Port Denison & Dongara | 10 Best Things To Do

Port Denison and Dongara is the kind of place you immediately fall in love with. We’ve visited this laid back coastal town four times on various road trips and found out all the best places to go and what to do there.

This cray fishing town, which has a population of nearly 2800, is a popular place to holiday in or as a stop on a road trip to Kalbarri, Exmouth, or even Broome.

Disclosure: Some of my links are affiliates (of which I use), which means that I may receive a small amount of commission if you buy something through them. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not cost you a cent, nor do you pay more; I get a little towards the cost of running this blog, so I can keep it going. If you are thinking of booking through any of these companies, I would be very grateful if you could use my links. I am appreciative of all your support.

port denison western australia
Port Denison

How to get to Port Denison Dongara


Port Denison is on the Coral Coast of Western Australia, 350km north of Perth. The twin towns of Port Denison and Dongara are divided by the Irwin River.

International and domestic visitors will fly into Perth Airport. Find details about visas, prohibited items, currency, and safety in this Australia Travel Guide and tips on arriving into WA and other essential travel information in this Western Australia Travel Guide.

There are car hire booths at Perth airport, but it’s best to pre-book your car rental. Choose from Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt, Hertz, Enterprise, and Thrifty. We compare prices with Discover Cars.

It will take around 4 hours to drive to Port Denison from Perth either via Brand Highway or along the Indian Ocean.

If you drive along the Indian Ocean, keep a lookout for emus. The drive is nice, with sand dunes and the ocean to break up the bushland view. You can stop in Cervantes and Jurien Bay (the bakery is good there) to break up the journey. Green Head is another option if you want a walk.

jurien bay western australia 2
Jurien Bay

Port Denison Weather

The highest rainfall can be expected between May and August, with June being the wettest. Conversely, December is usually the driest month.

The hottest month is February, when it averages 26.7°C, and the coldest is July, when it drops down to 14.4°C.

pelicans in wetlands in port denison
Australian Pelicans around the wetlands in Port Denison

Brief History of Port Denison Dongara


I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Wattandee people who are the Traditional Owners and First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present, and future for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of the Wattandee people.

Lieutenant George Grey was the first European to pass through this region in 1839. Unfortunately, he became shipwrecked at Gantheaume Bay near Kalbarri and had to trek the 700 km back to the Swan River Colony in Perth.

In 1845, the Irwin River was rediscovered by a team led by the Gregory Brothers. They came across a coal seam in a river bed and reported back to Perth.

The Wattandee people saw the first settlers from Perth arrive in 1850 with cattle and sheep.

The town was surveyed two years later and named Dhungarra – a name given to the area by local Indigenous people to indicate a “meeting place of seals.”

The first flour mill was built in 1859, which is now known as Denison House. The jetty at Port Irwin (now Port Denison) was built in 1867 to accommodate the ships collecting wheat, flour, wool, and sandalwood.

The townsite started to grow with the addition of shops, a police station and a school with a bridge being built in the late 1880s to connect Port Dension and Dongara.

It became a popular place for summer holidays after the Second World War and remains popular today.

view of the irwin river leading into the ocean in port denison
Irwin River taken from Dongara

The Best Things To Do in Port Denison & Dongara

Thungarra Trails

There are six easy walking trails highlighting Port Denison and Dongara, which range from 2.7 km to 9 km.

The Dongara Port Denison Tourist Information Centre provides a map detailing the routes and what to see on the way.

Make sure to stop by the boardwalk and climb the lookout. The view is breathtaking, overlooking the Indian Ocean and Irwin River.

Trail 1 Calico is a 4.6km easy loop that starts at Granny’s Beach and takes you up Point Leander and along Ocean Drive. Climb the lookout opposite the boardwalk on Ocean Drive for spectacular views of the Irwin River and the Indian Ocean.

Calico is an outdoor fitness system app that lets you track your walk via the totem poles every 500m.

Trail 2Dongara is a 3km loop trail that begins at the Irwin River Lookout in Church Street, along the beach to Town Beach, and then along the river bank until Hunts Road. Here you will pass the old Police Station and Courthouse which is now the museum and then the Visitors Centre. Walk along Church Street back to the lookout.

an old building in dongara with seats outside
The former police station and courthouse built in 1870 (now museum)

Trail 3 – Irwin Heritage River is a 4.6 km loop that starts at the Irwin River Lookout and takes you around the river. This walk is good for viewing the local birdlife. Take the stairs to the riverbank path, which leads onto boardwalks and the beach. Be prepared to get wet feet crossing the river mouth.

