The Best Things To Do in Shark Bay Monkey Mia & Denham

Most people know Shark Bay, or Gutharraguda, in Western Australia due to the famous Monkey Mia Dolphins, which attract visitors worldwide. However, there’s plenty of other things to do in Shark Bay, with fascinating Denham and Monkey Mia attractions.

The region is a haven for nature lovers. The Shark Bay World Heritage Area, which covers 2.2 million hectares, was the first location in Western Australia to receive UNESCO status in 1991.

Shark Bay is Australia’s largest bay with over 1,000 km of spectacular beaches and is renowned for its marine life. Due to Shark Bay being in a transition zone between temperate and tropical waters, there are at least 320 fish species and more than 80 different types of coral.

Extensive seagrass meadows support over 10,000 dugongs making it one of the largest populations in the world. In addition, humpback whales migrate along the coast and use the bay to rest during their southward migration in spring.

South Peron has Hamelin Pool on one side and Henri Freycinet Harbour on the other. The land was part of the Peron Pastoral Lease until the Peron Peninsula was bought by the Western Australian government in 1990. The northern part of the peninsula became Francois Peron National Park in 1993, and South Peron remains unallocated government land.

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aerial view of a coastline with red centre white beach and turquoise water
Francois Peron National Park, near Denham by Tourism Western Australia

Shark Bay from Perth

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.
To compare rental car company prices, I use Discover Cars, an award-winning car rental comparison website. They offer competitive pricing in over 10,000 locations worldwide and are have a high rate of customer satisfaction.

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Shark Bay is 756 km north of Perth, approximately an 8-hour drive but will take about 9 hours to Denham.

Approximately 55 km south of the Shark Bay turn-off is the Billabong Roadhouse, known for its cheap fuel, although the petrol station in Denham wasn’t that much more.

Shark Bay Road, also known as the World Heritage Drive, provides access to sites along the peninsula. However, please do not drive onto the beaches as vehicles disturb nesting seabirds and crush their nests.

Regional Express (Rex) operates flights from Perth to Monkey Mia, taking 2 hours.

Integrity Coach Lines have services that run from Perth to Broome, which stop at the Overlander Roadhouse, opposite the Shark Bay turn off. However, you must pre-book a shuttle bus to Denham or Monkey Mia as there’s no other transport.

The Shark Bay region is a popular stop on a road trip from Perth to Exmouth.

a long straight road inbetween bushland with no one around
The road in and out of Denham/Monkey Mia

Things To Do in Shark Bay, Monkey Mia & Denham

Monkey Mia Dolphins

Monkey Mia is renowned for its wild dolphin experience, but you may also get to see dugongs, sharks, rays, turtles, and a variety of fish in the water. It is known as one of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences and attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually.

It will take you about twenty minutes to drive the 24 km from Denham to Monkey Mia on a sealed road. I recommend arriving early (around 7-7.10) to get a spot on the first row of the beach. At this time, there isn’t usually a queue at the kiosk, so you can pay and drive straight in. Once parked, follow signs to the boardwalk where there are two queues; one for the beach and one for the jetty. The beach had better views, so I would queue along the boardwalk that accesses the beach.

a beach at sunset with a pier roped off with a red ribbon
Early morning waiting for the Monkey Mia experience

The experience starts at about 7.45 am when a guide comes onto the beach and tells you what to expect and about the history of Monkey Mia.

Wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins have visited the shallows at Monkey Mia for more than 50 years due to them being fed by fishers returning to Monkey Mia. Researchers began studying the dolphins in 1984 and found that the mortality rate among the calves of beach visiting dolphins was significantly higher than that of other dolphins in Shark Bay. The high mortality rate was attributed to a combination of overfeeding and the dolphins spending too much time at the beach rather than looking after their young.

These findings led to guidelines being put in place to ensure the calves of beach visiting dolphins were raised with as much chance of survival as other wild dolphins. In addition, the Parks and Wildlife Service regulates dolphin feeding, maintains the dolphin experience area, carefully recruits new dolphins, and handles boat encounters.

a wild dolphine swimming in the shallows
One of the Monkey Mia dolphins coming in to say hello

Some of the guidelines are:

  • Only mature females with good survival skills are fed.
  • Dolphins are never fed more than a third of their daily food requirements, which means they still have to hunt for most of their food.
  • They are only given fresh local fish that they hunt for in the wild.
  • Feeding can only occur between 7.45 am and 12 pm to encourage them to spend more time doing their normal activities.
  • There are no set feeding times, so they do not alter their natural wild behaviour.
  • Dolphins must never be touched.
  • It is illegal to feed dolphins or any other wildlife without permission anywhere in Western Australia.
  • Males are not fed as they can be more aggressive.
  • Outside of the Monkey Mia Experience, it is illegal to approach within 50m of a dolphin and if a dolphin comes within 50m of where you are swimming, you must exit the water. If you’re on the beach and a dolphin approaches in the shallows, stay on the sand and do not approach it.
  • Boating, swimming, and fishing are not allowed in the dolphin experience area.
  • Boat tours from Monkey Mia have strict environmental rules to follow to minimise the impact on marine animals.

