The Shark Bay region is famous for the Monkey Mia dolphins, but there’s so much more to explore. Jane took her 4WD to give us the ultimate guide.

We Are Explorers acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Malgana, Nhanda, and Yingkarta people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Quick Overview

Shark Bay is named after its abundance of sharks (duh!), but it was its myriad of other adventurous attractions that contributed to making the Coral Coast region the first World Heritage site in Western Australia.

There are two peninsulas to explore: Steep Point, the westernmost point of mainland Australia, and Peron Peninsula. The main town of Denham is 822km north of Perth.


About Shark Bay World Heritage Area

Shark Bay was designated as a World Heritage Area in 1991. Two peninsulas jut out into the Indian Ocean creating tranquil salty bays and contrasting rugged cliffs. The calm water has the largest seagrass banks in the world.

The westernmost isthmus leads to Shelter Bay and Steep Point in Edel Land, where the Zuytdorp Cliffs plunge 200m into the surging ocean. Across from Shelter Bay, Dirk Hartog Island appears close.

Peron Peninsula is where the town of Denham and Monkey Mia are located. Beyond them, vast red sand dunes transition into white sand and then blue water. Parts of Denham stand on beds of tiny shells. Some older buildings were made of these compacted shells carved into bricks.

A third area – known as Useless Loop – is where salt is mined and access isn’t permitted.


Shark Bay World Heritage Area History

Shark Bay is the traditional country of three Aboriginal language groups: Malgana, Nhanda, and Yingkarta who have been in the area for over 30,000 years. The Malgana name for Shark Bay is Gutharraguda, which means ‘two bays’ or ‘two waters’.

Shark Bay was the second area of mainland Australia discovered by European explorers (after Cape York). Dirk Hartog left an inscribed pewter plate in 1616, followed by Willem Vlamingh in 1697, and the French in the early 1800s.

Pastoral leases were issued for sheep stations from the 1860s such as Nanga Station, Carrang Station, Tamala Station, Carbla Station, Dirk Hartog Island Station, and Peron Station. Many of these stations have been taken over by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and made into national parks.

The town of Denham began as a pearling camp called Freshwater Camp. It was named Denham in 1858. Now it’s a service town and gateway to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.


How to Get to Shark Bay World Heritage Area

By Car

Denham is 822km north of Perth via the North West Coastal Highway. It’s about a nine-hour drive.

By Plane

Fly from Perth to Monkey Mia Shark Bay Airport.


Where to Stay in Shark Bay World Heritage Area

There are some amazing places to stay in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.

Caravan Parks

Denham has three caravan parks to choose from: Denham Seaside, Blue Dolphin, or Shark Bay. 

Monkey Mia has the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort

For the more adventurous folk, there are heaps of remote camping options. 


Edel Land National Park

Note that Edel Land National Park is 4WD only and you need to lower your tyre pressure to safely negotiate the series of soft sand dunes. All campsites need to be booked in advance.

Dirk Hartog Island National Park

Getting your car to Dirk Hartog Island is via a barge from the Shelter Bay Campground. All sites, including Louise Bay, Notch Point, and Sandy Point can be booked through the Department of Parks and Wildlife Park Stay website. Homestead Camping is run by Dirk Hartog Island Station.

Francois Peron National Park

The campgrounds in Francois Peron are all close to the ocean and can’t be booked, so it’s first-in-best-dressed. You’ll need a 4WD with lowered tyre pressures to reach them.

Nanga Bay and Hamelin Bay

These are stations that also have camping facilities. They both have access to calm water that’s great for kayaking.

Shark Bay Shire

As you drive into Denham there are some spectacular lookouts to enjoy. But the best part is that you can camp there with permission. Sites include Goulet Bluff, Whalebone Bay, Fowlers Camp, and Eagle Bluff. 

These sites are on the western side of the Peron Peninsula on the road to Denham. There aren’t any facilities and permits from Denham Shire are required to camp there for a maximum of one night. The permits are issued on the day with no bookings in advance. Call 08 9948 1590 to organise your permit.



Denham is full of accommodation options with hotel rooms at the Shark Bay Hotel, villas like Oceanside, and chalets in caravan parks.

Monkey Mia

Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort has both villas and rooms to choose from.

Where to Eat in Shark Bay World Heritage Area


Denham has a range of cafes and restaurants to choose from. A really interesting option for dinner in Denham is the Old Pearler Restaurant. It’s made of compressed shell bricks carved from Shell Beach. 

If you’re more of a dinner and show kind of person, then this next one will be right up your alley!

Oceans Restaurant is situated right on the edge of Shark Bay Marine Park so you can spot dolphins, sharks, and rays from your table! If you’re tight on time, this is an awesome way to squeeze in an attraction and dinner in one go. 

If you’re operating on a tighter budget or would prefer a meal you can enjoy in the beautiful outdoors, pizza and fish and chips are a common meal from all the pubs and takeaway places in Denham. 

Monkey Mia

Expect more resort-style eating in Monkey Mia. Sitting at the Monkey Bar on a warm evening overlooking the bay is special.

