Must see nature and wildlife experiences in Shark Bay, Western Australia

Follow us on our journey to Shark Bay, and learn why the area earned its status as ‘World Heritage Area‘.

We visited Shark Bay in the beginning of the Aussie summer in December 2022 in our rented autocamper.

We spent two nights at a campsite in Denham exloring the local wildlife and sites around Shark Bay that were accessible with an autocamper (2WD).

In this post you can read about places to see in an around Shark Bay (including Monkey Mia!). As we did not have a 4WD we were unfortunately not able to camp on the remote wild areas of François Peron National Park, nor Dirk Hartog Island. We did also not attempt snorkeling in Denham or Monkey Mia.

I was so impressed by the landscape and uniqueness of this great wilderness that I wish to return some day with a 4WD and at least a month to spend in Western Australia!

What makes Shark Bay famous

Shark Bay World Heritage Area is a place of extremes. It is the western-most place on the Australian continent and is home to many unique animals and life forms.

It reaches extremely high salinity, making it a hostile environment to many. But some life forms thrive – extreme environments and isolation creates highly specialized creatures for that particular environment.

Therefore, Shark Bay is home to a large variety of particularly marine animal species.

Red sandy dunes at Monkey Mia
Red dunes at Monkey Mia

Shark Bay: A hotspot for wildlife

More than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, 240 species of bird, 320 species of fish and more than 80 coral and 218 bivalve species live in Shark Bay. Shark Bay is also an important place for migratory species including shorebirds from the Northern Hemisphere and humpback whales.

Three Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay
Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)

It is a safe haven for some of the world’s most endangered species, including the loggerhead turtle, green turtle, dugong and four mammal species not found in the wild anywhere else.

Facts about Shark Bay

Shark Bay (in Malgana: Gathaagudu, meaning “two bays”) is a World Heritage site since 1991. Shark Bay meets four World Heritage criteria relating to natural values—ecosystems representing evolutionary history; on-going ecological and biological processes; exceptional natural beauty; and wildlife refuges.

Shark Bay World Heritage Area encompasses 2.2 million hectares on the coast of Western Australia.

Shark Bay is home to Monkey Mia, a place well known for its’ wild dolphins that come for daily feeding times.

An Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin being fed at Monkey Mia
A wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin being fed at Monkey Mia

Places to stay in Shark Bay

Depending on your level of comfort, there are several options in Shark Bay.

Camping at Denham Seaside

We stayed at the relaxed campsite in Denham, where we parked our autocamper in the second row of the beach, but with beach view from inside the camper!

Most sites probably have sea view, but it was cool to have direct access from the beach into the campground.

Sunset view at Denham Seaside
We found lots of cute sea shells on the beach

Beware that the public beach in Denham has sharp glass hidden in the sand! I collected many large pieces when I walked on the beach.

Other campsites in Shark Bay

  • Hamelin Pool / Telegraph Station.
  • Shark Bay caravan park
  • Blue Dolphin Caravan Park and Holiday Village

Places to stay: Hotels and resorts in Denham

  • Shark Bay Hotel (Denham)
  • Heritage Resort Shark Bay
  • Bay Lodge Denham Shark Bay WA
  • Oceanside Village Denham Shark Bay
  • Shark Bay Seafront Apartments Denham
  • Check out Google Maps for the most updated overview of places to stay!

Monkey Mia resort

Another option is the more pricey Monkey Mia resort situated right at the beach, but on the opposite site of Denham.

Just besides the resort is a nice restaurant/café, a souvenir shop and you will stay really close to where the dolphin feeding takes place.

The resort does not have private access to the beach. There is a pool inside the resort area. I have no experience from staying here 🙂

The beach in Monkey Mia is public

The beach in Monkey Mia is a public beach, and it is highly influenced by the tide. There are lots of shells, conchs and seastars lying in the shallow water during low tide.

Wild emus, Australian pelicans and terms roam the beaches. If you go snorkeling, there are chances of sea turtles, but sharks also roam these waters (hence ‘Shark Bay’).

Always use caution when you go swimming. We were never warned by any dangers of sharks, and I personally believe that currents from the changing water levels as a result of the tide is more dangerous!

Must see places in Shark Bay

Shell Beach Shark Bay

Initially shell beach at first glance is just another beach. Once you get closer to the water, you realize the shells become more and more intact. Close to the water you will see how one shell has conquered it all!

The Fragum Cockle is the only marine species to thrive in the high salinity in Shark Bay. At Shell Beach, the salinity is twice the amount of the open sea!

It is a beautiful, yet blinding place to spend an hour of your day while taking in the natural wonders.

There is a long way if you want to go all the way to the sea and feel the saline water for yourself

Meet our ancient relatives – the stromatolites!

One of the first stops you can do on your drive towards Shark Bay is Hamelin Pool and the Stromatolites.