Since these guidelines have been introduced, only 3 out of 13 (23%) calves born to provisioned females have died.

Monkey Mia Dolphin Feeding Times

The guides are only allowed to feed the five mature females in the program a maximum of three times during the 7.45 am to noon timeframe. The dolphins often visit the beach outside these times but will not be fed. The guides can identify the dolphins by their dorsal fins. The dolphins in the program are Puck, Piccolo, Kiya, Surprise, and Shock. You can read about their family history and characteristics on the Monkey Mia Dolphins site.

You remain on the boardwalk until the guide invites you onto the beach and jetty, and you must follow instructions at all times for the welfare of the dolphins.

Once on the beach, you’re allowed to step into the shallows until the dolphins make an appearance. Then the guide will ask you to step back out of the water while the feeding takes place. Next, volunteers pick out four visitors at random to feed the dolphin a fish. Once they have fed them, the experience is over unless another dolphin arrives before noon.

It was jam-packed with around 300 to 400 people on the beach at the first feeding during the July school holidays, taking up three rows. This is why I recommend arriving early as the last row wouldn’t have been able to see much. It does become a lot quieter during the remainder of the morning, but you are less likely to have the dolphin experience.

close up of a wild dolphin
Such beautiful creatures

Monkey Mia Marine Life Cruise

The Monkey Mia Marine Life Cruise by Perfect Nature Cruises was the highlight of our road trip from Perth to Exmouth. We booked the morning cruise on the same day as the Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience as the cruise departs from the Monkey Mia jetty at 10 am. You can take a walk or have a coffee between the experience and the cruise.

Over 70% of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is marine, and the protected bays have over 10,000 dugongs resident there. Dugongs love the seagrass meadows here, which are the largest in the world. The bay is home to 12 out of the 60 species of seagrass as it thrives in the shallow, sheltered waters. The seagrass provides food and shelter for hundreds of species, including molluscs, crustaceans, fish, and sea snakes.

The nature cruise is on an 18m sailing catamaran, Aristocat 2, which has an exclusive licence issued by the Parks and Wildlife Department and is the only boat that can interact with marine life in the Monkey Mia exclusion zone.

Boarding begins 15 minutes before the cruise departure time from a gate near the front of the boat. There are many vantage points and plenty of space. We sat up the top, which had high views, but you also get close-up views from the front of the boat. The catamaran was very stable during our morning cruise. It can carry up to 49 passengers and has wheelchair access all around and an accessible toilet.

a blue catamaran anchored off the coast named Aristocat 2
Aristocat 2 anchored off Monkey Mia

After a safety briefing, we were on our way. It was a beautiful but cold morning so take a jacket with you as it can be pretty chilly out on the water.

The main reason we took the cruise was in the hope of seeing the shy dugongs. However, as they are more active between August and May, we weren’t expecting much (we took the cruise at the start of July) as they move to warmer waters in the colder months with their calves.

After over an hour of not seeing anything, our hopes were starting to fade. However, one of the guests spotted something in the distance, so we headed over to try and find it. We ended up with an incredible view of a dugong with her calf, and we stayed watching them for quite a while.

a dugong in the ocean up close
So lucky to see this dugong up close

We were lucky enough to see a couple of turtles and then another encounter with a different dugong and her calf. Our skipper was amazed at how fortunate we were this time of year to experience not one but two encounters with these beautiful creatures.

About 70% of the loggerhead turtles in Western Australia lay their eggs in the Shark Bay region. They can travel up to 3000 km between where they nest and feed.

On the return journey, kids can have a go riding in the boom nets at the back of the boat. You can buy snacks and drinks on board, and the boat is fully licensed.

As we approached the Monkey Mia marina, our skipper spotted dolphins around the research boat, so we headed that way to take a look. There were quite a few of them jumping in and out of the water.

I highly recommend this tour to anyone that loves the ocean and marine life.

turtle swimming in the ocean in the wild
Not the best photo but still incredible to see this loggerhead turtle

Monkey Mia Snorkelling

Monkey Mia beach is a great location for novice snorkellers as it provides a safe place with calm water. You may have the chance of seeing dolphins, turtles, and stingrays. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, it is available to hire from Monkey Mia.

