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In Season: Sal Salis

Ningaloo Reef is magical year-round, but the cooler months bring the opportunity for an exclusive encounter with a giant of the deep.

WORDS Ute Junker

Early mornings at Sal Salis are worth getting out of bed for. When the sun’s golden glow lights up the sand dunes outside your glamping tent, stroll the few metres to where the water laps the shore and plunge on in. No shivering involved – here in the tropical northwest, the water stays a summery 24 degrees.

Positioned in the sand dunes of Western Australia’s Cape Range National Park, Sal Salis safari camp overlooks the marvellous Ningaloo Reef. Stretching 260 kilometres along the coast of WA, this reef has received a World Heritage listing for its remarkable diversity of marine species, including some 250 types of coral (found just off the shore) and 500 species of fish.

During the cooler months, the reef welcomes another visitor: magnificent humpback whales, which migrate in pods along the coast. Between July and October every year, around 40,000 whales make the journey from their summer breeding grounds on the North West Shelf to their winter breeding grounds in Antarctica. Ningaloo Marine Park is the only place in WA where you can get in the water with these gentle giants.

The experience is one you won’t quickly forget. The guides have it down to a fine art. By the time you head to the outer reef on your luxury catamaran, the spotter planes are already high in the sky. They help locate the whales and radio the information to your captain; you know you’re getting close when you see a spout of water shooting out from the waves.

To protect the safety of both whales and guests, the marine biologists on board monitor the behaviour of these massive mammals to ensure they are feeling relaxed and unthreatened.

There are two things you need to know about a humpback encounter. First, humpbacks are seriously big. A fully grown humpback can measure 19 metres and weigh 40 tonnes – and if you think that sounds imposing, wait until you are in the water with one! The second thing is that humpbacks are remarkably curious creatures. They are often interested in swimmers and may come quite close to check you out. If you’re really lucky, you may even be able to put your head in the water and hear a male humpback singing.

Exhilarating as a swim with a humpback is, it may not be the only animal encounter you have that day. As you cruise through the turquoise waters keep an eye out for other marine life, from turtles and dolphins to manta rays.

“If you’re lucky, you may even be able to put your head in the water and hear a male humpback singing.”

Swimming with humpbacks is just one of your Sal Salis highlights. There are plenty of other activities to cross off your to-do list while you’re here. Paddle a kayak along the shoreline to admire the rugged cliffs or take a hike through some of the area’s scenic gorges, such as the fossil-studded Mandu Mandu Gorge and Yardie Creek Trail, where emus and black-footed rock wallabies are often spotted.

The fun doesn’t stop at sunset, either. After savouring your three-course gourmet dinner in the main lodge, step out of your tent and onto the dunes to drink in a truly remarkable sight: a midnight-dark sky studded with more stars than you could ever have imagined. It’s yet another incredible Sal Salis experience.


Sal Salis’s 2023 season is now on sale. Humpback and whale shark swims have limited availability, so book your stay early to avoid disappointment. Discover more here

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