Shark Bay is the perfect getaway for those seeking a healthy dose of adventure on the Western Australian side of our sunburnt continent. Here’s our guide to road tripping along Australia’s Coral Coast from Perth to Shark Bay.
- Road tripping the Indian Ocean Drive alongside a gorgeous coastline
- Beautiful scenery and wildlife
- Stop at some of the most beautiful national parks in WA
- This trip can be as long (camping) or short (flying) as you want
Part 1 – Perth to Overlander Roadhouse
Time: 7.5 hours
Shark Bay is a short flight or a healthy all-day drive from Perth and the latter option is a perfect excuse for a great road trip along the coast.
I drove the distance to Denham solo in a day, so it’s doable, provided you stock up on enough water and Red Bull, food that’s light on the stomach and do regular stops with a power nap here and there. This should save you from dozing off and ending up plastered all over the shiny bullbar of an oncoming road train.
This trip would definitely be worth taking a bit more time over though — there’re plenty of marvellous stops you can do along the way.
Nambung National Park
Plan a stop at Nambung National Park for the infamous Pinnacles Desert. It’s like walking on David Lynch’s’ 1984 version of desert planet Dune. Cue the Toto soundtrack and before you know it, you start wondering if there’s even a remote possibility a harmless earthworm might have evolved here into a colossal sandworm waiting to have you for their lunch.
The Pinnacles Desert is not that far from the coast and is easily reachable by car. There’s a short unsealed road going through parts of the park so you can drive in a 4WD should you prefer to. Otherwise, I’d recommend walking the Pinnacles. You can explore the area way better and don’t have to photoshop dozens of tourists out of your photos.
If you decide to walk, remember to bring enough water, sunscreen and a hat. The terrain is not that uneven, so you don’t need to bring any hiking poles. The park has a shop and a small but stylish museum which is expensive but good for escaping the heat and getting some emergency supplies.
Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri National Park has more green and blue and there’s plenty of fun things to do for everybody. Do you only have time to drive through the park? Then you should at least do a quick stop at the beautiful Red Bluff Lookout. The deep-red rocks and equally deep-blue ocean make for a stunning contrast you rarely get to see on the planet.
There’s plenty of more parks, towns, salt lakes and beaches to explore along the way. Unfortunately, you can’t follow the coast all the way up to Shark Bay. After Kalbarri, you’ll head deeper and deeper inland.
Part 2 – Overlander Roadhouse to Denham
Time: 1.5 hours
After you’ve reached the Overlander Roadhouse, sitting along the North West Coastal Highway, you turn left for the next leg of the journey and either head to the town of Denham or to the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. The other option is to camp, in which case, you can find plenty of basic places where you can park it like a boss.
I really recommend stopping at the Overlander Roadhouse because it’s the last proper stop for another 130 km. If you run out of fuel or Red Bulls along the way, you’re out of luck. There’s not much traffic or cell coverage along the way, so prepare accordingly.
The North West Coastal Highway ain’t exactly the equivalent of Perth or Melbourne traffic during rush hour but Shark Bay Road makes it seem so. I passed more roos and emus than cars (just 5) while I drove up to Denham.
There are at least 3 stops you just have to do before Denham:
The Hamelin Pool Stromatolites
This one of very few places you can get up-close-and-personal with the earliest lifeforms on this planet (we’re talking billions of years here). There are only a few extreme places left on earth where you can see Stromatolites alive, plus it’s a stunningly beautiful area to visit anyway. Access to the Stromatolites is by way of a boardwalk — and there’s no swimming allowed.
It’s exactly what it says on the tin — a pristine ultra-white beach made up entirely of the little shells deposited here over the years. It stretches for tens of kilometres and is a sight to behold. I wouldn’t recommend going there barefoot unless you want to paint the beach red with your blood. The water is hyper-saline, so if you always wanted to try a light version of the Dead Sea, then this is your chance.
A vantage point with a large boardwalk and an incredible view over this part of Shark Bay. With luck you’ll see plenty of animals such as sharks, dugongs and manta rays below you in the bay. If you happen to have binoculars with you, now is a good time to use them.
Part 3 – Shark Bay, Denham & Monkey Mia
Somewhere near Shell Beach, at the bottom of the peninsula, you entered the Francois Peron National Park. This park spans the larger part of the peninsula and is named after an 18th/19th-century French naturalist and explorer. Don’t expect any French influences beyond the name. The entire peninsula is Australian through-and-through. That means vast landscapes, rugged coastlines, a rich indigenous culture and lots of fishing and BBQ opportunities.
Whether you stay in the small town Denham or the Monkey Mia resort you have ample opportunities to explore the peninsula.
Monkey Mia Resort
Feeding the bottlenose dolphins is the main attraction at Monkey Mia. It’s fun to watch but go early because it’s über-touristy.
For a small amount of cash, you can hire a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) on the beach. There’s an ATM near the restaurant of the resort a few metres back.
From your newly-rented kayak, you can explore the coastline on your own. Bring sunscreen (otherwise you’ll get BBQ’ed yourself), water shoes, (razor-sharp rocks everywhere) and provisions (there’s hardly any fresh water on the peninsula). This is way more fun than doing an organised tour, saving you from exceeding your daily limit of eye-rolling.
You can explore as far as you want in any direction without getting too far from the shore. If you’re lucky (like I was), you’ll encounter dolphins, stingrays, turtles and lots of other smaller fish.
4WDing in the Francoise Peron National Park
Heading into the park with a 4WD is lots of fun and there are plenty of camping and exploring opportunities on the peninsula.
If you want, you can kick the exclusivity up a notch and arrange a 4WD tour to secluded Dirk Hartog Island, where the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on Australian soil in the 17th century. I didn’t manage to go there myself but it is highly rated. Be sure to arrange a tour well in advance though.
If you only have a 2WD but want to see and learn a little bit of the history of the area, you can go to the converted homestead north of Denham. On this former pastoral station, you can get a feel of how life was back in the day. There’s even a hot tub to wash the heat away.
I’m signing off with my last recommendation, Ocean Park Aquarium, situated south of Denham. They have an aquarium which you can visit and do lots of tours in the area, including PADI courses, dives in Shark Bay itself or with sharks in the aquarium and a 4WD tour. The tours depend on the season so be sure to check in advance.
This is only a fraction of what you can do around here. It’s well worth the visit.
- Bottled water, energy drinks
- Sunscreen and hat
- Food (light snacks and fruit)
- Hiking shoes
- Smartphone (To increase the odds of reception use a Telstra SIM)
- Action cam/camera gear