Every year there is a monumental event at Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. About a week after the full-moon, in March or April, the coral releases millions of bright pink egg and sperm bundles. This starts a chain of events that ends with the arrival of the biggest fish in the ocean – the whale shark.

The viewing of these magnificent creatures draws hundreds of thousands of people every year, but the problem with such an incredible experience is the incredible price tag that accompanies it; in this case, a standard fee of around $330. However, as there is no guarantee you will find one, the ticket comes with a no-sighting guarantee, where the next available trip is free. There is still no guarantee you will see one on the second trip.

We’d heard from companies in Coral Bay that it was only within the last few days that any whale sharks had actually been seen this season but obviously no companies in Exmouth were advertising this. One company caught our eye with an offer that seemed too good to be true: $170 for a trip. The catch? There was no non-sighting policy. Do you feel lucky? Hell yeah. There were only two spots left on the last day of this special offer period, and that was on our last intended day in Exmouth. We’d either see one or not – simple. On the morning of the trip, we were told that no company had seen a whale shark the day before and sightings had been sporadic and short on the previous days.

The first stop for the morning was a short snorkelling excursion near the reef. We were advised this was more of a swimming test for everyone, but there were plenty of things to marvel at. I separated from the main group and found a metre-wide Bull Ray. I already felt satisfied with the money spent. When everyone was back on the boat except for myself and my girlfriend, a small pod of dolphins was seen in the distance. The dive instructor jumped in immediately and motioned for us to follow. The dolphins were too fast, but the chase brought us to three dugongs that we had no idea were there. I had never expected to see these extremely shy creatures so close and was even happier with our luck.

While we were in the water, a call from the spotter plane had come through. A whale shark had been spotted! Time to grab a hold of something, put the boat into top speed and go find a big fish. Even though we all knew that whale sharks had been known to dive out of sight as soon as people jumped into the water, there was no chance of restraining our excitement. When we were within sight, the dive instructor jumped into the water and swam ahead to locate the whale shark’s precise location.

When the timing was declared right, we jumped into the water in a controlled rush and swam towards the dive instructor’s out-stretched arm. I swam with my heartbeat filling my ears, and excitement turning my stomach. When it first came into view, I was completely awe-struck. It effortlessly glided towards us with a carriage of small fish taking shelter close by and each one accentuating how big it was. I had to remind myself to breathe.

After 16 minutes, the whale shark decided it had seen enough, and dived beyond our reaches. We didn’t care: we had seen one. We had been swimming with the biggest fish in the ocean and had only paid $170. And then it was announced that another one had been spotted and was waiting for us!

In total, we saw three whale sharks that ranged from three-and-a-half to five metres in length, and swam for a total of 25 minutes with them. I won’t repeat my words of amazement when approaching the five metre one, but I’m sure they would be echoed by almost anyone that was in the same flippers. To say we were satisfied with our decision to take a gamble is an understatement. Then it was time to spend some of our saved cash on a celebratory drink… or six.