Welcome to Australia’s wild-wild West and one of the most extraordinary places in Western Australia. If you ready to see some fascinating wildlife, then you need to come to Shark Bay in Western Australia. Also, Shark Bay is famous for its beautiful coastline, pristine beaches, lagoons, and remote areas.
In this post, we would like to outline all the best things to do in Shark Bay and very important points you need to know before you go. With over 28 species of sharks located in this area, we really hoped to spot a few. We will let you know a bit later if we found some (or if they found us). So keep reading!
ABOUT SHARK BAY
Shark Bay was named after the English explorer William Dampier in 1699. Once he arrived, he saw many sharks here and called the area Shark Bay to honor these beautiful creatures. Shark Bay also signifies “two waters” because of the two protected bays dominating this ancient landscape. Shark Bay is the traditional home to an aboriginal tribe called Malgana. The area was announced a World Heritage site in 1991 and covers 2.2 million hectares of wild natural beauty.
HOW TO GET TO SHARK BAY?
Shark bay is located 840 km north of Perth in Western Australia. We came down from Coral Bay in the north which was a 4-hour drive.
Also, there is a regional express airline that operates return flights from Perth to Monkey Mia/Shark Bay Airport.
THINGS TO SEE IN SHARK BAY
Shark Bay is one of the most unique and spectacular places we have seen in Australia. We would definitely spend a minimum of 3 – 4 days wandering around. There are several sites, which you need to see in the area of Shark Bay. Our favorite picks are Francois Peron National Park, spotting reef sharks in Big Lagoon, sunset at Eagle Bluff, Shell Beach, and many more. So don’t worry, there is enough to keep you busy. Have a look at all the fantastic things to do in Shark Bay.
HAMELIN POOL AND STROMATOLITES
Have you ever heard of “stromatolites”? Us neither, yet we are breathing air thanks to those prehistoric creatures. Stromatolites are the oldest and largest living fossils on earth. When we say the oldest, we mean 3.5 billion years old. It’s hard to imagine for sure. Stromatolites at the Hamelin Pool appeared 2000-3000 years ago, and they are visible near the shore. A boardwalk will take you out to them.
Please note that you are not allowed to swim here as this area is a protected site.
Eagle Bluff is located just 20 km South of Denham and coming here for sunset is definitely one of the best things to do in Shark Bay. It is named after the sea eagles nesting offshore on the rocky island. We were very impressed with the views, and you can see the coastline all the way to the Useless Loop.
There is an elevated boardwalk from where you can watch and spot wildlife such as sharks, turtles, and stingrays. We hoped to see dugongs, but they are more common during the summer months. However, we saw a big eagle ray and one of the most beautiful sunsets in Western Australia. No lies have a look, would you go?
There are very few beaches in the world that are made of shells from Hamelin Cockle. Isn’t it just amazing that this beach is made from millions of tiny white shells? It’s crazy to imagine that they go as deep as 10 meters and stretch for over 60 km. Back in the day, shells were used for building houses and even streets. Examples for this are the Old Perl Restaurant and St Andrews Anglican Church in Denham. Moreover, even the streets used to be paved with shells in Denham.
Just outside of Denham, this little Lagoon is a perfect spot for everybody. The ones who want to chill and relax on the beach. And for the ones who are up to some sport such as kayaking, paddleboarding or even kite surfing. The road to Little Lagoon is sealed and suitable for 2WDs. If you ventured out beforehand to Francois Peron National Park, you might not be very impressed by Little Lagoon.
Denham is a small seaside town and has almost all you need. It is the most western town of mainland Australia and used to be a pearling camp at first.
There is an IGA for groceries, a pharmacy, a couple of restaurants, and gift shops. Furthermore, you can get petrol/diesel here and, of course, find accommodation.
Have a lovely dinner at The Old Perler (reservation is essential). This restaurant is made out of shell bricks, and it’s the only restaurant in the world to be built almost entirely of shells. Just make sure you book a table ahead as almost every visitor wants to dine there.