Further along, you can take the bridge over the river and walk along the boardwalk. Opposite is another spectacular lookout of the ocean and estuary. The boardwalk leads onto Ocean Drive, then follow the path into Retreat Boulevard, and at the end, head down to the river and follow the track.

The first building you see on the banks is Denison House, which is used by local arts groups but was originally the site of the first flour mill in 1865. Follow the river track to Irwin River Park, then cross the bridge onto the Dongara side and down the stairs back onto the river track to complete the loop.

Trail 4 – Fishermans is a 2km loop taking in the beach and Marina of Port Denison. Starting a Fisherman’s Lookout and Obelisk, a memorial to the many lives lost on this treacherous coastline, you follow the track to South Beach. The Surf Club and StarFish Cafe are located here, although it was closed when we went past.

The walk takes you back to the Marina via White Tops Road and George Street, where you’ll continue to the Fishermen’s Hall located in front of the Old Jetty ruins at the Fishing Boat Harbour.

a red and white Oblisk at Fishermans Lookout port denison
The Oblisk at Fishermans Lookout

Trail 5 – Coastal is a 6km trail that starts at Granny’s Beach, where you’ll follow the footpath along the coast until you come to the boardwalk river crossing. Cross the walk bridge and follow the Irwin River.

This part of the beach is known as Nun’s Pool as it was where the Dominican Sisters swam after walking along the river to the beach from their school at the now Priory Lodge Hotel.

Cross the bridge on Point Leander Drive and back down onto the river trail on the Port Denison side. The house at the end of the river trail was the site of the first Flour Mill in 1865 and is now known as Denison House and used by local art groups.

Follow the river around and back onto the footpath on Retreat Boulevard, which will join the Estuary Boardwalk. Here you can see birdlife, including Black Swans, Ibis, and Pelicans. Then, follow the footpath along Ocean Drive back to Granny’s Beach.

osprey flying in port denison
Osprey leaving its nest in Port Denison

Trail 6 – Lookouts, which starts at Fisherman’s Lookout, is the longest trail at 9 km. Head along the Marina foreshore to Grannies Beach and follow the path along Surf Beach, passing Nun’s Pool. If you have time, cross the road and climb the stairs to the lookout, overlooking the Indian Ocean and the Irwin River Estuary.

Cross the river over the boardwalk and follow it onto the Dongara side. When you approach the Irwin River Bridge, take the stairs and cross the river on Point Leander Drive. Then, head back down to the Irwin River Park and follow the river trail, where you’ll see a building on the banks of the river, which was the site of the first Flour Mill in 1865.

Follow the river around, and you will come to a footpath in Retreat Boulevade, which will lead onto the boardwalk and Ocean Drive.

View of wetlands and Nuns Beach
View from Sandys Ladder lookout over the wetlands and Nuns Beach

Beaches

Granny’s Beach
Granny’s Beach is great for families, swimming, and snorkeling. The grassed area is shaded and perfect for a picnic and a lovely spot to watch the sunset.

The consistently strong southerly sea breeze makes it a good choice for windsurfing too. 

This was our favourite beach here and handy if you stay at the Big 4 Port Denison as it is right outside. The beach cabins are right on the front with ocean views from the lounge area and decking.

grannys beach in port denison at high tide with chalets lining the seafront
Granny’s Beach at high tide

Northshore Beach
Northshore Beach is excellent for surfing and also has a grassed area.

Nun’s Pool
Nun’s Pool is the perfect beach for snorkeling as the reef provides a sheltered pool.

Seaspray Beach
Seaspray Beach Café is open for breakfast and lunch. This beach has toilets and showers, but be careful of strong rips.

the exterior of seapsray beach cafe dongara
Seaspray Beach Café

South Beach
South Beach is popular with windsurfers, kit surfers, surfers, and sand boarders. Windsurfing is best from November to January when shore winds and rolling waves make this area perfect for downwinders.

You can drive 2WD and 4WD cars on the sand here, as long as you know what you are doing!

a picnic table overlooking south beach port denison
South Beach on a winters day

Swim only at patrolled beaches, between the red and yellow flags, and read the safety warnings on the beach signs.

