Discover 'living fossils' at Hamelin Pool, meet bottlenose dolphins at Monkey Mia and explore Dirk Hartog Island for the day. Or join a guided 4WD tour or cruise to Francois Peron National Park to learn more about this ancient region.
Shark Bay is located on the westernmost point of the Australian continent, around 800km (500mi) north of Perth, in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1991 – the first Australian site to be so classified – Shark Bay covers an area of 23,000km² (8,900mi²) of which about 70 per cent are marine waters.
The many bays, inlets and islands in the Shark Bay Marine Park support a profusion of turtles, prawns, scallops, sea snakes and sharks, as well as sponge gardens and other invertebrates, together with a unique mix of tropical and temperate fish species.
The heritge area includes Shark Bay Marine Park, Francois Peron National Park, Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Zuytdorp Nature Reserve and numerous protected islands. The settlements of Denham and Useless Loop both fall within the boundary of the site, but are specifically excluded from it.
Shark Bay is most renowned for its stromatolites – colonies of microbial mats that form hard, dome-shaped deposits which are said to be the oldest life forms on earth.
Shark Bay Marine Park also boosts the world’s largest meadows of seagrass, a population of more than 10,000 dugongs, as well as humpback whales and the famous bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia.
The shoreline of Shark Bay has a ‘W’ shape formed by the Edel Land peninsula and Dirk Hartog Island to the west, Peron Peninsula in the centre, and the eastern coastal strip.
The region offers an excellent diving experience at Broadhurst and Steep Point near Monkey Rock – one of the area’s most renowned dive sites – as well as a choice of marine-based adventures including boat cruises, fishing safaris, sea kayaking, whale watching and tours of a working pearl farm.
Dive charters are available and this is recommended as the safest way to dive in Shark Bay if you don’t have good local knowledge.
Recreational fishing is permitted in most areas within the Shark Bay Marine Park; spearfishing (breath hold only) is permitted only in general use zones. Boat access is available via several boat ramps at Denham, Monkey Mia and Nanga.
Shark Bay is around 400km (248mi) north of Geraldton and 200km (124mi) south of Carnarvon. It's easily accessible from the North West Coastal Highway along Shark Bay Road.
Shark Bay Road, also known as the World Heritage Drive, provides access to sites along the peninsula.
Shark Bay Road stretches for 130km (80mi) from the North West Coastal Highway (at Overlander Roadhouse) to Denham.
Along the way, several turn-offs lead to great natural attractions, including the 'living fossils' at Hamelin Pool and the stunning Shell Beach. Using a 4WD, you can also explore the Australian mainland's most westerly tip.
Note: Shark Bay islocated in a remote part of Western Australia. The road into Denham and Monkey Mia is fully sealed but other areas are less accessible. Lack of fresh water combined with high summer temperatures may lead to a life threatening situation for the unprepared.
Discover the most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolites in the world.
Also referred to as ‘living fossils’, these coral-like formations consist of cyanobacteria almost identical to organisms that existed three billion years ago when there was no other complex life on Earth.
For many years scientists have known that microbial mats influenced the evolution of life on Earth, but its only in recent years that they have discovered that microbial mats are diverse and complex ecosystems where different species work together in communities that depend on each other.
Stromatolites grow successfully and undisturbed at Hamelin Pool because the sea water is twice as saline as usual sea water due to a bar across the entrance of the bay and also due to rapid evaporation of shallow water.
You can view these amazing life forms, without causing damage, by walking on a purpose-built 200m-long boardwalk and look down at the stromatolites below, which are best seen at low tide. Information panels provide information.
Found by accident in 1956 by an oil company, the marine stromatolites found in Hamelin Pool of Shark Bay are considered to be the best example of their kind found in the world.
Telegraph Station – Discover history at the old telegraph station, which was built in 1884 as part of the communication line between Perth and Roebourne.
The original building is now a museum housing many historical artefacts and is located close to the Hamelin Pool caravan park and tearooms.
Hamelin Pool is located on Shark Bay Road around 29km (18mi) from the Overlander Roadhouse on the North West Coastal Highway. It is an easy 750m return walk between the carpark and stromatolites.
Discover an impressive natural region of rust-red cliffs, acacia-cloaked red dunes, golden-sand beaches and arid shrublands surrounded by exquisite blue waters.
Francois Peron National Park sits on the Peron Peninsula north of Denham – a spectacular area of 520km² of low scrub, salt lagoons and sandy dunes, home to the rare bilby, mallee fowl and woma python.
Peron Peninsula is known as Wulyibidi to the local Malgana Aboriginal people who occupied the area prior to European settlement and continue to live in Shark Bay today. Peron Peninsula was a sheep station until 1990 when it was purchased by the State Government.