WATCH 3D SHORT FILM AT DENHAM VISITOR CENTER
Once you are in Denham, you need to come to the visitor center. Right here you can watch a short 3D film called “Fire on the Water”. This interesting and heartbreaking movie is a 15 minute documentary about the unfortunate fate of two ships sinking in World War II. The wrecks of both the Australian HMAS Sydney and German HSK Kormoran lie under the sea 200 km off the coast of Shark Bay. If you are a history buff, this one is definitely for you.
FRANCOIS PERON NATIONAL PARK
Ever since I saw a photo with several turquoise lagoons surrounded by red and white sand, I knew we had to go there (thanks Pinterest).
So, if you would like to see a real raw Australian beauty, this is a place where the steep red hills, turquoise waters, and white sand beaches meet. It’s pure heaven for photographers. Francois Peron National Park is to us one of the most beautiful and underrated landmarks in Australia. Speaking of landmarks in Australia. Have a look at our article with 15 of the most iconic landmarks in Australia.
This National Park was named after French (surprise) zoologist François Perón. He recorded a lot of details in regards to Shark Bay’s wildlife and inhabitants back in 1801.
The sealed road ends at Peron Homestead. Everything beyond the Homestead is unsealed and recommended for 4WD vehicles with high clearance and low gears only. Jump to the section with more details on off-roading.
EXTRA TIP: If you don’t have a 4WD, you can join a tour. Simply book it at the visitor center in Denham.
Big Lagoon was definitely our favorite spot. It is a collection of several tranquil lagoons, which we desperately wanted to see.
OUR TIP: Make sure to bring a kayak or paddle board as this is the perfect place to enjoy calm waters and wildlife.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play into our cards, and we couldn’t take photos on the first day. It even rained in the evening and at night. We woke up and waited until the sky cleared out which felt like a miracle. The footage we took is absolutely incredible. We still can’t believe we almost missed out on this astonishing place.
SPOT REEF SHARKS
This feeling that we finally had clear skies despite the strong winds wasn’t even the best part!
While taking photos, we spotted a movement in the water. At first, we thought they are dolphins as they were very close to the shore. We couldn’t believe that we actually saw blacktip reef sharks.
At first, they were three, and after some time, we counted eight blacktip reef sharks. It is so exciting because they are very shy creatures. Yet, they were so close to the shore and swimming in front of us for a very long time. We just sat at the beach and observed how they playfully swam around. When we were leaving, they were still there. Seeing sharks is definitely one of the best things to do in Shark Bay, and for us, a dream coming true.
Imagine Françios coming here and finding 23 species of mammals. Not so much, but for Australia, that’s a lot. By 1990 thanks to humans, especially by bringing rabbits, foxes, and cats, there were less than half of the species left. To keep feral animals away a long fence was constructed. With the removal of feral animals, wildlife started to recover again. Also, native vegetation flourishes again.
Cape Peron is located at the most northern tip of the Françios Peron National Park and it is home to cormorant birds. Just make sure to follow our off-roading advice if you plan to come out here. There are several soft sand patches along the way that might be hard to overcome, so drive carefully.
If you come all the way to Skipjack’s point, you will enjoy striking coastal views. And this is the point where you will be for sure alone.
FRANCOIS PERON NATIONAL PARK HOMESTEAD
This is how far we were recommended to go without a 4WD. Luckily we didn’t listen to the “advice”. Anyways, if you have no 4WD, you can enjoy artesian hot tubs for free at the Homestead.
TIPS FOR FRANCOIS PERON NATIONAL PARK
- There is no water in Peron NP, so make sure to bring enough drinking water with you.
- No open fires are allowed as you are in a National Park.
- There are no rubbish bins, so take your waste with you. There are Rubbish bins at the tire pressure station.
- No pets are allowed to protect fauna and wildlife (Remember Project Eden?)