Things to do in Shark Bay World Heritage Area

  • Hiking Trails
  • Snorkelling
  • Fishing
  • Sunset viewing
  • Boat Trips
  • Kayaking


Essential Gear for Shark Bay World Heritage Area

  • Mask, snorkel, and fins
  • Swimmers, bathers, cossie, or togs (depending on the state you’re from!)
  • Fishing gear
  • Rashie
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottle (there isn’t any water available in the national parks)
  • Hiking boots
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Beach shade, like an umbrella
  • National Park Pass
  • Bug spray
  • Dive ticket (if you have one)

What it’s Like to Visit Shark Bay World Heritage Area

My paddle blades cut through the clearest flattest water I’ve ever kayaked. It’s one of those days when the horizon merges ocean and sky. Below, the seagrass wafts back and forth while fish scatter in all directions as we draw near. It’s approaching sunset and the rocky cliffs glow gold from the last light of the day.



Meanwhile, the Indian Ocean pounds against the 200m Zuytdorp Cliffs. Many ships have come to grief here. Around the corner, we camp at Shelter Bay on the beach and gaze out at Dirk Hartog Island. The barge arrives in the morning to take 4WDs over to the island.

After lowering our tyre pressure, we navigate the roller coaster sand dunes on Dirk Hartog Island with ease. Later, on the Peron Peninsula, we make full use of our 4WD to explore the deep red sand tracks and birridas (salt pans). Peron’s landscape is so different from its neighbouring peninsula. Red sand dunes turn white as they reach the aqua waters. Flocks of bird’s rest on the beach while dugongs, dolphins, sharks, and rays are easily spotted from higher vantage points.   




The official trails in Shark Bay are on the Peron Peninsula. Wanamalu Trail is a 3.6km one-way clifftop hike with spectacular watery views. The Wulyibidi Yaninyina Trail winds 2.5km around the red sand dunes at Monkey Mia. 


As well as the seagrass beds, there are some areas of soft coral around the bays. Rocky outcrops provide safe havens for a range of fish and crustaceans, making these spots a haven for snorkelling!

Read more: Remember to leave no trace


For anglers, Shark Bay offers plenty of options. You don’t have to go far in a boat to be amongst the action. Big pink snapper are a highly prized catch in Shark Bay waters. To keep snapper stocks healthy, strict catch quotas and regulations apply so make sure you check the Fisheries website for details before you head out. 

For more hardcore anglers, rock fishing off the Zuytdorp Cliffs into the deep water below will yield snapper, tuna, sharks, and Spanish mackerel. Balloon fishing gets your bait into big fish territory. Note that cliff fishing is a dangerous activity, and shouldn’t be attempted without experience and appropriate safety precautions. 



Sunset Viewing

Steep Point (mainland) and Dirk Hartog Island are the westernmost spots in Australia, and are the last place to view the sun going down each day. Otherwise, anywhere along the coast facing west will produce a spectacular sunset.

Boat Trips

Wildlife-viewing boat trips run out of Monkey Mia. They see marine life such as dugongs, dolphins, rays, and sharks.   

The Island Barge ‘Hartog Explorer’ transports 4WD vehicles to Dirk Hartog Island. Day trips leave from Denham on the vessel named 100% Wild, another way to reach the starting point for 4WD tours of the island.




Kayaking is possible at many locations. The best spots are protected from the ocean waves by peninsulas and Dirk Hartog Island. Kayaking in Henri Freycinet Harbour on a calm day is sublime. Sea kayaking from Shelter Bay Campground is lots of fun, but as I found out, if you get pushed out by a strong southerly it’s quite a battle to get back to shore.  

Big Lagoon Paddle Trail on Peron Peninsula is 34km return, starting near the campground. While paddling, expect to see turtles, dolphins, rays, and plenty of seabirds.  

Shark Bay Kayak Trail is a multiday paddle of 110km from Denham to Monkey Mia around the red sands of Francois Peron National Park. It takes five challenging days to complete with camping along the way. 


Tips For Visiting Shark Bay World Heritage Area

  • Shark Bay World Heritage Area is a remote location. Keep this in mind for phone reception, fuel, and food
  • Don’t forget your bathers
  • It’s a long round trip for fuel so you’ll need to plan ahead. Fuel is available at Overlander Roadhouse and in Denham
  • You might just see the best sunset of your life here – make sure to make time to sit and enjoy at least one

FAQs Shark Bay World Heritage Area

Where is Shark Bay World Heritage Area located?

Shark Bay World Heritage Area is located 690km north of Perth

How do you get to Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

The most common way of getting to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is by car. Access to Steep Point and Francois Peron National Park are by high clearance 4WD only. You can fly to Monkey Mia from Perth. 

When is Shark Bay World Heritage Area open?

Shark Bay World Heritage Area is open all year. The busy tourist season is from March to September.

Do I need to book my visit to Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

In busy season, especially school holidays, be sure to book your spot at Steep Point. The Francois Peron National Park campgrounds are first in best dressed.

When is the best time of year to visit Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

The best time of year to go to Shark Bay World Heritage Area is between April and August. September and October can be very windy. November to March is blisteringly hot.

How many days should I spend at Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

There are lots of things to do in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, so I recommend spending at least one or two weeks in the area.

What to do in Shark Bay World Heritage Area when it rains?

If it rains (rare) while in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, Denham is the best place for indoor activities such as the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Centre.

Can you swim at Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

Yes you can swim in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area

Do you need a 4WD to get to Shark Bay World Heritage Area?

A 4WD is needed to get to the national parks beyond Denham and Monkey Mia such as Steep Point (Edel Land National Park) and Francois Peron National Park.

Is Shark Bay World Heritage Area free?

There are national park fees to access Francois Peron National Park

This piece was brought to you by a real living human who felt the wind in their hair and described their adventure in their own words. This is because we rate authenticity and the sharing of great experiences in the natural world – it’s all part of our ethos here at We Are Explorers. You can read more about it in our Editorial Standards.