Shark Bay World Heritage area (Includes Monkey Mia and Francois Peron National Park)
Shark Bay could just be my favourite place in the world. I grew up here as a kid and enjoyed a lifestyle centered around nature and the freedom of exploration. A lot of people don’t really know of Shark Bay but more so of Monkey Mia for its dolphins and of Francois Peron National Park and while these two locations are both amazing there’s a lot more to Shark Bay for you to discover. One thing I will add is that if you’re heading up to the bay try and get your hands on a little boat, talk to your travel mates and chip in, doesn’t need to be a big one just a little tinny. This will enrich your experience immensely not just here but all the way up the coast on your road trip. If you don’t have a boat however don’t worry because there is still so much to explore, you wont be disappointed with Shark Bay, no way.
Shark Bay World Heritage area gained its status for a number of reasons centered around unique natural habitats for wildlife and history. Some of the unique wildlife you can see here are dugong, stromatolites, quolls and Shark Bay mice. The World Heritage area starts at the Denham Hamelin road turnoff from the North West Coastal Highway about 700kms north of Perth. One of the first points of interest you will come along is Hamelin Bay about 35kms from the highway, this is where you can see the stromatolites. Stromatolites are the oldest living organisms in the world and are responsible for life on land as we know it today.
Although the stromatolites look just like interesting marine rock formations they are actually alive and the shallow waters around them make for a very pretty landscape. Also at Hamelin bay is the old telegraph station and other historical buildings to see, this is a good place to gain an understanding of the history of the bay if you’re into that.
Facilities at Hamelin Bay: Caravan park, Toilets, Showers, Tea Rooms
After Hamelin Bay is Shell Beach this is another phenomenon unique to Shark Bay about 85kms from the highway. This beach has no sand just billions of tiny white coquina shells as far as the eye can see, these shellfish have a very short lifecycle because the water in this bay is so salty and so over years their shells have built up on the beach over 6m deep in some areas. A lot of the original buildings in Denham, the main town in Shark Bay, were made with shell bricks cut directly from the beach. Some of these buildings are still there today like the church and the Old Pearler restaurant. Over time people coming to visit shell beach have crushed the shells in the main beach area but if you drive further down to the left in the direction of Denham there are sections still in pristine condition. There is a track from the main beach that runs along the bush next to the beach or you can take the highway a further 5-10kms and find a track on the right going down to the Western side of the next small bay west of the main Shell beach. This Western side is where the nicest concentration of shells can be found but its definitely 4WD only, be very careful if you decide to drive across the tidal mud flats and keep an eye on the water levels. Getting stuck here could be a road trip ender.
The town of Denham is located about 130kms from the highway and can be a nice place to stop as a base to explore the shark bay area, there are plenty of caravan parks here as well as groceries and fuel. You can also find your fuel, groceries and accommodation in Monkey Mia a further 26kms from Denham but you have to pay park entry fees to stay here and its not included in the WA parks pass so its up to you. Denham’s main road runs along the foreshore and there are some really nice beaches if you drive to either end of the road and then start walking down the beach away from town. Sometimes when the tide is low you can walk out from the beach in the water for hundreds of meters, you can see lots of marine creatures here too like Shovel-nose Rays, Stingrays and small Sharks. There are two jetties in town which are both good for squidding at night, this is a good way to meet some of the locals too. If you head out towards Monkey Mia you will come across Little Lagoon, this is a cool place to have a sun-downer and a swim in the lagoon, don’t swim in the creek at the end of the lagoon though as there can be stone-fish which are venomous.
