8 Reasons to Visit Shark Bay, Western Australia
Long before Captain Cook made landfall at Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia, Dutch explorers had already landed far in the west, at a remote and isolated place that would later become known as Shark Bay.
This ominously named and little known peninsula off the west coast of Australia is in many ways still as wild as it was four hundred years ago when the first Europeans sighted it. It’s the most westerly point on mainland Australia - found around 5 hours drive north of Perth - but as well as being home to plenty of sharks, it’s a haven for dolphins, dugongs and many other species of animals living in the ocean and in the wilderness. There are national parks, stromatolites that are millions of years old, beaches made entirely from shells and artesian hot tubs fed by hot springs.
The entire peninsula is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site, full of wildlife and sparsely populated by people. It’s a great place to explore, and to inspire your trip to the west coast of Australia here are 8 reasons to visit Shark Bay!
Despite being little-known outside of Western Australia, Shark Bay is easily one of the most historic places in the country.
Local Aboriginal groups have lived in the area for thousands of years, while the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog visited the peninsular In 1616. The Dutch were followed by the English explorer William Dampier, who in 1696 named the area Shark Bay - presumably for the large number of sharks found in the water!
It wouldn’t be until a few hundred years later though that Europeans began to settle here permanently, and even today there is only the one small town of Denham on the peninsula.
If you’re not in for the history though, then don’t worry, because Shark Bay’s biggest draw is a place called Monkey Mia.
Despite the peninsula’s terrifying name, you’re unlikely to actually see a shark here. You are, however, guaranteed to see dolphins if you head to Monkey Mia.
The beach here is home to a research centre, campsite and resort that as well as looking spectacular, has a resident population of dolphins that call the area home.
Every morning, they come into the shallow water at the beach for feeding, as they are studied by the marine biologists stationed here. The tourists are allowed into the water, and in controlled conditions, a select few volunteers are allowed to feed the friendly dolphins fresh fish.
It’s a unique encounter, and one of the best reasons to visit Shark Bay!
On the way into the Shark Bay peninsula, you can find an unusual sight - an entire beach, made from shells.
The imaginatively named Shell Beach is yet another reason to make the long journey to Shark Bay, as there are few other beaches in Australia like it.
The beach is formed from millions of cockle shells, which makes for an incredibly unique sight.
Francois Peron National Park
Francois Peron National Park is found at the far northern edge of Shark Bay, and it’s one of the wildest and most remote parts of the peninsula.
If you’re looking for rugged isolation, untouched beaches and a sense of solitude, then head here. Be warned though, there are no roads here, and the only way to travel around is with a four by four, so be prepared for an adventure.
Stromatolites are some of the rarest and most unusual living creatures in the world, and you can find them at Shark Bay, in a place known as Hamelin Pool.
These strange living organisms are ancient, rock-like structures which hardly look alive, but are actually formed from living microbes. They are thought to be one of the oldest forms of life in the world. The Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool are thousands of years old, but similar, fossilized stromatolites have been discovered elsewhere which date back millions of years.
Dirk Hartog Island
If you’re looking to get really off the beaten track in Shark Bay, then a visit to Dirk Hartog Island is a must. This is WA’s largest island, and it’s named for the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, as this is where he landed in 1616.
The island is a national park, and there are campsites and an eco-friendly resort to stay overnight at. It’s a haven for local wildlife, and one of the most historic places in Australia.
Artesian Hot Tub
You might be wondering just what exactly, an Artesian Hot Tub is. At the entrance to Francois Peron National Park, there’s an old farmstead that’s been turned into a small museum, which anyone can access even in a two-wheel drive vehicle.
The farmstead bored holes into the ground in search of water, and up came artesian water which had been trapped in the mineral-rich rocks for millennia.
The water was a hot 40 degrees Celsius, and when the farmstead was turned into a museum, the locals decided to build a hot tub to make use of the water.
Anyone can use the hot tub, and there are BBQs and seating areas to enjoy too. After a hard day of exploring Shark Bay, head to the artesian hot tub to sit back and relax under the stars.
Shark Bay is the perfect place for a road trip, and many travellers include it on their itinerary as they travel north from Perth along the west coast. The peninsula is perfectly set up for road trippers, and while you can find a limited number of hotels in the town of Denham, part of the fun is camping out.
There are designated camping sites looking over the beach in Denham, and in the wilds of Francois Peron National Park and on Dirk Hartog Island, while the resort at Monkey Mia has a great camping area just a short walk from the dolphin encounter - just watch out for the local emus that roam through the campsite here.