Shark Bay is the name given to the two prongs of land and their corresponding lagoons situated west of Overlander Roadhouse on Highway 1. Denham, the only settlement, is on the western side of the eastern Peron Peninsula, while at Monkey Mia on the sheltered eastern side, bottlenose dolphins have been coming in to the beach almost daily since the 1960s. The western peninsula, accessed by Useless Loop Road 43km west of the Overlander, ends at Steep Point, mainland Australia’s westernmost spot. There’s much to see en route, including blowholes, sheltered white beaches and the endless Zuytdorp Cliffs – a 4WD is required, and you’ll need to be able to deflate and re-inflate your tyres to make it over some soft dunes.
Shark Bay was World Heritage listed in 1991, and if you weren’t aware of this fact before you arrived, tourism efforts have ensured that you certainly will be by the time you leave; the upside of this marketing drive is that the dolphins are quite rightly no longer the be-all and end-all in this remarkable place, which qualifies for listing under no less than four of UNESCO’s “natural” criteria for World Heritage status.
After all the hype, you might be surprised to find that Monkey Mia is just a resort and a jetty by a pretty beach. It’s to this beach that scores of people flock to see the almost daily visits by between five and ten adult female dolphins and their attendant calves, all known by name. Get here at 7.30am to watch the first feeding at around 8am. There are usually another two feeds per day, always before noon, to encourage the dolphins to spend the afternoon foraging for food in the bay – these two later feeds can be a better option if you don’t want to fight your way through the excitable crowds standing in the shallows.