Australia’s sun is very strong, so make sure to apply sunscreen and wear sun-smart clothing, a hat, and sunglasses.

sunset over the ocean in port denison western australia
Watching the sunset from our verandah at Big4 Port Denison

Fishing

There are plenty of options for fishing in Port Denison. Bring your dinghy and try to catch tailor, snapper, whiting, dhufish, and Western Rock Lobster. Launch from the boat ramp in Port Denison.

You can also try catching blue manner crabs, tailor, silver bream, whiting and mulloway at one of the three jetties on the marina.

This area is famous for its Western Rock Lobster. Watch the catch being unloaded from the fishing boats each day.

If you don’t have any luck, you can always buy fresh fish from Seaz Denison Seafood at the jetty. We bought oysters and Exmouth Prawns and they were both fresh and delicious.

a row of fishing and cray boats in port denison harbour
The fishing fleet in Port Denison harbour

Dongara Historic Walk

The best way to see Dongara’s historic buildings is on the Heritage Walk, a 4km walk highlighting 28 heritage buildings. You can buy a booklet from the Visitor Centre, located in the Old Police Station. Focal points include the Royal Flour Mill built in 1894, Priory Lodge, the Old Police Station built in 1870, and Russ Cottage.

the white The Anglican St John the Baptist Church in Dongara wa
The Anglican St John the Baptist Church in Dongara, constructed in 1884

Russ Cottage

Titus Russ arrived in the colony in 1853, aged 12, with his family. He moved to Dongara around 1860 and later married Caroline Smith Wintle. He squatted on land owned by his employer, Edward Hamersley, a partner in The Cattle Company. Russ built the cottage between 1868 and 1870, and it is believed that limestone weighing over 50 tonnes was carted by a wheelbarrow from 500m away. The house was home to three generations of the Russ family until 1960.

Russ Cottage has been beautifully restored and provides an opportunity to appreciate the unique lifestyles of the early settlers in the 1860s. You can take a guided tour of the cottage and see how the early farming families lived from 10.15 am to 12 pm Mon, Tues, Weds, Fri and Sat.

russ cottage an old white house in dongara
Russ Cottage

The Big Red Western Rock Lobster

The Big Western Rock Lobster is situated on the Brand Highway & Moreton Terrace corner and is worth a photo when passing or walking by.

a huge red sculpture of a western lobster or crayfish
Big Western Rock Lobster in Dongara

Illegal Tender Rum Co

The Illegal Tender Rum Co  is an award-winning craft distillery in Dongara. You can book a tour of the facility with a personal guide taking you through the distilling process and offer tastings. Unfortunately, we were unable to do this as we had under 18s with us.

You can visit Illegal Tender Rum Co’s cellar door to purchase their spirits.

Dongara Denison Drive In Cinemas

Opened in 1967, this is one of two Drive-In cinemas still operating in Western Australia and is open from Spring through to late Summer (September to early May).

The Dongara is operated by the Dongara-Denison Surf Life Saving Club and is a non-profit cinema with a digital projection showing first-run movies.

Take your camp chairs or sit in the bag of your car and watch a movie under the stars.

It is located on Port Leander Drive at the corner of Ridley Street.

a juvenile pacific gull
A juvenile pacific gull in Port Denison

Geraldton

Port Denison to Geraldton will take around 45 minutes.

If you haven’t been before, it’s worth exploring. Some of the best things to do are:

Take a walk along the stunning Foreshore

Visit the HMAS Sydney II Memorial at 10.30 for a free daily tour

Learn about life in this region at the Museum of Geraldton

Drive up to the Point Moore Lighthouse, the oldest surviving Commonwealth lighthouse in the state

Wander around Marine Terrace with boutique shops, street art, and cafes.

Read more on this guide on the best things to do in Geraldton.

boats in geraldton marina
Geraldton Marina

Wildflowers

If you are here from August to October, take a drive to see the wildflowers.

Coalseam National Park (pictured) and the areas around Mingenew come alive with carpets of everlastings.

This WA Wildflower Guide is a great resource for where to see these stunning wildflowers.

thousands of white and yellow wildflowers in mullewa western australia
Wildfowers in Mullewa

Abrolhos Islands

Take a tour out to the Abrolhos Islands.

