Pelican Encounter at Shark Bay

Awake in the cool dawn and depart early from Dongara. The countryside around Geraldton is nothing as I expected – rather than dry, it is green lush farmland for around a hundred kilometres. The temperature is cool and rainshowers periodically pass over us.

The landscape gradually changes into a flat, endless expanse of scrubland with a straight long highway cutting through. The ubiquitous red soil on both sides of the tarmac is covered in pools of water from the rain. The traffic is heavy, mainly heading southwards as Perthonians (?) return home at the end of the school holidays. We also encounter more ‘road trains’ but they aren’t much larger than the biggest size tankers loose on New Zealand roads.

After a long drive we reach the Overlander Roadhouse, the turn off to Shark Bay. Huge puddles of red mud, red mud everywhere and about thirty cars, trucks and utes all refuelling. The gaps between settlements are now becoming much larger, and we have only passed a few isolated farm stations in the last couple of hours.

The road up to Shark Bay is another 100 or more kilometres. We stop for a break at Shell Beach which is made up of millions of tiny shells that have been compacted into a hard material known as “coquina” which was originally used as a local building material. The bay is flat and vast, the dull opaque green of the ocean silent with only a tiny ripple at the shore, and the overcast skies make the cloudy waters appear even more strange.

We stop for the night at Denham, a small fishing and tourist town (“the most westerly townin Australia”), and end up having a major disagreement with the hostel manager over our room. However we do get to see the sun set in the Indian Ocean. The clouds are beginning to shift away.

The following morning we make a short drive across the peninsula to Monkey Mia, which is basically just a bay with a hotel and a conservation-style centre. We arrive to meet our first pelican which waddles onto the beach and helpfully fits in the background of some photos. Up close they are the most preposterous looking creature, like a cross between a turkey and a seagull, with a beak that almost reaches the ground. When they fly, their landbound ungainliness evaporates, and they glide serenely through the sky.

The dolphins arrive shortly after and swim close in to shore by the small group of watchers as if on clockwork.

The beach is long and white, with green-blue waters spreading out into the distance. The area is actually a series of bays and islands but the distances involved means it appears you are looking straight out to the open ocean. The calmness of the waters is the only indication this isn’ t the case. There are only a few people around, and we hang out on the beach for a while.

We turn back and head south. This is as far as we come for this journey. It’s over a thousand kilometres back to Perth.

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