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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Australia: Shark Bay

Shark Bay's stromatolites
The stromatolites of Shark Bay may not be much to look at, but without them we humans wouldn't even exist

I set off nice and early for Denham, on Shark Bay, further up the west coast. Denham is on the northern tip of a long peninsula that juts west and north from the mainland, creating this sheltered bay, Hamelin Pool. The result is an idyllic blue ocean with a large number of unique natural phenomena, hence the area's World Heritage status. It's a very famous area – at least, it's famous to readers of National Geographic – and as I turned off the highway onto the peninsula the clouds cleared, and that good old blue sky appeared for the first time in a few weeks.

Shells Galore

Shell Beach
Shell Beach looks like the most beautiful beach in the world...

The shell mine is another odd thing. The Great Australian Bight, the huge bay that sits to the south of the Nullarbor, is full of millions of tiny shellfish, and when they die, their shells get caught up in the sea currents. Quite why these shells end up in Shark Bay is anyone's guess, but they do, by the bucketload. The beaches round Hamelin are packed with shells, and in some parts they are so densely packed they've reacted with water to stick together in a kind of prehistoric concrete, just right for cutting building blocks from. There's a shell quarry in Hamelin where you can see blocks have been cut out from the dunes, and, indeed, the toilet block there is made out of shell blocks. This is definitely not normal.

A cloce-up of Shell Beach
...but it's made entirely of shells, which are stunning to look at but awful to sit on

Monkey Mia

Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia
The park rangers feeding the dolphins at blissful little Monkey Mia

Denham is Australia's most westerly settlement, and it's not a bad spot to camp. I settled in for the night, and got up the next day for a day trip to Monkey Mia, 26km east of Denham. Easily the most famous spot in Shark Bay, Monkey Mia isn't famous for its beaches, even though they are beautiful and golden. It isn't famous for its weather either, even though the sun shines for almost the entire year and rain is rare. It isn't even famous for being a near-perfect paradise setting. No, it's famous for its dolphins, for Monkey Mia is home to a collection of wild dolphins that just love to hang around with humans.

Nicky the dolphin
Nicky the dolphin, named after the small nick in her dorsal fin
Monkey Mia's pelicans
Monkey Mia's pelicans hang around on the beach like truant schoolchildren, terrorising tourists and rangers for fish