Monkey Mia – unique bottlenose dolphin paradise

Monkey Mia bottlenose dolphins

Next day we drove through the flat, monotonous landscape to our next destination – Denham and Monkey Mia. 

While driving 350 km to Denham, we missed trees again as it was only grass and more grass around us. The landscape only changed and became more interesting after we entered the Francois Peron Peninsula. 

In general the view was similar, but from time to time we could see the azure ocean and beautiful white beaches.

Denham
Denham caravan park from the top

Denham

The entrance to Denham was spectacular. Denam is a small town perched on top of the shallow azure bay. 

The water was so clear that from a distance we could see the deeper channel through which the boats entered the bay. There was tons of sea grass on the shore. After all, this place has the largest fields of seagrass in the world!

Denham - our camp
Denham - our camp was really nice - the other side was overlooking the ocean

The space allocated to us in Denham at the caravan park was simply beautiful. We could look at the bay and the sailing boats all day long. 

These idyllic circumstances were only spoiled by one thing – in the evenings it gets cold and windy, so watching the sunset was no longer as pleasant as it was, for example, in Darwin.

Denham - our camp view
Denham - our camp view

Enjoying Shark Bay azure waters

Denham is located on the western part of Francois Peron Peninsula where in a distance we could see Dirk Hartog Island. We were hoping to see some amazing sunset in the evening.

Next day we spent quietly enjoying the great view of the Shark Bay and in the evening we went for fishing.

Shark Bay is just gorgeous and the ocean water is warm. 

I was standing up to my thighs in the water and wondering what was floating next to a rock maybe a meter away from me. It turned out that it was not a shadow, but a huge 2.5 meter long stingray that was perched there. 

We were both scared and each of us started to escape almost at the same time, luckily in opposite directions.

Denham fishing - longtom
Denham fishing - I was catching longtoms all the time - not really good eating fish

Marius got lucky and caught a large longtom. We have read about it before and opinions about its taste were divided. Some said it’s tasty, others said it’s better not to eat it. 

In addition, the colour of its bones is blue, which additionally deters people from the idea of eating longtom. However, we decided that we have to try it once and take a risk. 

As a result, we had fish for dinner. Marius was getting better at filleting. After all, practice makes perfect. As for the taste of the meat, it was unfortunately not very tasty and had a lot of bones. As a committee we decided that we would not put it on the plate any time soon.

Denham - Ocean Park Aquarium​
Denham - Ocean Park Aquarium​

Ocean Park Aquarium in Denham

We spent three weeks on the west coast already and we haven’t seen any maritime centre yet, so we decided we had to make up for it! 

Nell was delighted and we learned a lot of interesting things about our ocean friends. Ocean Park Aquarium in Denham is not large and commercial, which was a plus for us. 

We could touch fish, crabs, even a small shark. Everything was open and within easy reach. The guides who talked about the creatures living there are real enthusiasts. It looked like they enjoyed sharing experiences and anecdotes related to the fish living there with tourists.

The fish I saw a few days ago on the reef, now I could watch here and ask questions about their behaviour and learn interesting facts.

Nemo - the clownfish

For example, Nemo, the clownfish share their food with the soft coral they inhabit. They do not like humans to be too close to them. If that happens they become aggressive and they can start to tear hair from our hands or feet. It’s a small fish with a big attitude.

Stonefish

We also met a stone fish – we didn’t even see it standing 3 cm from the rock. Stepping on a stone fish can be very painful. Only immersing a limb in very hot water brings some relief. In hot water stone fish toxin (which is protein) is ‘cooked’ and the pain stops.

Tailor

We also met fish that are as fast as a torpedo when they hunt for prey – tailor. They are characterized by the fact when they chase prey, they swim up and bite off its tail, and then without any rush, eat it. After all, it’s hard to escape when you don’t have a tail.

Lemon Shark

We also had close encounters with lemon sharks that occur in these waters. Apparently, when they are older, they turn lemon-colored and often hang around in the very shallow waters of the Shark Bay, basking in the sun. 

They are not aggressive, but they can bite something unknown to them just out of curiosity.

Denham - Ocean Park Aquarium​

Barramundi in slow motion

We also saw a barramundi in the social pool, along with snappers, tailors and mulloways. This time of the year the water is relatively cold. Barramundi native environment is in the north of Australia where water is very warm all year round.

Due to this fact the barramundi in the pool went to some self preservation mode and became very slow. Everything around them was happening too fast. The Barra was unable to catch any piece of food thrown literally under its mouth. 

