Monkey Mia to Kalbarri – Darwin to Perth Day 12

The further south we travel the more touristy it becomes, but that certainly doesn’t detract from it. Monkey Mia is known for its wild dolphins, and within Monkey Mia itself, there is just one place to stay, the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort.

RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort
RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort

After spending the night here though, it’s quite a treat to have breakfast in the morning and be able to go see the dolphins right near the restaurant.

We weren't the only ones waiting for the dolphins
We weren’t the only ones waiting for the dolphins

Fortunately, the dolphins are kept wild, and tourists are not permitted to feed them or interact with them beyond a short, supervised period in the mornings when the dolphins are in the bay.

Watching the jelly fish while we wait...
Watching the jelly fish while we wait…

Unfortunately, that means the dolphins come and go as they please, so don’t plan on seeing them and leaving early!

Waiting for the dolphins near the jetty
Waiting for the dolphins near the jetty

Make sure to block out a decent chunk of time and have a backup in case they do come thick. In other words, have two plans. If they arrive early, we’ll do this, and if they arrive late, we’ll do this.

Yay here comes a dolphin!
Yay here comes a dolphin!

For example, our experience was that we went down to the beach at 7:30 am, but the dolphins didn’t arrive until 8:43 am.

The dolphins come right up to the waters edge, but you do have to stay still and in a line so they can see you and check you out at their own pace.
The dolphins come right up to the water’s edge, but you do have to stay still and in a line so they can see you and check you out at their own pace.

We had decided at 8:30 am that if they didn’t arrive by 9:00 am we would have to just get going. The dolphins did visit us though, coming just in time and staying until 9:10 am, so we got to see them for almost half an hour before they left and we had to go too.

Matt and one of the dolphins!
Matt and one of the dolphins!

The number of dolphins that come in each morning varies, as does the duration of their visit. While we were there, we had two dolphins most of the time and two others that came and left and at different times.

One of the researchers with two of the dolphins that came to say hi.
One of the researchers with two of the dolphins that came to say hi.

If you are lucky, you also could be one of just a few people who is picked to hand feed them a small amount of fish. By limited, I mean one person per dolphin and only a couple of pieces of fish each. It’s small enough that the dolphins still have to find food and don’t become dependent on tourists. It also means that they don’t hang around begging for food and neglecting their young, forcing them to grow up without learning how to find food.

One lucky person getting to hand feed this dolphin
One lucky person getting to feed this dolphin

Little Lagoon

On the way back towards Denham, we stopped in at Little Lagoon.

Little Lagoon
Little Lagoon

It wasn’t on our itinerary, but I saw something jump out of it as we were driving past, so we checked it out. It turns out that schools of mullet come into the lagoon and can be seen jumping from the water. There’s also a possibility of seeing shovel-nosed rays. We went for a walk in the shallow water to see if we could spot any, but unfortunately no luck.

Wandering into Little Lagoon
Wandering into Little Lagoon

We walked out about 30 metres into the lagoon, and it barely got above knee height for me, the water is so shallow. There are lots of plants in the water though, some of which look a little unusual, so you do need to watch your step.

Some of the weird looking plants in Little Lagoon
Some of the weird looking plants in Little Lagoon

Denham

Back in Denham, we stopped in at the Shark Bay Discovery Centre, aka the visitor information centre.

Shark Bay Discovery Centre
Shark Bay Discovery Centre

It’s a modern, information centre with a mural outside that points towards the wreck of the HMAS Sydney.

 

The HMAS Sydney wreckage mural.
The HMAS Sydney wreckage mural.

Inside, there is a decent amount of freely accessible information on the ship wrecks in the area including the Batavia, Trial, Zuytdorp, Zeewijk and Vergulde Draeck.

Some of the shipwrecks off the coast.
Learning about shipwrecks off the coast from Denham.

There’s even a 3D underwater film of the Batavia wreckage which is cool.

3D film of the Batavia wreckage
3D film of the Batavia wreckage

There is also a paid museum with a cost of $11 for adults. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check it out, so we kept going.

Entry fees for the paid section of the discovery centre
Entry fees for the paid section of the discovery centre

Denham itself is a quaint place with a beautiful beach.

On the way into Denham
On the way into Denham

It would be quite a nice spot for a beach holiday in my opinion.

Wouldn't you just love to relax here for a while?
Wouldn’t you just love to relax here for a while?

Eagle Bluff

Heading out of Denham back towards the North West Coastal Highway there are a surprising number of things to see. The first is Eagle Bluff, located about 24km’s or 25 minutes from Denham. Coming the other way, it’s about 113km’s from the Highway. The last 4km’s on Eagle Bluff road though are dirt, and it’s in desperate need of grading, so depending on what you are driving it can be slow going.

The view to Eagle Island from Eagle Bluff
The view to Eagle Island from Eagle Bluff

Once you reach the Eagle Bluff car park, there is a raised board walk you can follow for about 50 metres for the best view.

The boardwalk at Eagle Bluff
The boardwalk at Eagle Bluff

There is also a shortcut in the form of a dirt path from the car park out to the viewing platform.

