bay of the Indian Ocean in Western Australia

Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site in Gascoyne, Western Australia. The main town is Denham (2016 population 754) with the resort village of Monkey Mia (say "my-ah" not mee-ah) 25 km northwest. The area is well-developed for tourism and best known for its marine life, such as dolphins, turtles and dugongs, and its desert nature reserves.


Steep Point

Shark Bay is a large inlet on the west coast of Australia, separated from the Indian Ocean by the Carrarang Prong, Dirk Hartog Island, and Dorre and Bernier Islands. The bay is divided by the long Peron Peninsula: at its tip are the resort towns of Denham and Monkey Mia, and Francois Peron National Park. The inlet east of this peninsula is further partitioned by a long shallow sand bar: south of this are two hypersaline lagoons with unusual habitats.

Australian Aboriginals have dwelt in this hot arid climate for at least 22,000 years; the bay was a desert plain until flooded by rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age. The first European visitor was the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, who in 1616 landed on the island now named for him. He found nothing to interest the Dutch East India Company so he sailed on. At the start of the 19th century François Péron studied the area's wildlife and amassed a huge specimen collection. The shores and islands of Shark Bay became turned over to sheep and goat farms; there was also pearl fishing, salt pans, and quarrying for lime and gypsum. From the 1990s the government bought out the farms, created a national park on land and sea, and began restoring the original habitats. This work continues.

Denham is named for the Royal Navy captain who charted the bay in 1858. "Mia" is an Aboriginal word for home or shelter, but there's no agreement on how a monkey might have been involved.

Get in


Rex Airlines flies daily direct from Perth to Shark Bay (2 hr), which their timetable calls Monkey Mia. These flights continue to Carnarvon then head straight back to Perth - so the return trip is 3 hr 30 min, with no Carnarvon to Shark Bay service. Neither Qantas nor Virgin Australia (the former Southwest) fly here.

1 Shark Bay Airport (MJK  IATA) is 8 km northeast of Denham on the road to Monkey Mia, another 16 km. It's just a sealed landing strip with no passenger terminal, so you're straight out into the fierce sun and need to have your onward transport waiting.

By road Shark Bay is 850 km north of Perth, so it can be done in one day, but you may wish to break the journey somewhere around Dongara / Port Dennison.

By bus: good luck with that. Integrity Coaches from Perth towards Carnarvon and the north pick up / drop-off at Overlander Roadhouse on the main highway. That's 130 km away, it may be possible to arrange a shuttle with the coach line.

Fees and permits

  • There's free public access along Hwy 353, which takes in Hamelin Pool, Shell Beach, Eagle Bluff, Denham town and the airport.
  • Francois Peron National Park has the standard fees for all Western Australia's national parks: a day pass in 2022 is $15 for a vehicle with up to 12 occupants, pay cash or by card. Passes covering all parks are also available for 5, 14, 30 days and annually. There's no charge if you enter by bicycle or on foot, but the distances on sand roads would be heroic. There are further charges for camping.
  • Monkey Mia Reserve and resort village has the same fees as Francois Peron, but it's not a national park, you have to pay separately for both.

Get around


You need a vehicle, the heat and distances are too great for bicycle.

It's a good paved road from the roadhouse on Hwy 1 all the way to Denham and Monkey Mia. The side-road to Useless Loop is also suitable for 2WD.

You need 4WD, preferably high clearance, to tour Francois Peron National Park and to go beyond the Useless Loop road towards Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island. Even with 4WD, rental companies might not allow you to take their vehicle that far out. Consider joining an organised tour to save wear and tear on your own vehicle.

Rental cars: Shark Bay Car Hire and Wicked Campers are local companies. None of the majors operate in this area.