Denham

We used Denham as a base to discover the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. The town has more accommodation options and places to eat than Monkey Mia, and I liked its vibe. There’s also more to do in Denham.

In town, you can take the Denham Discovery Trail, a 2.3 km walking trail that takes you past sites of historical interest of the traditional owners, early pioneers, preachers, pastoralists, pearlers, prisoners, and publicans.

Denham’s a beautiful place to see Australia’s most westerly sunset, maybe with some fish and chips.

Parents and kids will love the shipwreck adventure playground, and you can buy a takeaway coffee from the café across the road to drink while watching your children have fun (remember your re-usable mugs).

If you like unusual things to do, add a thong/flip-flop to the Thong Shack located on a beach just outside Denham town (look it up on Google Maps).

Take a picnic and visit Little Lagoon for a swim or take the 5km Nicholson Point Walk Trail, which takes you from Denham across shrublands to Little Lagoon. There’s a wide range of birdlife and plants, and the sandy beach between Nicholson Point and the mouth of Little Lagoon has a lot of shells but beware of stonefish in the shallow lagoon.

a lagoon with clouds reflecting in the water is one the free things to do in shark bay region
Little Lagoon

Fishing is popular, and you will find fish cleaning stations along the foreshore. However, fishing is not permitted in sanctuary zones or Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, and not all types of fishing gear can be used in all marine park zones. Read this Shark Bay marine reserves brochure for more information.

Pink snapper stocks in the inner gulfs of Shark Bay are vulnerable to overfishing and were badly depleted at one stage, so there are special zones in place to better manage the local pink snapper population. Keep up to date with information on the Fisheries site and check all the Shark Bay fishing spots.

Boat launch facilities can be found throughout Shark Bay, including sealed boat ramps at Denham, Monkey Mia, and Carnarvon.

Try kitesurfing with lessons from Shark Bay Kitesurfing School. Due to Shark Bay’s flat and crystal water, they can teach you in any wind direction all year round. If you’re an independent kitesurfer and want to explore Shark Bay, they can take you to secret spots in Francois Peron, Big Lagoon, Little Lagoon, Eagle Bluff, or Monkey Mia.

Dive Shark Bay with Shark Bay Dive and Marine Safaris and experience the World Heritage-listed marine park at Steep Point. The areas visited are populated with Queensland grouper, turtles, crayfish, cuttlefish, stingrays, mackerel, trevally, and sharks, including grey nurse, tawny nurse, sandbar whalers, dusky whalers, wobbegongs, and tiger sharks. Depending on the time of year, you may also see whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and dugongs. They also do snorkelling tours and scenic boat tours.

Hamelin Pool Stromatolites

Hamelin Pool is most famous for the most abundant examples of stromatolites in the world. These “living fossils” represent life over 3500 million years ago and are one of the reasons Shark Bay is listed as a World Heritage Area.

Scientists have learned that microbial mats are diverse and complex ecosystems that rely on different species to work together.

Not many plants and animals can survive in Hamelin Pool due to the extreme saltiness caused by sand and seagrass restricting the water flow.

Local Aboriginal people refer to the stromatolites as their old people, meaning their ancestors.

You can get to Hamelin Pool from Shark Bay Road, 27km from the North West Coastal Highway. The road is sealed apart from a short unsealed section to the car park but accessible for two-wheel drives. The viewing area is an easy 750 metre return walk from the car park.

Unfortunately, the Stromatolite boardwalk was damaged during storms, so you cannot access it at the moment (August 2021). This has impacted the viewing of the stromatolites, microbialites, and microbial mats, and we found it hard to view them properly.

If you don’t make it to Hamelin Pool to see the stromatolites, the Lake Clifton Thrombolites are even better and a lot closer to Perth.

a boardwalk over stromatolites
Hamelin Pool Stromatolites

Old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station

If you’re into history, make a stop at the old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station, built in 1884 as part of the communication line between Perth and Roebourne. It was initially named the Flint Cliff Telegraph Station and played a vital role in Western Australia’s communication system until the late 1950s.

Hamelin Pool was known as Flagpole Landing in the early 1900s and was the landing point for cargo ships bringing supplies to the surrounding stations. It also shipped wool that was hauled by horse and cart by the farmers.

You can take guided tours of the museum and see relics from when the station was fully operational. We only briefly made a stop here to have a look around.

The historical site is now part of the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park, which also has the old post office and tea rooms.