Before it was able to register there was something to eat, the food was already disappearing in the mouth of ubiquitous snappers. 

We finished the trip sipping coffee on the balcony overlooking the wonderful azure Shark Bay.

Denham

Little Lagoon

In the afternoon we went to another Denham attractions – Little Lagoon. It is a lake connected with the ocean by a thin thread of water. It looked amazing. Unfortunately, at the end, Nell got a little sick and had a fever, so the trip was quite short.

Next day our plan was to move our camp to the nearby Monkey Mia. The reason was simple – we wanted to stay close to shore and watch dolphins.

Denham sunset
Denham sunset

Monkey Mia bottlenose dolphins tour

Our next stop was a place known for its famous wild dolphins experience – Monkey Mia.

We got there in the afternoon. It was mainly a holiday park connected to a campsite. But we didn’t come all the way to Shark Bay for it. We were craving a close encounter with dolphins, dugongs, rays, turtles, sharks. 

Wait what? No, scratch that last one, no close contact with sharks. I got carried away.

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show
Monkey Mia bottlenose dolphins tour

The weather broke and it started to rain (our first rain in 4 months) so we had to put sightseeing aside. In the evening the weather improved and we went to the beach to check if the dolphins were hanging around. 

It turned out that they come to the Monkey Mia beach every day only once before noon, and in the afternoon they are looking for food on their own. We spotted a few in the distance, so more of them must be in the area.

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show
Monkey Mia bottlenose dolphins tour - dolphins come to the beach every day

But how did this relationship started? In the 1960’s fisherman returning with a catch started to share it with friendly dolphins. Over the years more dolphins showed up at the Monkey Mia beach. 

In the 1980’s researches arrived and discovered that dolphins spent too much time at the beach and mortality of the young dolphins fed by humans is higher than everywhere else. Thus, new rules were introduced to improve it. 

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show
Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show

Now, dolphins can get only a maximum of  ⅓ of their daily food requirements. This rule forces them to hunt. Males are not fed at all. 

There are no set feeding times. It’s just sometimes in the morning. And finally, people are not allowed to touch them or feed them on their own.  

Next day in morning we were going to know them better.

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show
Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show

We started the day early, because at 7.30 we were already on the beach. I don’t know how the dolphins know what time it is, but when we got to the beach, the group was already about 100 meters from the shore. 

At 7.30 am, the dolphins began to approach the shore. Then some 70 people went to the water. What a view! Four adult females and a few kids (I don’t know how many, because they were too quick) came to watch us. 

Exactly, they didn’t care much for fish, they rather preferred to swim around us and watch our happy faces. All dolphins that come to the beach have names and they own individual behaviours that are famous for. 

For example Picolo, sometimes brings fish to people when it arrives. I think that’s fair, a well-mannered dolphin doesn’t come to a party without a gift, right?

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show
Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show

But on a serious note, meeting these wise mammals causes a feeling of joy in people. Both, the adults and children standing knee-deep in the water had a literally inspired expression on their faces. 

Every now and then we would burst out laughing when the little ones swimming next to us splashed someone with water or chased their friend’s tail causing quite a stir. It was a great morning! 

However, it was getting late and after a quick breakfast we went back to the beach, this time to go on a catamaran cruise.

Monkey Mia - bottlenose dolphin show

Pearl Farm visit

Monkey Mia is also a perfect base to get to the nearby Pearl Farm. There were two attractions on our schedule: first to see the pearl farm, and then to look for dugongs. 

The Pearl Farm is a small hut built 2 km from the shore. When we got there we watched a presentation how pearls are formed, how to take them out and what the oyster inside looks like. We had a chance to taste them.

Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm
Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm

Pearls are made very simply. A perfectly polished pieces of shells are surgically inserted into an adult oyster with minimal opening of the shell (only 1 cm gap is enough). 

Two years is needed for the oyster to coat the foreign body completely. After this period, the shells are again taken out of the water, viewed under an X-ray machine and size of the pearl is determined.

Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm
Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm - samples

After that, with the help of a special spoon, the pearl is removed with a quick movement in the same way as is inserted. In its place another base for the new pearl is placed, only this time one millimetre larger in diameter. 

This process can be repeated up to 4 times, after which the oyster stops ‘producing’ nice pearls and its meat is then sold to Japan for about $400 per kilogram.

Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm
Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm - it was a really informative session for Nell

It also turns out that the growth marks on the pearls are the result of more and less food in the water. With more food, the oyster will rapidly build up a shell, forming hoops on its surface. We also saw how they ‘grafted’ opals and gold nuggets into the shell itself, resulting in gemstones coated with mother of pearl.’

Monkey Mia - Pearl Farm
Nice pearl product

We timidly asked where these beauties are hidden in the ocean, but they did not want to reveal their location to us – I am not surprised, because it is probably a few million dollars in gold and pearls.

Monkey Mia - Dugongs

Dugongs

After our Pearl Farm visit, we went to meet the dugongs. The weather was bad and we were afraid we would not see any of them. Fortunately, as if by magic, a hole was made in the thick clouds and we could enjoy the wonderful sun! 

For quite a long time, we were unable to track either dolphins or dugongs.  Then we found a herd ‘grazing’ quite close to us. They are big and in my opinion terribly ugly. Taking a good photo was also a challenge. Only their noses appeared on the surface of the water.

Dugongs
We were lucky to see a Dugong from the boat

The water was clear, but the bottom was strewn with the world’s largest fields of dark seagrass, so we couldn’t see their exact shapes. On the way back a dolphin joined us and led us all the way to the bay, swimming and jumping over the waves at the catamaran’s nose.

Monkey Mia - Dolphins
Monkey Mia - Dolphins

Sunset at Shark Bay (from Monkey Mia side)

The weather was changing every 15 minutes. Because of that we decided to postpone our visit to Peron National Park.  Next time we will show up, when the water is warm, the air is hot and the camping on the shore of the ocean is attractive. 

In the evening we went to the beach for the sunset. Luckily the wind wasn’t that strong anymore. The sky was orange and therefore very picturesque. In addition, the catamarans departed for the evening cruise and it looked beautiful in the bay.

Monkey Mia - Sunset
Monkey Mia - Sunset overlooking Shark Bay

I sat on the pier and admired the play of lights. It was quiet and nice, and at one point something began to snort beneath me. 

I glanced down and the dolphin’s happy eye was looking at me! It saw me and started to show off, urging me to go into the water. In a moment the whole herd went to guide the catamaran. 

The sun was getting lower, dolphins were frolicking about 50 meters from the shore, a sea turtle appeared for a moment. Monkey Mia – what an amazing place.

Monkey Mia - Sunset and Turtle
Monkey Mia - Sunset and Turtle

Monkey Mia and Denham Summary

In summary both places: Denham and Monkey Mia offer a lot and it was worth staying there. In Denham we could watch sunset over the Indian Ocean (not really as the Dirk Hartog Island is on the way), try fishing and visit the Ocean Park Aquarium. 

On the other side, in Monkey Mia we saw amazingly friendly bottlenose dolphins, dugongs, sharks and we visited Pearl Farm to learn how they are being formed.

Regretfully we did not drive to the top of Francois Peron Peninsula (check FAQ below), but at least we left something for the next time.

Next day our plan was to move only 55 km from Monkey Mia to Nanga Beach and see the famous Shell Beach.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Definitely yes. Dirk Hartog Island is the most western point of Australia and can be visited by tourists. You can even bring you 4WD on the barge and stay in Dirk Hartog Island Eco Lodge, Homestead Camping Ground or Buddy’s Beach Camp.

Visit https://www.dirkhartogisland.com.au/ for more information.

Francois Peron Peninsula can be driven up to the top via a dirt road. There are many interesting stops on the way from Denham or Monkey Mia.

South Gregories – located on the western part of the peninsula, halfway to the tip. It is a good campground where you can stay for a night and enjoy the sunset.

Cape Peron – located on the tip of the peninsula. It offers amazing views to Shark Bay with its amazing red cliffs, blue ocean and white beaches. There are many short walks around the place.

Skipjack Point – located on the eastern part of the peninsula. It has two viewing platforms where you can admire stunning views of Shark Bay. If you are lucky it is possible to spot dolphins, manta rays, sharks or turtles.

False Entrance Campground – this funny campground name was created after many mariners mistook it for the South Passage which is the entrance between Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island. It is a very basic campground with no facilities.

Steep Point Campground – it is a very popular campground without any facilities. You can make a booking up to 10 months in advance. There are two campsites at Steep Point: The Oven and Faultline. 

Note the campground is located at Zuytdorp Cliffs where extreme caution has to be taken near the cliff edges.

Carrarang Station – closed until further notice

Tamala Station – closed until further notice

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