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Escape with Monkey Mia’s dolphins

DOLPHINS are an endless source of fascination and wonder to us – no matter how many times we see them, we keep coming back for more. And one of the best places in the world for a close encounter with these wonderful creatures is Monkey Mia … the home of dolphin dreaming.

About 2000 bottlenose dolphins live in Shark Bay outside Monkey Mia, thriving in the conditions of this huge seagrass meadow. No one is quite sure how Monkey Mia got its name, or how long the dolphins have been there. What we do know is that people began feeding them back in 1964.

These days, Monkey Mia continues the tradition of feeding the dolphins, but now expert advice is provided by CALM Rangers and international marine researchers on what to feed them, how much and how often.

That’s because Monkey Mia isn’t just for tourists – it’s now a haven for academics, too. At Monkey Mia you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about dolphins and more.

At the CALM Information Centre you’ll find a wealth of books and articles on dolphin biology and behaviour. Also, there are often free presentations in the evening given by some of the top academics in the field.

But at Monkey Mia, you get more than just dolphins. It’s the kind of place you can just chill out in your daggy old weekend clothes and feel totally relaxed.

Situated about 850 km north of Perth, it’s a full day’s drive so it’s best to get an early start.

In the wildflower season, a top idea is to break the journey at Western Flora Wildflower Farm in Eneabba. Alan Tinker (one of WA’s leading botanists) and his wife Lorraine will make you feel right at home and give you a wildflower show you’ll never forget.

If you’d rather fly, travel with Complete Aviation Services. You’ll get a terrific birds-eye view of the scenery, particularly the “burridas” or ancient saline lakes, and enjoy some interesting commentary from Stuart Burns or one of his experienced pilots.

There’s a good choice of accommodation at the Monkey Mia Resort – everything from motel style beachfront villas to camping under the stars, and lots of selection in between ranging from on-site vans to canvas condos. On site, there’s a huge swimming pool, tennis and volleyball courts, a warm-water mineral-rich spa, laundry facilities, a restaurant and a shop.

There’s plenty to see and do while you’re there … walks on the beach, fishing trips, sea canoes, sea kayaks, and, of course, the daily visit from those friendly dolphins.

A cruise on the Shotover, a fabulous 60-foot racing and pleasure catamaran, is a must.

Cruises depart all day, at sunset and on balmy nights. Harvey Raven and his crew are very knowledgeable about the ocean and its inhabitants, and will tell you all the about the dolphins, dugongs, turtles or sharks you’ll see. They’ll even give you an “Animal Sighting and No Seasickness Guarantee”.

Back on land, you can jump in your car (or take a day trip on the Shark Bay Bus) and visit the local sites. There’s Shell Beach, where tiny and ancient cockle shells form a 60 km hard-pack five metres deep; while at Hamlin Pool Marine Nature Reserve you’ll see the stromatolites.

There are wildflowers, rare native animals, and the nearby town of Denham with its picturesque bay, giant wind turbines and original shell-block buildings. There’s also the amazing “barking fence” separating “Project Eden” (which is trying to re-create the original environment by encouraging endangered native flora and fauna to return) from the rest of the terrain.

There are 4WD excursions into the ruggedly beautiful Francois Peron National Park, pearl farm tours, a working sheep station at Nanga, a dinky-di bush golf course topped with sand and sump oil (Tiger Woods eat your heart out!), and joy flights over Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island.

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