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Have you ever wanted to swim with manta rays? Then Coral Bay on the Coral Coast of Western Australia is the place to go!
Swimming with manta rays in Coral Bay was one of the highlights of our trip around Australia. Located on the shores of the world famous Ningaloo Reef, which is famous for being a thriving home to whale sharks, wobbegongs, and several species of reef shark – to say our expectations were high was an understatement.
It’s said that manta rays swim in the bay of Coral Bay all year round. And because they are filter feeders, they are safe to swim with.
If you’ve thought about swimming with manta rays but not sure what to expect, here is our experience swimming with these magnificent creatures.
- Where is Coral Bay?
- Our Experience Swimming With Manta Rays at Coral Bay
- FAQs About Swimming with Manta Rays, Coral Bay
- Where to Stay in Coral Bay
- Final Thoughts on Swimming with Manta Rays in Coral Bay
Where is Coral Bay?
Coral Bay is located on the Coral Coast of Western Australia, and is a 1.5 hour drive (151 km) from Exmouth Western Australia and 11.5 hours drive from Perth.
You can get tours out to Coral Bay from Exmouth Marina or from Coral Bay – though expect tours from Exmouth to take a full day, whereas you can take a half day tour from Coral Bay and make time for other activities.
Our Experience Swimming With Manta Rays at Coral Bay
“Okay everyone, put your gear on, she’s heading this way. Get in the water as quickly and quietly as you can and follow me, I’ll be keeping near it so you can track it.”
Finned feet began shuffling in all directions to the back of the boat. No one wanted to miss the chance to swim with these graceful underwater butterflies.
I turned to help Kalyra put her snorkel on and she started to have one of those meltdowns. The snorkel wasn’t on to her liking and so the frustration began to vent as wails. She would not listen to my calm, sage advice.
One by one, the others on the boat slipped in the warm Australian waters and started swimming. Soon, we were left on our own.
We came all this way to Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and paid a lot of money to sit on a boat and suffer a tantrum. The others were swimming behind the manta and getting further from the boat.
We couldn’t catch up now. We finally got the snorkel sorted and sat on the edge of the boat.
Holding hands we counted to three and slipped in.
We put our faces in the water and there was the manta ray’s face only a few feet away swimming towards us. We both squealed, “manta ray!” It turned and we swam to keep up.
Pretty soon the others had caught up and overtook us and the manta slipped away. Trying to swim fast while holding onto a seven year old is no easy feat.
“Did you see that Mummy? We were so close to it. That was amazing.”
Kalyra, she decided it was too cold and waved the boat down to pick us up. She’d seen the manta ray up close and that was enough. No more chasing was needed, which was wonderful news for me as it meant I could go back in to swim with the manta ray on my own.
Because of the kerfuffle getting Kalyra ready, I forgot to turn the Gopro on so totally missed that moment when the manta came up to say hi.
We’d joined the tour early that morning from Coral Bay and hadn’t sailed very far out towards the outer Ningaloo reef when the manta ray was spotted swimming the crystal clear turquoise water the Ningaloo Marine Park is known for.
It was just Kalyra and I on this tour as it was expensive so we were reducing costs. Craig had opted to do the quad biking tour with Kalyra instead on another day.
But, we were lucky to be doing it with our friends Nikki and Drew, and their daughter Maddie, who is the same age as Kalyra. It was so lovely for Kalyra to be having such a fun day out with her friend.
While they played, I slipped back into the water to swim with the manta again. I copped a great big mouthful of diesel fumes on the way in. Again the manta came close and I started swimming, trying to navigate through all the arms and fins thrashing in my face
I swam around the outside of the pack and bolted towards the front. For the next five minutes I swam behind the manta ray marveling at its grace and delighting in the small fish that swam close to it’s belly.
For some reason, I thought that the manta rays would just come up to the boat and linger around us while we swam with them. I never realised it would involve Olympic style races to keep up with it.
Pretty soon the diesel fumes combined with the physical exertion started to catch up with me and I had to hold down the growing need to vomit. I pulled away and swam back to the boat.
