Western Australia is home to many incredible sights and experiences, but for me, none will ever come close to the majesty of swimming with whale sharks. My deep blue mermaid dreams came true this day when I came face-to-face with these incredibly peaceful beasts cruising through the ocean, completely wild and yet barely metres from me. What could have been terrifying was actually the most magical ocean experience of my life, let alone within Australia. We had waited for this moment, talked about it, planned it the whole way up the coast towards Exmouth and now it was finally going to happen. But the best part about it? Getting to share this moment with amazing friends – some of whom had only just begun travelling, and others who were coming to the end of their travels. And one friend in particular who made my road trip dreams an incredible reality throughout an amazing six weeks as we celebrated her birthday with champagne on board the catamaran.
Which company did I use?
We booked through Ningaloo Discovery and I can't recommend them enough - the company is dedicated to never interfering with the creatures and works to ensure they remain safe and protected. They use a catamaran which is great for anyone who suffers sea sickness because the boat doesn't roll as much on the waves - although you should be fine since you don't actually stray that far from the shoreline. There are only around 20 people in the group and you are split into two teams, you take it in turns to swim with the whale sharks and only have a limited time to protect the wildlife. The company uses a sea plane to locate the whale sharks and unlike companies in the Philippines and Mexico, the refuse to feed the whale sharks so they don't alter natural feeding behaviours or threaten the health/future of the creatures. Once they have located the whale sharks, the boat heads over to the general area and waits for them to surface and be spotted by the team of experts who then lead the teams into the water with strict instructions on swimming alongside and not touching these huge animals. It sounds strict, but it is measures like these that protects whale sharks in the long-term.
What was it like?
On the day, we were told to always stay two metres away from the whale sharks and to swim alongside them in a line, to control our movements and not startle these partially blind creatures. We were told to watch out for fins and heads in case they changed direction, but not to worry as usually they were quite predictable in their movements. Then we got in the water and everything we had been told became useless. All of the staff said this was the most incredible day they had worked in seven years of the company running. Something must have been in the air, or the water, because the whale sharks were incredibly lively and started expressing all kinds of unusual behaviours that had never been witnessed by the staff before. It was incredible - at one point we had four whale sharks swimming around us at one time, normally you are lucky to see one or two! Two of them started to vertical feed and they swam upwards to the surface, and two of them even looked like they were going in for a kiss - it was such an unusual and incredible sight. The waves were filled with oceanic rays, manta rays, sea turtles, jellyfish and, of course, the whale sharks – it was hard to know where to look next! Our time in the water was spent trying to get out of the way of these powerful but harmless creatures as they twisted and turned through the water with ease and we kicked our flippers awkwardly. It was chaotic and with one amazing sight after another filling our eyes, it was sensory overload. We came up for air gasping for breath and screaming with excitement at what we had just witnessed. We thought we were excited - it was nothing compared to the ecstatic chatter of the staff which just did more to bring the experience to life for us. A truly magical day and one I will never forget.
How do I book it?
We booked a week in advance, but despite it being peak season and us being a large group there was still plenty of space for us. We called up, organised and booked with them over the phone but you can also do it online.
Was it worth the money?
Also-freaking-lutely. I would pay again in a heartbeat to live that day again. I paid $360 for a full day of snorkelling, swimming with around 6-8 whale sharks and countless rays, turtles and dolphins, plus all my meals and drinks were included - and the celebratory champagne - and we were picked up and dropped off at our campsite. Plus they take all the photos you want and need so you can focus on having the best day. I actually think that is quite cheap for the full day of activities and the experience I had. Originally I had expected it to cost around $5-600 so I was pretty content with the price, especially since I had saved up the money for it from my previous birthday. Swimming with whale sharks is one of the absolute experiences you must not miss out on when travelling Western Australia, trust me, you'll regret it if you skip it.
I'll leave it there because, honestly, I think the pictures really speak for themselves better than my words in this case. All images used with permission from Ningaloo Discovery. If you would like to find out more about booking your trip - check out their website here or leave me a comment below.