Monkey Mia, Shark Bay and adjacent Francois Peron National Park are a 2 hour detour off Highway 1, but well worth it. The ride was smooth, relaxing and it was the kind of weather I love – clear skies, hot and sunny; who doesn’t?
I stopped for fuel and lunch at the Overlander Roadhouse, one of many Roadhouses lining the roads of the Australian outback making sure travellers don’t run out of fuel, food, beer or all three. I have found Roadhouses vary as much as Agavaceae (which vary a lot believe me); some are expensive, others very expensive; some allow camping, others do not; some have great food, others have the same old awful limp, cold corn-beef sandwich that’s been sitting there for 3 years.
A pleasant stop on the way up was Hamelin Pool where I once again bumped into my old prehistoric buddies, the Stromatolites. Like the ones at Thetis Lake, they were just lying in shallow water enjoying the sun and didn’t seem to be a hurry to get anywhere. Maybe we should all learn a lesson from them?
By now my late rise and subsequent dallying meant time was catching up with me and I wasn’t going to make it to Monkey Mia before dark. Instead I switched target to Denham and rolled up just as the sun was setting and the vampire Kangaroos were raising from their daytime coffins.
I found the local backpackers pretty quickly and soon found myself in a 4 berth room with 1 other guy. Well, at least until another 2 people turned up… I rolled into bed early as I had to be up early doors to get to Monkey Mia by 8 for the first dolphin feeding. The dolphins that hang about in Shark Bay (off Monkey Mia) are wild but are obviously used to free hand-outs every day, and so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some close up. You’re no longer allowed to swim with them during the feeding, but can do so afterwards, if they stick around (very rarely).
Today was only the 2nd day since my trip began that I’ve managed to get up before the sun (the 1st being to catch the Wellington to Picton ferry in NZ). Although I hardly ever make it out of bed at this time, I do LOVE it once I’m up; it’s such a great feeling seeing the sun rise, and you have a full 5.5 hours ahead of you to get all your work done before lunch! As I get older and time goes quicker and quicker I’m determined not to waste one third of my day lying in bed. Unfortunately, I am rubbish at getting up.
All the way to Monkey Mia I rode with the sun directly in my eyes, meaning I saw almost nothing. Apart from not being able to see where I was riding, this wasn’t very clever because the Kangas are still pretty lively first thing in the morning – unlike myself. But I made it there alive and far too early, but it was a nice beach and a good place to relax.
As it turned out it was best to stay in Denham anyway, because Monkey Mia only has one ‘holiday resort’ which is pretty expensive (for me, at least), and it’s only 30 mins away.
On the button at 08:00 (feeding time) 2 dolphins turned up and placed an order of a full English fry-up, with tea and extra toast. Oh sorry – that was me. They both ordered buckets of really smelly fish. Someone had given me a tip to wear a really bright T-Shirt so staff there pick you out to feed the dolphins (appears they only have primary colours in their vocabulary), so I did. And lo and behold I was picked and promptly waded out to knee depth where a hungry dolphin grabbed my fish in return for a big cheesy grin.
Being close to a dolphin is something magical. You can just sense they are highly intelligent, but also seem to be having so much fun all the time. One of the most incredible things I have ever done is snorkel with a dolphin in Florida; as I duck-dived she followed me closely and copied my ever twist and turn. I’ve also been being lucky enough to see them several times while diving at Aliwal Shoals, SA and The Galapagos. Although you cannot swim with the dolphins during the Monkey Mia experience, it is still amazing to feed them and see these beautiful mammals close up.
Apart from the dolphins, and a great ‘all you can eat’ breakfast buffet for 15 AUD (cheap by Aussie standards) there is not much else to do at Monkey Mia itself, so I fired up the old beast and made my way into Francois Peron National Park to the north, renowned for its beautiful, remote coast and great kayaking & fishing.
Francois Peron National Park is pretty much one huge sand dune. I decided to test myself and see how the old girl would handle the sandy tracks; some of them very deep. This was the first time I had taken my bike into deep sand, and it was tougher than I thought – much tougher in fact. At 215 kg (473 lbs), she is certainly not light to pick up after dropping, which I did once riding in deep sand, and twice deliberately to pull her out of deep holes after the back wheel decided to bury itself. Luckily, no-one was around to see any of these 3, so they didn’t count.
On the way back to Denham I stopped by ‘Little Lagoon’, a picturesque lagoon where you can drive most of the way around along the beach. It’s always great fun riding on the sand close to the ocean, but make sure you look at the tide times because once I got bogged down in deep sand and almost got swamped by an incoming tide!
After digging and pulling my bike out of sand all day I was pretty hot & tired and decided to treat myself to a cool, relaxing swim in the fast flowing river that joins the lagoon to the sea. I had been told it was good place to snorkel, but although beautifully cool & refreshing, there wasn’t much to see (and no crocs).
When I got back to my room my bike was covered in sand and salt water, and so I spent an hour giving her a bit of love & attention, and a clean fresh water wash.
All in all this part of my journey was particularly memorable, and I had great fun riding along the beach and through the sand dunes. I did, however, learn a couple of valuable lessons, such as ‘my bike is bloomin’ heavy to pick up 3 times in a row’ and ‘don’t try and ride my bike in deep, soft sand next to the sea’.