Made up of a spectacular archipelago of 122 islands, it’s a nature lover’s dream. With tons of marine life, snorkeling is world-class, or for the qualified divers, do a wreck dive.

This Abrolhos Islands Full Day Tour from Geraldton has a free cancellation policy and a price guarantee. Klook had this tour much cheaper; compare prices here.

Accommodation in Port Denison

We use Booking.com for most accommodation bookings as they offer free cancellation on most rooms, have a loyalty program (Genius), a price match guarantee, the site is user-friendly and they have great customer support. We also book through Stayz for private accommodation as they are often cheaper than Airbnb.

Our top choice for where to stay in Port Denison is at the Big4 right on Granny’s Beach. Their beach cabins are right on the front and have spectacular views over the ocean. See how much the cabins are for your dates here or, if you are a Big 4 member, book direct for a 10% discount.

We also rented a chalet at Leander Reef Holiday Park, which is a great budget accommodation option. Chalets have a private bathroom, air conditioning/heating, flat-screen TV, microwave, fridge, stovetop, and toaster. The cabin was clean, and the holiday park was very quiet.

I booked this one through Booking.com as it was the cheapest and had a free cancellation policy.

The Lazy Lobster Holiday Units and Chalets are also very popular although we haven’t stayed there.

Camping options are available at Big 4 Caravan Park, Leander Reef, and Dongara Tourist Park.

Beach Cabins at Big4 Port Denison overlooking Granny's Beach
Beach Cabins at Big4 Port Denison overlooking Granny’s Beach

Places To Eat in Port Denison & Dongara

Being a country town, there are limited food options compared to a city. However, the couple of restaurants we did eat at were very good.

I can recommend Seaspray Beach Cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch. The food and service here are amazing. It’s very popular and is often full.

The Dongara Hotel pub is our favourite place for dinner (and the breakfasts are tasty too). Servings are big, it has an extensive menu, food is delicious, and the service is friendly. There’s an outdoor area as well as indoors. The fish and chips are scrumptious, as are the curries.

the front of the dongara hotel with outdoor seating
The Dongara Hotel

As with most Australian country towns, there’s a bakery in Dongara if you are after some sweet treats.

The Green Beanie, a quirky caravan-style coffee van, has great coffee for your caffeine fix or Poppies in Dongara is always busy.

poppies coffee shop with seats outside in the park
Poppies in Dongara

Western Australia Travel Guide

Save money planning your holiday

Flights: We use different sites to get the best possible price for flights. Check matrix.itasoftware.com to get an idea of the cheapest dates, but you can’t book through this site. Compare the cost of flights with Trip.com and try different routes.

Accommodation: We mainly use Booking.com for accommodation as they consistently have the lowest rates with free cancellation on most properties. We also book through Stayz for private accommodation as they are usually cheaper than Airbnb.

Car Rental: To compare rental car company prices, we use Discover Cars, an award winning car rental comparison website. They offer competitive pricing in over 10,000 locations worldwide and are highly-rated.

Tours: We use third-party sites ViatorGet Your Guide & Klook due to their free cancellation policies, instant confirmation, price guarantees, and mobile ticketing. We occasionally book through Red Balloon too.

Travel Insurance: Cover-More protects the travel dreams and experiences of more than 15 million people worldwide every year (including us!). Part of Zurich Insurance Group, they cover 22 countries across five continents with leading positions in the USA, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, India and New Zealand. Protect your trip against several COVID-19 scenarios during the current coronavirus pandemic. 

aerial view of kalbarri skywalk extending out over murchison river gorge
Things To Do

Kalbarri Skywalk | A new way to view Kalbarri National Park

Kalbarri Skywalk consists of two cantilevered steel structures on the cliff top in Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia. The walkway was completed in 2020 and offers stunning views of the Murchison River Gorge and surrounding landscape. The Skywalk is an amazing feat of engineering with two platforms extending out 25m and 17m over the gorge and is now one of Australia’s Coral Coast‘s most popular tourist attractions. Location of Kalbarri Skywalk International and domestic visitors will fly into Perth Airport. Find details about visas, prohibited items, currency, and safety in this Australia Travel Guide and tips on arriving into WA and other essential …

