Denham, Shark Bay

It was fairly late in the day and we were still 20 Kms from our Denham caravan park but to keep our spirits up, the sky decided to give us a feast of a sunset! It was to be a prediction of the sunsets to come over the next 2 days.

The map to the right illustrates the drive we had set ourselves after leaving Coral Bay. It was a distance of well over 550 kilometres. We stopped for a lovely lunch in the main street at the Carnarvon pub and decided afterwards to have a quick look around this large, busy town on the Coral Coast. We decided that it had so many interesting places to visit, we put it on our new list of places to go in the future. The next section of the drive to the Overlander Roadhouse on the North West Coastal Highway was a dry old proposition and we were delighted to finally turn off on to the road to Denham, the major town on Shark Bay. Whilst a fairly new road, the tarmac surface of Shark Bay Road was narrow and the drive into the setting sun tested our camper van driving skills. It was a great relief to finally drive into the Denham Seaside Caravan Park. It was an early rise the next day as we  had an appointment with the Dolphins at Monkey Mia on the other side of the peninsula. We had not long pulled out of our Caravan Park when a family of wallabies darted across the road in front of us; driving in this World Heritage Area has its challenges.


We returned from our trip to Monkey Mia late in the morning with plenty of time to have a look around Denham. Our Caravan Park was on a headland looking out over Shark Bay so it was a prime position in town. From our camper van it was a very short walk down to the town’s foreshore. It was a narrow sandy beach that edged the bay but the town had put a lot of work into the promenade and the parklands that enabled the visitor to walk slowly along the waterfront side of the town’s main road. There was a big fishing competition in town so there was a small festival site set up in one of the parks so there were a lot of fishing ‘holiday-makers’ around enjoying the coffee and the sunshine. It quickly became obvious that Denham took pride in their history so for the next two hours we walked to the end of Knight Terrace and viewed the information boards and heritage sites along the way. 

After walking out of the caravan park onto the Stella Rowley Drive, there is a roundabout with a plaque that immediately reminded me of the early arrival of European explorers on the Coast of Western Australia. Dirk Hartog was a Dutch sea captain who was on his way to Batavia in the East Indies when he allowed the Roaring Forties to take him too far across the Indian Ocean before he remembered to turn left to Batavia. He encountered some uninhabited islands off the coast of Shark Bay, one of which he landed on and spent three days exploring. He left an inscribed pewter plate recording his visit on a post, the very old plate can be found today in a museum in Amsterdam. He was the first European to set foot in Western Australia but only the second European to land on the Great South Land, the first was another Dutch sailor, Willem Janszoon. who in 1606 landed on the coast of Cape York. Dirk Hartog Island is directly across the bay from the beach at Denham.

Getting coffee earlier in the Park, the coffee grinder had referred to one of his ageing customers as Bob, the ‘Monkey’s Uncle’. Over the road next to the Hotel, there was quite the display of tourist information boards in an outdoor area and we ran into Bob again here. He was very keen to have a chat and to tell us some of his stories. For example, he had spent a lot of time fishing and camping on Dirk Hartog Island. One of his stories was that the Island had become a sheep station back in the late 19th century because it was thought to be a perfect site for sheep as there was no danger of rabbit invasion! You can visit an old Shearing Shed if you visit the island today but most of the island is now a National Park.

One of the other tourist information boards in the outdoor section of the pub was all about the World Heritage status of Shark Bay which is a good summary of what the local land and sea has to offer its many visitors.

We continued to explore the main street of Denham for a major part of the afternoon. We would have needed more time if the Shark Bay Discovery Centre had been open. It covered all the heritage and history sites of the Shark Bay region.

One of the heritage buildings in Denham that we did spend some time admiring from the outside was the Old Pearler Restaurant. Its claim to fame is that it is the only restaurant in the world built entirely from Coquina Shell. The origin of these Coquina shells is a local marvel that we would be introduced to on the road out of Denham at a site unsurprisingly called Shell Beach. It is said that the original owner and builder back in the 1970s carved the blocks of his restaurant at a quarry at one of our other stopping points on our way out to the main highway tomorrow, at Hamelin Pool. Reviews of the food at the Old Pearler restaurant are great, unlike the state of the block work on the from righthand side of the building.

After a rest in the Camper Van in the mid-afternoon, there was one more place I wanted to visit in the Denham area before the day finished. On the way home from Monkey Mia that morning we passed by an attractive blue lake that looked perfect for a stroll and a late afternoon swim. By checking the map of Denham used earlier in this blog, the ‘Little Lagoon’ can be seen to the right of Denham Town. One of the great things about Denham is its fabulous information boards and we found this to be the same when we arrived at the blue ‘Little Lagoon’ as can be seen below.

This lagoon is no ordinary body of water. It was originally a saline lake that evaporated thousands of years ago to become a Birrida which was inundated by rising seas after the last Ice-Age. A Birrida is a local name for the rounded depressions left between sand dunes when a saline lake has evaporated. On the way into Denham, we had noticed a lot of these Birridas looking like dry lake beds longing for rain. Birridas are thought to have formed around 11000 years ago. We began our inspection of the shoreline of the lagoon closest to the Monkey Mia road. We then moved to the other car-park on the other side of the lagoon closer to Denham. We were then able to follow the beautiful stream, lined with mangroves, that eventually wound its way out through the beach and into Shark Bay. This was a place of significant beauty.

On the way into Denham on our first night we were greeted with an amazing sunset. The above image, the view out the back of our campervan, was taken in the middle of our second afternoon. As can be seen below, this same view provided us with a sunset that evening which was a privilege to experience.

We had promised ourselves a number of stops the next day before we needed to get down to the serious driving required to get our next destination, Kalbarri. Check the links below for the details of our stops on the way out along Shark Bay Road.



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