One of Australia’s prized World Heritage sites, Shark Bay signifies the meeting of 2 very diverse landscapes. From the red sand desert of the north to the more temperate climates of the south and finally the turquoise splendour of the Indian Ocean, Shark Bay is a unique and very special place.
This makes it awesome for photos and awesome for wildlife – a double tick in our box!
Running through the Shark Bay area is World Heritage Drive, which takes in the famous areas of Monkey Mia (dolphin feeding), Denham (old fishing town) and Francois Peron National Park (lots of red sand).
As such there’s a lot of stuff to see and do here.
We made this World Heritage Drive as part of our great budget 4wd trip around Australia, but avoided Monkey Mia as it looked too commercial and expensive – 2 things I hate!
If you’re in the same boat as we were and are up for seeing the natural wonders of this area on a shoestring, then here are the 10 best free things to do in Shark Bay, that don’t include Monkey Mia!
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#1 Marvel at Shell Beach
This amazing beach is found on your way up the Shark Bay area before you hit Denham and is definitely worth a quick look at!
Composed of pure white sand, Shell Beach is, unsurprisingly covered in trillions of tiny white shells of one type and one type only!
These shells are actually fragum cockles, very specific to this area because of its saline waters.
Thought to be over 4000 years old, this beach of shells is over 120km long and 10m deep!
Definitely one of the best free things to do in Shark Bay, we recommend heading left when you get onto the beach, for the best views and whitest crunch underfoot!
#2 Photograph the Beautiful Wildflowers
Evidencing its position at the start of Western Australia’s more temperate zone, visiting Shark Bay in wintertime will allow you to experiences some of this state’s incredible wildflower season.
Roughly running from July to October, there have been over 50 varieties of wildflower recorded in this world heritage area and their array of white, yellow and pink colours make for quite the sight against the desert backdrop.
Visited by global enthusiasts, it is perhaps the Tamala Rose which is Shark Bay’s most well-known species, probably because of its distinctive pink flowers. Getting a snap of this, and many of the other colourful blooms, is certainly one of the best free things to do in Shark Bay.
5 ESSENTIAL PACKING ITEMS FOR AUSTRALIA
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop in Australia and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous country justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Australia – from cities to national park! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish strollling, I love mine
#3 Good Guidebook – I’m still a massive fan of the Lonely Planet Guidebooks and do think their Australia edition is well put together
#4 Good Water Bottle – Travelling in hot old Australia can be thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because tap water is drinkable… and free!
#5 Good Sun Hat – And there’s no denying you’ll need a good sun hat for protection in Australia too. In my opinion, you can’t go past this Hello Sunshine one, which is both gorgeous and ideal for keeping the rays off your face.
#3 Explore the Peron Heritage Precinct
As soon as you enter Francois Person National Park, you’ll hit the great heritage precinct.
The last stretch of bitumen before the notoriously sandy tracks further north, this fascinating centre is perfect if you’re only in a 2wd vehicle.
You do have to pay to enter here, but if you already have your WA Park Pass, as we did, then it’s free and there is a great little exhibition, as well as a self-guided walk that allows you to learn a lot about life during the Pastoral era.
Why anyone would ever want to try and graze livestock in such an arid climate, I have no idea, but there we go, the early European settlers here were so hardcore!
If you like your life to be slightly less hardcore, as I do, then the real jewel in this Heritage Precinct crown is the free hot tub, which has piping hot artesian waters constantly flowing into it.
We loved relaxing here in the scorching water, despite it being pretty warm outside the water!
In fact the most stressful part was making sure we didn’t overheat and pass out … always good fun!
#4 Camp at Fowlers
Showcasing the real beauty of this regions’ desert features, you can actually camp in the Shark Bay area for free!
There are 4 campgrounds available, all close to each other and all basic, but Fowlers Camp tends to be the most popular.
If you are travelling on a budget, like us, and know how expensive most camping is in Western Australia, this is undoubtedly one of the best free things to do in Shark Bay!
Contact the local Discovery Centre on 08 9948 1590 for all the camping info and to book.
Update as of May 2018: Camping at Fowlers and the other 3 camp sites around now cost $15 per vehicle for up to 4 people. Campers can stay one consecutive night at any of the 4 sites.
#5 Enjoy Little Lagoon
North of Denham, on the road to Monkey Mia, is Little Lagoon.