Man they are fast, but it was a lot of fun to swim with them. Next time I hope they just linger!
It was time to let another tour boat in to swim with the rays so we moved out towards the outer reef for snorkeling.
Kalyra didn’t want to come back in the water so again I went exploring the reefs on my own. Schools of hundreds of tiny fish came swimming towards and around me. There were lots of waving blue coral out here and a few large fish poking in and out of the beautiful coral gardens to eat.
The current was really strong and I didn’t stay out long as I was worried about drifting far away from the boat and getting stuck on top of the reefs, unable to be rescued.
Lunch was served by the crew. We had cold meat and salad sandwiches, and although yummy because I was starving, I felt the lunch spread wasn’t that great and could have been better for what we’d paid for the tour.
There was a large amount of time spent driving around and at this stage I was trying to decide if the tour was worth it (it’s not the cheapest activity in Western Aus!)
It definitely wasn’t for Kalyra. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t take her as she only had that one swim with the reef manta ray and didn’t want to do anything else. It depends on the temperament of your child.
I wasn’t sold on the value until we stopped at our second snorkel spot.
I was pretty cold by now and this reef was way out the back near the outer rim and the breaking waves. It made me a little nervous to go out and was contemplating sitting it out.
Then our guide said she’d take us all on a guided snorkeling tour and I’m so glad I went. A guided snorkeling tour is the best. You feel so much safer snorkeling in a group and she took us to all the best spots pointing out discoveries along the way.
The only problem was a few kicks to the head as you’re exploring.
We swam in the channels between huge reefs and bombies. It was some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.
We swam above a couple of green turtles and then a loggerhead turtle swam so close to us, which are a lot rarer to see. It was so awesome.
The coral was much better out here, colourful and all shapes and sizes.
We weaved in and out of the reef system for some time delighting in it. One man from the group decided to go off snorkeling on his own and he saw a couple of sharks. So glad I wasn’t snorkeling solo!
FAQs About Swimming with Manta Rays, Coral Bay
Here’s what people usually ask us about swimming with manta rays in Coral Bay…
What time of year can you see manta rays at Coral Bay?
It is said that manta rays swim in the bay all year round, but the best time to see them is from mid-May to November when there is said to be the highest number of rays. Weekdays are best as there are fewer people on the tours.
Can you swim with manta rays?
Yes, you can swim with them. They tend to feed near the surface, which means you can grab a snorkel mask and swim along with them.
Is it OK to touch a manta ray?
No, they don’t like being touched and will likely swim away.
Are manta rays aggressive to humans?
No, they are gentle animals and have a calm and peaceful nature. They are known to be somewhat curious of humans, and may swim up to you, but they are no danger to you.
How big are manta rays?
There are two main species of manta ray and they have a wing span of between four and seven meters!
Where to Stay in Coral Bay
If you’re not sure where to base yourself for your manta ray experience, then I recommend staying at Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort, which is the only resort on the beach at Ningaloo Reef Marine Park.
This family-friendly resort is located on Sunrise Beach in the Cape Range National Park.
Each of the rooms comes with air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, refrigerators, and private bathrooms. Some rooms have a balcony or patio.
You can choose between 1-2 bedroom apartments or bungalows. It has a swimming pool, free parking, and is located near many nearby attractions.
Final Thoughts on Swimming with Manta Rays in Coral Bay
Ningaloo is an amazing coral reef to visit. You can explore it from so close to shore and it’s still so pristine, with pretty low number of tourists. We were the only people out there snorkeling.
At the Great Barrier Reef you’re competing with many.
I had a lovely high after that snorkel and enjoyed the beautiful views of the white sandy Coral Bay as we sailed back in.
We didn’t see any reef sharks or dugongs, but it’s possible to see some dolphins and humpback whales playing in the waters as you sail back from visiting the mantas if you visit during the winter months.
Kalyra felt she got her money’s worth at the end with all the lollies she kept sneaking in. She was super excited to run and tell her Dad that she swam with a manta ray up close.
So was I.
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Have you been swimming with graceful manta rays in Coral Bay? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.