Fifteen years ago, when we were both shy of twenty years old, Dave and I made a sweet but maybe somewhat naive list of things we valued most in our relationship. We came across the random piece of paper in a cardboard box of ‘treasure junk’ a few months ago when cleaning out one of those long-neglected storage spaces in a dark corner of the house. Given we had been dating for less than a year when this list was penned, it is satisfying and humbling to reflect that sixteen years and three children later, our stated value of being globally footloose seems (to us at least) to be in pretty good shape. I will spare you the list of random destinations we have been fortunate to visit together over the years and, instead, invite you to what has perhaps become my new favourite place in the world so far – Monkey Mia, Western Australia.
Monkey Mia is located in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. For our visit, we drove (as I recorded in my last post) approximately 800km south from Exmouth, overnighting in Carnarvon. We were fortunate enough to land ourselves a fully serviced (power and water that you can drink straight out of the tap) van site in the brand-spanking-new Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. As the sun rose on our first morning over the crystal clear waters, a number of wild dolphins began to linger for their morning interaction with a crowd of several hundred. Having failed in getting Olivia or Mia picked for hand feeding one of the dolphins (pretty long odds on such a busy day), I followed some advice from our camp neighbours and paddled out on my SUP directly off the beach from the camp kitchen. Within minutes, two dolphins had materialised and, as I drifted silently with my paddle out of the water, they proceeded to inspire awe as they not only circled within seeming touching distance but swam directly under my paddle board mere inches below the water’s surface. My first surreal experience of paddling with wild dolphins made me pinch myself wondering if it had just been my lucky morning or I would have the opportunity again.
The dolphins were anything but shy and appeared again later in the day, this time within metres of children playing on the sand. It was a wonderful mother-daughter opportunity to be able to repeat the morning process again, this time with Olivia and Mia each taking a turn on the nose of the SUP and coming face-to-face with dolphins in a pretty close to literal sense of the term.
The thing I love most about Monkey Mia is that you can be as adventurous or docile as you like. Feeling adventurous one morning, we drove the 48km along soft sand 4WD tracks to Cape Peron in Francois Peron National Park. The bounce and slide of corrugations and washouts on the track did wonders for pushing Alice through sleep cycles. As a result, the only stop we made on the track besides letting the air out of the tyres was for two emus crossing the road and the spiky echidna we saw nestled in the bushes. Just when I was getting to the point of feeling like we were on the long red dirt road to the middle of nowhere, I looked ahead to see the most spectacular landscape. There was a consensus that we should do the 1.5km hike from Skipjack Point to Cape Peron, and so off we went with the girls happily skipping along, collecting red dust and golden wattle for the Aboriginal-inspired paint they were planning to make back at camp. I just enjoyed the unique and breathtaking view of bright red desert sand literally plunging straight into turquoise ocean waters. Back on the black-top, we finished the day with a stop in the coastal town of Denham, which offered the most incredible children’s playground I think I have ever seen.
Whilst I don’t want to get into Saturday-travel-section-review-mode too much, I feel compelled to write that it is almost offensive to describe Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort as a caravan park. Despite the sight of literally hundreds of caravans, campers and tents lined up and the cost of accommodation averaging only $57 per night, it felt (to me at least – hardened camper that I have apparently become) like we were at the Shangri-La. There are pool facilities and two restaurants serving quality food overlooking the ocean. For those who wished to steer away from the resort-like facilities, I commented to Dave that the camp kitchen had a better oven than ours at home. This meant that I could enjoy baking without the nuances of using the Weber BBQ. The resort was also truly child friendly, including family bathrooms with both a baby and full-sized bath, shower and multiple toilets all in one room. Rain showers in each bathroom. Have I become forever ruined for the more traditional caravan parks and free-camps that lie ahead?
On our last day we decided to go on another day trip. Just when we thought our time in the Monkey Mia area could not get any better, we lucked out with a windless day and spent it paddling the kayak and swimming at Big Lagoon in Francois Peron National Park. The lagoon features almost outlandish clear water, that varies in shade depending on whether you are over white sand flats, pristine ribbon weed beds or some of the deeper channels. Once again, we were graced with the unique sight of bright red desert sand plunging straight into these shimmering waters.
Out on the water, alone, I felt like I was miles from nowhere. Despite this, it only took us half an hour to get back to camp, where we ended the day with a delicious meal at the restaurant (Dave offered to throw some steak on the barbie but I selflessly told him to have the night off…). Watching the sun set over the mirrored waters, the day was complete as a handful of the famous finned locals cruised by in the shallows to say goodnight.