Last week I posted about my intense desire to visit Ningaloo Reef and the surrounding areas. Later that day, indulging my obsession, I was scouring the internet for anything and everything about Ningaloo when I came across a link with the title “QantasLink flies Perth to Exmouth for $99.” What? Could my dreams really be coming true? Well, no. Upon reading the article I discovered the flight services to Exmouth (Learmonth airport) begin March 30. And of course I happen to be leaving Australia on March 17. How convenient! However, I do see an opportunity in this. These new QantasLink flights are not only going to Exmouth from Perth (for such a low, unprecedented price) but also from other major cities around Australia at similarly low prices.
What does this mean? It means that Qantas could (with my help!) be setting itself up to make quite a killing on these flights. Ningaloo is a destination ready to explode, but few people visit because of the huge investment of time and money it usually requires. With the new QantasLink flights, these are no longer issues. But there is still one problem.
People know little to nothing about Ningaloo. What people? The people Qantas wants to take their flights. Australians. Backpackers. Work and Holidaymakers. Other travelers. (Basically a lot of people like me — see why I could be useful?) Back in Melbourne, Oscar and I were chatting with a local friend and he asked why on earth we were moving out to WA. I started to wax poetic on how wonderful it was supposed to be: “I mean, Ningaloo Reef is supposed to be even better than Great Barrier!” He looked at me confused, “What, they have a reef over there? I thought it was all just desert.”
If some Australians don’t even know it exists, there’s obviously a bit of a problem! Travelers, on the other hand, might see something about Ningaloo or the Coral Coast while flipping through their guidebooks, but most of them will write it off as too difficult, too expensive and too far away. They all just want to go to the Great Barrier Reef anyway. But here’s the secret: I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef three times. It’s always a little disappointing. A long, sickly boat ride. Crowds of people, the smell of faint vomit in the air. The choppy waves turning your once-in-a-lifetime experience into a constant fight against the ocean. The pictures you take with your $60 underwater camera are all blurry, and the fish and coral all look so far away.
So maybe the next generation of Australian tourists will continue to do the Great Barrier Reef, because it’s one of those things you just have to do. But then they’ll fly back to Sydney and hop on their next flight over to Exmouth. Because Ningaloo Reef is also one of those things you just have to do. Attention travelers! Instead of that long boat ride, strap on your snorkel and swim right off the beach to the reef. Forget the choppy waves as you glide along in a calm current, watching the coral and fish pass just below you. Easy, puke-free. And if you’re going to spend a few hundred bucks on a tour, make it something spectacular like swimming with whale sharks!
Travelers coming to Oz need to know all this. But Qantas makes little effort to show them. There are no blazing headlines proclaiming the much-anticipated arrival of these new flights. There’s no big destination feature on Ningaloo, Exmouth, Coral Bay or any of the other top-notch attractions on the Coral Coast. This area could easily move from Australia’s best kept secret to its next big thing, and Qantas should be doing something about that. They can only benefit!
But why wait until the flights start to promote Exmouth and its surrounds? Just because I won’t be here when the new flights take off doesn’t mean Qantas shouldn’t considering sending me (and Oscar!) up to Exmouth to start getting the word out on this national wonder. I would be perfect to get Ningaloo on the traveler radar. I speak the language. I know what the traveler (or traveller — I can write in Australian English too!) coming to Australia wants, what would grab their attention. And I know the traveler wants Ningaloo, they just don’t know enough about it yet, and they don’t know it’s an achievable goal.
When Qantas played with my heartstrings with their announcement of new, affordable flights to Exmouth, I realized that maybe it wasn’t just a cruel joke. Perhaps there was a trick of fate behind it all. Perhaps I have a calling in this. Because I can show people that there is another place they need to add to their travel plans. I can show people how amazing the Coral Coast is and that they finally don’t have to set it aside as unreachable. Even if they’re based in Sydney for their Working Holiday, or are only planning an East Coast getaway, these new QantasLink flights make it possible for anyone to visit one of the most incredible and previously hard-to-reach parts of Australia without spending a tremendous amount of time or money. Ningaloo is now what Uluru was just a few years ago before Tiger and other airlines started operating cheaper flights to Alice Springs.
This is your chance, Qantas. Send me up the coast and I will show people the wonders they can finally enjoy for themselves. I will share my delight at every bright coral or funky fish I see (and get especially excited if I spot any turtles) while drifting along in my snorkel gear at Turquoise Bay. I will thrill at the chance to chase after whale sharks — and possible go into ecstatic shock if we actually find one! I will giddily run around with emus (I hear Exmouth is overrun with them, and as anyone who followed my escapades on my Epic Aussie Road Trip knows, I’m a little bit obsessed with emu spotting). I will frolic on spectacular white sand beaches, play with dolphins and dugongs, hike gorges, go fishing, camp in the bush, and do pretty much anything else you can throw at me. The Coral Coast is my place, I can feel it, and I’m ready to take it on and show the world how incredible it is. So here I am, your WA Coral Coast Correspondent and Traveler Extraordinaire, at your service.
UPDATE: I did do this trip (without the help of Qantas, sadly, but with a generous sponsorship of a deluxe campervan from Traveller’s Auto Barn) which you can read about via my Road Trip Itinerary for Australia’s Coral Coast post. Or just read about my time at Ningaloo.