The 1.4 km Boolagoorda loop trail starts at the Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station and takes the visitor on an easy flat walk past the old coquina quarry to the Stromatolite boardwalk and returns to the station.

Shell Beach Wulgada – South Peron

Shell Beach, or Wulgada as it is known to the Malgana people, is home to the Fragum Cockle, Fragum erugatum. As the name implies, the 15 km long beach is made up of trillions of shells, all belonging to the Fragum cockle, which can be 10 metres deep in places. It is one of the best places to visit in the Shark Bay region and one of only two such beaches in the world. Just walking on all those shells is an experience not to be missed.

There can be over 4000 of these cockles living in just one square metre in the super-salty waters of the L’haridon Bight. In some places, they have compacted and cemented into solid masses known as coquina. Some buildings in Shark Bay were built from blocks cut out of the coquina, and you can see one of the quarry sites along the Boolagoorda trail. In fact The Old Pearler, a restaurant in Denham, is the only restaurant in the world to be built almost entirely of shells.

Evaporation is high here due to the hot, dry climate, and as water evaporates, the shallow bays become saltier. The water lost is replaced by more saltwater from the ocean, and Shark Bay’s low rainfall means that it is relatively undiluted. In addition, the Faure Sill sand and seagrass bank restrict the hypersaline water from going into the sea. As a result, the ocean here is twice as salty as regular seawater, so you’ll float better but will have a layer of salt on you when you come out.

people walking on a beach made up of entirely shells
View as you enter Shell Beach

Interpretive signs along the short walk between the car park and beach tell the cockle’s story. As you enter Shell Beach, it looks underwhelming and the shells are compacted. Don’t turn around, keep going to the ocean and you will be rewarded with an incredible experience.

Please leave Shell Beach as you found it, and do not remove ANY shells or shell material.

You’ll see an electrified fence south of Shell Beach, a vital part of Project Eden, a conservation project limiting feral animals on the Peron Peninsula.

There’s a pit toilet here, but no camping is allowed.

Shell Beach is just off Shark Bay Road, 44 km from Denham.

millions of shells on a beach
The amazing Shell Beach near Monkey Mia & Denham

Eagle Bluff & Western Peron Peninsula

Eagle Bluff is 20km south of Denham and a great place to view marine life from above. The scenic lookout features a 200m boardwalk along the cliffs providing spectacular ocean views where turtles, rays, and large fish can be seen in the shallow waters below. We managed to spot rays and sharks from here but take your binoculars for a better view.

The most common shark in Shark Bay is the nervous shark, although they are threatened due to being caught in fishing nets and slow to reproduce.

You can see two small limestone islands from Eagle Bluff, where seabirds breed.

Eagle Bluff Shark Bay is another place that is beautiful at sunset.

If remote beaches are more your thing, you can explore beaches by foot from Fowlers Camp, Whalebone and Goulet Bluff. These coastal sites on the western side of the Peron Peninsula are accessible on short gravel roads, suitable for all vehicles. The Shire of Shark Bay operates informal camping with no facilities at these sites.

Nanga Bay has a caravan park with access to Henri Freycinet Harbour and is accessed from the Shark Bay Road, 50km south of Denham and 77km from the North West Coastal Highway. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a lovely day when we visited, so we didn’t stop for a walk along the beach.

a small rocky island surrounded by calm ocean
View of Eagle Island from Eagle Bluff Lookout

Francois Peron National Park

Peron Peninsula is known as Wulyibidi to the local Malgana Aboriginal people and was a sheep station until 1990 when the State Government purchased it. The National Park is named after Francois Peron, a French zoologist, who accompanied an expedition there in 1801.

You can access Francois Peron National Park from Monkey Mia Road, about 4km east of Denham. The road to the Peron Heritage Precinct is unsealed but is two-wheel drive accessible. However, it may be closed during wet conditions.

The fees payable to enter Francois National Park as of May 2022 are:

  • A$15 per car (up to 12 legally seated people).
  • A$8 per car concession* cardholders.
  • A$8 per motorcycle.
  • A$7 per passenger on buses.
  • A$2.50 per concession* cardholder on buses.

High clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles are essential for access north of the Heritage Precinct due to deep ruts. Some of the tracks have very soft sand and can be challenging in places. It’s best to deflate your tyres at the tyre pressure station at the start of the 4wd track. Be prepared for a bumpy ride due to the corrugation and you could possibly get bogged (ensure you have Recovery Tracks like these and a shovel!). Drive slow as it is a single lane with traffic in both directions and was quite busy during the school holidays.

wide red dirt road track through bushland
Francois Peron National Park 4wd Track

It took us 45-60 minutes to drive straight from the precinct to Skipjack Point, which was the highlight of Francois Peron NP for us. The contrasting red cliffs, white beaches, and the turquoise ocean were beautiful, and we spotted sharks and stingrays from the lookouts. The short walk along the boardwalk provides spectacular views. Unfortunately, there are no toilet facilities in Skipjack Point.

aerial view of a shark in the ocean
Shark seen from high up on Skipjack Point

Our next stop was Cape Peron, which is good for fishing. Two strong currents meet here, so swimming at this beach is not advised. The red dunes and white beach views are wonderful, although we did prefer the views at Skipjack Point. You will find a picnic shelter, a drop toilet, and a walking trail connecting Cape Peron and Skipjack Point here.

The Wanamalu trail is 3 km return and offers stunning coastline views with interpretive signs along the route.

A special-purpose zone encompasses the tip of Cape Peron, meaning netting, spearfishing, and motorised water sports are prohibited in this zone.

red cliffs backing a narrow white sand beach with crystal clear ocean
View from Skipjack Point Lookout

It’s a pretty demanding drive and tiring, so we only checked out Gregory Bay on the way back to the homestead. Big Lagoon is 10 km one way, so we decided on giving it a miss. It’s an excellent spot to explore by canoe or sea kayak, though, and you can fish in the lagoon south of the camping area; however, fishing and crabbing are prohibited in Big Lagoon’s northern waters.

Once back to the tyre pressure station, you can inflate your tyres back up before visiting the Peron Heritage Precinct. You can take a self-guided walk here which shows how life was like during the pastoral days, although we didn’t find it that interesting. Most people visit for the artesian hot tub, but it can get busy and is only small. The artesian water is hot (around 40°C), so soaking for long periods is not recommended as it can cause dehydration. Make sure to bring water with you as there is none available in the area. There’s also a barbecue, picnic bench, and grassed area near the hot tub.

old windmill made of metal rusting
Peron Heritage Precinct

Dirk Hartog Island National Park

The National Park was named after a Dutch sea captain, who was the first recorded European to find the Western Australian coastline. He left a pewter plate nailed to a wooden post at the northern tip of the island, now known as Cape Inscription, on 25th October 1616.

Dirk Hartog Island can only be accessed by four wheel drive vehicles via Steep Point, boat, or light aircraft. A landing barge transfers 4WD vehicles from Steep Point to Dirk Hartog Island but only carries one vehicle and a trailer at a time and takes approximately 15 minutes to cross the waters of the South Passage. It’s not cheap, though, ranging from A$182 to A$340 one way.

You need a high clearance 4wd, and only twenty vehicles are allowed on the island at one time. The single-lane tracks are mainly soft sand but can be rocky in places.

On the east side of the island, you will find beaches and protected bays, while on the other side, the coast is dominated by tall cliffs. Since becoming a National Park in 2009, the island is full of wildlife, including the Dirk Hartog Island black and white fairy-wren, which isn’t found anywhere else. In the waters surrounding the island, you might see manta rays, whale sharks (May and June), humpback whales (September), and dugongs who travel to the warm waters with their calves in winter.

Turtle Bay is a vital loggerhead turtle nesting area where thousands of loggerhead turtles lay their eggs every summer.

Please read this Dirk Hartog Protection Brochure before leaving home to help protect the precious wildlife.

This brochure by Parks and Wildlife has important information on the island, including a Dirk Hartog Island map, camping details, and how to keep safe on the island.

a calm bay with crystal clear water and person in a yellow kayak near an island
Dirk Hartog Island by Tourism Western Australia

Ocean Park Aquarium Shark Bay

I’m not a fan of aquariums so we didn’t visit this Denham aquarium; however, it gets rave reviews on Tripadvisor and receives about 48,000 visitors every year. You can only book guided tours with a marine scientist, which run continuously every day. Tours include shark feeding but are not guaranteed as the sharks don’t eat that frequently.

Hikes around Shark Bay

It’s great to get outdoors, and these trails are an excellent way to explore the Shark Bay area.

