The World Heritage area of Shark Bay had much to entice the Roe’ving grey nomads:- clear blue seas fringed with white sandy beaches, a pristine marine habitat for dugongs, dolphins and migrating whales, one of the world’s rare clusters of stromatolites, and the Australian mainland’s western most point.
We decided to base ourselves in Denham, the main town in the region, which is about 330 kms south of Carnarvon. And, of course, we took time out to sample the delights along the way.
Our first stop for a few days was the huge Gladstone bushcamp on the shores of Shark Bay, which would easily absorb a few hundred campers and yet still provide plenty of room and privacy. We met a few characters that had set up for months at a time, and a few who were even growing their own veggies!
What a fabulous place it was to kick back and watch the pelicans and other birds along a pristine shoreline. We don’t think we’ve ever seen such clear blue water. Or such shallow seas, for that matter! The tides barely moved between their lowest and highest points, and we could walk out for hundreds of metres without getting wet above our shins!
Shark Bay’s shallow waters had the added advantage of stunning sunsets over the tidal flats. And what a great place to take in the Western Australian sunset.
But time marches on, and move on we must.
We drove back out to the North West Coastal Highway, heading for the turn-off for the 128 km drive up the peninsula to Denham.
The terrain was flat with low scrub for as far as the eye could see.
Hamelin Pool stromatolites
The Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve is one of two main places in the world where living marine stromatolites exist – and the only place where they can be seen easily from shore, from a boardwalk that takes visitors out over the life forms. The stromatolites are colonies of algae which have formed hard, dome-shaped deposits. They are believed to be among the oldest forms of life on earth.
Denham – Gateway to Shark Bay
As we drove down the small hill to Denham, we couldn’t believe the sight before us. The beautiful blue Shark Bay extended so far in front and to the sides. It was so picturesque, even mesmerising.
A sunset tour to top all others!
We heard about a sunset cruise from Denham out to Steep Point, the Australian mainland’s western most point. While Steep Point was on our bucket list, the thought of the bone jarring four-plus hours drive there on notoriously tough 4WD tracks over sand dunes and corrugations (and then back again!) wasn’t that enticing! So the thought of a cruise out to Steep Point, with the relative luxury of drinks and nibbles while watching the sunset, sounded positively luxurious!
We had a very small window in which to do the sunset cruise on our first full day in town, as the weather forecast afterwards (for the rest of the week) was for high winds and sea swells. At the time we booked, there were insufficient numbers for the cruise, so we were on standby in the hope that there were some 11th hour bookings (with our fingers and toes firmly crossed). Late on the morning of the scheduled cruise, we received the call that it was happening. Yay!
We were hoping to see a few dolphins along the way, as the world famous Monkey Mia is nearby. And maybe even spot a dugong or two.
Well, were we in for a treat!
The cruise started off in spectacular fashion, with calm blue seas and clear skies.
The channel markers continued all the way across Shark Bay towards Dirk Hartog Island, a distance of a good 20+ kilometers. Shark Bay is as shallow as two to three metres in places, hence the need for long stretches of channel markers to guide the safe passage of sailors. It was particularly interesting to note that at no point in the journey were the channel markers of the tethered floating variety – the water was always shallow enough for the channel markers to be fixed into the seabed. Now that’s shallow!
Along the way, we thought we caught a glimpse of a dugong. It didn’t have a fin, so chances are it was. Unfortunately, we only saw it for a few moments before it descended beneath the water, and didn’t return for us to take a second look (or photo, for that matter).
But that’s okay, as then the fun really started.
About 200 metres from the boat as we neared Dirk Hartog Island, a humpback whale was breaching – leaping out of the water, twisting onto its back, and repeatedly (and audibly!) slapping its tail and fins. We watched in amazement, while it continued this behaviour unabated for the whole time we stopped to watch – about 15 minutes.
Everyone was stunned. And the cameras were constantly clicking away!
But more was to come!
While our eyes were focussed on the antics of the distant whale, a second humpback appeared right beside the boat, and proceeded to swim around and under the boat for about ten minutes.
By this stage the passengers were exhilarated, looking on with wonder and amazement. Even the crew had never witnessed anything like this before. And they, too, were busy snapping photos and video along with their excited passengers!
After about 15 minutes of this excitement, the skipper announced that we should make tracks or otherwise we’d miss the sunset. But I don’t think anybody really cared about the sunset anymore, as nothing was going to top what we’d all been so privileged to have just witnessed.
We were all on such a high!
Check out this video of our amazing encounter with the humpback whales. And listen out for all the ooohhs, aaahhs, gasps and excited commentary from everyone!
We’d been so distracted by the whales that we hadn’t noticed all the clouds that had rolled in.
We made our way through the South Passage separating the mainland and Dirk Hartog Island, and caught our first glimpse of Steep Point, the mainland’s most westerly point.
The sunset was all but clouded over – a bit of a fizzer.
But we didn’t care!
We’d just had the very best cruise and breathtaking encounter with magnificent sea creatures.
Nothing was going to top that!