Exploring Western Australia has been my absolute favourite road trip so far. While the long drive can be completed all in one go, there’s also an option to spread such a long distance journey into a few separate visits.
In this aspect, Shark Bay is an ideal place to explore on its own. Located on Western Australia’s Coral Coast between Kalbarri in the south and Carnarvon in the north, it’s a part of pristine and diverse World Heritage Area. It keeps you on toes as you continue to discover new and new surprises.
The landscape around Shark Bay displays lots of straight lines, curves, and amazing horizons, but also many patterns and special natural accents that make this place so different and interesting. This is truly an ideal escape for all your sensory perceptions.
Come and explore Shark Bay with me! I’ll take you through all the logistical stuff as well as beautiful must-see places. So, here it is – my take on Western Australia’s Shark Bay.
HOW TO GET TO SHARK BAY?
First, don’t let the remoteness discourage you from visiting and exploring this part of Australia just yet. Yes, it’s remote! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s try to find the most suitable/fast/economical/cheap way to reach this beautiful place. Because it’s so worth visiting!
There are many domestic and international airline providers that fly to Western Australia on a regular schedule. Flying directly into Monkey Mia in Shark Bay is possibly the fastest way to reach the area. The flight from Perth takes 2 hours and is a much quicker option compared to a 9-hour long drive. Check out Regional Express (REX) website for their weekly fly-in schedule and prices.
An ideal option is to make Shark Bay part of your Western Australia road trip. I went this route and explored some other amazing places and things along the way. As always, the long drive goes by much faster if you have fun!
However, if you’re short on time and only want to focus on this specific area of WA, then the fastest way by car would be around 9 hours from Perth (800km), or 6 hours if you’re starting in Exmouth (600km).
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SHARK BAY?
Season-wise you really can’t go wrong with Shark Bay as it sort of falls into a transition zone and is a meeting place of tropical north and cooler Indian Ocean waters. It welcomes you with vacation weather and year-round summer. Winter months (Jun-Aug) do tend to be a bit cooler, however, temperatures are still between the high teens and mid-twenties, which means lots of daily sunshine on your face.
Summer is of course filled with hot days and limited rainfall. Because of the shallow bay waters and lots of wind, this is an ideal time for windsurfing and kiteboarding along the endless stretches of empty beach.
However, if your main motivation for visiting Shark Bay is to encounter some specific or unique animals, then below time frames roughly represent the best periods to spot them. Note that the concentration of wildlife here peaks during summer.
- Bottlenose Dolphins: all year-round.
- Dugongs: all year-round
- Humpback whales: from July to October
- Loggerhead Turtle: nesting from late October to early March (endangered species!)
- Pelicans: all year-round
WHERE TO STAY IN SHARK BAY?
Denham is a friendly coastal town that might be your ideal base to explore Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It offers restaurants, swimming spots, and other amenities. You’ll want to stay here if you wish to escape somewhat resorty and crowded Monkey Mia. Further down I’m sharing a few ideas and options for your overnight stay, ranging from camping sites to a luxury retreat on Dirk Hartog Island.
- Denham Seaside Caravan Park. Located on the water’s edge and offers ocean views. Available are campervan, camping sites and chalets.
- RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. Offers powered and unpowered sites. The campsite was being renovated when I visited in 2018. Backpacking dormitories are available as well.
- Tamala Station, Dirk Hartog Island, and Francois Peron National Park campsites are all reasonably priced. Despite being basic, they offer seclusion and some of the best coastal views.
- RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. Offers budget rooms and beachfront villas as well.
- Wildsights Beach Units, Denham.
- Shark Bay Seafront Apartments, Denham.
- On the Deck @ Shark Bay, Denham. Min. 2-night stay.
- Dirk Hartog Eco Lodge. Min. 3-night stay. Offers rustic lodge or ocean-side villas.
SHARK BAY NATIONAL PARKS FEES
Visitor fees apply at many of the Western Australia National parks. The easiest way to secure a pass is online where you’re able to choose from a 1 day, 4 weeks and 12 months entry options. It allows unlimited entry to all parks in WA (inside your preferred timeframe restriction) and only covers private vehicles with up to 12 people. It’s best to display the printed copy of an electronic pass on your vehicle dashboard.
Note that camping in National Parks is not included in this pass and additional fees apply if you opt for an overnight stay in the park. The fee can be paid for separately, either online or at the park’s entry point.
