Location, location, lying low in Denham ...

Trip Start Apr 13, 2011
Trip End Jul 13, 2011

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Bay Lodge Backpackers

Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Sunday, May 15, 2011

We spent our first day in the Shark Bay area being proper tourists, after which we were planning to give ourselves a break and just hang around being "locals" for a few days while we mellowed out after our long trip across and up from Melbourne.

Where better to start than the back yard of the sheep station where we had camped the night. Just down the road was Hamelin Bay, home of the stromatolites. Some of these critters are about 1,000 years old, although they have apparently been around for as long as 350 billion years! They look like rocks and sea sponges to the untrained eye, but are actually very simple bacteria that grow in layers, trapping sediment and slowly increasing in size over many years as they repeat the process. Pretty groovy, really, that they are still just doing what they did millions of years ago; and equally amazing that humans have not managed to destroy them.

Shell Beach was another must on the tourist itinerary, and looks great, but the shells hurt your feet if you try and walk on them! I remember being amazed the first time I encountered the shell-blocks that they dug out of the shell quarry here for a number of buildings in Denham, but I didn't feel the need to linger this time. It’s pretty amazing that the beach is made entirely of little white shells instead of sand, but as I mentioned, the excitement wears off pretty quickly if you try and stand or sit on the things! The day we were there, the sun wasn’t really playing the game, either, and a number of other tourists got in the way of any arty-farty shots, so we were back in the car quite quickly.

We pulled into Denham in the mid-afternoon and did a couple of laps of the main drag, looking for something appropriately luxurious to justify leaving the tent in the car. The two caravan parks certainly did their bit in terms of persuading us that this was a good move. Although one was reasonably well-situated and the unpowered tent sites looked very inviting, the rest of the place was just a sea of caravans which stretched further than the eye could see up the hill – there was obviously no privacy to be had there. The other doesn’t even really deserve a mention, as it was just a barren poxhole in the middle of the town – using the adjective “uninviting” for this impression is my first real understatement for this blog, I think. It would have been like pitching a tent in the parking lot of a motel somewhere like Tailem Bend; although to be fair, this place was shinier and whiter than Tailem Bend would ever be, thanks to the shell grit that formed both the basis for all the pathways and the walls which lined each of the tiers. Denham is on quite a slope, so nearly all the buildings are tiered towards the beach in layers. Mind you, we were not spoilt for choice here in this little fishing village, as most of the architecture on the shoreline is spectacularly ugly – as in too many small coastal towns all over Australia.

However, in a nice stroke of luck, we found two venues we liked the look of – a set of little ocean-front villas, and right next to them, the backpackers’. The backpackers’ won the toss for economical reasons, and we have moved into a little one-bedroom unit, which is literally only 20 metres off the water’s edge! We walk past our car, cross the road and plop straight into the water. It’s clean, comfortable, and we have our own beach! Why pay extra to have the same thing just next door, only with fancier paintwork? I can’t get over the fact that the backpackers’ is, in fact, the nicest-looking building in the whole town centre (OK, with the exception of the “Old Pearler” restaurant, which is built of shell-block). We’ve been here five days now (writing this on May 15), and we both agree that it was worth every sleepless night in the Kalbarri caravan park. If we’d gone posh there, we would have felt compelled to camp here, and that just isn’t an option. The fact that the weather turned a bit dodgy 48 hours into our stay here put the icing on the cake in a big way. We had booked a sailing cruise for the day on Friday – a full day out from Monkey Mia, which included a stopover in the Francois Peron national park for some snorkelling or swimming, so that would have been pretty amazing. However, we woke up to strong winds, a black sky and an apologetic phone call instead, as it was apparently even rougher out at Monkey Mia, which therefore made a cruise unviable. Not one to be put off by changes in our circumstances, I jumped straight back into bed with a cup of tea. We then literally spent the next 48 hours within ten metres of our bed. Most of them were spent reading, eating or sleeping, but we did take a break to clean the car, wash the fridge out and dress a couple of rust spots on the trailer. Harvey rang each morning to confirm that he was still not going out on the water, and eventually just gave up and refunded our money.