Wanamalu Trail

The Wanamalu Trail runs between Skipjack Point and Cape Peron in Francois Peron National Park and offers excellent views of the area’s marine life from the clifftop. 4WD access only.
1.5km one way , 45 mins

Wulyibidi Yanayina Trail

The Wulyibidi Yanayina Trail starts at the Monkey Mia car park and winds through red sand dunes, visiting a bird hide by an artificial water hole. This walk is best just after sunrise or late in the afternoon when the birds are more active.
3km loop, 1-1.5 hours

Boolagoorda Trail

The Boolagoorda Trail starts at the Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station and features a shell quarry, gravesite, the remains of the old telegraph line, and the stromatolites boardwalk.
750m each way + 300m boardwalk, 30-45 mins

Eagle Bluff Boardwalk

The short Eagle Bluff Boardwalk is high up above the shallow waters of Henri Freycinet Harbour. There are fantastic views of two small limestone islands and marine life that frequent these waters. Rays, sharks, fish, turtles, and dugongs can often be seen.
300m boardwalk, 30 mins

a walkway along the edge of cliffs
Boardwalk along cliffs at Eagle Bluff Lookout

Station Life Walk Trail

This short Station Life walk explores historical Peron Homestead in Francois National Park, where you’ll see shearing sheds, holding yards, windmills, and an artesian hot tub.
500m loop, 30 mins

Nicholson Point Walk Trail

Nicholson Point Walk Trail leaves from Denham across shrub to Little Lagoon with a large range of plant species and birdlife. The sandy beach between Nicholson Point and the mouth of Little Lagoon has a large variety of shells and is home to lots of marine life. However, beware of stonefish in the lagoon shallows.
5km, 1.5-2 hours

Denham Discovery

The Denham Discovery trail takes in historical sites of interest that will have you thinking about Shark Bay’s traditional owners, early pioneers, preachers, pastoralists, pearlers, prisoners, and publicans.
2.3km, 1 hour

Boolbardi Walk

The Boolbardi Walk features an Aboriginal fish trap south of Denham. If you walk to the southern end of Knight Terrace and follow the shoreline, you’ll find the fish trap at a small cape where there is the first 4WD beach access south of town. Even at low tide, the stones arranged in a three-quarter circle, remain submerged.
600m, 40 minutes

a walkway leading up a hill to a lookout
Walkway at Skipjack Point

History of the Shark Bay Region

Shark Bay is the traditional land of three Aboriginal language groups: the Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta. The Malgana name for Shark Bay is Gutharraguda, meaning ‘two waters’ due to the two bays that dominate the landscape. The area is important to the local Aboriginal people as they have a strong connection to the land and sea here.

The town of Denham was named after Captain Henry Mangles Denham, who mapped the Shark Bay region in 1858 aboard the HMS Herald. The settlement was originally a pearling camp called Freshwater Camp, where the first pearls in Western Australia were discovered in the 1850s by Lieutenant Benjamin Helpman. The pearling industry ended when the oyster-shell banks depleted but thankfully, wild pearl oyster numbers are rising again.

Sheep rearing was one of the primary industries in the 1860s, with fifteen sheep stations being built, starting on Dirk Hartog Island in 1869. By the 1960s, there were approximately 142,000 sheep in the Shark Bay region, but the logistics of transporting the wool to market made running a sheep station difficult. Wool had to be transported overland using horses & carts and then carried to larger boats by dinghies.

Droughts and the lack of fresh water were other challenges the farmers faced, and the collapse of the wool market in the 1990s forced the sheep stations to diversify. Carrarang and Tamala became cattle stations, Hamelin Station took on goats, while Dirk Hartog Island and Nanga introduced tourism alongside their pastoral operations.

a big lagoon from above showing its green water surrounded by red dirt
Big Lagoon, Francois Peron National Park by Tourism WA

When to visit Shark Bay Denham and Monkey Mia

Summer is a warm 30°C to 35°C but very windy; perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding.

Autumn has low winds, a calm ocean and is the most popular time for fishing, swimming, boating, camping, and stargazing.

Winter sees cooler temperatures with sunny days and the best time for hiking. The wildflowers start appearing at the end of winter.

Spring is the quietest time of year in the Shark Bay region and the best time for diving and snorkelling due to the water clarity.

How long to stay in Shark Bay

We stayed in Shark Bay for three nights which gave us two and a half days to explore (we left from Kalbarri). If you want to fish, hike, or relax, you should stay for at least four nights.

aerial view of san coloured cliffs with red stripes through them
Steep Point, Shark Bay World Heritage Area by Tourism Western Australia

Shark Bay Accommodation & Camping

We camped at Denham Seaside Caravan Park, Australia’s most westerly caravan park. It’s situated right in front of the Indian Ocean, which provides easy beach access but means it can be extremely windy at certain times of the year. The camp kitchen and facilities were close by and kept clean by staff and visitors. The Convenience Store is just across the road, or the IGA supermarket is down the other end of town.

