One of Australia’s 19 UNESCO World Heritage listed sites Shark Bay meets 4 world heritage criteria relating to natural values; ecosystems representing evolutionary history, on-going ecological and biological processes, exceptional natural beauty and wildlife refuges. The bay is huge and home to sharks (obviously), turtles, dolphins, dugong, whales, rays, fish, birds and the list go on. Our first hurdle is working out where to go and what we want to see, there are so many different places spread around the bay that we have heard of but we simply do not have enough time to do everything.
The land around the bay can be broken up really roughly into 2 main peninsulas. You head west from the highway and travel around an hour on bitumen before you come to the first peninsular; home to the main town in Shark Bay Denham, Monkey Mia, Francois Peron National Park, Shelly Beach and a number of other attractions. Further west, the next main peninsular, is home to the most Western point of mainland Australia – Steep Point is known for its extreme land based fishing and is very remote, requiring a 4WD to make your way in. Just north of here and only a short but very expensive ferry ride is Dirk Hartog Island.
Leaving our camp in Nerren Nerren we only have a short distance to travel before we turn off the highway and head west but before that we fill up with fuel at the Billabong Roadhouse in Meadow, the last reasonably priced fuel for a while. There are only 2 fuel stations on the first peninsular so for the people heading out west to Steep point Billabong Roadhouse is where they really load up with fuel.
We stop into Denham for a look around town and turns out the local fishing comp is on this week. The trailer boat at the boat ramps are some of the biggest I have seen, so big they require small trucks to tow them with over sized loads signs – the trucks also help carry the drums of fuel these big boats would guzzle. There isn’t much that excites us in Denham so we move towards Monkey Mia to check it out with no idea of what to expect other than it is known for its dolphins.
Monkey Mia is a resort / caravan park that requires you to pay a $12/person entry fee just to visit. The caravan park and resort seem to be under renovations at the time we are there and as we arrive late in the day with no one at the pay booth we sneak our way through. The people managing the resort have dolphin feeding presentations in the morning but have told us the dolphins will cruise past the beach throughout the day. We found a beautiful little spot on the beach just to the right of the boat ramp; we watch the sun set with a few beers, spotted a turtle and a pod of dolphins literally at our feet.
You are very limited for options for places to stay around Denham and Monkey Mia with only one caravan park in each location (van park in Monkey Mia was closed for renovations at the time we were there). We found a gravel parking bay not far from Monkey Mia that we decided to do a sneaky stop over for the night as we were keen to return to see the dolphin feeding in the morning.
Camp Location: Parking Bay, Monkey Mia Rd, Francois Peron National Park (Sneaky)
Cost = FREE
Travelled From: Nerren Nerren rest area
Distance Travelled: 234 kilometres
Up early to see the dolphin feeding which started at 8am and we were a little disappointed unfortunately as there were so many people on the beach to watch the feeding and the entire demonstration was really dragged out and not that entertaining. We may very well have been spoilt from yesterdays encounter however we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see the morning feeding, it was a bit over rated.
With still the entire day ahead of us we drop of the van in a hidden location and head out to explore Francois Peron National park, not far at all from Monkey Mia. If you have a WA parks pass it is free to enter the National Park and if you are wanting to camp it is extra and can be paid online or in cash in the honesty box at the gate (doesn’t seem like booking is required). The track in is soft sand and requires a 4WD and low tire pressure. It takes about 45 minutes to get from the entry all the way to Cape Peron (The Northern most point of this first peninsular). The wind has picked up a little and we don’t get the magical views overlooking the sea grass beds with rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins and dugong like we have heard about however you could see the potential on a good day.
With plenty more spots within the National Park to hide out of the wind we make our way to Bottle Bay. The drive throughout the park is pretty awesome itself; this is some of the first red dirt driving we have gotten stuck into. As we turn into the Bottle Bay entry track we pull over to let a fellow Troopy driving legend pass and we stop for a chat. He gives us a tip on a spot to fish at the most north point you can drive to along the beach at bottle bay and once we arrive it looks perfect. With crystal clear waters, bright red cliffs and white, white sand, it is not only a picture perfect location but the fishing looks pretty good as well. A small section of reef stretches out from the beach and forms a small bay with deep water off the edge of the reef. Bait fish were busting up everywhere had me pretty excited and after casting a metal slug out into the deeper water for a while we eventually hook up and land a 70cm spotted mackerel.
We are pumped and I went straight back to pegging slugs out as far as I could but the tide was coming in and making it harder to get out into the deeper water. The incoming tide was creeping up the beach so we decide to go exploring some more around the park. No other spots we came across had deep water like the spot at Bottle Bay but there were plenty of good whiting spots.
The national park is beautiful, beach driving with hardly any people around, plus we had caught a decent sized fish so it is ticking all the boxes for us. We originally had planned to camp the night in the National Park in the Troopy but made a last minute call to check out the hot springs baths (located in the Peron Heritage Precinct) for sunset, so decide just to head back to the caravan to sleep. On our way to the bath we get bogged pretty badly in some real soft sand and had dug ourselves in with no one around except some wild goats. We drop the tire pressure as low as we possibly can and dig for ages and still can’t get out. We look at each other and think we may be staying here over night whether we like it or not… Some more digging and Holly explores inland for some rocks to put under the tires and after our hardest solo recovery yet we make it out and bee line it for the hot springs. Once we get there we find they are closed… Holly is pissed (I’m still riding high from the mackerel so no bogged car or closed hot spring is going to ruin my day). We head back to the van and spend a second sneaky night in the gravel parking bay off the main drag. Early the next morning some backpackers ask for a jump start and while I am helping them out the parks rangers races into the gravel parking bay and starts going on about how we cannot stay here and its $100 fine. The ranger turns out to be a good bloke after talking to him for a bit he let us off (we were probably pushing it staying there for 2 nights and not leaving early enough in the morning anyway).