Francois Peron National Park was declared in 1993 and named after the French naturalist and explorer who was the zoologist aboard Nicolas Baudin's 1801 and 1803 scientific expeditions to Western Australia.
South Peron is flanked by Hamelin Pool on one side and Henri Freycinet Harbour on the other. This landscape of low shrubland on red sand dunes was part of the Peron Pastoral Lease until Peron Peninsula was bought by the Western Australian government in 1990.
While the northern part of the peninsula became Francois Peron National Park in 1993, South Peron remains unallocated government land.
Access to the park is off the Monkey Mia Road about 4km (2.5mi) east of Denham. The road to the Peron Heritage Precinct is unsealed but accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles. However, it may be closed during wet conditions.
North of the Heritage Precinct is largely off limits for vehicle access unless you have a high-clearance 4WD or join a quided tour. The narrow tracks are soft sand and can be challenging in places.
Note: Poisonous marine creatures such as stonefish and coneshells are common in the park. You should protect your feet when walking in shallows with suitable footwear.
Shell Beach – Here you can find trillions of tiny cockle shells densely compacted over time from one type of animal – the Fragum cockle.
The deposits are 10 metres deep in places and constitute most of the beaches here and around L’haridon Bight.
As with Hamelin Pool, the combination of high evaporation and the Faure Sill limiting water flow causes the water here to be twice as salty as the sea. The result is a lack of competition and predators for the Fragum cockle, leading to an incredible abundance of this one species.
The water here is often warm, and the salty shallow waters allow you to float easily. Interpretive signs along the short walk between the carpark and beach tell the cockle’s story. There is a pit toilet but camping is not permitted at Shell Beach.
Just south of Shell Beach, an electrified fence stretches several kilometres across this narrow part of the peninsula. The fence is a vital part of Project Eden, a conservation project limiting feral animals on Peron Peninsula.
Shell Beach is located just off Shark Bay Road, around 44km (27mi) from Denham and 84km (52mi) from the North West Coastal Highway.
Eagle Bluff – Perched on top of the scree slope above the shallow waters of Henri Freycinet Harbour, a 300 metre-long boardwalk offers excellent views of two small limestone islands where seabirds breed, as well as the various marine life that frequents these shallow inshore waters.
Look out for sharks, rays, turtles, schools of fish and the occasional dugong, especially during summer.
The clear shallow waters around the base of the bluff are ideal for snorkellers to view marine creatures up close. On the eastern side of the bluff, a sand patch is home to a number of coral bombies where sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins hide among the rocks and coral.
Eagle Bluff viewpoint is located on the western side of Peron Peninsula about 23km (14mi) south of Denham along Shark Bay Road – the last 4km (2.5mi) on a gravel road suitable for all vehicles.
Big Lagoon – Located around 12km (7mi) northwest of the Peron Heritage Precinct, Big Lagoon is a great spot to explore by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
Big Lagoon is located via Peron Rd, around 22km (13mi) north of Denham in Francois Peron National Park.
Cattle Well – This dune-backed sweep of sand opens out onto a shallow lagoon where you're likely to spot baby reef sharks very close to the shore.
Cattle Well is located via Peron Rd, around 42km (26mi) north of Denham in Francois Peron National Park.
Skipjack Point Lookout – From this high viewpoint overlooking the clear cerulean waters of the bay, you're very likely to spot dugongs, eagle rays, cownose rays, manta rays, stingrays, pods of dolphins and even whales.
Skipjack Point Lookout is located around 53km (33mi) north of Denham in Francois Peron National Park.
Wanamalu Trail – This trail connects Skipjack Point and Cape Peron and offers excellent views of marine life from the cliff top, scenery and potential photographic opportunities.
The grade on the 1.5km trail is easy to moderate – soft sand can make it hard going in summer, and it should take around 45 minutes one-way.
Cape Peron – This pristine sweep of sand with its backdrop of red cliffs is popular with fishermen and a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins.
These dolphins have developed a unique way of catching prey that requires them to almost beach themselves by chasing it into the shallows. You may see a mother teaching its baby to fish.
Cape Peron Beach is located via Peron Rd, around 54km (33mi) north of Denham in Francois Peron National Park.
Gudrun shipwreck – The wreck of the Gudrun lies in 6 metres of water about 10km (6mi) north of Cape Peron in a sanctuary zone, and is home an abundance of marine life including spotted groper, lionfish, pilotfish, batfish, sweetlip, trevally and mackerel.
Divers are welcome to explore the wreck but currents can be dangerous: i.e. you should dive only on a slack, and preferably neap, tide and only with an experienced operator.
Famous for its wild dolphin experience, Monkey Mia is surrounded by rust-red sand dunes, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters teeming with wildlife.
