In 1991, Shark Bay was recognised by UNESCO as one of the most remarkable places on Earth after it ticked off each item on the natural World Heritage site criteria list. It displays major stages in the evolutionary history of the world, as well as geological and biological processes, it is the home of significant and unique flora and fauna, and it is also a place of natural beauty.
The area was first discovered by Dutch Captain Dirk Hartog in 1616, making him the first European to set foot on Western Australian soil. Years later in 1697, Dutch sailor William de Vlamingh came through and then another visitor two years later, Captain William Dampier from England. The French came next with Captain Louis-Francois Saint Alouaran in 1772 landing at the northern tip of Dirk Hartog Island and declaring Australia as French, even though two years earlier the English had arrived in Botany Bay. Thirty years later, French Captain Nicolas Baudin was sent to Australia by Napoleon and sailed past Shark Bay on his way towards the southern coast of Western Australia.
Shark Bay covers more than 2 million hectares and 1500km of coastline and is filled with immaculate bays and swimming beaches, blue lagoons and offshore islands. It’s home to a huge variety of animals, including 26 of Australia’s endangered mammal species and 35% of Australia’s bird species. The waters are filled with turtles, dolphins, whales and sharks, as well as a variety of sea grasses, and Shark Bay is also the home of 10% of the world’s population of dugong.
POINTS OF INTEREST
This little town was established by pearlers and farmers after the area was charted in 1858 by Captain Henry Mangles Denham. The pearling industry was started by an American, who first noticed oysters in the area. Word got around and pearlers from the surrounding areas and neighbouring countries arrived to work the sandbanks and collect the pearls. After a while, pearl numbers began to decline and the depression caused the pearl industry to make way for fishing and salt farming.
Complete with safe swimming beaches, various accommodation options, supermarkets, restaurants and the westernmost pub in Australia, the Shark Bay Hotel, Denham is the perfect hub for your adventures around Shark Bay.
François Péron National Park
A short drive north of Denham, this park takes up 52,500 hectares on the tip of Péron Peninsula and is edged by striking cliffs, white beaches and deep red soil.
Within the park is the Peron Homestead, an old sheep station that you can walk through. They also have BBQs, a picnic area and a ‘hot tub’ full of 40 degree water from an artesian well.
If you have a 4WD, let your tyres down at the deflation/inflation station and head north up the sandy track towards Cape Péron. There are heaps of places to stop and check out the coastline – you might even see a turtle, shark or stingray.
Check out our post on François Péron National Park here.
This was a fantastic stop and we loved every minute of the tour. Our guide was a marine biologist and she provided an incredible amount of information about the animals at the park. We got to learn about squid, sea snakes, clown fish, sharks and more.
Check out our post on Ocean Park.
Eagle Bluff & Whalebone Bay
One of the camping areas just south of Denham, Eagle Bluff also has a brilliant lookout over the bay. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to spot a shark or sting ray.
Whalebone Bay is located about 30km south of Denham. We camped here on the first night and watched the sun set over this beautiful location. Camping is allowed for 24 hours only at $10 per vehicle, there are no facilities and it can get pretty windy, but the scenery is fantastic.
This naturally created beach extends 120km along the coast and is made up of teeny tiny cockle shells. It is believed that the shells date back around 4000 years and can be up to 10 metres deep. The beach itself is perfect for swimming – the water is crystal clear and gently laps at the shore.
Hamelin Pool is home to the most diverse example of stromatolites in the world. Stromatolites are ancient colonies of cyanobacteria (blue green algae) that form hard deposits over themselves in shallow waters.
We arrived at a beautiful moment when a storm was coming in but the sun still managed to shine through gaps in the clouds. There was a boardwalk that led out over the stromatolites, and we were fascinated by the very strange seascape they created under the water.
If you have a 4WD, this is a absolute MUST! Steep Point is the westernmost point of Australia, and you can only get there by driving over unsealed road and sand dunes. The track is fairly corrugated so it’s slow going most of the way, but once you get to Steep Point, you will be struck with awe at the terrifying yet beautiful landscape. Make sure you’re fully stocked with water and supplies because the area is fairly remote.
Check out our post on Steep Point here.
About 24km east of Denham is the place to go if you want to get close to dolphins. Monkey Mia is a huge tourist attraction with friendly dolphins visiting the area since the 1960s. Over the last 15 years, interaction with the dolphins has been regulated so that they don’t get too domesticated. They’re fed at irregular times between 8am and noon under the supervision of a DEC officer, and you’re not allowed to touch the dolphins (but they can touch you).
We pulled up at the gate to the Monkey Mia Conservation Park, paid $8 each to enter the Conservation Park, then proceeded down to the beach to watch the dolphins come in. There was already over a hundred people there, all lined up along the beach. About eight dolphins turned up for the feeding, and if you were one of the lucky ones to get picked, you can have the pleasure of putting the fish into the dolphin’s mouth. We watched from the jetty and noticed that a green turtle had come to visit as well.
After the dolphins retreated back into deeper waters, we went for a quick stroll around the resort and realised there really wasn’t anything left to see so we got in the Troopy and left. Snorkelling and swimming is allowed outside of the dolphin interaction area, but we had a big day ahead of us so we moved on.