We hit Denham in the midst of the annual Fishing Fiesta, so that’s been interesting. During the day, the place is a ghost town, but after dark, all the fishermen and their families emerge for a bit, then disappear again – for an early night, I guess. Maybe not, but I’m glad we are not in the caravan park with them. I don’t think I could bear being camped in the midst of a mass of fishing enthusiasts just now. The fiesta finished on Friday evening with a fireworks display that would rival any in a big city, and luckily the rain that had been falling on and off all day decided to hold off for a bit, so we wandered around and soaked up the atmosphere, although we did not go into the special enclosure where the real enthusiasts were partying like crazy. We’ve enjoyed Denham, just because it’s one of those places where it’s OK to relax and do nothing. We caught the first episode of Chris Lilley’s new series on our first night here, which was a bonus, and it’s been great to be able to sit up at night with proper light. Most of all, I have enjoyed the luxury of the unit being soundproof, which means I can sleep all through the night and for most of the morning undisturbed. Not only that, finally deciding to prop somewhere for a few nights, and being clever enough to pick a place with very few tourist attractions, and you have relaxation heaven! The weather also conspired to help us in a way, too, as had it been finer, we would have felt obliged to go and do “stuff”. We have done the basics, but we can go back to Denham with a clear conscience, knowing we have left a few stones unturned for next time.

We’ve had a lot more contact with the locals here, which is also something we like when travelling. The IGA four paces down the road is staffed by three older ladies, either on rotation or all there at once, so you get a whole different shopping experience to the places staffed by reluctant and disinterested teenage boys, which has been the case for much of the coastal journey. The ladies banter with all the old blokes who come in off the boats to get their meal-in-a-tin and jolly the tourists through their various crises with a friendly laugh. They haven’t batted an eyelid at our antics with our credit cards, either. Paddy is still limited to spending where they’ll take Amex (nowhere), and my reliance on a long-defunct account has lead to some very comical moments, as I tried to retrieve a PIN number from the very deepest recesses of my brain without using up the three tries you get before the machine swallows the card. I got lucky, though, and we are back in business.   

I must be getting old, as it was also nice bantering with the two older ladies who ran the “Old Pearler” where we went for a posh nosh-up one night and treated ourselves to a platter of all the local seafood – yum, yum, yum! It was a nice change to many of the establishments in Melbourne where everyone’s too young and hip to actually serve you properly these days, or at the other end of the spectrum they are faking interest in you to the point where you want to ask for a spew bucket. Yep, I think it is official – I am definitely getting old and grumpy, even on holidays where noone is provoking me!

We met some more old-timers on Saturday night, as we searched out the “Town Hall” in order to attend the Film Society’s screening of “My Boy Jack”. For $5 a head, you get a movie and a glass of wine, as well as some jovial interaction with an eclectic but small bunch of locals and mixed ring-ins like us. Unfortunately, Denham is in dire straits – 70% of its population is over 60 – but hopefully someone will find a way to keep it alive, as it’s a nice little place with a really good vibe.

After our planned cruise was cancelled, we followed up a lead on a 4WD tour to Point Peron with an indigenous slant, thinking we would come home skilled at hunting and finding bush tucker, and having seen the most amazing sights. Well, we did see amazing sights, and Keith was a great host. He was friendly and a very nice bloke who certainly shared a good amount of knowledge about himself, his people and the area, but it was fairly clear that a number of areas remained unexplored, and for the money, you really expect to come home feeling reasonably enlightened. It was pretty low-key, and he even admitted that his brother was more into that side of things, so if anyone is looking for a truly genuine look at indigenous life in Shark Bay, head for Monkey Mia and find Keith’s brother!
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Kirst on

I think we may have had an indigenous tour by Keiths brother after we sailed on the Leeuwin in Shark Bay for camp a few years ago. It was so good! Lots of animal tracking, bush Tucker and a smoking ceremony too. All axstones throw from the beach at Monkey Mia. Did you see the dolphins? When are you coming home. We are having a fancy dress party next sat night to celebrate moving out of our place. Shame you guys wont be here!

Love xoxo

stones_luce on

It's a shame us guys won't be there too Kirst! We loved Denham too. We think there may be only one backpackers? We stayed there too!

kyser on

How funny! Remind me again which parts of this corner of the world you looked at, so I don't bore you with repetition! Did you get to Exmouth and Karijini? How about the bananas in Carnarvon? Do you remember them? Deeeelicious!

kyser on

Damn shame we can't just fly over for a party, then come back here. Sounds like you discovered Keith's brother alright, lucky you! Hope the move goes well.

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