Apart from dolphins you may see dugongs, sharks, rays, turtles and a variety of fish in the water. Pelicans and emus often roam the waterfront and western grasswrens are often seen near the carpark.
A highlight of Monkey Mia is watching the wild bottlenose dolphins turning up each morning for a free feed in the shallow waters.
The first feed is around 7.45am, though dolphins don't turn up like clockwork, and may return a second or third time until around noon – a good time to watch as the crowds are usually lighter by this time.
Note: During feedings, visitors are restricted to the edge of the water, with only a lucky few people per session selected to wade in and help feed the dolphins. The pier makes a good vantage point. Rangers talk you through the history of the dolphin encounters.
You can volunteer to work full time with the dolphins for between four and 14 days – it's popular, so apply several months in advance and specify availability dates, though sometimes there are last-minute openings.
While Monkey Mia is little more than a beach and resort, the area is rich in Aboriginal history, and there are water sports and other activities.
Wulyibidi Yaninyina trail – Take the time to step away from the water and explore the area’s natural and cultural history along the Wulyibidi Yaninyina trail, a 1.5 km loop walk over dunes and along the beach.
The walk is best done when the birds are most active just after sunrise or late in the afternoon.
Monkey Mia is located on the eastern coast of Peron Peninsula around 26km (16mi) northeast of Denham via the sealed Monkey Mia Rd.
This narrow, wind-blown island, which runs parallel to the Peron Peninsula, is Western Australia's largest island.
Dirk Hartog Island is now a national park with various native plants replanted and endemics such as the boodie, banded hare-wallaby and rufous hare-wallaby reintroduced in a bid to restore the island to its 1616 splendour.
The attraction here is the isolation, natural beauty, wildlife – from loggerhead turtles to dugongs – and history.
In 1616, at what is now called Cape Inscription, Dirk Hartog left a pewter plate inscribed with details of his journey as evidence of the first European landing on Australia’s west coast.
Continuing this tradition, future Dutch, British and French explorers also left pewter plates nailed to posts as calling cards.
The western side of the island is dominated by tall exposed cliffs, while protected beaches and shallow bays comprise the eastern coastline, which abound with seabirds.
The low shrubby vegetation is home to a range of animal life including the Dirk Hartog Island black and white fairy-wren, which is found nowhere else, and the sandhill frog whose distribution is limited.
Turtle Bay is one of the most important loggerhead nesting areas in the southern hemisphere. Each summer thousands of loggerhead turtles return to Turtle Bay to lay their eggs in the area they themselves first emerged as hatchlings.
Wildlife in the waters close to the island can be observed from a boat or while snorkelling or diving – manta rays throughout the year, whale sharks around the northern coastline in May and June and humpback whales in September.
Dugongs travel to warmer waters around the island when the rest of Shark Bay’s waters are at their coldest.
Dirk Hartog Island can be accessed by 4WD via Steep Point. Only 20 high clearance 4WD vehicles are allowed on the island at any one time, so bookings are necessary.
Steep Point – This landmark is the most westerly point on the Australian mainland, accessed by 4WD only via Useless Loop Rd off Shark Bay Rd.
Here, sweeping white-sand dunes front 200m high limestone cliffs on the western side of Edel Peninsula, while on the eastern side you can find secluded, pristine beaches.
Steep Point (Steyle Hock) was named by the Dutch seafarer William de Vlamingh in 1697 when he anchored off the cliffs near the southern tip of Dirk Hartog Island.
While the spectacular Zuytdorp Cliffs extend for 200km (124mi) along the coast from Steep Point to Kalbarri, Steep Point is one of the best viewing spots along the coast.
Watch out for the blowholes, which shoot sea spray some 10m into the air. The cliffs are named after the Zuytdorp ship that was wrecked by the rugged coast in the early 1700s, the ship remains on the seabed near the cliffs.
Steep Point lies within the proposed Edel Land National Park which extends to just south of False Entrance and encompasses much of Belefin Prong.
Facilities in this remote area are limited to pit toilets at the Steep Point and Shelter Bay camping areas.
Note: You need to bring in all you need and take your rubbish out with you. Remember to make sure you have sufficient fresh water, food and fuel. Bring at least 10 litres of water for each person per day.
Steep Point can only be accessed by high clearance 4WD vehicle or by boat.
From Denham, the drive to Steep Point takes about three to four hours. It is about 185km (115mi) by road from the Northwest Coastal Highway to Steep Point, including 140km (87mi) of unsealed road. The last 30km (18.6mi) is a soft single-lane track winding around sand dunes.
By boat, the journey to Shelter Bay from Denham via South Passage is about 50km (31mi).
Located west of Carnarvon, these islands are home to some of the rarest wildlife in the world and are ‘A’ Class nature reserves.