Monkey Mia (pronounced Maia) is located 23 km from Denham and it’s a famous gateway for seeing bottlenose dolphins.
It’s a funny name, though, and it is still not clear where it comes from. Mia comes from the Aboriginal language and stands for “home” or “shelter”. But the word Monkey could come from pearlers from Malaysia who often brought with them monkey pets or from a ship named “Monkey”.
EXTRA INFO: If you like to visit Monkey Mia we recommend you to hire a kayak or paddle and see them swimming around you. Please note that your WA National Park Pass is not valid here, and you need to pay an entrance fee to Monkey Mia. It costs AU$13 per person per day.
Although Monkey Mia is a Conservation Park, we didn’t visit it, as we don’t necessarily like the idea of humans feeding wildlife. However, Rangers are present and making sure that dolphins are protected. Feeding is done mostly by rangers, but sometimes tourists (primarily kids) can feed them as well, but under the supervision of the ranger.
Also, we were told by other travelers that this attraction is super crowded. The idea of standing at the beach with hundreds of people around trying to feed dolphins didn’t seem very pleasant; it is just not our cup of tee. But everyone can think and decide for themselves.
READ MORE: GREAT OCEAN ROAD ITINERARY – 2 DAYS
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SHARK BAY IN AUSTRALIA
There are a couple of important things you need to know before you head to Shark Bay, please take them seriously to avoid unnecessary troubles.
The network coverage in Shark bay is definitely not the best. During our time, only our Telstra SIM card had a network connection. Supposedly, in Denham and Monkey Mia, Opus works as well. Be prepared to be without any connection, though. If you need Wifi, you should go to the Visitor Center in Denham where you can get access for free.
SHARK BAY CAMPING & OTHER ACCOMMODATION
Shark Bay region is a huge area, and yet there are only a couple of campsites you can choose from.
You can camp by the beach at several spots for AU$11 per person. However, you can stay only for 1 night and need to get a permit at the Visitor Center in Denham. These spots are located at Eagle Bluff, Whalebone Bay, Fowler’s Camp, and Goulett Buff. Most of them have no toilets available, so ideally, you would need to be self-contained, or let’s say flexible.
There are also holiday parks which are more expensive but provide toilets, showers, and kitchen. We stayed one night at Nanga Bay campsite for AU$40 unpowered site, which was a total rip-off, considering that you are far away from everything. And just a couple of days ago before the price was AU$30 for an unpowered site (according to friends who visited before). Facilities were run down, and the hot shower didn’t work well. Make sure to find the shower cabin with the best water pressure before undressing :D. At least, we could go for sunset to Eagle Bluff and check out Shell Beach in the afternoon.
There are more holiday parks in Denham, but they are even more expensive.
CAMPING IN FRANCOIS PERON NATIONAL PARK
You can also camp at Big Lagoon inside Francois Peron NP for AU$11 per person, which is a great deal. You have access to clean toilets, barbecues, and beautiful views. We really loved it there. Just make sure to pay (envelopes are provided) for the campsite at the entrance to Francois Peron National Park. There are more campsites at the northern tip of the peninsula.
DRIVING & GETTING AROUND
Most of the roads are paved. Paved roads are going to Shell Beach, Eagle Bluff, Denham, and Little Lagoon. However, if you would like to see much more from this beautiful place, you need a 4WD. The roads in Francois Peron National Park are unpaved and sandy. That’s why a vehicle with high clearance and low range gears is highly recommended.
We were shocked to hear in the tourist center in Denham that we shouldn’t try to drive to Big Lagoon Campsite in our car. We had a 4WD (Ford Explorer) with low clearance and lacking functioning low gears. After the sad news, we were approached by a lovely couple who overheard the conversation and basically said that it is
bullshit false information. And that we can get there easily, according to a ranger they had been talking to the night before.
