Denham & Monkey Mia

The entire population of Australia, a land mass similar in size to the US lower 48 states, is only 25 million people. For comparison, the population of the US is around 330 million people. You would have to go back to the1850s, pre-Civil War era, to find a time when the US had Australia’s current population density.

The population of Western Australia, an area the size of the US from Colorado to the west coast, is only 3 million people. This fact starts to sink in as you drive on the major roads that are only 2 lanes for most of the distance and see only a few cars per hour of travel.

In the remote areas you come across Roadhouses that are the only gas, food and hotel for many miles. We stopped at one on our way north to grab some lunch and some gas. The Billabong Roadhouse was a hub of activity in this remote area. Billabong means the pools of water that remain when most of the river or stream dries up during the dry season. Billabongs are where the crocodiles hang out waiting for something to come in for a drink. Not sure how that name came to be associated with surfing apparel – lol.

Road trains are common on these roads, where truckers attach extra trailer segments to their rigs. We were still in the slightly remote area of Australia, so the road trains were limited to 120 feet. I talked with the driver of this rig and he said north of where we were, the remote area of Australia, rigs can add another trailer and get up to 163 feet long. They have “Road Train” signs on their bumpers so you know if you go to pass one it may take some time. They have road train assembly areas off the road on the outskirts of the larger cities so that the trucks can be reduced in size to get into town, or likewise increased in size as they leave. This one was unique in that all the trailers were gas. Most road trains are pulling dissimilar trailers so that it looks like a circus train on the roll, with everything imaginable attached.

At the southern tip of Shark Bay is the Hamelin Pool Stromatolites. These stromatolites are formed by the layered growth of a single-celled photosynthesizing microbe. Some of the first forms of life on earth are found in stromatolites that date back 3.5 million years. This shallow area of Shark Bay has very high salinity that the stromatolites and some fish like. It’s one of the few places on earth that stromatolites still live.

Some Australian Pied Cormorants and some Little Black Cormorants were perched on top of the stromatolites.

This Welcome Swallow was also there, enjoying to afternoon sun.

We continued up the Peron Peninsula and arrived at Denham, a town of around 800 folks, named after the English Navy captain that charted Shark Bay in 1858.

We saw this metal sculpture in town, and I was intrigued with the look the straight rods created along the curved surface. I may have to play with something like this for a future project.

The next day was another weather day with light rain so we explored the aquarium and museum in town. The museum was very interesting, discussing the many Dutch, French and English explorers that charted western Australia. The area was also the site of many shipwrecks throughout the years. The Dutch East Indies company travelled around Sumatra to get to Singapore and the Far East. It wasn’t until 1616 that Dirk Hartog, a Dutch explorer, sailed south far enough to hit Australia and Shark Bay. The large island in the bay was named after Dirk.

With the entire day on our hands we sat and watched several videos that explained a lot of the marine studies and ship explorations that have gone on in and around Shark Bay.

The aquarium was small but interesting. It only reaffirmed that everything in Australia, and in the water nearby, is either poisonous or venomous – lol. The guide picked up the sea snake, which is extremely venomous, but do not bite people due to our size. They are extremely curious and attempted swim out to say hello to all of us around the tank. Its amazing how quick you can move when a venomous snake is coming towards you.

Another unique group of guests in the aquarium were the rockfish, that surprisingly look exactly like rocks, but react lighting fast when food is near their mouths. The also have poisonous spikes along their back if you are unfortunate enough to step on one.

On the way back to our place we saw two Emus in the bush.

The skies cleared the next day and we made our way to Monkey Mia. This place is known for its dolphins. Pods of dolphins have become accustomed to humans over many years and swim next to the beach all day long. The guides feed them daily now, but only the females and only in the morning as a tourist item. The males can get too aggressive and they want the dolphins to get most of their food from the sea.

We did some hikes through the dunes and came out along a secluded beach.

Shortly after we got to the water’s edge a mother dolphin and her calf swam up to us and effectively escorted us back the mile or so down the beach back to the main tourist area. We have never “walked” with a dolphin before and it was a truly unique experience. The mother would look up from time to time to see that we were still there with her while the little calf just frolicked over and around the mom the entire time.

We had a nice lunch on the beach there.

One of the most picturesque places in Shark Bay is the François Peron National Park. It’s only accessible by 4-wheel drive due to the sandy roads, but we decided to see it from the air. We had scheduled a flight for the morning, but the commercial flight schedule was thrown off due to the weather the previous day. We rebooked to the afternoon.

Upon arriving at the airport, a runway with a check-in shack, there was just a little old lady sitting there. Eve has wintered in Denham for many years but had never seen the national park. Since we were only two, she was able to book on our flight to fill the Cessna. The plane arrived a short time later with a tour group and the pilot said the clouds over the park were getting bad and we could reschedule for the next morning if we wanted, so we did.

We ended up going to Eve’s house for some tea and spent the afternoon with her. She was 85 years old, an English citizen born in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. She lived there for 30 years before emigrating to New Zealand with her husband after the regime change. She lived in New Zealand for 30 years and moved to Australia with her husband and kids and has been there for the last 25 years. She wasn’t sure what country she was a citizen of anymore but said it really didn’t matter since she wouldn’t be traveling anytime soon – lol.

We made plans to meet again in the morning for our flight over François Peron National Park.

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