Populations of the boodie (burrowing bettong) occur elsewhere but the survival of this species depends on conservation intervention.
The value of Bernier and Dorre Islands Nature Reserve to world biodiversity contributed to Shark Bay’s inclusion on the World Heritage List as they are the last bastion for five critically endangered land mammals, four of which occur naturally in the wild nowhere else
These include the Shark Bay mouse (photo), western barred bandicoot, banded hare-wallaby, and rufous hare-wallaby.
Access to Dorre Island is prohibited for quarantine purposes. It is home to the only natural population of western barred bandicoots free of a papilloma virus.
To reduce potential wildfire, weed, pest and disease risks to Bernier Island, camping is not permitted. Fires are also prohibited on the island.
Shark Bay has limited accommodation, which includes Shark Bay Seafront Apartments and Heritage Resort Shark Bay in Denham, and RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resor in Monkey Mia, therefore booking ahead is essential during the peak season of March to November.
Parks and Wildlife Service manage several campgrounds including at Monkey Mia, Edel Land & Steep Point, Francois Peron National Park and Dirk Hartog Island National Park. Camping fees and bookings are required.
Elsewhere, the Shire of Shark Bay manages informal campsites without facilities at Goulet Bluff, Whalebone, Fowlers Camp and Eagle Bluff.
Shark Bay Seafront Apartments
Location: 91 Knight Terrace, Denham
Prices: from AUD143 per night
Description: With stunning ocean views from your private patio, Shark Bay Seafront Apartments is located directly opposite Denham beach. Guest can enjoy free Wi-Fi, free BBQ facilities and free parking. All air-conditioned accommodations includes a kitchen with a microwave, refrigerator and stove. The living room has a TV and a comfortable sofa. There are on-site laundry facilities are available for all accommodations. Shark Bay Apartments is a 5-minute drive from Denham Airport, and less than 30 minutes' drive from Monkey Mia, perfect for dolphin watching, sailing and snorkeling.
Heritage Resort Shark Bay
Location: 73 Knight Terrace, Denham
Prices: from AUD135 per night
Description: The Heritage Resort Shark Bay guarantees guests a pleasant stay. All guest accommodations feature thoughtful amenities to ensure an unparalleled sense of comfort, including air conditioning, TV and refigerator. Located just 0.2km from the town center and 10km from Shark Bay Airport. Facilities include, restaurant, coffee shop, bar, room service, daily housekeeping, laundromat, postal service, express check-in/check-out, luggage storage, outdoor swimming pool and free Wi-Fi.
RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort
Location: 1 Monkey Mia Rd, Monkey Mia
Prices: from AUD132 per night
Description: Set along Dolphin Beach, this low-key beach-front resort is home to a behavioural research site for bottlenose dolphins and tiger sharks. It's 26km from the town of Denham. Facilities include free Wi-Fi, tennis court, two swimming pools, hot tub, tour desk concierge, kayak and canoe hire and two restaurants on site
Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travellers have to say about these and more accommodation options in Shark Bay including Monkey Mia and Denham, at TripAdvisor.
The best time to visit Shark Bay and Monkey Mia is anytime between April and October, when you can experience warm, sunny days with clear, blue skies.
Shark Bay experiences a semi-arid climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters.
Summer, from December to February, experiences an average maximum temperature of around 35°C (95°F) with an average minimum temperature of 20°C (68°F).
Winter, from June to August, sees an average maximum temperature of 25°C (77°F) with an average minimum temperature of 10°C (50°F).
What to expect…
April to May – Expect balmy days and a gentle sea breeze. Locals call this the best time to visit as it's ideal for swimming, boating, camping and stargazing.
June to September – Sunny days in the mid-20°Cs (68°Fs), with cold nights hovering around 10°C (50°F) and crisp morning winds, which are best suited to kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking.
More information about Shark Bay weather…
Shark Bay is located on the westernmost point of the Australian continent in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, around 830km (515mi) north of Perth, 400km (248mi) north of Geraldton and around 200km (124mi) south of Carnarvon. It's easily accessible from the North West Coastal Highway along Shark Bay Road.
The most convenient route to Shark Bay is by air to Monkey Mia Airport (MJK), situated about 10km (72mi) north of Denham – 12 minutes by taxi or shuttle bus – and around 20km (12mi) from Monkey Mia – a 17 minute taxi journey.
From all international destinations this requires first flying into Perth Airport (PER), followed by a connecting flight to Monkey Mia Airport (MJK).
Alternatively, and for many adventurous visitors, driving north from Perth, or south from Carnarvon on the North West Coastal Highway and Shark Bay Road is the preferred option.
For boaties, there's access available via several boat ramps at Denham, Monkey Mia and Nanga.
Latest update: Shark Bay: 2 October, 2020
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