Looking for information on things to do in Monkey Mia, Denham, and Shark Bay? Living in Perth for over 20 years, I’ve visited the Shark Bay area (including Monkey Mia) on numerous occasions. So, let me show you what I’ve enjoyed on my visits there.
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The Best Things To Do in Monkey Mia Shark Bay & Denham
Most people know Shark Bay, or Gutharraguda, due to the famous Monkey Mia Dolphins, which attract visitors worldwide. However, there are plenty of other things to do in Shark Bay, with fascinating Denham and Monkey Mia attractions.
1. Monkey Mia Dolphins
Monkey Mia is renowned for its wild dolphin experience, but you may also see dugongs, sharks, rays, turtles, sea snakes, and a variety of fish in the water. It attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually.
It will take 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 am) 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 queue along the boardwalk that accesses the beach.
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 over 50 years due to 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 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.
Guidelines for Dolphin Interaction at Monkey Mia
Some of the dolphin guidelines are:
- Only mature females with good survival skills are fed.
- Dolphins are only fed a third of their daily food requirements, so 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.
- Feeding dolphins or any other wildlife without permission anywhere in Western Australia is illegal.
- 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 prohibited 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 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 can step into the shallows until the dolphins appear. Then the guide will ask you to step back out of the water while the feeding takes place. Next, volunteers randomly pick out four visitors 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 becomes quieter during the remainder of the morning, but you are less likely to have the dolphin experience.
2. Monkey Mia Marine Life Cruises
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. These marine mammals love the seagrass meadows, 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 wildlife cruises are 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 at the top, which had high views, but you also got 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 and an accessible toilet.
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 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 started 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 watched them for quite a while.
We were lucky enough to see a couple of turtles and 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 ride 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 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.
3. Monkey Mia Snorkelling
Monkey Mia beach is a great location for novice snorkellers as it provides a safe place with calm water. You may see dolphins, turtles, and stingrays. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, it is available to hire from Monkey Mia.
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 historic 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 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.
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.
Fishing is popular; 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.
5. Hamelin Pool Stromatolites Site
Hamelin Pool is 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.
Only a few 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 (due for repair sometime in 2023). This has impacted viewing the stromatolites, microbialites, and microbial mats, and we found it hard to view them properly.
If you don’t go to Hamelin Pool to see the stromatolites site, the Lake Clifton Thrombolites are even better and much closer to Perth.
6. Old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station
If you’re into history, 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.
7. 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 white shells, 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. Walking on all those cockle shells is an experience that is not to be missed.
Over 4000 of these cockles can live 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 it is relatively undiluted. In addition, the Faure Sill sand and seagrass bank restricts 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.
Interpretive signs along the short walk between the car park and the 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.
8. 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 turquoise 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.
9. 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 November 2023 are:
- A$17 per car (up to 12 legally seated people).
- A$10 per car concession* cardholders.
- A$10 per motorcycle.
- A$8 per passenger on buses.
- A$3.50 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 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 get bogged (ensure you have recovery tracks and a shovel!). Drive slowly as it is a single lane with traffic in both directions and was quite busy during the school holidays.
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 of Shark Bay 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.
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.
It’s a 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 to give 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 at 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 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.
10. Dirk Hartog Island National Park
The National Park was named after a Dutch sea captain; 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 cars 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 once. The single-lane tracks are mainly soft sand but can be rocky in places.
On the island’s east side, you will find white sand 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.
Sandy Point on the east side and South Point are great for off-the-beach snorkelling.
There’s even a Pink Lake (Rose Lake) on Dirktog Island!
11. Steep Point
Steep Point, the westernmost point in mainland Australia, can only be accessed by a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle or by boat. It’s a challenging trek from Northwest Coastal Highway with 41 km of sealed road, 114 km of unsealed, and the final 30 km on very soft sand winding single tracks.
Facilities are limited to pit toilets at Shelter Bay and Steep Point camping areas. You must bring everything with you, including fuel, water, and food. Campfires are not allowed.
Shelter Bay is a great snorkelling spot, and boats can launch from the beach.
12. 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 yearly. You can only book guided tours with a marine scientist, which run continuously daily. Tours include shark feeding but are not guaranteed as the sharks don’t eat that frequently.
13. Hikes around Shark Bay
It’s great to get outdoors, and these trails are an excellent way to explore the Shark Bay area.
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
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 amazing 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
Station Life Walk Trail
This short Station Life walk explores the 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
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
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
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