SHARK BAY AND 4WD
If you want to explore Shark Bay right to its edges and enjoy the beautiful landscape beyond the bitumen then a 4WD vehicle is a must here. First, you have to be an experienced driver that’s confident driving in extreme sandy conditions and be comfortable with taking some risks.
Francois Peron National Park, Edel Land National Park, and Dirk Hartog Island National Park are all remote and rugged areas in Shark Bay that offer amazing sandy tracks and deliver even better 4WD adventure experience.
Note that the self-drive access to these remote areas is via high clearance 4WD vehicles with low range capability only. An all-wheel drive will not be suitable along such rugged terrain. I recommend you check (or double-check) with your rental company that your hire agreement covers access to these areas.
Deflating tyres and reducing pressure before venturing along these soft sandy tracks is a must. It will stop you from getting bogged. It will also improve traction and increase tyre surface for a softer and more comfortable ride. At the same time you’ll save on fuel, which is a big bonus. Remember to reinflate tyres when you return to two-wheel drive roads.
My suggestion is to follow the instructions you come across when entering 4WD only areas. Be prepared for some challenging 4WD tracks and enjoy the hell out of the sights! It might just happen to be one of your best WA adventures. Also, don’t forget to fill your tank with gas and to take plenty of drinking water with you.
SHARK BAY MUST DO’S
Abundant wildlife and pristine natural features are hopefully what brings you to this part of Western Australia. And you won’t be disappointed! This is a great place to absorb rust-red sand dunes, azure blue waters and white sandy beaches. You’ll find plenty of lookout points along the Shark Bay’s World Heritage Drive, and during the night there’s almost no light pollution.
The ocean here offers amazing swimming and diving possibilities. Yes, there are sharks in these waters (the area didn’t get its name for nothing), so as always swim at your own risk. But don’t worry too much as there are many things you can do around here that don’t require you to dive into the deep blue.
Just like anywhere else, you can get as physical or as lazy as you want in Shark Bay. So let’s check out how you can explore the area and in what way you can make your stay here memorable.
Hamelin Pool Ancient Stromatolites
Hamelin Pool marine stromatolites are some of the oldest and largest living fossils on the planet. The area is one of the few locations where these simple rock-like forms of life exist to this day. They are basically giving us an insight into what Earth looked like 3.5 billion years ago as they represent a large portion of our planet’s history.
The water here at Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay World Heritage Area is hyper-saline, which means that it’s twice as saline as usual sea water. Only a few predators can survive such conditions, which is allowing the microbes to form stromatolites. They were able to further start the evolution of life from water to the land. Talking about the beginning of life here on Earth! Isn’t that impressive?
It’s amazing to learn about all of these processes from the information boards that are found along the purposely built platforms above the water. Stromatolites are best viewed at low tide when they become exposed. “Local Aboriginal people refer to these stromatolites as ‘our old people’, meaning our ancestors.” (Malgana Traditional Owner)
Denham township is known for being Australia’s most westerly settlement. It often becomes a gateway for exploring the area, featuring Shark Bay’s Aquarium and World Heritage Discovery and Visitor Centre.
A vibrant but low-key seaside atmosphere makes it quite an appealing place to base yourself compared to more touristy Monkey Mia. There are also a few eating and drinking options here, and a range of activities to keep you busy.
An inland saline lake named Little Lagoon is located close to the town. This translucent lake is connected to the sea by a small creek and has become a natural nursery for whiting, crabs and other fish. There are numerous opportunities for sports activities in these calm waters.
Shell Beach falls under the L’haridon Bight Sanctuary Zone. Don’t be deceived by images of a perfect snow-white sandy beach and vivid aquamarine ocean colors because this beach is completely made up of billions of tiny white cockle shells.
High evaporation and restricted water flow make L’haridon Bight (just like Hamelin Pool) very salty, which most marine creatures can’t tolerate. However, Fragum Cockle has no problem with this hypersalinity. Just the opposite, it thrives under such conditions. And so will your floating abilities!
The beach stretches for over 70km and in some parts, shells pile up to 10 metres deep. Another interesting fact is that these shells have been used to construct some of the buildings in the area. Make sure you put on your jandals when visiting this beautiful beach as these shells easily dig into your feet.
Steep Point in Edel Land National Park
The Edel Land National Park is a bit remote and rugged area of Shark Bay that requires a high clearance 4WD or a boat access. Steep Point is located on the western side of the peninsula and is also the westernmost point of mainland Australia. It’s an absolute must-visit place if you’re into shore-based game fishing, wilderness camping and sunset watching over the Indian Ocean.
