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Ningaloo Reef...Exmouth or Coral Bay? Sites along the way?

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I'm in the very early stages of planning a Western Australia road trip, concentrating on the areas between Perth and Exmouth.

We've arranged the trip to coincide with whale shark season and plan to spend some time exploring Ningaloo Reef.

My first of many questions...which provides better access to Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth in the north or Coral Bay in the south - or does it matter?

I'm looking for a dive operator that specializes in small group diving - suggestions much appreciated. I'd also welcome any suggestions on what to see and do between Perth and Coral Bay (or Exmouth).

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