If you have ever dreamed of swimming with manta rays, Coral Bay in Western Australia is the place to do it. This small holiday town on the Coral Coast sits is the perfect access point for the world heritage listed Ningaloo Reef. It is an idyllic base for exploring the reef and interacting with the marine life that lives there.

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Photo Credit: Coral Bay Eco Tours – Daniel Brown

Booking a Manta Ray Tour

On our first trip to Coral Bay, going on a Manta Ray tour wasn’t on our list of things to do. The reef is a popular destination for whale watching and swimming with whale sharks and humpback whales. We only had eyes for the whale sharks but as can happen on holidays, things didn’t go to plan.

We travelled to Coral Bay in April only to find that whale shark sightings were still a bit hit and miss. With a family of four, we decided the cost of the full day tour for the possibility of a sighting was too great. Instead, we opted for a manta ray tour.

(It took a few years, but we finally made it back to Ningaloo and got to swim with whale sharks. It was worth the wait; read about what to expect on a whale shark tour here.)

Manta Ray Eco Tour

The Coral Bay Manta Rays

There are several Manta Ray tour operators in Coral Bay. We went with the team from Coral Bay Eco Safaris based outside the Peoples Park Caravan Park. Even though swimming with whale sharks makes it onto a lot of bucket lists, manta ray tours are as amazing and, in some ways, even better.

Coral Bay is home to a resident population of manta rays. They are easier to get to than whale sharks, so the tours tend to be half day adventures making them more affordable than a whale shark swim. This makes manta ray swims a great option for a family wildlife adventure. Our kids were 7 and 9 and had a great time.

And if you want big, manta rays won’t disappoint. They can be more than 4 metres across which is twice the arm span of the average adult person. When you measure that out, it’s huge! The way they glide through water, their size and their acrobatics as they feed make them an incredible sight when you see them in the wild.

Manta Ray

SWIM WITH CORAL BAY'S MANTA RAYS 

Get up close to manta rays, sea turtles, and more on a 5- to 6-hour snorkel tour around Ningaloo Reef.  Visit the sea turtle sanctuary where you can observe turtles feeding and surfacing for air. Then head to Bateman’s Bay, where, with the assistance of a spotter plane, there is the opportunity to snorkel with Manta Rays. In between your adventures, refuel with a buffet lunch.

Photo Credit: Coral Bay Eco Tours – Daniel Brown

See more than Manta Rays

The fun thing the manta ray tour and the great thing about Ningaloo Reef is that there is so much marine life to see. Regardless of which tour you go on, you’ll likely also get the chance to snorkel on the reef. For our tour, this meant getting to snorkel over a coral bommie used by reef sharks as cleaning station.

Reef sharks are generally considered not to be dangerous, even so it took a few minutes to convince the kids. Without really knowing, we promised there wouldn’t be that many and they are only small. Well, it turned out there were lots of them, and our idea of small and their idea of small were kind of different. That little surprise aside, it was a great sight, the sharks completely ignored us and it was a good warmup for our next swim.

Photo Credit: Coral Bay Eco Tours – Daniel Brown

Manta Magic

It wasn’t an ideal first manta ray experience, but we didn’t have long to think about it. We arrived at a new spot, bundled into the water and followed our guide. Suddenly, from nowhere, appeared the shape we were waiting for. Below us a manta ray was performing loop de loops as it fed on the plankton-rich water.

As one, our group stopped swimming and lay motionless on top of the water while the manta ray barrel-rolled metres below us. A few minutes later, two more mantas joined in, one must have been four metres across. It was breathtaking. They rolled and rolled in perfect acrobatic formation. You could see their enormous sieve-like mouths filling with the food-rich water.

For their size and speed, I expected there to be more noise. But the only sound was water lapping against your face, the hypnotic circling of the manta rays your sole focus. It was one of nature’s great shows. When they had finished feeding, they swam off in single file. Back at the boat, none of us could get our snorkels out of our mouths fast enough. We all wanted to try and put into words the incredible sight seen. Watching something so big and so graceful up close was an amazing experience.

Photo Credit: Coral Bay Eco Tours – Daniel Brown

Turtle Sanctuary

It had already been a big day – snorkelling over a school of reef sharks, hovering over manta rays as they fed. Just when you think the day can’t get any better, you finish with a cruise through a turtle sanctuary. If dolphins win the prize for the most loved marine creature, sea turtles must come in a close second.

There were plenty to see as they bobbed to the surface for a breath or swam past the boat. The crystal clear water in the sanctuary made them easy to spot. We saw a sea snake slither past too and some in the group claim to have seen a dugong, but we missed that one. It was the perfect end to the day. If you go to Coral Bay, make sure you have a manta ray eco-safari at the top of your list of things to do. It is a great way to explore Ningaloo Reef.

Turtle

3 HOUR CORAL BAY TURTLE ECOTOUR 

Enjoy a magical tour that showcases turtles in their natural habitat. You’ll travel in a custom designed glass bottom boat, with crew members to provide fascinating commentary and answer your questions about turtles. Visit two fantastic areas for snorkeling, coral viewing, and fish feeding.

We stayed at the Bayview Park but really, Coral Bay is one of those places where you’re only at the park to eat and sleep. Yep, the staff were friendly, the sites were big and the facilities were clean. Most importantly though, you’re less than a five minute walk from snorkelling on Ningaloo reef! You can compare the two Coral Bay Caravan Parks here.

  • A giant Manta Ray can span 7 meters
  • Manta Rays live for an average of 50 years
  • A group of Manta Rays are called a squadron
  • They eat a large quantity of zooplankton
  • They swim to depths of over 500m
  • Manta rays can swim up to 24 km p/h

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