François Péron wonders where to store his 100,000 specimens
  • Little Lagoon 4 km north of Denham is a tranquil pool ideal for kiddy-bathing.
  • 2 Francois Peron National Park   is entered 6 km north of Denham, and covers the whole peninsula north of Hwy 353. A 2WD car can slither along the tracks as far as the old farm homestead, but you need 4WD to explore properly. It's named for François Auguste Péron (1775-1810) who collected over 100,000 specimens of Australian wildlife during an expedition of 1801-03. The peninsula, which to the Malgana Aboriginals is Wulyibidi, was later used as a sheep range and had a pearl-fishing camp; it became a national park in 1993. If you have a 4WD, this is one of the must-see places around Shark Bay. Deflate your tires to 20psi or less at the national park entrance (where you will be able to inflate them afterward as well) and head off onto the sandy tracks. There are several picnic areas in the park, and some beachside camping spots if you're staying overnight. Seeing sharks and stingrays swim close to shore from the cliffs at Skipjack Point will be something you'll remember for years to come. Mobile telephone coverage is limited or non-existent in most 4WD areas. In a life-threatening situation call 000. If you can only get enough signal for an SMS, text the SES at +61 417 097 330.
Southern view over the ocean and the red sand at Skipjack Point.
  • 3 Monkey Mia is a marine park best known for its dolphins, members of the bay's population of 2000 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). Several families regularly come inshore in the mornings, where five (and only five known individuals) are hand-fed by the rangers; you may be able to participate. There's a long-running study of the dolphins, for instance into their family structures and maternal behaviour, and their use of sponges as tools to winkle out small prey. Boat trips explore the bay, and ashore there's a 4 km nature trail curated by the Malgana people.
  • Blue Lagoon Pearl Farm is primarily a sales pitch, but their offshore shack 2 km north of Monkey Mia gives an insight into the history and modern methods of the pearl trade.
  • 4 Faure Island is an island on the sandy shelf that divides outer Shark Bay from its two inner lagoons. It's about 10 km long by 5 km wide, a desert scrubland which in the 20th century was used to raise sheep and goats. Faure is now a protected reserve: non-native animals have been removed and native species re-introduced. The continuing challenge is to rid the island of weeds such as Buffel grass. Boat trips from Monkey Mia may come this way to see the dugongs grazing on the sea-grass, but don't land.
  • Wooramel Seagrass Bank occupies the shallows east of Faure: it's effectively an underwater prairie, 130 km long by 8 km broad. The water is too hot for coral reef formation, but instead the grasses trap calcium carbonate from the remains of crabs and shellfish. This has built up into a habitat and reef that shelters the inner lagoon and renders it hypersaline. Pelican Island, 1 km long, is the only rise above sea level.
  • 5 Ocean Park Aquarium, Ocean Park Rd, Denham, +61 8 9948 1765. Daily 9AM–5PM. This displays the local marine life, and organises tours. Adult $27, child $19.
  • 6 Eagle Bluff is a lookout from the cliffs along the road south of Denham. Camping is permitted at three nearby sites by arrangement with Shark Bay Visitor Centre.
  • 7 Shell Beach is at the pinch point of Taillefer Isthmus, which connects Peron Peninsula to the mainland. It's composed entirely of shells, mostly cockles, 60 km long and up to 10 m deep. Anywhere else in the world, the cockles would get eaten by crabs and small fry then the waves would pulverise the shells, but L'Haridon Bight the west lagoon of Shark Bay is extra-calm, and too saline for the cockles' predators. The shells were mined as a source of lime until the bay was protected as parkland.
  • 8 Hamelin Pool is the east, larger lagoon within Shark Bay, and it too is calm and hypersaline. This has enabled the growth of stromatolites, gnarly cannonball concretions of cyanobacteria, sand and shell fragments. Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest known lifeforms, using an ancient variant of chlorophyll, and they oxygenated the earth's atmosphere some 2.4 billion years ago. Some fossil stromatolites in Marble Bar, Pilbara, are even older than that, but those here might be 8000 years old - that's when rising sea levels flooded the bay after the ice ages. The stromatolites are reached by a side-road from Hwy 353: they're fragile, so stay on the boardwalk. The old telegraph station has been converted into a museum, and there's a caravan park.
  • 9 Useless Loop is a company town producing salt, and off-limits to casual visitors, but you'll see its glistening salt mountain from clear across the bay in Denham. It was the harbour that an early navigator dubbed "useless", the salt production is about 1.4 million tonnes a year so that's clearly finding a use. As the town is near the tip of the Heirisson Prong, an attempt was made to fence off the peninsula, rid it of non-native species and re-wild it, as islands such as Faure and DHI have achieved. But who ever heard of a truly rabbit-proof fence? When they eliminated the foxes, the feral cat population soared, zap the cats and the rabbits proliferated, and so it went on. The project was abandoned in 2013.
  • 10 Steep Point   is the most westerly point on the Australian mainland. At 113.156° West, you're on the same longitude as Guangzhou, the former Canton. Dirk Hartog Island leans a few km further west.
  • 11 Dirk Hartog Island. Where this great continent narrowly escaped being called Eendrachtsland and annexed by France. It's 80 km long by 10-15 km wide and is desert scrub. It's accessed by a ferry barge from Shelter Bay near Steep Point - this sails daily but you must have 4WD and a booking with the island resort. Australia's west coast was discovered in 1616 by Dirk Hartog, who named it after his ship Eendracht meaning Concord, and affixed a pewter plate ashore engraved with the names of the senior crew. (That plate is now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.) In 1797 Louis Aleno de St Aloüarn staked France's claim here, but the bottle containing his annexation deed has yet to be found: if only more territorial claims were resolved this way. From 1869 the island was a sheep range, but "Return to 1616" is a long-running project to restore the original habitat. All sheep, goats and feral cats have been removed, and native beasts re-introduced: the mulgara, dibbler, chuditch and, er, craft distillers??    
  • Bernier and Dorre Islands to the north are also part of the park, but see Carnarvon, the usual access route. From 1908 to 1909 they were used to incarcerate Aboriginals thought to have venereal disease: men on Bernier, women and children on Dorre.
  • Zuytdorp nature reserve: see Kalbarri for this and other sites to the south.
  • Diving: the tranquil shallow bay is okay for basic training but not beyond. Its marine life is at snorkel-depth, and the waters are too hot for coral formation. Shark Bay Dive Centre is based at the Aquarium - their trips head out to the ocean off Dirk Hartog Island.
  • Shark Bay Kitesurfing is at Nicholson Point Denham, open daily 7AM-6PM.
  • Tours head into the park or out into the bay. Operators include Naturetime Tours, Shark Bay Quad Bike Tours and Wula Gura Nyinda.
  • Fishing is permitted around Denham and on the peninsula, plus out at Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island, but check the rules on prohibited areas and species. Hamelin Pool is off-limits.
Emus amble the beaches and scrub
  • Fuel: there's a lot of ground to cover, so don't leave Hwy 1 on less than half a tank: the Overlander Roadhouse has an Amphol station open 24 hours. Nothing after that for 140 km till you reach the filling station and EV point in Denham.
  • Supermarket: Denham has one at each end of Knight Terrace, both open daily 7AM-7PM.
  • Pharmacy in Denham is open M-F 9AM-1:30PM, 2:30PM-5PM, Sa 9AM-1PM.
  • The Old Pearler, 71 Knight Terrace, Denham (east side of Discovery Centre), +61 8 9948 1373. Daily 5–9PM. Great seafood with only the occasional malfunction, it's small and popular so best book.
  • Shark Bay Cafe, 51 Knight Terrace, Denham (next to Old Pearler), +61 8 9948 3222. Good breakfast and lunch place with western and Asian choices, but quality erratic and pricey for what you get. Sa-Th 7:30AM-2:30PM, F 7:30AM-2:30PM, 5PM-7:30PM.
  • Shark Bay Bakery on Knight Terrace has a good selection. It's open M-F 7AM-4PM, Sa 7AM-2PM.
  • Boughshed is the restaurant within Monkey Mia Resort. It's open daily 8AM-8PM and serves non-residents but you need to book. Dogs on leash welcome.


Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool
  • Dirk Hartog Island Distillery produces gin. It's not the heavy Dutch-style gin, in spite of the historic connections: the botanicals change with the vagaries of the seasons. You might find it on sale at resorts in the region.
  • Monkeybar is the pub within Monkey Mia Resort. It's open daily 4PM-10PM and serves bar food.
  • There are no stand-alone bars in Denham, try the holiday resorts and restaurants.




Everything's on or just off the beach road Knight Terrace.

Monkey Mia

Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia
You have to pay the Monkey Mia park fee to enter the village, see above. Other park passes are not valid.
  • RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, 1 Monkey Mia Rd, toll-free: 1800 871 570. You've reached the end of the road, 9-10 hours from Perth. Pleasant resort with hotel rooms (go for the renovated ones, the old are small and worn), camping areas and hookups. B&B double $300, hook-up $50.


  • Nanga Bay resort and caravan park on the road up to Denham was dilapidated in 2021 / 22.
  • Dirk Hartog Island Resort, 62 DHI Drive, +61 8 9948 1211. A wonderful resort open Mar-mid Dec, a world away from anywhere. Rates include full board and activity packages, 5 night min. Double $5400 / wk.
  • DHI camping is available at six sites on the island, book via the resort.

Stay safe


This is a hot desert region, with long distances and sands that can ensnare even 4WD, and no mobile signal to call for help.

The waters of the bay are calm and generally safe: shark attack is possible, but jellyfish and marine traffic are the main hazards.



As of Jan 2022, there's a basic mobile signal from Telstra in Denham and its nearby roads, but nothing from Optus or Vodafone. 5G has not reached this area.

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This rural area travel guide to Shark Bay is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.