Turquoise Bay - Cape Range National Park

Top 9 Towns along the Coral Coast

The Coral Coast of Western Australia spans all the way from Cervantes in the south to Exmouth in the north and covers about 1,100km of coastline.  Within the area is Kalbarri National Park, World Heritage areas Shark Bay Marine Park and Ningaloo Marine Park, as well as beautiful sandy beaches, rugged limestone cliffs and bizzare rock formations.

 

Lancelin does fall a bit short of being part of the Coral Coast, but for the purpose of this post, we will dub this great little town an honorary member…

 

Lancelin – 127km north of Perth

This relaxed coastal town is known as the WA base for wind and kite surfers.  Water sports are the main thing to do around here, unless you like 4WDing or dirt bike riding.  Head north out of town to find some wicked sand dunes to drive or ride over.

 

The town boasts a few cafés, as well as a bakery, surf shop, pharmacy, pizza shop and supermarket.  There are a few pubs in town, including the Endeavour Tavern, which has a kick-ass beer garden.  If you’re looking for some accommodation in the area, check out the Lancelin Lodge YHA.

 

 

Cervantes – 147km north of Perth

This town was established in 1962 as a cray fishing town and got its name from the American whaling ship that was wrecked off the coast in 1844.  It’s another coastal town that offers a variety of water activies, but it’s also super close to the Pinnacles.

 

One of the main attractions in town is the Lobster Shack, a family owned seafood processing operation where you can tour the factory, have a seafood lunch or buy some fresh lobster.  Just out of town is Lake Thetis, a lake that is home to stromatolites and thrombolites and is twice as salty as the ocean.

 

Dongara-Denison – 350km north of Perth

These two sister towns are separated by the Irwin River and boast great fishing, great beaches and the historic Priory Hotel, which was constructed in 1881 as a hotel before being converted into a school that was run by the Domical Sisters for 70 years.

After we checked out Fisherman’s Lookout and the Obelisk in Denison, we drove across the river into Dongara.  Big Moreton Bay Fig trees line the streets, and everyone was really friendly, including the chick who owns the Stomp Music shop.

 

 

Geraldton – 415km north of Perth

Geraldton is a city, not a town, but it’s a fantastic place to visit.  Also known as the Sun City, it has everything from supermarkets, theatres and an aquatic centre, to pubs, restaurants and cafes. Plus, it’s a short drive from Greenough’s leaning trees and Greenough Wildlife & Bird Park.  Check out our post on Geraldton.

 

Kalbarri – 589km north of Perth

This little town sits right on the mouth of the Murchison River and is surrounded by the Kalbarri National Park.  Explore the coastal gorges and rock formations just south of town or drive inland to check out Nature’s Window and deep river gorges.

 

There are two pubs and two supermarkets in town, as well as a really cheap café called Angie’s Café, but if you prefer to catch your own dinner, head to Chinaman Rock with your rod.  There are heaps of accommodation options, from expensive resorts to caravan parks.  Kalbarri Backpackers YHA is a brilliant choice if you’re looking for something relaxed and social and within walking distance to everything.

 

 

Denham – 834km north of Perth

The hub of Shark Bay, this little town is the home to Australia’s westernmost pub, The Shark Bay Hotel.  It is also a short drive to Ocean Park, Monkey Mia and Francois Peron National Park, and further down the coast is Shell Beach and the stromatolites of Hamelin Pool.

 

If you’re a keen 4WDer and fisherman, head to Steep Point.  Once you’ve conquered the sand dunes, see the ranger about a camp spot before dropping a line into the turquoise coloured bay.

 

 

Carnarvon – 905km north of Perth

We thought Carnarvon would be much busier but it’s totally chilled out.  It has a thriving tropical fruit industry and the town is surrounded by plantations that produce papaya, bananas and mangoes.  We also scored some cheap vegetables before doing a spot of tasting at Bumbak’s Preserves & Ice creams Outlet.

 

 

The OTC Dish is a massive landmark that can be seen from town.  It was opened in 1966 as a communications satellite dish and was closed after helping to locate Halley’s Comet in 1987.  It also participated in the Space Race and helped put man on the moon in 1969, and was also the sender of Australia first satellite TV broadcast.

 

Coral Bay – 1132km north of Perth

People were constantly recommending this location and when we got there, we realised why.  Coral Bay is such a beautiful place.  The town survives purely on tourism and is made up of a supermarket, bottle shop and a few caravan parks.

