Most people come to Ningaloo Reef to swim with Whalesharks. We did that exactly 7 years ago when we were last in the area and it was fantastic, but this time we decided to try something a little different.
You've only been able to swim with Humpback Whales at Ningaloo since 2016 when they started a 3 year pilot program to trial the swims under strict conditions. This year is the last year of the program and as yet no decision has been made as to whether it will continue on next year as a permanent thing.
How it works is you sign up with a registered tour operator (of which there are many) who take you out on their boat and guided by a spotter plane drop you and 6 other swimmers (plus 2 guides) in the water roughly in the path of a select group of whales (only whales behaving in a certain way and without young calves). From there the boat takes off and you have to swim a fair way through open ocean, again guided by the spotter plane. You're allowed to approach the whale up to 30metres only, then it's up to them if they choose to move closer or move away.
I fully expected to have just a short 20 second glimpse of them as they swam by (which is what Nathan got as we went in separate swims) but oh my god we were lucky enough to get the gold star treatment from 3 very inquisitive whales who came right up to check us out, circulated a few times, then swam right underneath us. Then just as we thought they'd gone they came back twice for another look! (We also spotted a big shark down there but thankfully it wasn't as interested in us as the whales were!!)
I very much recommend giving this a go as it has the potential to be a magical experience, although be aware it's such a varied experience depending on what the individual whales you find choose to do.
We went out with Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim and we chose them because they let the kid come on the boat for free whereas some of the other companies wanted to charge us between $150-$200 for a 4yo to sit on a boat. They also go from the Tantabiddi boat ramp which is nice & accessible if you're staying at Cape Range National Park so saves you driving all the way back to Exmouth.
It cost us $359 per adult which includes lunch + we paid an extra $40 for a photo package which in retrospect wasn't really needed as I got some great shots with the GoPro.
Kids under 13 can't do the Humpback Swim due to the fact that you need to swim a fair way in open ocean + the unpredictable and potentially dangerous nature of such a large wild animal. But they can still go on the boat and participate in all other snorkels over the day, so Ryan still had a great day out (and got to spot a turtle and a stingray who he he keeps telling everybody about!)
This was seriously such a fantastic and unique experience for us (well especially for me!) and is just another reason to check out the beautiful Ningaloo Reef area.
Check out the video of Renee's amazing encounter below or have a look at the photos on our Facebook page