Shark Bay is a World Heritage Area situated on Western Australia’s Coral Coast. The Shark Bay region is about a 10 hour drive north of Perth and is home of the world famous “Monkey Mia” where wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins regularly visit the shores.
When most people think of Shark Bay, they immediately think of Monkey Mia and the dolphins – and while they are definitely a must see, there is also SO many other things to see and do in the region. Below are my recommendations of the top things to see and do during your visit to Shark Bay that are both ethical and enjoyable!
Visit Shell Beach
So the name probably gives it away but Shell Beach is a beach that is made up of trillions of tiny shells. The beach spans as far as 70 kilometres long and in some parts, the shells are as deep as 10 metres!
Shell Beach is situated on Shark Bay Road which is the main road in to/from Denham. This makes it a great spot to stop either on your way in or out of the region.
The water at Shell Beach is quite shallow and very salty so swimming here is not overly popular, however, it is safe to do so if you wish. It is said that there is not a lot of marine life in the water due to the salinity however we saw a shovelnose shark in the water, so keep your eyes peeled – you never know what you might see!
Tip: Make sure you wear shoes on the beach as the shell fragments can be very sharp.
Spot wildlife at Eagle Bluff
Eagle Bluff is about 20km south of Denham making it another great spot to stop off at either on your way in or out of the area. Eagle Bluff is a high cliff that has a boardwalk trail you can walk along that overlooks the Denham Sound. It offers amazing views and you are highly likely to see wildlife and marine life due to the abundance of seagrass that the animals love to feed on. We were fortunate enough to see a dolphin and some stingrays swimming through the bay!
Explore the town of Denham
Denham is the main town in the Shark Bay region and is situated right on the waterfront so it’s a lovely little town to stop off to have a look around, a bite to eat and get any supplies that you need. Shark Bay Cafe is a great spot for lunch, offering LOTS of vegan and vegetarian options.
Soak up the sun at Little Lagoon
If putting up the awning and spending the day in the sunshine is your thing, then a day at Little Lagoon is a must. The Lagoon is about 5km from Denham and is a natural pool with little to no swell, making it safe for swimming and frolicking in the waters in an inflatable. You can drive your vehicle straight down onto the sand in front of the water to setup for the day. The sand is relatively firm and would probably be ok for 2WD vehicles.
Kayak or SUP in the bay at Monkey Mia
A great way to explore the bay at Monkey Mia is to head out on a kayak or SUP to see the marine life. You are far more likely to see the marine life from above so either a kayak or a stand up paddle board provide for great viewing. There is the option to do a 10km return kayak from the bay outside the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort out to a place called “The Shark Nursery” that is reportedly home to lots of baby sharks. There is lots of marine life that inhabit the waters so you may see fish, dolphins, turtles and maybe even a dugong! The water in the bay at Monkey Mia is generally super clear and calm – unless of course, you get an exceptionally windy day like we did.
Tip: Ensure you are confident in your paddle boarding and/or kayaking abilities because if the wind changes or intensifies, it can be an arduous trek back!
See Dolphins at Monkey Mia
The dolphins at Monkey Mia are definitely one of the main reasons people flock to visit Shark Bay. I don’t know if I’m the only one who thought this, but I thought Monkey Mia was a ‘town’.. turns out, it’s not. Monkey Mia was put on the map purely due to the dolphins that visit the area. The only thing in Monkey Mia is the beachfront accommodation known as the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. Whether you choose to stay in Monkey Mia or just visit for the day, there is a compulsory entry fee starting at $15.00 per adult per day. More info on prices can be found here.
About 300 dolphins live in the waters around Monkey Mia so it’s likely you’ll come across them when visiting the area. There is the option to take part in a “Dolphin Experience” which is a program run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife each day at the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. Most days, a few of the dolphins that live in the area will come in to the bay to receive some food. There is a maximum of three “Dolphin Experiences” each day that are run before lunch time only. To ensure the dolphins still learn and retain the skills to hunt for their food in the wild, this “experience” is strictly regulated and a maximum of 5 mature females will receive 10% of their daily food intake which equates to around 300g. Given that the dolphins have been visiting the area for 50 years and it has become a tourist hotspot, in my opinion, this is one of the most ethical ways to manage interactions with the dolphins. There is a staffed DPAW Office at Monkey Mia who ensure compliance with the rules and regulations.
Explore Francois Peron National Park
Francois Peron National Park is an absolute must visit, but ONLY if you have access to, or are travelling in a 4WD. The Park has a one way in/out single lane dirt road that can be very soft in some parts. There is a tyre inflation/deflation station at the entrance to the park (a few kms’s in) and I recommend putting your tyres down to at least 20 PSI.
Once your tyre situation is sorted, the park is your oyster and there are so many spots to visit. Note: you can also camp inside the National Park at designated areas however you will need to be fully self sufficient as there are no amenities.
We entered the Park in the late afternoon to head to the most northern point of Cape Peron. Cape Peron is about 40km each way from the entrance to the National Park and there are some sections of very soft sand and deep corrugations as you get closer to the Cape so it’s very important to head out there prepared.
Cape Peron is most well known for it’s spectacular red cliffs which provide an amazing contrast against the blue hues of the ocean, and not to mention the most incredible golden sunsets! It’s highly likely you’ll have the beach all to yourself so enjoy it, there’s not many parts of the world like this!
A few kilometres south of Cape Peron is a spot called Skipjack Point Lookout. The Lookout is a perched on the edge of the cliff and provides amazing views Cape Peron and the coastline below. It is said that you are guaranteed to spot some wildlife and/or marine life during any visit.. I was skeptical having sighted only birds during our first 10 minutes there however we then saw some dugongs in the ocean a short time later!
There is also a walking trail between Skipjack and Cape Peron which is 1.5km one way.
Two things we didn’t get to do but are highly recommended when visiting the area:
Sight the Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool
The Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool are some of the oldest and largest living fossils on Earth. They are very unique in appearance and can be viewed from a jetty that has been built specifically for tourists to view them without causing any damage to them.
Hire a boat through Shark Bay Boat Hire
If you’ve got your skippers ticket but no boat, a great option is to hire a boat through Shark Bay Boat Hire. This will give you the ability to explore the area at your leisure without the crowds of charter boats or tours. The boats can be very popular so it’s important to pre-book, particularly in high season.