Map of Eagle Bluff
Map of Eagle Bluff

It’s still about 35 metres though, so I’d take the board walk if I was you and enjoy the view the whole way.

Looking back to the start of the board walk
Looking back to the start of the board walk

If you are short on time though, the view from the car park is pretty fantastic anyway, looking out towards Eagle Island and the nearby cliffs!

The view from the car park!
The view from the car park!

So if you are there at the right times of year and you are lucky, it’s possible to see all sorts of sea creatures in the ocean below including lemon sharks, cow tailed stingrays, nervous sharks, loggerhead turtles and giant shovel-nosed rays. I’m pretty sure we saw one of the giant shovel-nosed rays! It’s remarkable how visible they are from so high above.

The water is so clear, look for the moving shadows!
The water is crystal clear, look out for the moving shadows!

Shell Beach

Next stop on the way back to the highway is Shell Beach.

Shell Beach
Shell Beach

It’s about 30km’s from Eagle Bluff, 45km’s from Denham or 85km’s from the highway and is just off Shark Bay Road. On the way, we were kind of excited to hit 333,333 km’s on the camper van odometer!

333,333 km's!
333,333 kms!

It is a short, unpaved 40-metre walk from the carpark to the start of the shell dunes and another 60 metre (approximately) walk across the dunes to the water’s edge.

The rolling shell dunes of Shell Beach
The rolling shell dunes of Shell Beach

The walk out to the dunes is easy, the walk across them is a bit harder. While the dunes are firm to walk on, they roll up and down a lot with a reasonably steep bank so they may be a challenge for some.

The brilliant white shells and steep bank down to the water
The brilliant white shells and steep bank down to the water

From the edge of the dunes though, you can immediately see what makes this beach so unique. It is brilliantly white and made up of millions and millions of Fragum Cockle shells.

Millions of fragum cockle shells
Millions of Fragum Cockle shells

There are over 4000 of these cockles living in one square metre of the hyper saline water found here in the L’haridon Bight.

Shells everywhere!
Shells everywhere!

Considering in places on the beach that the shells are up to 9 metres deep, one can only imagine how many are actually making up this 70 km long beach. Remarkably, it turns out that below the surface layers these shells actually turn into a form of limestone called coquina. This process occurs as rain containing carbon dioxide dissolves the shells, glueing them together. There actually used to be a “shell block” quarry nearby for mining this limestone.

Hamelin Pool

Continuing back along Shark Bay Road, the next place we stopped was Hamelin Pool to see the Stromatolites and microbial mats.

Hamelin Pool
Hamelin Pool

It is about 62km’s from Shell Beach, and you can drive it in about 45 minutes.

Matt at Hamelin Pool
Matt at Hamelin Pool

It’s also about 107km’s from Denham and 35km’s from the North West Coastal Highway turn off. The car park can be accessed via the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park and Telegraph Station, but it’s a bit of a rough, dirt track out. At least it’s short though. Once you get there, it’s only a 200 metre walk out to the stromatolites (400 metres return). The walk is in two parts, a relatively smooth dirt track followed by a board walk over Hamelin Pool.

The Hamelin Pool board walk
The Hamelin Pool board walk

It’s an easy walk out there, and what you will see varies depending on the tide.

Onto the board walk
Onto the board walk

For us, the tide was out, so many of the microbial mats and stromatolites were exposed, with some partially submerged.

Exposed stromatolites
Exposed stromatolites

If the tide is in though, then you will see a lot more submerged. The surrounding area is pretty arid and doesn’t look like much of anything at all.

Microbes anyone?
Would anyone like some microbes?

Once you get down to the water though, you get to see something pretty unique. If you’ve never seen these quirky life forms before, they are pretty odd looking. Some look like rocks that are cracking up. Some look more like mould, particularly when they are above the water line.

Some of the microbial mats
Some of the microbial mats

Unlike rocks though, the stromatolites generally appear smaller at their bases and get larger towards the top. They also seem to all be separate, where big rocks at the beach often seem to be part of a larger rock.

Some dense stromatolites at Hamelin Pool
Some dense stromatolites at Hamelin Pool

Make sure to have a close look at what’s going on in the water. We actually spotted some little schools of fish swimming in amongst the partially submerged stromatolites. Then, of course, there are the birds preying on the sea life.

Little fishies!
Little fishies!

Be careful though and make sure to stick to the board walk. These formations are delicate and easily broken.

Back on the road and arriving at Kalbarri

We noticed a lot of these little melons all along the side of the road.

Melons everywhere
Melons, melons everywhere

I was tempted to try one, but it turns out they are an inedible pest, so best not to chow down!

Here's one of those melons
Here’s one of those melons

Just wait a little longer and you will find the Billabong roadhouse on the highway!

Billabong Roadhouse
Billabong Roadhouse

So we stopped there for a bite to eat before turning off to Northampton via Kalbarri where we spent the night at the Murchison River Caravan Park Kalbarri. It was evening by the time we arrived, so we just hit the sack and got some sleep, but the sunset was pretty spectacular.

Sunset from the Murchison River Caravan Park Kalbarri
Sunset from the Murchison River Caravan Park Kalbarri

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