TIRE PRESSURE STATION
There is a tire pressure station before the entrance near the homestead right at the entrance of the national park which is very nice. If you are not sure how to drive on sandy roads or if you’re car is capable enough, look for a ranger for more tips. A ranger explained to us what to do when we get bogged and how to prevent not to get stuck in the first place. Super helpful!
We deflated our tires to 18PSI and went on an adventure, down the scary and dangerous 12 km sandy road. Surprisingly, it was THE MOST PLEASANT OFF-ROAD TRIP WE HAVE EVER BEEN to in Australia. We don’t understand what the lady was talking about, and we were quite angry as we almost missed out on this gorgeous place.
We got to the campsite in less than 30 minutes.
Our new friends left with their Ford Escape (even lower clearance than our car and no low gears at all) to Cape Peron and came back without any problems.
RULES FOR OFF-ROADING
- Deflate tires to 18PSI (don’t go too low as the tires might come off the rim)
- Change to 4WD drive mode (if you have high/low range gears change to high first and if you get stuck or enter deep sand switch to the low range)
- Drive swiftly to avoid getting stuck
- Avoid abrupt maneuvers (such as sudden braking, changing your vehicle’s course, etc.)
- Turn your lights on
TIP: If you do get stuck, do not panic and stop the car once you notice it’s getting bogged/stuck. Do not continue to drive, rather go to reverse and back up 20 to 30 meters. Your tires might be hot by now and as a result, the PSI is increased. Therefore you should release more air and try again. Always have a pressure gauge to check your tire pressure while off-roading. Make sure to have enough speed before you enter patches of deep sand.
Shark Bay is, in particular, exotic as you can see many different kinds of wildlife. Emus are the most common locals, but you can see echidnas, kangaroos, and unique thorny devils. Not to mention fantastic marine life such as turtles, manta rays, and of course, sharks. In summer, you can spot dugongs as well.
However, there might be some flies. Australian flies are in particular annoying, and in summer, there are many of them. We visited Shark Bay in winter and still struggled with a large number of flies. In particular, on Shell Beach, we had to wear scarfs around our faces due to annoying flies.
Interested in Australia’s wildlife? Than you have to head to Rottnest Island to meet it’s instagramable superstar inhabitants called Quokkas!
CAN YOU SWIM IN SHARK BAY?
Yes, you can swim in Shark Bay. Just make sure to check the warning signs before you go. Weather, and in general most things, in Australia change quickly. So observe signs or even better, talk to rangers.
WHEN TO VISIT SHARK BAY
If you would like to visit Shark Bay, you can come here all year round, but each season brings different kinds of challenges. Yes, challenges. Western Australia is really wild and we were often struggling with the harsh weather conditions and insects. We visited Shark Bay in winter and we struggled with strong cold winds and large amounts of flies. Nevertheless, we would say the best time to visit Shark Bay are the winter months between May and August. Like this, you will beat the heat, avoid masses of flies and other travelers.
SUMMER IN SHARK BAY
In summer times (Dec to February), it’s hot and windy which makes it perfect for kite or windsurfing. The temperature in summer goes up to 35 degrees.
AUTUMN IN SHARK BAY
Autumn (March till May) months are a great time to visit, as there is not so much wind and if you are into fishing, then this is your time.
SPRING IN SHARK BAY
June to August has cooler weather perfect for hiking and enjoying the wildflower season.
WINTER IN SHARK BAY
September to November is quiet months and perfect for diving and snorkeling. Just make sure to bring your wetsuit.
Are you looking forward to visiting Shark Bay? We know that you will have a great time. As we mentioned, there are many awesome things to do in Shark Bay, so enjoy it, and let us know your favorite spot.
WHERE TO AFTER?
In case you continue your trip further down your next stop probably will be be Kalbarri National Park. If not you should make sure to go. It is “just” a 4.5 hours drive. Among a beautiful and wild coastline you will find Nature’s Window here. Come right after sunrise to enjoy this place on your own.
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