Dawn spread across Shark Bay, Australia’s most westerly point, and with the tide lapping at our feet we set off across the mirrored lagoon. It was a rare pleasure watching our boats’ shadows glide silently over the seabed because out in the open the northwesterly was waiting for us.
We’d left Denham, Shark Bay’s only settlement, a day earlier, planning to paddle north 60 kilometres to the tip of the Peron Peninsula, round Cape Peron and cover about the same distance south to Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, the focal point of Shark Bay.
Shark Bay is a UNESCO listed site and besides dolphins we were expecting encounters with turtles, rays and maybe even the elusive dugongs (manatees). Sure enough on that first day a green turtle passed beneath our bows and later, semi-submerged rays startled by our paddles took flight as if shot from a bow.
With our heads down we worked our way up the coast, occasionally man-hauling through the shallows for a break. At one point tiny fish broke the surface, chased by the distinctive fins that gave the Bay its name. Soon metre-long sharks began darting between our boats, racing at us then veering off at the last minute in a flurry of spray. Away from our boats’ bulky silhouettes we were more vulnerable; as Sharon waded towards the beach the little sharks circled her, homing in for a nip and forcing her into a panicked dash to shore.
Presently the waters cleared and we hopped back into the kayaks, steering out around sandbanks as we passed a line of ochre-red cliffs. As they ended we hauled the boats ashore and with daylight to spare, wandered off to explore the beach.
Up with the sun again, but there was no calm put-in this morning. It would be another tough haul to reach Cape Peron. By 9am Jeff estimated it was blowing at 15 knots.
“What’s that in English!?” I yelled.
“About 30 clicks!”
Was it possible to paddle against 30kph winds? We set off across Broadhurst Bight as confused seas barged at us from all sides. My inflatable flexed with the swell as waves surged over the sides, requiring frequent bailing while towed by Jeff and Sharon’s hardshell. The distant shore inched steadily by and the once comforting seabed was now an unfathomable inky blue abyss. Still, every vicious headwind has a silver lining and as we dug away a pair of dolphins popped up to say hello.
…..as Sharon waded towards the beach the sharks circled her, homing in for a nip and forcing her into a mad dash to shore.
We staggered ashore at Cape Peron three hours later having covered seven kilometres and with my boat swilling with seawater. After our three-day northbound marathon we were keen to round the Cape; at last the wind would be out of our face!
We pushed out and once rafted up, Jeff hoisted his secret weapon: a sail that filled instantly with a satisfying slap. Soon we were skimming along at two or three times our paddling speeds southeast into Herauld Bight, water lapping over our bows.
We were sitting back, enjoying chatting without yelling when Sharon exclaimed “Dugongs!!” Up ahead several dun-coloured profiles emerged against the dark seagrass bank on which they were feeding and before long we were right among a herd of twenty sea cows, caught unawares by our stealthy windborne raft. At times our bows nearly ran over them and the water ahead exploded as their powerful tail flukes blasted them out of range.
By dusk our unexpected downwind run had doubled our day’s mileage and the following morning we windsurfed into Hopeless Reach. The wind finally dropped and it was back to good old-fashioned paddling on much calmer seas.
As we approached Monkey Mia two days later bottlenosed dolphins cruised past heading to the resort for the daily handout. Beaching the boats one last time a crowd gathered for the 10am ranger-led dolphin encounter. But having sailed with sea cows and walked with sharks, we knew there was plenty more to see out along the unexplored shores of Shark Bay.