We all have our own version of The Beach: that spot in the world where all is perfect and all is paradise. I found my version of the beach back in 2007. It’s a small town in Western Australia called Coral Bay. It’s a one-road town with one bar, one supermarket, three restaurants, and three hotels. This is a small town. In this town, there’s not much to do. And that’s why I love it.
Coral Bay is my paradise. On one side of Coral Bay is barren, arid cattle country, where sheep roam and truckers dodge kangaroo. On the other side is blue water, sandy beaches, and the Ningaloo reef with its abundance of marine life.
I love the beach, and everything in this town revolves around one giant white sand beach with turquoise blue water that stretches until infinity and a reef system so close to the land you can swim to it. There are so many turtles, fish, and stingrays, it’s too much to handle. When I was there in 2007, I woke up everyday, swam with turtles, relaxed on the beach, and worked on my tan. At night, the setting sun would light up the sky in fiery tones of red and orange while I cooled off with cold beer and good friends.
Life in Coral Bay is perfection, and my time there went way too fast. I could have stayed for weeks, and I longed to go back and visit. A quiet beach town is all I want in life. When Tourism Australia invited me to Australia last month, I declined their offer at first. After all, I just went to Australia at the beginning of the year. But when they told me I could go back to Coral Bay, I jumped at the chance.
I wondered what the town would look after three years. Tourism in Western Australia has grown in recent years, and I wondered if this sleepy town had been spoiled. Would I return to my one-road paradise to find multiple roads, more hotels, and more restaurants?
Whatever Coral Bay looked like now, I planned on doing more this visit than just sitting on the beach. To begin with, it was off to explore the outback that surrounds Coral Bay. While I was in the countryside, kangaroos jumped all around, eagles and other birds flew in the air, and there was wildlife everywhere. Then we went down to the beach and spotted parrotfish jumping in the shallows and reef sharks circling for food.
After seeing the land, it was time to see the water. Snorkeling and swimming around the reef for a second time, I realized this is the best reef in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef gets all the attention, but the Ningaloo Reef is much better. There’s brighter coral and more wildlife, including whale sharks, turtles, and dolphins. It hasn’t been spoiled by overdevelopment or overfishing. While the Great Barrier Reefs looks amazing from the air, it’s what we see underwater that matters, and I see far more underwater here than I do on the Great Barrier Reef.
During March and April, whales sharks migrate up the coast, and large manta rays can be found around the reef. It being off season, I had to settle for manta rays. I took a half-day snorkeling trip around the reef, and about an hour outside of Coral Bay, we spotted some large manta rays. These creatures were huge! It was amazing to swim with them and watch them glide effortlessly through the water. I never realized how big these creatures were. In my mind, they were as big as a person. In real life, they’re as big as three.
After three years away, I left happy. I was glad to see the town was still quiet and peaceful. Coral Bay isn’t an easy place to get to. It’s in the middle of the western coast, the closest airport is two hours away, and it’s a few days’ drive from Perth and a solid day’s drive from Broome. It’s that isolation that probably keeps most tourists away. (And also makes things fairly expensive here.) You mostly find Australians who have rented campervans or a few intrepid backpackers who paid to get out this far.
There’s nothing in eastern Australia that equals the beauty of Coral Bay. Forget Cairns, Noosa, Magnetic Island, or Bondi Beach. If you want to experience the beaches you see in ads for Australia, you come to Coral Bay. Part of me wants you to go there, and part of me wants it all to myself. Paradises are all eventually lost, but I want to hold onto mine just a bit longer. If you make it there, you’ll see what I mean. You’ll want to tell others, but you won’t really want to tell others. Then again, maybe you’ll find the sign pointing your way here has suddenly disappeared, and I can keep my version of heaven just a bit longer.
For more information on Australia, visit my guide to Australia travel.
Editor’s Note: While I paid for my trip to Coral Bay in 2007, this trip was paid for by Tourism Australia.