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Australia's Shark Bay - World Heritage Area
Denham, Western Australia
The red earth typical for much of Australia, particularly so in the red center, also surfaces quite similarly throughout much of Western Australia. Located about 800 km north of Perth, the red parched landscape, against a backdrop of pristine white sand beaches and aquamarine water, creates a stunning contrast. Sticking out into the Indian Ocean, several peninsulas and islands surround the bays that are collectively called Shark Bay.
The fauna consists most commonly of sharks, sea turtles, lizards, eagles, galahs, pelicans and emus living alongside the feral population of rabbits and foxes that have been targeted to participate in the local eradication program. The locals we met were quite willing to share their knowledge and lore about the area with us. The more memorable accounts we heard were about the feared tiger sharks of the aptly named bay and about the behaviour and location of emus. Tiger sharks are reputed to be frequently encountered creatures in these waters; just ask the locals! And although there hasn't been a fatal shark attack here in something like 90 years, it's been said that such statistics are not incidental. Evidently, growing up in Denham, one did not just go out and swim; swimming was always done with a shark spotter, and usually for only 15 minutes at a time. One lady we met related a story about a 6 meter shark that beached itself chasing her brother up into very shallow water. He later killed it and kept its jaws. Take that account as you may, but note the last piece of knowledge we got was: "I would never swim at Monkey Mia". And although an aerial photo shows quite clearly that the water at Monkey Mia is significantly deeper than the surrounding beaches, lots of people swim there despite the prominent local reputation of the the place.
The most popular stops are Monkey Mia, Denham, the most westerly town in Australia, Shell Beach, the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool and the lookout at Eagle Bluff. All of these can be reached via a surfaced road. One of the most interesting stops is the challenging-to-reach Francois Peron National Park. The turn off is on the way from Denham to Monkey Mia. Check out the information about it below; it's a great visit if you are able to get there. Although many guidebooks have reported access as far as the homestead in Francois Peron National Park to be possible in a 2WD vehicle, this was not the case for our effort and we shoveled a lot of sand as a result. Even the info at the entrance claims 2WD is possible as far as the homestead. I highly recommend not trying, but if you do, bring water, a shovel and have plenty of fuel in the car. The main attractions near the homestead center around the artesian bore and the 'tanks'. In the 1920's the first artesian bore in the area was drilled here to a depth of 542m, and has been flowing since with water temperatures of +/- 44C. Many come to sit in one of the tanks as one would a hot tub. An interesting incidental of this constant flow has been the stream that has resulted. As a result, emus are known to frequently congregate along this man-made creek for a drink and here exists one of the rare places where one may see them predictably.
There is a public (albeit not without a fee to watch) dolphin feeding at Monkey Mia. We weren't much interested in the circus of it and opted for a short cruise to spot dolphins instead. There are dolphin and dugong cruises available as well as the popular tour of the pearling areas here. Monkey Mia is not a town, per se; it has some shops, but it's more like an end-of-the-road-place-that-charges-for-parking. It is, however, along with Denham, a jump off point for catamaran cruises and fishing charters. Your likelihood of seeing some bottlenosed dolphins within close range of the boat is excellent. Dugongs, reef sharks, tiger sharks and sea turtles are also occasionally observed.
Denham's claim to fame is its geographic position -- the most westerly town of Australia. It's a sleepy town with all the amenities one would require for a stay in this area. Lodging is varied, from backpacker places to motels and caravan parks. Along the stretch of road south of Denham is the Eagle Bluff lookout and Shell Beach. Both are worth a stop. Although, the flies at Shell Beach can be enough to cut your visit down to a brief snapshot before you get out of there again. For some reason they're very fond of visitors at Shell Beach and don't seem to be as prevalent elsewhere. Shell beach is so called for the compacted shells that are found to a depth of several meters and blocks of them have been cut out and used to create several structures in Denham.
We stayed at a motel-resort in Nanga Bay that is part of a 500 000 acre sheep station about 30km south of Denham. It was great place with an artesian spa and a long beautiful quiet beach. We preferred the isolated feel of this place over Denham, and with their artesian water always running they've managed to create an oasis around the motel complex. The only fuel apart from Denham is located just south of the turnoff to the North West Coastal Highway at the Overlander Roadhouse about 130 km away. Not too far before you reach the Coastal Highway there's a turnoff for Hamelin Pool. It's a body of water partly isolated from the rest of the bay and it's popular for its vast area of stromatolites, which, incidently, are mineral mounds created in thin layers by microbes over extended periods of time. Although not nearly as diverse and exciting to look at as corals, they are an interesting stop with an information center located in the old telegraph repeater station. Enjoy your travels and remember to keep your eyes open for emus!
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