A Western Australia Road Trip: Stromatolites and dolphins in Shark Bay

​Shark Bay was always on our list of places to see in WA, partly because of our weird obsession with sharks and partly to see the world’s oldest living organism, because science. Oh, and some dolphins and a beach made up entirely of shells. Basically, it’s a good place to spend some time.

Hamelin Pool and the Stromatolites

Not to be confused with Hamelin Bay in the south, where you can find stingrays in the shallow waters. Here you can find the world’s oldest living organism, stromatolites. Don’t worry Australia, if that doesn’t excite you the fact that they look just like tiny rock stacks might.

Stromatolites have been around for over three billion years and they are part of the reason why we are all here today. Over the last two billion years the cyanobacteria in these microbial mats gave evolution a boost by breathing oxygen into the air.

As you turn off the main road you’ll follow it all the way to the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park and Cafe where you can park the car and walk to the beach. There’s a wooden boardwalk taking you right over the stromatolites so you don’t disturb them, and plenty of information along the way. The best time to see them is just before or after low tide when they are visible but still surrounded by water.

You can follow a path along the beach that will take you through Shell Block Quarry, with walls carved out of stone made up completely of white shells before taking you back to your car. It’s a very short walk so ignore the sign that says it takes 2 hours.

Shell Beach

As you park the car and walk towards the entrance of this beach it seems like all the others, a long stretch of white sand around a calm bay of clear water. In reality, this 60km long beach is made up of billions of tiny white shells, up to 10 meters deep in some places, of the Shark Bay cockle, only found in Western Australia. It’s a wonderful place to spend the afternoon as long as you don’t want to build a sandcastle!

Eagle Bluff

If you stop here make sure you take a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens for your camera if you have either of these, the long boardwalk along the cliffs is the perfect spot to see rays, dolphins, sharks, and even whales in the right season.

We spent around an hour walking up and down, watching the sharks and rays swimming along the coast in the impossibly blue water and around the small island that is home to a thousand birds.

Monkey Mia

This is the place to be if you want to see dolphins up close, with the chance to feed one. Your only choice for accommodation is the overpriced but lovely Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort where you can camp, stay in the dorms or one of the cabins along the beach, after you’ve paid the park entrance fee.

The resort has everything you need: a restaurant and cafe, a shop for essentials and a bar with a pretty sweet view of the beach. Don’t be surprised if you wake up to find an emu outside of your tent, and make sure you’re up early if you want to be in with a chance of feeding a dolphin.

The dolphin feeding is not guaranteed and is not at set times because they want to keep the dolphins as wild as possible. As me and forty or so other people lined up along the beach we were told it wasn’t going to happen but we were welcome to stick around or come back later and try again.

I recommend you stick around and take a walk along the beach. I was by myself as I spotted a dolphin who came right up to the shore and slowly made his way to the docks with me walking right beside him. I left as the crowd appeared and had the dock to myself where I saw two more dolphins and a huge sea turtle. Talk about feeling like a Disney Princess.

Your other option is to head out onto the water. For only $100 you can take a three-hour wildlife cruise with the awesome crew on the Shotover Catamaran with a chance to see dolphins, turtles, sharks, even whales, and dugongs. There’s even a free sunset cruise included and if you don’t see anything they offer repeat trips if you’re sticking around or your money back if not.

Unfortunately, we saw absolutely nothing, and when we tried to take advantage of the money-back guarantee the office staff were furious and unbelievably rude. Don’t offer it if you’re not willing to honour it guys.

There’s so much more of Shark Bay to explore like the Francois Peron National Park, the Zuytdorp Cliffs, Steep Point, and Dirkhog Island, but only if you’re either willing to pay for a tour or you have your own 4×4.

I’m glad we saw as much as we did with the limited amount of time we had but I wish we had a car that could handle some serious off-roading. If you’re heading that way give yourself as much time as possible but keep in mind there are no free campsites past Hamelin Bay.

Click here to view the full album.

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4 thoughts on “A Western Australia Road Trip: Stromatolites and dolphins in Shark Bay

Add yours

  1. I’m loving the science about stromatolites 🙂 I’ve always wanted to see them.
    My little girl would love that shell beach and the dolphins. It looks idyllic.
    You have a great writing style too; like your humour!

    1. I had never even heard about them until I read “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, and I just happened to be heading that way the month after! talk about coincedence. They are fascinating! I hope you and your daughter make it over to WA one day! And thanks so much for your kind words 🙂

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