The solution: a few camping supplies chucked in - and on - the car and an easy trip north to Shark Bay leaving behind a mother perplexed at the ease and speed of departure with nothing booked ahead, and some siblings grumpy that their school routine had to continue.
The result: Absolute beach front accommodation, no booking required, guaranteed unique sights and views in an unspoiled, private peaceful part of classic Australian outback… three people, $60…what a deal!
An early evening arrival in Shark Bay , an overnighter at the Monkey Mia Resort campground and the next morning (after the obligatory dolphin experience) we were deflating our tyres by the old homestead in Francois Peron National Park, having paid our entrance and overnighting fees at the honesty box at the Park entrance.
Travelling around the Park is not hard but you do need a 4WD and you do need to let your tyres down if you hope to negotiate the soft sands and pindan dirt of the tracks without resorting to jacks and shovels. Experience driving in these conditions is undoubtedly useful.
We had chosen Herald Bight, on the eastern coast of the peninsular, as our destination. The eastern shore is gentle: sheltered from prevailing winds and ocean, dunes and red pindan cliffs flow down to a mill pond sea, shallow and peaceful. While the peninsular’s west coast offers several camping areas and fishing spots, Herald Bight is the only camping area on the eastern shore. It stretches for well over a curved kilometre of soft sand and affords the visitor absolute beach front camping and that unusual phenomenon in Western Australia, a view of a sunrise over sea.
The track from the homestead rolls and winds its way through scrub and around salt pans, at times stretching straight to the shimmering horizon, as every classic Australian outback should. At other times it forces you to creep around sharp corners in case one of several tours operating in the Park is coming the other way.
There are signs of animal life everywhere : along the banks of the track a myriad of prints and patterns left by emus and large and small reptiles and mammals have pocked the sand. Large lizards scuttle out of the way of oncoming vehicles and warning signs tell us to watch out for bilbies, the endangered marsupial now thriving in the Park since the fox and cat population was brought under control. Being nocturnal, bilbies are rarely spotted by day.
The Bight reveals itself as a sudden sweep of placid blue water as we crest a black sand dune 45 kms from the homestead. Soon after, we are setting up camp in a recess in the gentle dunes, a few hundred metres north of the access point. The only people on the beach. Not a sign of humans except an unattended boat trailer and its cargo moored out on the lake-like water. Bizarrely, there is strong mobile phone reception.
The next few days were spent exploring the shoreline by kayak and foot after spectacular dawn starts. Some scuttlings in the dunes at night, the occasional dolphin fin out at sea and the constant company of a mob of watchful seabirds were wonderful interruptions to our day. We pottered out each day to explore our surrounds: the white of the barnacle-covered rocks set against the red cliffs at Cape Peron (the northern tip of the peninsular) were stunning, our visit there made particularly memorable by the sight of a shark swimming close to shore as we walked along the rocky beach. The signs say “Swimming Not Recommended”….
The lighthouse at the Skipjack Point was well worth the visit. From there a stunning view south east over red dunes to clear turquoise waters in a sheltered bay revealed large rays and shoals of fish making their way over the rippled sands of the sea bed. We saw a large kangaroo bound effortlessly down a steep dune toward the sea - and a feral cat making its way more cautiously up the red dune towering over the bay.
Another visit to Big Lagoon, on the western side, was rewarding, too. An easy climb up dunes revealed the size of the lagoon, the vivid colours of its surrounding dunes and flora, its shifting currents, the ocean gently rolling at its entrance. Our big regret there was not bringing the kayak to explore the shores of this spectacular place.
Back on the road again well before we would have liked to, we happily delayed our leaving the World Heritage Area with visits to the the gleamingly pristine Shell Beach and the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool.
Measuring a good break by the detail and number of memorable moments, places Shark Bay beyond excellent. As a getaway destination, superb. Beach front accommodation, unparalleled. And the budget? I’ll be there longer next time….