Read More

a stunning sandy bay with sparkling blue ocean
Things To Do

The Best Things to do in Green Head & Leeman WA

Green Head and Leeman are small coastal towns on the Indian Ocean Drive, known for their laid-back lifestyle and pristine beaches. Find out all the things to do in Green Head and Leeman to make the most out of your holiday. Things to do in Green Head Beaches The beaches in Green Head are stunning with white silica sand, turquoise water, and rugged cliffs. Dynamite Bay was rated number 19 in Australia’s Top 101 Best Beaches for 2017. This beach is great for families as the bay is almost circular, providing protected and calm conditions as only low waves reach …

Read More

aerial view of a jetty in turquoise sea
Things To Do

The Best Things To Do in Jurien Bay – A Complete List 2022

Jurien Bay is a relaxed fishing town in Western Australia and a popular short break destination from Perth. Visitors enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches and surfing, fishing, and snorkelling in the bay’s protected waters. Find out all the things to do in Jurien Bay and let us help you plan your holiday. Free Things To Do in Jurien Bay There are various free things to do in Jurien Bay, whether travelling as a family, couple, or solo. Most activities are centered around the ocean, including swimming, fishing, and snorkelling, but there are also land-based ones like cycling, four-wheel driving, …

Read More

a white sand beach with seaweed and sun shelters on the beach
Things To Do | Travel Guides

The Best Things To Do in Cervantes Western Australia 2022

If you’re looking for things to do in Cervantes, this article features many places to visit, from beaches to the desert. Cervantes is a small fishing town at the start of Australia’s Coral Coast region, Western Australia. On weekends, families from Perth head there for relaxation, fishing, and exploring the national parks. Being predominantly a cray fishing town, you will see the boats moored along the coast, ready for their early morning starts. The houses are a mixture of old fibro shacks to modern double-storey mansions. Things To Do in Cervantes Western Australia Pinnacles Desert, Numbung National Park The Pinnacles …

Read More

white sand creating sand bar blocking brown coloured river from entering the ocean
Things To Do | Travel Guides

The Best Things to do in Moore River Guilderton 2022

Being the last remaining unspoiled river estuary on the Swan Coastal Plain, there aren’t many things to do in Moore River Guilderton. However, this is its appeal and is a popular spot for day-trippers from Perth looking to get away from the city. Families head to this small coastal town, where the estuary and ocean meet, for relaxation, swimming, fishing, surfing, and kayaking. Things to do in Moore River Guilderton Moore River Moore River, with a catchment area of 13,800 sq km and 193 m in length, enters the Indian Ocean at Guilderton. It was known to the Aboriginal people …

Read More

limestone pillars in the middle of a desert
Things To Do

The Pinnacles WA – How to see these Natural Wonders

The Pinnacles can be found in Nambung National Park in Western Australia. These natural limestone pillars form part of a unique landscape scattered amongst the sand dunes and are one of Australia’s natural wonders. Find out how to get there, what to see on the way, how much the entrance is, and where to stay. Where are the Pinnacles in WA? The Pinnacles are 189 km north of Perth and 29 km south of Cervantes. How to get to the Pinnacles The easiest way to see the Pinnacles is by car or on a tour from Perth. The drive will …

Read More

If you found this Port Denison guide helpful, please consider booking through one of our links. It won’t cost you anything but will help towards the cost of running this site. Thank you.

18 thoughts on “Port Denison & Dongara | 10 Best Things To Do”

  1. Port Denison looks like a beautiful spot and not super busy which is a plus. I would love to spend time on the beach or go scuba diving on the islands. And then finishing the day with fresh lobster and crab sounds amazing!

    Reply
  2. Awesome. I love the advice to watch out for emus. We have road signs in our area to watch out for little blue penguins, which nest locally 🙂 Really enjoying learning about the history of these WA towns.

    Reply
  3. What a lovely place to visit, and great for a day trip too. Granny’s Beach sounds just for me lol! I like that you also paid respects to the ancestors Wendy, that’s so important.

    Reply
  4. With the spring wildflowers, the hiking, and snorkeling/diving opportunities, this looks like my kind of place to visit! Did you catch your own dinner while you were there? I’d be at the restaurant, for sure! 😉

    Reply
  5. Enjoyed this Wendy. Port Denison sounds like a nice place to visit, especially if your looking for a few days away to relax. Like the sound of Granny Beach😀

    Reply

Leave a Comment