The town of Exmouth on North West Cape came into being in 1964 when it was constructed as the support town for the US-run Harold Holt US Navy Communications Base.

Exmouth's claim to fame is the fact that it is the closest Australian mainland town to the continental shelf. This results in there being very rich fishing grounds within close reach. In addition, it has colourful coral reefs very close to the shore.

North West Cape Communications Base

Sitting on the extreme north west corner of Australia, Exmouth occupies a strategic position in terms of both defence and comunications. It is therefore not surprising that Learmonth RAAF Base (48 km south) and North West Cape Communications Base (16 km north) are close at hand. The latter's Tower Zero, one of thirteen towers of the base's very low frequency transmitting station, at 369 metres high, was for many years the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere. The base was built as a communications centre for the US Navy's fleet of submarines.


North West Cape

North West Cape is the large peninsula that separates Exmouth Gulf from the Indian Ocean on the north west tip of the continent. It is a locality full of contrasts; the traveller passes from high plateau shrub land to deep ocean, eucalypt woodlands to deep rocky gorges, within just a few kilometres. The scenery is quite breathtaking scenery. Aany examples of Aboriginal art appear in the caves and rock overhangs of Cape and Rough Ranges on North West Cape.


Coral Bay

A small resort town to the south of Exmouth, it caters for the increasing number of tourists visiting the North West Cape area. Its waters are warm for most of the year and clear, the beaches are white, hard and beautifully clean, but more importantly, they are literally a step away from Nigaloo Reef, one Australia's most iconic natural attractions.


Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef is one of the rare places on earth where you are able to walk from the beach straight onto a coral reef. A protected marine park area on the ocean side of North West Cape in Western Australia, Ningaloo is a virtually untouched barrier reef of 260km length protecting a shallow, brilliant white sandy lagoon of clear tropical waters. More than 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral make up the Ningaloo Reef.


Point Cloates

A whaling station was established at Point Cloates in 1912. By the mid-1920s over 1000 whales per annum were being caught and processed. After being destroyed by a cyclone in 1945, it was opened again in 1949 but ceased operations permanently in 1963 when a worldwide campaign led to a ban on the slaughter of the world's ever-decreasing population of humpback whales.

Learmonth Solar Observatory

The observatory is the site of one of six solar velocity imagers in the world-wide GONG (Global Oscillation Network Group) network operated by NOAO (US National Optical Astronomy Observatories). It was established by agreement between the Australian and United States Governments in October 1977. Jointly operated by IPS Radio and Space Services and the US Air Force, its operations commenced in April 1979. Learmonth Observatory operates optical and radio telescopes to monitor the Sun. Information collected at Learmonth is reported directly to forecast centres in both Australia and the USA.

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Where is it?

1,375 km north of Perth; 402 km north of Carnarvon.

Vlamingh Head

The tip of North West Cape is Vlamingh Head, a name which tips its hat to the Dutch navigators of the 17th and 18th centuries who were the first Europeans to ply Australia's shores and to literally put Australia on the map. The name recalls Willem de Vlamingh who, in 1696, commanded the rescue mission to Australia's west coast to look for survivors of the Ridderschap van Holland that had gone missing two years earlier. The mission proved fruitless, but along the way Vlamingh charted parts of the continent's western coast and as a result improved navigation on the Indian Ocean route from the African Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch East Indies. On 4 February 1697, he landed at Dirk Hartog Island and replaced a pewter plate left by Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog in 1616 with a new one that bore a record of both of the Dutch sea-captain's visits. The original plate is preserved in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His last landfall was the headland named in his honour, which today is 18 km north of Exmouth.

Vlamingh Head offers spectacular views of Ningaloo Reef and a great vantage point to witness the famous Western Australian sunset from its elevated location above the ocean near Exmouth. The Lighthouse was built in 1912 and stands on the northernmost tip of the Cape Range. No tours are currently conducted into the Lighthouse. The historic building overloks Lighthouse Bay, which has the distinction of being one of the few places in Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set over the sea.

Mildura Shipwreck

The west coast of Australia is strewn with the wrecks of ships that came too close to its reef-riddled shoreline and met with grief at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Maritime records indicate that over 30 wrecks lie along the coast of North West Cape. Of these, the SS Mildura is the most well known because the remains of it can still be seen off Vlamingh Head. In June 1907, the 1,394-ton steamship was carrying a cargo of bullocks, bound for Fremantle from Cambridge Gulf, when she was wrecked off the north point of the North West Cape. The crew got ashore safely but many of the cattle were lost. The master of Mildura was found guilty of neglect and had his certificate suspended for three months. Although the wreck is plainly visible offshore, it is not a recommended dive.

RAAF Learmonth

RAAF Learmonth, also known as Learmonth Airport, is a joint use Royal Australian Air Force base and civil airport. It is located near the town of Exmouth on the north-west coast of Western Australia. As an RAAF base, Learmonth is one of the RAAF's three 'bare bases'. No Air Force units are currently based at Learmonth and it is maintained by a small caretaker staff during peacetime. The RAAF also operates the Learmonth Air Weapons Range, located 30¬İkm south-west of the airbase.

During World War II a little-known landing field was constructed on the western shore of Exmouth Gulf. It was code-named "Potshot" and maintained by No. 76 Operational Base Unit. In the 1950s the landing field was further developed as a military base and named RAAF Learmonth in honour of Wing Commander Charles Learmonth DFC and Bar, who, while leading No. 14 Squadron, was killed in a flying accident off Rottnest Island, Western Australia on 6 January 1944. In the late 1960s it was redeveloped as a 'bare base', due to its proximity to Indonesia.

History of Exmouth

A small nomadic tribe of Aboriginals occupied the North West Cape until the turn of the 20th century. Numerous middens and small coastal caves have evidence of their occupation. The first recorded sightings of North West Cape by Europeans were by the Dutch vessel Zeewolf in 16187 and Mauritius a year later. Early maps published in 1625 and 1627 refer to "Willems River" and "Jacob Remmessens River". There is conjecture that these rivers are Yardie Creek or Exmouth Gulf mistaken for a river mouth. It is probable that Willem de Vlamingh visited North West Cape in 1697.

French expedition leader Nicolas Baudin named Point Murat and the Muiron Islands in 1801 and Phillip Parker King completed a survey of Exmouth Gulf in 1818. In 1811 an American 3-masted wooden vessel names the Rapid was wrecked near Point Cloates, thus heralding the first of a series of contacts that Americans have had with North West Cape. In 1942 the US Navy established a submarine base under the code name "Operation Potshot". Extensive facilities were built adjacent to where Learmonth Air force Base now stands.

The town of Exmouth developed in the 1960s to support the newly constructed US communications base, but since the closure of the base, it has survived mainly on tourism and prawning. It was the base for exploratory oil drilling tests in Cape and Rough Ranges in the 1950s and 60s.

The town's name was taken from Exmouth Gulf, on the shores of which the town stands. The Gulf was named by Commander Phillip Parker King in February 1818 after Edward Pellew, First Viscount of Exmouth.

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