If you don’t want to camp in Denham, Denham Seaside Caravan Park also has one and two-bedroomed chalets with a kitchenette and a private bathroom. These are extremely popular, so make sure to book well in advance. See if they are available for your dates here.

three people sitting round a campsite with tent in the background
Denham Seaside Caravan Park

The popular Shark Bay Seafront Apartments are located directly opposite Denham beach and have stunning ocean views from their patios. All accommodation has air-conditioning and include a kitchen with a microwave, refrigerator and stove. Read the reviews here.

On the Deck @ Shark Bay is a highly-rated B&B 1.2 km from Denham town centre. Guests can relax in the hot tub or dine outside on the terrace, complete with a BBQ. All the air conditioned rooms have a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries. Free Wi-Fi and an airport shuttle are included in the price. Check up-to-date prices here.

The family-owned and operated Oceanside Village is located just across from the beach in Denham. All the air-conditioned villas have a kitchen featuring a stove, microwave, and refrigerator. 

The Shark Bay Caravan Park is another excellent place to camp in Denham, with a range of accommodation options, including family cabins, powered caravan and camping sites, and unpowered camping sites.

If you want to stay in Monkey Mia, the only option is the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. Even though we haven’t stayed there, the resort looked amazing and is a great choice for families looking for the dolphin experience. There’s plenty to do here with swimming pools, hot tub, bar, restaurant and tennis and volleyball courts. The resort has a range of accommodation options from beach view rooms to dormitories, which all include air-conditioning and are located only steps from the beach. The downside is the lack of choice of restaurants/food and the need to travel into Denham for supplies. See photos of the resort here.

a sand beach with a resort behind
Monkey Mia Resort

Where to eat in Shark Bay Denham and Monkey Mia

We had lunch at the Boughshed in the RAC Monkey Mia Resort. Unfortunately, you can’t book lunchtimes, but we managed to easily get a table during peak time. The views are lovely from outside as the restaurant overlooks the beach. My fish and chips were delicious, and the rest of the family enjoyed their burgers.

The woodfired Shark Bay Pizzas are flavorsome, cooked to perfection and have a generous amount of toppings. Gluten-free bases are available, and they cater to most dietary requirements. Shark Bay Pizzas are very popular, so order well ahead of the time you want to collect in peak times. Well worth the wait, though.

The Oceans Restaurant at Ocean Park Aquarium offers great food with stunning views of the ocean. The fish & chips and calamari were superb.

If you want bread, we found the bakery sells out of bread early, so get in quickly.

Travelling to Shark Bay with dogs

Shark Bay is dog friendly; many beaches allow dogs on them and they are allowed into Monkey Mia, provided they are kept on a lead. However, pets are not permitted in the National Park. Pick up a Pet Owners Beware leaflet from the Visitor Centre for information on the 1080 poison currently being used to control feral animals.

Shark Bay Tips

  • Apply sunscreen, wear protective clothing, hat, and sunglasses.
  • Stay hydrated and carry plenty of water with you.
  • Always dive, snorkel, and swim with a buddy.
  • In shallows, wear suitable footwear to protect you from stonefish and coneshells (common in Francois Peron NP).
  • Be aware of boat traffic when in the ocean and marine animals such as sharks and sea snakes.
  • Stay back from Coastal cliffs which may be unstable.
  • RAC WA members can pre-purchase an annual National Park membership half price.
  • If no bins are available, take all rubbish with you.
  • Only Telstra has extensive mobile coverage in Shark Bay but still cannot be guaranteed in remote areas. Optus is available in Denham town.
  • There is free internet at the Shark Bay Discovery Centre in Denham.
  • Arrive at Monkey Mia early (around 7 am in peak times) to queue to get on the first row of the beach.
  • Watch out for emus and kangaroos on the road, and try not to drive around dusk or dawn when they are more active.

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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.

Mobile: Telstra has the best coverage in Western Australia. We buy our sims through Boost who provide 4G/4GX coverage on full Telstra 4G Mobile Network. With up to 82GB for 28 days or 240GB for 12 months, unlimited national calls & text, and international inclusions on selected plans, you’re sure to find the right prepaid SIM for you. See plans here.

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The Best Things To Do in Shark Bay Monkey Mia & Denham

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32 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do in Shark Bay Monkey Mia & Denham”

  1. Wow- SO much Awesome things to see & do!! Looks like a really beautiful place to spend some time with family, having fun! When I read:” be watchful of sharks & sea snakes”… 😶 oh my, this is truly Adventurous!