Facilities at Denham:
Caravan parks and accommodation
Normal town facilities
Monkey Mia is a “resort” with camping beaches and boating. The main attraction at Monkey Mia for most people is the dolphins, rangers feed them every morning for the tourists and if your lucky you can feed them a fish too. If you spend a few days at Monkey Mia and go swimming at the beach you will most likely see the dolphins without feeding, especially if you get up early in the morning to watch the sunrise over the bay. If you take a sunrise walk down to the point and back past the jetty you have a good chance to see dolphins, turtles, a few different species of rays and pelicans. Even if you just sit on the jetty in the morning sometimes you can see them. The dolphin feeding is not the best way to see dolphins for me and in my opinion has been detrimental to Monkey Mia because of the way it is run. For dolphin feeding the rangers come down early in the morning and tell everyone to move off the beach and the jetty and to wait far up the beach until they are ready. The rangers then give a talk over a loudspeaker and finally invite you along with sometimes hundreds of other tourists to come down to the beach and stand in a line to watch them feed the dolphins, sometimes a few people from the crowd are chosen to feed a dolphin. Personally I don’t like how they take over the whole beach every morning “for the safety of the dolphins” and I also don’t agree with ritual feeding of wild animals for tourist’s entertainment but its easy to enjoy Monkey Mia without letting this get in the way so don’t be put off by them.
While in Monkey Mia a great way to see the local wildlife is to get out on the water in the boat, for wildlife spotting the shallows in-between the mainland and Foraay Island are great, the water is sometimes only knee deep kilometers from the shore and is full of seagrass which attracts dugong and turtles, you can also expect to see sharks, rays, sea snakes, dolphins and a variety of fish. Dolphins will sometimes come and ride the bow waves from your boat so you can see them really close up, sea snakes can also come up to the boat to have a look when its not moving, they are very curious and not dangerous unless touched or provoked. While out on the water you can also do a bit of fishing, many people come up to shirk bay because the fishing is great, remember to check bag limits and licences before heading out, if you need any information you can contact Fisheries on their website Fisheries website link When I used to live in the bay we would fish for tailor on the point at Monkey Mia where you can walk out into the water. We used mulies from the shop for bait on gang hooks, just cast and retrieve. If you don’t have your own boat you can take a fishing charter or a wildlife cruise. Monkey Mia Wild Sights do great cruises on their catamaran Shotover and also offer a range of other interesting tours including 4WD trips to Francois Peron national park.
Facilities at Monkey Mia:
Caravan park and accommodation
Shop and restaurant
Francois Peron national park is awesome fun! Its 4WD only and can get quite boggy but as I seem to keep saying getting there is half the fun. This parks turnoff is on the Monkey Mia road just outside of Denham, you can pay your park fees at the turnoff. The road is ok for 2WD in as far as the homestead where they have the hot tubs, as well as some park information. As you hit the 4WD section there are air compressors so make sure you let your tyres down going in and you can pump them back up here on the way out. The hot tubs are very warm so they make a great way to spend a night after dark watching the shooting stars and counting satellites, definitely a must do.
My favourite places in Peron would have to be Bottle Bay for fishing, snorkelling and beach combing and Skipjack Point for its awesome lookout. Bottle Bay is about 40kms from the homestead along a sandy 4WD track. Here you can walk or drive down along the beach to the point where you will find the best snorkelling as there is a small reef that comes in close to shore. You can see a lot of tropical fish and coral, keep an eye out for Wobegon Sharks hiding under the rock ledges and for Nudibranchs, a kind of tiny colourful sea slug. The sandy beach area just before the reef is a great spot to fish for whiting so bring some prawns or other bait and some small long shank hooks and you might end up with whiting for lunch. About 10kms further up from Bottle Bay back on the 4WD track is Skipjack Point, this lookout is amazing from the top of the headland you can see down into the bay below where you will spot lots of big marine animals including big sharks, big turtles and big rays. There are lots of other tracks to explore in Peron so why not plan a few days camping in the park, or even just a few days camping at Bottle Bay, I know I could.
Facilities at Peron: Camping, Toilets
Thanks again for reading guys, remember to check out the rest of the blog for other cool road trip ideas, Steep Point is just around the corner from Shark Bay and well worth checking out. Also check out our posts on Fishing and 4WDing if you need any advice.