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Five Fingers Reef

Five Fingers Reef

Coral Bay

Getting There - Located south of the main settlement of Coral Bay, there are three options to get to Five Fingers Reef based on your situation. If you have a capable 4x4, then let some air of your tyres, follow the signs and take the sandy tracks out to the beach at Five Fingers Reef. If you don't mind a walk then you can park at the Coral Bay Boat Ramp at the end of Monck Head Drive and walk along the beach/dune track, which will be a 6km return walk (bring plenty of water). Alternatively you can do what we did and book a quad bike tour with Coral Bay Tours that takes you out to Turtle Cliffs, along with a snorkel at Five Fingers Reef (make sure you select the snorkel option). We were fully paying customers and this is not a sponsored post.

The Tour + Snorkel - With a return visit to Ningaloo in 2023 to finally swim with the Whale Sharks, I wanted to organise a day out to Coral Bay and explore different spots along Ningaloo Reef. Unfortunately in 2022, a once every 20-30 year event happened at the time of the annual coral spawning and a vast section of the coral in Bills Bay was wiped out. Basically, the winds were pushing the coral spawn back into the bay, it all settled on the sea floor and suffocated the reef system, resulting in a lot of dead fish and dead coral. Watching the updates come through the WA Snorkeling Facebook page was devastating and it will take many years for the reef to recover. Luckily not all of Coral Bay was affected and all reports indicated that Five Fingers Reef had survived. 

The problem now was how to get to Five Fingers Reef, as it requires a capable 4x4 and I didn't think the Hyundai i20 hire car I had booked was up to the job. If I was on my own then the 6km return hike along the beach from the boat ramp would have been the way but with a Caris on the trip with me, I had to think outside the box. Thankfully the thriving tourism industry had a solution and Coral Bay Tours do a Five Fingers Reef quad bike tour, with a side trip to a place called Turtle Cliffs. While I've never been an off-road bike kind of person, this seemed like the only way to get out to Five Fingers Reef and so I booked a tour. After a couple of days of horrible snorkeling conditions thanks to a huge swell that had rolled through, I was hoping things had calmed down by the time we got to Coral Bay. The drive down from Exmouth is really pleasant, with swathes of open grasslands and rolling hills. At just over an hour and half from Exmouth, this gave us enough time to enjoy a lengthy podcast and be there in time for the 9am tour. Arriving with enough time to spare, Coral Bay was bigger than I was expecting, with the various accommodation places seemingly full to the brim, and a decent set of shops.


After the safety brief by our tour guide, we got a quick lesson on driving the quad bikes and the rules for the tour. With me driving and Caris clinging on for dear life, we loaded up the small rack on the front with all our snorkeling gear, Caris' wetsuit and my camera gear. Unfortunately I didn't secure the drink bottles enough and we lost one on the way out to Turtle Cliffs. With a speed limit of 35kmph, this was enough to have some fun, as we rolled up and down the sandy tracks that the 4x4ers use to get to Five Fingers Reef. Heading out to Turtle Cliffs first, this was just a bonus for me, as the main goal of the tour was snorkeling at Five Fingers Reef. We visited a couple of the seaside cliffs as the first one didn't produce any turtle sightings but we did see an Eagle Ray gliding by. The second cliff we visited had plenty of turtles just offshore and while it was cool seeing them, I was keen to get to the reef. On our way back to the quad bikes, the guide spotted something and it ended up being a herd of feral goats wandering the dunes. With beautiful views overlooking the headland where Five Fingers Reef is located, we were soon heading down the hill and on towards the beach.

With limited time to spend in the water before we had to head back to Coral Bay, we quickly got changed and walked towards the main fingers. It's called Five Fingers because of the five reef structures running perpendicular from the beach that can be seen from the satellite view. The visibility was thankfully semi-decent as we got in and explored the edge of one of the fingers. After a few fish sightings, I was elated when I noticed something buried in the sand. Two Broad Cowtail Stingrays were facing each other in the sand, so I called Caris over and we observed for a while before I went down for photos. Careful not to spook them, I got a couple of shots before returning to the surface. This was escape time for one and I followed it as it shook off all the sand. Happy with such a cool find early on, I wanted to keep exploring to see what else was around. Next up was a super colourful Giant Clam with bright turquoise markings that really pop in the photos. Having snorkeled in terrible conditions the previous day, I was just happy to be out in okay visibility, photographing everything I saw, including Threespot Rabbitfish, a Chevron Butterflyfish, a Goldstripe Butterflyfish and a Surf Parrotfsh.

I think we missed the southern most fingers but there is enough reef out here that I could have spent a couple of hours just floating around the plate corals. Hoping to see a few more species that I had not yet seen, Caris and I separated for a while as I chased various fish asking for their photo. While nothing out of the ordinary popped up (was really hoping for an octopus or shark), I did witness my first Cleaner Wrasse station in action, with a few bigger fish coming up for the wrasse to pick them clean. I did ask politely but was perhaps a little too big for their liking. Noticing the others had headed back and not wanting to hold the whole tour up, I slowly made my way back to the beach, spotting a Greenfish Sea Cucumber on my travels, along with lots of schooling Convict Surgeonfish. Meeting up with Caris as I exited the water, she let me know that she had seen a turtle wandering around. Drying off as much as we could, we hopped back on the quad bikes and drove back to Coral Bay. Not a bad morning and booking the tour turned out to be the right decision.