Stromatolites above water.

Hamelin Pool is accessed by the main road to Shark Bay first on sealed, then unsealed gravel road for a short while.

The unsealed part made us quite nervous while driving in the autocamper as some holes in the road were quite deep!

What I really liked about Hamelin Pool was the gorgeous infographics about the Shark Bay Heritage Area. Here you get a glimpse of the area, it’s extraordinary wildlife and local history.

Infographics about Hamelin Pool
Infographics about Shark Bay and it’s extraordinary wilderness and wildlife

In the water the stromatolites are covered by microbial mats – complex marine ecosystems that have existed in more than three billion years (let that sink in for a moment).

So BEFORE you skip this amazing opportunity to come across these ancient beings of our past, visit the stromatolites if you have an hour to spare of your day.

There has recently been a cyclone that destroyed the boardwalk to the stromatolites, making it less attractable to visit.

However as mentioned the info graphics really made it worth the visit even if you are underwhelmed by the stromatolites. It is a beautiful spot nevertheless!

After seeing the stromatolites you can walk another 1800 meter along the Boolagoorda loop trail towards the old coquina quarry and telegraph station.

Complete your visit by driving to the old telegraph station where you can buy tea, ice cream and other snacks and beverages. You can also visit the museum and get a guided tour.

Things to do in Denham, Shark Bay

Once you are in Denham there is a small town feel. While the biggest attraction is the Oceanpark Aquarium just before Denham, there are also wildlife excursions into the sea where you can see wild marine life for yourself!

Tours are offered at the aquarium, and there are several options of wildlife tours both from Monkey Mia and Denham.

I really wanted to go on a wildlife tour to see sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins and possibly sharks in their natural habitat. Unfortunately we were not enough people for such a trip.

Instead we were recommended to go on a ‘Pearl farm tour‘ to see how the pearl production takes place.

The tour on a small vessel started from the jetty in Monkey Mia and sailed for roughly 15 minutes across seagrass covered seabed until we reached a platform, where an osprey had nested on the roof! Very cool to see up close.

We spent about 40 minutes at the pearl farm to see a demonstration of how a pearl is formed and how the ‘farming’ is performed, meanwhile a an assistant took out several dusins of pearl jewelry that they were hoping to sell.

I was not so impressed by the Pearl farm tour, but my partner enjoyed it.

Afterwards the guides showed us some wildlife (finally!!). And we saw two loggerhead sea turtles and a pod of Indo Pacific Bottlenose dolphins followed the ship 😃

Dining in Denham

In Denham we had dinner at the local pub/bar where we ate fish and chips and had a beer while we watched a game of football.

There was a relaxed atmosphere, and it appeared to be very popular amongst the locals.

My partner at our table having fish and chips

There is also a few general stores such as supermarkets, petrol stations and even a small airport in Denham, Shark Bay.

Crystal blue Little Lagoon and Little Lagoon Creek

Just north of Denham we went to see the Little Lagoon Creek. We did not regret this decision!

A woman standing at the little lagoon wildlife viewing platform
Little lagoon wildlife viewing platform. Shark Bay

It was a beautiful place with turquoise water, red sand and natural mangrove forests. We saw two wild emus while driving the short while from Denham! In general, you will see lots of emus when you visit Shark Bay.

As you can see from the pictures below you will find the charismatic red soil at the Little lagoon creek. The water was bright blue, and if you have a little extra time you can continue to Little lagoon itself.

Notice the signs when you visit. There can be stonefish in the water which can be extremely painful if you go barefooted into the water!

Little lagoon creek in Shark Bay
The charismatic red soil in Shark Bay and Western Australia as seen here in Little lagoon creek

Things to do in Monkey Mia, Shark Bay

Every morning at 7:30 the marine biologists and their volunteers show off the local Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at a feeding right at the beach in Monkey Mia.

Need to know about the dolphin feeding

When you pay your entrance fee to Monkey Mia, the feeding is included in the price. Make sure you keep the receipt as you can be expected to present it at the feeding.

Also you cannot expect to be in the water with the dolphins or feed them yourself, that is the task of the volunteers. But you do get an insight into the daily life of a ‘wild dolphin’.

This activity is suitable for everyone, including persons with restricted mobility!

One of the local emus strolling the beach, searching for food!

I hope you found this post useful, and that you may experience this magic place yourself 🙂

If we had more time I would have loved a local tour to the Francois Peron National Park and see more wildlife up close. More exploration is also possible if you have a 4WD!

If my budget was greater I would also go on a guided wilderness tour with a local guide and learn about the aboriginal life in such a wild place as Shark Bay.

– Traveling Female Ornithologist

Explore Western Australia by autocamper
Explore Western Australia by autocamper: The ultimate freedom

© All photos are my own unless stated and may not be used without permission.

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