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  2. Like Stefan I had to look up dugongs! What an amazing area, with so much marine life and the colours of the landscape sound very dramatic. I do like the way the authorities are taking such care of wildlife and restricting human activity to the minimum. Fish and chips on the beach at sunset is one of my favourite activities and it sounds like there are plenty of options for walking them off during the rest of the holiday 🙂

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    • Dugongs are the cutest but I didn’t know much about them before the Eco Cruise. I was also very happy to hear about the restrictions Monkey Mia have out in place to protect the dolphins there.

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  3. I’d not heard about any of this area before, and certainly nothing about the dolphins, but I remember reading about how stromatolites are formed before, how old some can be, etc., and thinking they would be interesting to check out at some point. The dolphin experience, though, sounds great, too.

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  4. Are you sure you were only here for 3 weeks? Sounds like you had months by all the information. I never heard of the monkey mia dolphins but the experience seems brilliant. As long as you get out of bed in the morning. Like everyone else I have no idea what a dugong is.

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    • We actually only spent 3 nights in the Shark Bay region as we spent 3 weeks on a Perth to Exmouth road trip. Our days were crammed and we still missed out on a few experiences.

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  5. Wendy, I think dugongs are the same as manatees in the US. They are nice to watch as they swim around, especially with calves. The 4wheel drive roads look like fun in Peron National Park. I can’t believe how red the sand and cliffs are.

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  6. What an amazing place! We love viewing wildlife and it looks as though there is so much to see. Have to admit to googling “dugong” as I had no idea what they were but now I know I’d really love to see them. It’s really good to learn that the authorities have put so many protection measures in place. Thank you – it looks like a truly wonderful place to visit.

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  7. Shark Bay World Heritage Area is sounds awesome! So many cool things to do. I would especially love to hike those trails for those stunning views.

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  8. THXS Wendy for an amazing blog. Definitely one the list when we visit Australia. Really appreciate the advise on length of stay, it really helps out new travelers who are struggling to decide how long to stay in Australia and a specific region. This place looks amazing.

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  9. What an incredible place Shark Bay is, and with so any things to do! I’ve never heard of a dugong and they’re funny little creatures, aren’t they? It’s great to have the rules around the dolphins in Monkey Mia, too. Very smart. I love Francois Peron National Park and the stunning red/orange ochre. 🙂

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  10. I like the sound of Monkey Mia and I could see myself visiting one of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences! I remember seeing dugongs before in the Philippines when I was a kid and they have this admirable very human qualities. It was such a thrill!

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  11. This is probably my favorite post. Anything having to do with animals and nature, and I am in love! I didn’t realize Shark Bay and Monkey Mia was so far from Perth. It’s definitely a place to spend a few days. I would love to do snorkeling or scuba diving there and see more of the underwater wildlife.

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    • Thank you Tiffany. I love anything to do with animals too as long as it is ethical. The distances in Western Australia a re crazy and a lot of people underestimate how long it takes to travel anywhere in the state.

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  12. So much information here! Monkey Mia has been on my list for about 20 years (I’m in Sydney) but I feel like now it will be such an anticlimax being on a boardwalk with 300 or so people, and chances of being picked to feed the dolphins are rare. Luckily I fulfilled my dream of swimming with dolphins in 2016 when we went on an eco tour that allows you to swim with a wild pod of dolphins off Big Island, Hawaii. That was amazing!

    Still, the whole Denham Shark Bay area sounds amazing, I’ll pin for later trips (after our never ending lockdown maybe…)

    Thanks for a great post 🙂

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    • Thanks Justine. I’ve been wanting to visit Monkey Mia for years too but didn’t want to make the long road trip just to go there, which is why we incorporated into going to Exmouth. The whole area of Shark Bay is beautiful and I highly recommend the eco boat tour if you get there. As that leaves from Monkey Mia, you may as well get there early and do the experience. If you can travel outside of school holidays, it will be quieter.
      We’ve got flights booked to Sydney for December but sadly it’s not looking good. Stay safe over there.

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  13. What a wonderful natural landscape! And so much to explore and see. I had not heard of dugongs before but a quick google tells me they are the “cousins of the manatee”. Beautiful creatures. The label “Shark Bay” sounds a bit scary, but I can see it is a fabulous place to visit. I still cannot get my head around the distances in Australia. A nine hour drive and still be in Western Australia!

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  14. I can’t wait to visit Shark Bay and Monkey Mia one day! And I just love the name Monkey Mia! I’d definitely want to do some snorkeling, diving and see the dolphins. It sounds like an underwater paradise! I’ve never heard of a dugong but I’d love to see one! I wonder if the males are aggressive because they aren’t getting fed? Haha. The dolphin family sounds adorable. I’d also enjoy going for hikes along the bay too as the coastline is so pretty!

    Reply

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