Gone in 60 seconds at Shark Bay

Denham, the westernmost point of Australia, is a major tourist stop on the way down from Darwin to Perth. Even though it seemed that there are only beaches (booooring), I ended up by giving a try and go there, since other backpackers along the way told me that there’s actually a lot to see and to do. To make it short: They were absolutely right. Denham is the biggest town located in the Shire of Shark Bay, an area of 1500km coastline and a population of less than 1000 people.

Downtown Denham

Shark Bay also is the name for the regions’ UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although by itself alone, the town of Denham would be worth the 2hour side trip from the coastal highway, another nearby attraction is more famous synonymous of the Shark Bay area: Monkey Mia. This is a dolphin resort, which attracts a lot of tourists and which is located roughly 20km northeast of Denham. Even though that the much hyped dolphin feeding ritual each morning seems to be a bit of a circus performance, I enjoyed experiencing this attraction a lot.

As mentioned before, Monkey Mia is commonly used to describe the whole Shark Bay area (as this official prospectus “40+ things to see when you’re next to Monkey Mia” falsely suggests). In fact, the dolphin resort is only one of many attractions spread out over this peninsula.

However, transport between the sights was again a problem – since most this National Park – much as the other sites in Western Australia – are geared towards motorists with their own vehicle. Visiting using public transport is a pain in the neck, but I knew this before and therefore I’m not really whining about this. I ended up renting a car for the day, together with two other backpackers to share the cost.

Dolphins at Monkey Mia

Car rental in Australia is quite annoying. Although there are “backpacker” (or budget) car rentals in Darwin and Broome, there was none of that sort in Denham. The only car rental place had a rate that was twice as high than in any other major town. And most annoyingly there was a cap on 100km per day. Surprisingly, Australian car rental agencies love this distance limitation and it is very hard to find deals for unlimited kilometers. Since the country is big and distances covered during a typical rental are extreme, charging the excess kilometers is obviously the big money making scheme of these kind of businesses.

There would have been the alternative to rent a bicycle or going with a local tour operator around the peninsula. One Japanese guy I met at the “Overlander” bus station even went as far as going around the various sights at Shark Bay by hitchhiking. I am quite adventurous, but hitchhiking in a remote area in temperatures of 40+ degrees was not what I wanted to do at that time. And since we could share the cost among three persons, the car rental finally proved to be the most comfortable and cheapest option – despite the fact that we ended up paying a total of AUD 170 for the car (plus AUD 50 for the gas). So, we set off for the day trip around Shark Bay, starting with the dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia early in the morning.

Stromatolites at the Hamelin Pool

Next, we went to the other end of the island to continue with a visit to the stunning stromatolites located at the telegraph station near the Hamlin Pool. There, parts of the beach consists of tiny shells that have been compacted over millions of years into a solid concrete-like mass. Shell block cut from this substantial shell deposits, was a popular building material during the pioneer times, being cheap, easy to recover and offering excellent insulation qualities. These days, some of bricks in the Hamlin Pool quarry are still cut out for preservation purposes of the historical buildings.

Then, we went on to Shell Beach, where the sea is hypersalinated and the shores are made out of billions of small shells. Its an absolutely magnificent place and we had a rest by having a swim in the crystal clear water.

Eagle Bluff, another place visited in the Shark Bay area features a boardwalk on the cliff, from where we easily could spot sharks and other predators swimming in shallow waters near the beach. This was an awesome and unforgettable sight. where actually there is a boardwalk along the sea which permits a fantastic view of sharks and other predators swimming near the shores. There is a small island about 200m into the sea where sea birds nest their eggs. In ancient times, Aborigines would wade through these shallow, shark infested waters, to harvest these eggs.

The visit to Ocean Park was our last stop on our day’s tour. There, we would see various fish and – obviously – sharks, with very informative explanations from a ranger. Although the entrance fee was a bit on the expensive side, we enjoyed this park a lot and spent considerable time there admiring the wildlife variety.

Under different circumstances, I probably would have ended up staying in Denham and Shark Bay for a week or more. But after seeing gone all my week’s budget in virtually no time to pay my share for a rental car, the excess kilometers and the gasoline, I had to move on after the second night. I might be coming back, when I am rich.