We are undecided on where we are going to move to next, do we leave the van at a property and head out to explore Steep Point with the Troopy alone or give it a miss. Steep point is the most western point of mainland Australia and one hell of a fishing spot which I was super keen to explore. We hadn’t prepared well enough with supplies and didn’t have much time on our hands to spend there so decide to give it a miss. We’ll be back there one day!
As we make our way slowly back to the highway we stop off at a number of the local attractions. Ocean Park Aquarium came highly recommended and was awesome, definitely worth the $25/person.
Next stop was Shelly Beach, the name speaks for itself.
As the day goes on we are stuck for places to stay and do some exploring to find another sneaky spot, this time off the highway (the ranger has given us the hot tip). Exploring sand tracks with the caravan on is not a great idea and we bite off more than we can chew and come to a point where we cannot really go forward as it is too sandy and steep and we can’t go back as the hill is too steep to reverse to caravan up. We are pro’s at working our way out of hard situations by this stage and once we get to a point like this there is only one thing to do… crack a beer and go for a walk together to figure it out. As we stroll down the beach, beer in hand, we come across some people launching their boat who had seen the pickle we were in and said only people drive quad bikes down those tracks. They ask where we were from and can’t figure out why we are smiling and not fighting with one another. We explain we are from Queensland and that this is the biggest and only problem we have in life right now so it’s not that big of a deal. They laugh with us and say they will see us in the morning when we come looking for help, but little did they know the power of the Troopy. We drop the tire pressure in all the tires and in low range 4WD pull off a long distance, steep reversing manoeuvre over the ridge. Once over the ridge we are relieved and setup to stay the night right here on the track overlooking the bay. As morning comes we packup and still cannot turn around yet as the track is too narrow so have some more reversing to do before we find a place to turn around.
Camp Location: Amongst sand dunes near Nanga Bay resort (Sneaky)
Cost = FREE
Travelled From: Monkey Mia
Distance Travelled: 66 kilometres
Up early we head east back to the main highway and then onto Carnarvon, one of the larger townships up this way but nothing worth stopping for other than to make some phone calls and load up on food, alcohol, fuel and water. By the afternoon we have made our way to Quobba Station. This spot I guess you could say is at the most northern end and top of Shark Bay and another famous land based fishing spot with some massive fish being caught from the shore but also one of the most deadly fishing spots in the country. As you hit the coastline there is a large sign “KING WAVES KILL” and plenty of plaques along the coastline noting where people have lost their lives.
The swell is big when we arrive and the blow holes are putting on an awesome show.
We decide not to stay at the Quobba Station camp but instead choose a council camp just a short distance south where we have our own spot right along the beach, surrounded by massive sand dunes. By the time we have setup the sun is going down and a bloke has come by to collect our camp fee.
Camp Location: Point Quobba
Cost = $11/person/night
Travelled From: Nanga Bay Resort
Distance Travelled: 339 kilometres
Up early we head to a top snorkeling spot only a minute from our camp. The Aquarium as it was appropriately named really wowed us once we got under the water. Even though the swell was up this little spot was perfectly protected from an island a few hundred meter from the shore and a oyster break wall that jointed the island to the mainland. We snorkeled at low tide and at times we could have done with some more water over the reef but it was a bit of a trade off as at high tide the swell would likely push in over the oyster wall. We saw plenty of fish, Holly even spotted a huge grouper under some reef and some other snorkelers back on shore showed us photos they had captured of a turtle (we were pretty jealous).
We have left the van at the camp site and after our snorkel head off in the Troopy to explore Quobba station and head north checking out some of the fishing ledges. The station has 180km of rugged coastline but there are only a couple of places that they let you camp, the first one you will come to is near the station homestead where the offices are located. The dirt roads on the station were fine when we were there, some corrugations but nothing major, it could be driven by 2WD and you could tow big caravans in there if you took it easy, getting down to some of the fishing spots would required a 4WD however. In perfect conditions with off shore winds the main method of fishing is to use large helium balloons to send large dead baits skipping on the surface hundreds of meters out from the shore line. They land all kinds of pelagic fish, mackerel, tuna, cobia but loose plenty of prize catches to sharks. The next preferred method is to cast huge poopers, stick baits and bib-less minnows as far as you can and try hook something in closer to the rock edge. We run into two blokes with all the gear and chat to them for a while and watch them peg these huge lures out into the rough sea (I’m keen to fish here but not as keen as these boys, the wind and swell is sketchy as).
With some poor weather forecast for the next few days we do some more exploring but come to terms with the fact that we won’t be fishing here. Quobba and Red Bluff came highly mentioned as the next best rock fishing spots after Steep point and we had hoped that even though we missed Steep that we may get a chance to fish for something big. To get up to Red Bluff and Gnaraloo Station there is only one way in and out and that is through the Quobba station entry. If we trekked all the way up there (slow going with the caravan) we would have to double back to get out. Our next location that we have picked out is Warroora Station and it isn’t too far as the crow flies from Red Bluff but there isn’t a northern connecting road so we decide to give these spots a miss. As the day comes to an end we hook up the caravan from the council camp and think about staying a night with our new fishing mates in Quobba Station but the weather isn’t getting any better and a storm building so we decide to drive a short distance in from the coast and park in a gravel parking bay. We park the Troopy and caravan head into the wind and bunker down for the night. Tomorrow we continue our journey north to Warroora Station at the beginning of Coral Bay.
Camp Location: Pull Over stop, Blowholes Rd Macleod.
Cost = FREE
Travelled From: Point Quobba
Distance Travelled: 10 kilometres