill purchased a transportable building, a charter yacht and a sight-seeing boat which he called Miss Coral Bay I.[16] The 1980s saw the formation of a housing estate and the tapping of artesian groundwater.[14]


Coral Bay’s economy is primarily built on nature-based tourism due to its close proximity to the Ningaloo Reef. In 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that more than 70% of the local workforce was employed in tourism or industries related to it.[1]

Coral Bay is marketed widely as a premier holiday destination and the town offers a number of tourist activities such as whale watching, snorkelling and swimming with manta rays.[17] In 2004 The Ningaloo Coast Regional Strategy limited visitor numbers to 3600 overnight tourists, accommodation for 400 semi-permanent workers and 500 day visitors in order to preserve the Ningaloo Reef.[18] In 2019 this was increased from 4,500 to 5,300 to promote the region’s growth.[19] Estimates based on daily spending indicate Coral Bay hosts approximately 110,000 visitors annually.[20] Visitors mostly comprised Western Australia based families, in comparison to nearby Exmouth, which attracts a large number of international and inter-state tourists.[14]

Glass-bottom boat tours are available year-round and whale watching tours are available from June to October.[21] Tourists are also provided with the opportunity to go reef fishing, beach fishing and light tackle game fishing outside of sanctuary zones. Manta ray snorkel tours also operate out of Coral Bay.[22] Scenic flights, quad bike tours and catamaran tours are among other activities visitors can engage in.[23]

Coral Bay beach

Further tourist attractions in the surrounding area include:[22]

  • Oyster bridge
  • Paradise Beach
  • Bills Bay
  • Skeleton Bay Reef Shark Nursery
  • Purdy Point
  • Point Maud & Mauds Landing


Coral Bay sources its water from artesian wells, desalinated for domestic use. The town has three 275 kW wind turbines and a power station with seven low-load diesel engines.[24] Waste-water and sewerage infrastructure are in place. The town also supports an airstrip suitable for light aircraft and a maritime facility with a double boat ramp, two finger jetties, a service jetty and 11 dinghy pens.[24][25]

Ningaloo Reef as viewed from above

Coral Bay has two caravan parks and a resort.[26][27]

There is a small shopping arcade which contains a supermarket, a bakery, tourist shops, and the Coral Bay Nursing Post which provides healthcare services to both residents and visitors.[28] A doctor is available one day a week for residents only.[29] The town also contains several restaurants.[29]

Heritage listings[edit]

  • Site Of Mauds Landing
  • Ningaloo Marine Area
  • Ningaloo Coast
  • French's Shack


  1. ^ a b c Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Coral Bay (State Suburb)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 30 October 2020. Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ "Coral Bay |". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  3. ^ Ningaloo Marine Park Visitor Information (PDF). Department of Environment and Conservation. 2009.
  4. ^ Goble-Garratt and Associates, Environmental Advisory Services, Dal Science & Engineering, Kate Morse, Kelley Whittaker, Michael Robinson and Associates (2002). Public Environmental Review for Two Proposals for the Development of a Single Boating Facility at Either Monck Head or North Bills Bay, near Coral Bay. Perth, W.A: Dal Science & Engineering.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area | Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d Western Australia, ed. (1997). Gascoyne geographic perspective: an overview of the geography of Western Australia's Gascoyne Region. Carnarvon, W.A: The Commission.
  7. ^ Morse, Kate (December 1993). "Shell beads from Mandu Mandu Creek rock-shelter, Cape Range peninsula, Western Australia, dated before 30,000 b.p." Antiquity. 67 (257): 877–883. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00063894. ISSN 0003-598X.
  8. ^ Australian Heritage Database (August 2008). "Ningaloo Coast" (PDF). Australian Government Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
  9. ^ "WA Holiday Guide - Coral Bay Western Australia - Visitor Information". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Heritage Council of WA - Places Database". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  11. ^ "inHerit - State Heritage Office". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  12. ^ "Heritage Council of WA - Places Database". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  13. ^ "inHerit - State Heritage Office". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Jones, Tod; Hughes, Michael; Wood, David; Lewis, Anna; Chandler, P. (2010). "Ningaloo Coast region statistics: collected for the Ningaloo destination modelling project". hdl:20.500.11937/6741. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ "inHerit - State Heritage Office". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  16. ^ "A little history". Ningaloo Coral Bay. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  17. ^ Mulgrew, Alan (2003). "Western Australian Tourism Commission Annual Report 2003-2004" (PDF). Tourism Western Australia.
  18. ^ Shire Of Carnarvon (2014). Coral Bay Settlement Structure Plan 2014. Western Australia: Government of Western Australia Department of Regional Development.
  19. ^ "Tourist numbers increased at Coral Bay". 9 April 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  20. ^ Wood, David; Hughes, Michael (August 2006). "Tourism accommodation and economic contribution on the Ningaloo Coast of Western Australia". Tourism and Hospitality Planning & Development. 3 (2): 77–88. doi:10.1080/14790530600938212. ISSN 1479-053X.
  21. ^ "Whale Watching Tours". Ningaloo Coral Bay. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  22. ^ a b Ningaloo Visitor Centre (2018). Visit Ningaloo, Exmouth and Coral Bay. Exmouth.
  23. ^ "Coral Bay". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  24. ^ a b "Regional infrastructure | Gascoyne Development Commission". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  25. ^ Department of Transport (2017). Coral Bay Maritime facility (PDF). Exmouth.
  26. ^ "Carnarvon Visitor Centre - Town Services & Facilities". Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  27. ^ "Overview". Ningaloo Reef Resort. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  28. ^ "Shops & amenities". Ningaloo Coral Bay. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  29. ^ a b "Best Camping Site in Australia - FAQ". Peoples Park Coral Bay. Retrieved 30 October 2020.