This perfectly round, turquoise body of water is the perfect place to spend an hour of 2 with loads of stuff to do including SUP, windsurf, kitesurf, kayak, picnic and fish.
If you don’t have your own gear, or that sounds like way too much hard work, then just relax at the side of the lagoon and take in the spectacular views.
We cooked a delicious lunch here in the fab new BBQ shelter, which is just as well because the wind was howling – so do be warned, you’ll need to find shelter if you’re looking to put the billy on!
There’s also a super viewing platform that you can stroll to here from a great view of how this lagoon links to the sea.
#6 Swim Nanga Bay
Expansive, wide, safe and secluded, Nanga Bay in the south of the Shark Bay area is the perfect spot for a refreshing swim.
The crystal here waters here also make it a delight and there’s some shade to take cover under too – especially good if you are here in hot weather like we were!
A really peaceful spot, this used to be an old sheep station, so there’s some fascinating history to discover here too.
#7 Wildlife Spot at Eagle Bluff
Probably the best free thing to do in Shark Bay we spent hours at Eagle Bluff, spying loads of different wildlife and eagerly hoping to see a dugong.
These amazing creatures are a common sighting in the Shark Bay area, attracted as they are by the prolific amount of seagrass.
Sadly, luck wasn’t on our side and we failed to glance one of these rare creatures, but did spot turtles, rays, sharks and fish instead.
Easily accessible via an interpretative boardwalk, the high perspective of this bluff, contrasted again the shallow water below, makes it the perfect place to spy some of Shark Bays most fascinating residents.
#8 Fish on Australia’s most Westerly Point
Steep Point is the most westerly location on Australia’s mainland and is accessible via the wonderfully named Useless Loop Road!
(FYI: Byron Bay is Australia’s most easterly point)
One of WA’s best game fishing spots, visiting this place requires a 4wd vehicle, a significant amount of time, a lot of patience and nerves of steel!
Make it though and you’ll be rewarded with some stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and epic catches!
Rough, remote and rugged, you must contact a ranger for permission before you head to Steep Point on 08 9948 3993.
Make sure you carry lots of water and plenty of fuel.
This is also the place you can cross onto Dirk Hartog Island if you’re up for going super remote!
Update as of May 2018: Steep Point now has an entrance fee as it’s about to become a national park, although it is still free if you have your WA Holiday or Annual Parks Pass.
#9 Soak up the Street Art in Denham
The commercial centre of Shark Bay, Denham is the heart of this remote community and you’ll likely stop here either for the night or just to stock up on supplies.
Beginning as a small pearling settlement, Denham now heavily relies on the tourist trade and is well set up to cater for visitors with some great beaches, several good but expensive lodgings (check out the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park or the RAC Monkey Misa Dolphin Resort if you’re on more of a budget), as well as an excellent visitor centre that has some great shipwreck remains you can see out for free.
But best of all however, is the wonderful foreshore, which features some fantastic sculptures that depict the history of the area, and are set against the very photographic backdrop of the blue Indian Ocean.
#10 See the Stromatolites at Hammelin Pool
Maybe the most famous drawcard for Shark Bay (aside from the dolphins of Monkey Mia!), the stromatolites were made famous by Bill Bryson in his wonderful book Land Down Under, where he waxed lyrical about their scientific importance!
And he was right, they are very important!
The oldest living fossils on earth, these guys are believed to be some 3000 million years old (yes you read right!) and are some of the earliest forms of life we know about!
Existent here because of the very saline water, the stromatolite colonies have helped scientists gain a better understanding of evolution and checking them out is one of the most amazing free things to do in Shark Bay.
There’s a 200m boardwalk, which makes this nice and easy, and some very useful information boards which certainly gave us a better understanding of their significance too.
BONUS #11 Free Thing To Do in Shark Bay
At the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Centre they now have a new 3D Film and exhibition – Fire on the Water.
This 15 minute 3D film and accompanying exhibit tells the story of the battle between HMAS Sydney II and the German ship HSK Kormoran, tracing the events of this World War II Naval battle 200 kilometres off the coast of Shark Bay.
The exhibit is permanent, free and screens every half hour during the Shark Bay Discovery and Visitors Centre’s opening hours.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
So that’s my list of the 10 best free things to do in Shark Bay.
Have you visited this World Heritage area?
What did you like seeing best?
I’d love to find out in the comments box below…