When you’re in the area, do make a short stop at Eagle Bluff to take a boardwalk along the cliff face. This place doesn’t only amaze with breathtaking ocean views but also surprises with the sight of rays, turtles, sharks and other large fish. On my visit, I spotted a gorgeous Cowtailed stingray moving gracefully along the clear shallow waters just below the lookout. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Dirk Hartog Island
Dirk Hartog Island is another totally off-the-beaten-track location that ideally won’t fall under your radar. The island is 80km long and 15km wide and was the first recorded location of a European landing on Australian soil. Reaching this place takes a bit of planning, so it would be a shame to stay for 1 day only. This largest WA island offers wonderful seclusion and has become home to many rare and endangered species. Loggerhead sea turtles continue to choose it for their nesting zone.
Dirk Hartog Island offers opportunities for many adventures, but it can also become your peaceful retreat with many private and secluded sandy beaches. All you really need here is a 4WD to tackle the island’s challenging tracks, and an adventurous spirit to discover impressive wildlife, blowholes, striking coastal views and the underwater world. Who knows, maybe the sunset watching from the top of Herald Heights cliffs ends up being your most precious memory from this trip.
Francois Peron National Park
Francois Peron National Part is an absolute must do when you explore this part of Western Australia with a 4WD! It was by far my best wilderness experience in the Shark Bay area. So what’s so extra here?
First, this park on the northern half of the Peron Peninsula is untouched. It’s renowned for its striking color contrasts, plunging limestone sea cliffs, rust-red sand dunes, arid shrublands, pristine beaches, salt lakes and free roaming wildlife. And beyond that, you also realize this beauty is here all just for yourself and a handful of others who seek a bit of that rugged adventure.
As mentioned above, deflating car tyres is essential for traveling north into the park from the Peron Homestead point. There’s a tyre pressure bay located opposite the homestead for your convenience. And this is where the real excitement starts. 4WD-ing the red dirt. A ride to the Cape Peron at the tip of the peninsula. This will be your best hour of adventure. Or the worst hour of terror. However you choose to perceive it.
At the very tip you’ll be welcomed by a gorgeous coastal landscape with striking color contrasts of white beach sand, red desert sand and azure blue waters. This is where the ocean touches the desert. A true paradise really.
Francois Peron National Park tips:
- Ocean currents at Cape Peron are quite strong and potentially dangerous. Swimming here is discouraged.
- Evening sandflies will find you one way or the other. Just letting you know.
- All the abundance of the warm, earthy red dirt won’t get out of your brains easily. And neither out of your white clothes.
- The park has no running water, so bring sufficient amounts with you.
- Entrance and camping fees apply here. Basic campsites are located along the coastline.
Monkey Mia has become known and popular for the daily wild bottlenose dolphins visits. Department of Parks and Wildlife operates and manages the interactions and regulates feeding that happens on the water’s edge between 7:30AM and 12PM. After all, these are still wild animals that need to keep their normal feeding habits as well as their hunting and survival skills.
Many people are disappointed by big crowds that turn up every morning. Yes, it can feel overhyped at times. So it’s good to come here to witness a feeding ritual with an open mind and no expectations whatsoever, I think. The water was covered in seagrass on the day I visited and it was hard to spot dolphins in the water. Still, I was extremely happy to meet them, just as I am every single time I see them in the wilderness.
And while dolphin feeding might be the most popular activity in Monkey Mia, I invite you to give BYO sunset cruise a go. It’s amazing to experience Monkey Mia sunset and the abundant marine life on board a catamaran!
Note that National Passes don’t apply to Monkey Mia Conservation Park and visitor fees apply to people visiting as well as resort guests.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SHARK BAY
Did you know that
- Shark Bay area makes for 1/10th of the world’s total dugong population?
- this place is one of Australia’s major loggerhead turtles nesting areas?
- Aboriginal peoples’ traditional name for Shark Bay is ‘Gutharraguda’ which means ‘two waters?
- waters, cliffs and reefs around Shark Bay sank quite a few ships in the past?
The Shark Bay area is protected by an unspoilt Dirk Hartog island to the west and radiant Francois Peron peninsula to the east. It welcomes you with a unique kaleidoscope of texture and color, and there’s always an element of surprise present here – be it the insanely vivid and picturesque landscape, a beach completely made of shells or remote sandy 4WD playgrounds. The journey through this World Heritage landmark offers an ultimate return to nature. Go and find out for yourself!
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