 

Juz went snorkelling by the reef, which is only a few meters from the shore, but other activities include quad biking and fishing.

 

 

Exmouth – 1260km north of Perth

We expected a little more from Exmouth – the layout of the town was a little strange and it felt like more of an inland town than a coastal town.  It was named after the Exmouth Gulf, which was surveyed by Captain Phillip Parker King in 1818.  The surrounding coastline is quite treacherous and is responsible for the Wreck of the Mildura in 1907, and its rusty skeleton can be seen from the beach.  Two lighthouses have been erected to make the coastline a little safer – the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse and the Point Cloates Lighthouse.

 

 

The area was the location of a secret base during World War II and was code named Operation Potshot, which is why the pub in town is called the Potshot Hotel.  We couldn’t afford to pay $30 for a chicken parma at the pub so we feasted on souvlakia from Planet Burgers before crashing at the Excape Backpackers YHA next door.  In the morning, we drove over the cape to the western side of the peninsula and visited the Jurabi Turtle Centre.  We learnt about the different turtles that live in the surrounding waters and the need to minimise the impact of humans on turtles coming to the area to nest.

 

Further along is Cape Range National Park, which is part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage area. The park covers over 50,000 hectares and is made up of white beaches, limestone ranges and rocky gorges.  We would have loved to go snorkelling over the reef but Juz was way too hungover from the previous evening so we went for a hike in Mandu Mandu Gorge instead.

 

 

BIG4 Holiday Parks on the Coral Coast

Dongara Denison Beach Holiday Park, Dongara

Sunset Beach Holiday Park, Geraldton

BIG4 Plantation Caravan Park, Carnarvon

Exmouth Cape Holiday Park, Exmouth 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shell Beach

Experience : Shark Bay

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.

 

Whalebone Bay

 

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

Denham

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.

 

 

Ocean Park

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.

 

 

Shell Beach

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

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.

 

 

Steep Point

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.

 

Monkey Mia

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.

 

A birds nest near Hamelin Pool

 

Bay Lodge YHA - the pool

Bay Lodge YHA, Shark Bay

If you’re heading to Shark Bay for a quick holiday or an extended stay, a great option for accommodation is the Bay Lodge YHA.  It’s inexpensive, friendly and super close to everything in Denham, and it’s right across the road from the beach!

 

Bay Lodge YHA

 

Facilities

The self-contained units are air-conditioned and include a bathroom with toilet, a fully equipped kitchen and TV area.  Dorm rooms branch off from the common area of the unit, and each room has about 5 beds.

 

Outside the units is a brilliant outdoor area that includes a swimming pool with regular pool competitions, a huge BBQ area and an aviary full of cockatiels and parrots.  There is also a 24 hr internet cafe and guest laundry.

 

 

Bay Lodge also offers a free shuttle bus to Monkey Mia so you can meet the friendly dolphins as they come in for a morning munch.

 

Things Nearby

The closest activity is literally across the road – THE BEACH!  Go for a swim, enjoy snorkelling, or fish for your dinner at the town jetty.  The Bay Lodge can also arrange a spot for you on a local fishing charter boat.

 

The Supermarket – There is an IGA about 150 metres down the road and another supermarket on the other side of town.

 

The Shark Bay Hotel – the westernmost pub in Australia is only 600 metres from the hostel – ideal stumbling/crawling distance!

 

Shark Bay Hotel

 

François Péron National Park

A 5 minute drive north, past the Little Lagoon, will bring you this fantastic national park, but you can’t truly enjoy the natural beauty unless you traverse the 4WD track to Cape Péron.  If you don’t have an offroad vehicle, contact Ocean Park about their tours through François Péron National Park.

 

Monkey Mia

This renowned tourist attraction is only 30 minues east by car.  Get there by 7:30am to see the dolphins come in for breakfast.

 

 

Ocean Park

To the south of Denham is a fantastic opportunity to meet the kinds of animals that inhabit Shark Bay.  Turtles, tropical fish, sea snakes and sharks – Ocean Park is an great learning experience for everyone!

 

Shell Beach

About 45 minutes south is Shell Beach, which is made up of tiny cockle shells that stretch along the coastline for about 120km.  This is a great place to spend the afternoon, sunbaking and swimming.

 

Hamelin Pool and the mysterious Stromatolites

Hamelin Pool is the home of stromatolites, ancient bacterial organisms that have grown over thousands of years.  The turn off is about 26km west of the Overlander Roadhouse.

 

Steep Point

This is a massive trip that is best done over two days.  The drive to Shelter Bay and Steep Point takes about 3 hours and is only accessible by 4WD vehicles.  See the ranger about a camp spot, try your luck with a bit of fishing and get a sense of being at the edge of the world at the westernmost point of Australia.  Check out our post on Steep Point.

 

 

The Essentials

Bay Lodge YHA is located on the main street of Denham at 113 Knight Terrace.

 

FreeCall: 1800 812 780

Phone: (08) 9948 1278

Email: denham@yha.com.au

Website: http://baylodge.info/

To make a booking or enquiry, go to the YHA Australia website.

 

Clown fish!

Experience : Ocean Park

This exciting and interactive Aquarium just outside of Denham is a MUST SEE attraction when visiting Shark Bay.  Get up close to a variety of sea creatures that reside in the World Heritage area and learn about the kooky ways they live their lives.

 

The Park

Located just south of Denham, Ocean Park has been operating since 2000 and was built right next to the turquoise ocean.  The tours that they provide are run by marine biologists that give you a wonderfully educational experience and greater appreciation for the animals that live in Shark Bay.  While the park works to rehabilitate marine reptiles like turtles and snakes, they also assist with researching fish species to provide information that contributes to fishing regulations.

 

 

They are very eco-friendly and have a 4 star green rating. The solar panels out the front of the park generate about 270 kilowatts hours each day and provide 98% of the power that they use at the park.  They generate their own fresh water using reverse osmosis desalination and the onsite windmill powers the vacuum that cleans the tanks. They also have a licensed café onsite with decking that overlooks Shark Bay Marine Park, and they accommodate for a variety of functions.

 

The Animals

Our tour guide was Rose, and she started off the tour in a sheltered area full of big tanks.  The first animal we met was Bob the Turtle.  It was brought in as a baby because its flipper was picked off by a bird.  Because it wasn’t strong enough to swim against the current, it was found way down near Albany when it should have been at its feeding grounds further up the north west coast past Geraldton!  Turtles can live to around 150 years old but only reach sexual maturity when they’re around 30 years old.  Unfortunately, because their survival rate is only 10%, only 1 in 10,000 actually get to reproduce!

 

 

We also got to learn a lot about clown fish – that’s Nemo for those playing at home! They have a symbiotic relationship with the anemone they live in. The tentacles of an anemone are very similar to those of jellyfish – they’re death-traps for fish that get too close. The anemone recognises the protein-based mucus on a fish’s skin and grabs it.  Why don’t they eat Nemo then? It turns out that clown fish have a sugar-based mucus layer instead so the anemone doesn’t think its food! The relationship is symbiotic because the anemone provides shelter for the clown fish, and in return, the clown fish brings food to the anemone.

 

We also learnt that star fish aren’t actually fish and their correct name is sea stars. They have no eyes or brains, but they have five noses and can regrow limbs. If their food is too big to fit in their mouth, they can externally digest it before swallowing.  Amazing…ly gross!

 

 

There were lots of lion fish – each with 13 hollow spines along the ridge of their back that can inject you with venom.  Rose told us a great story about how the hurricane in New Orleans broke many tropical fish tanks and released lion fish into the Atlantic Ocean.  They were destroying the environment so the way the problem was tackled was to put out a bounty and a cookbook to encourage fishermen to eat them.  Of course, there were many more incidents of people getting stung.

 

When we got around to the sea snake enclosure, you could feel the fear in the air.  These guys are super venomous but lucky for humans, they usually don’t release enough to kill us.  Many times, they will strike with a blank bite that doesn’t involve venom to warn you to stay away.

 

 

Outside were the bigger tanks and we watched Rose feed trevally, pink snapper and a huge mulloway.  Further on was the Shark Pool with a few lemon sharks and sandbar sharks.  The longest shark in the tank was a 2.2m shark that only eats about 500g of food a day.  It was cool to watch the sharks thrash about as Rose dangled some fish into the water.

 

 

The Essentials

Ocean Park is located on Shark Bay Road, just outside of Denham. They are every day from 9am to 4pm, and are closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

 

Telephone: 08 9948 1765

Email: info@oceanpark.com.au

Website: http://oceanpark.com.au/