Called Wulyibidi by the local aboriginal people who have inhabited the region for 26,000 years, the Francois Peron National Park is located within the Shark Bay World Heritage Sanctuary. The area is a former sheep station, and the original homestead can be accessed via a short 2wd road from the main Denham – Monkey Mia road. The Homestead offers visitors the opportunity to see what life was like on a sheep station in the area. An artesian well also provides visitors the opportunity to bathe in a hot spa, with water heated to approximately 40 degrees c
Francois Peron was the zoologist appointed to a trip to Australian waters between 1801 and 1803. He rose to prominence from a trainee to head zoologist after all other qualified personnel either died during the voyage, or deserted in Mauritius. During this trip, Peron was responsible for the collection and documentation of over 100,000 specimens of Australian flora and fauna. This is the single most comprehensive collection of Australian natural history to date.
Cape Peron 4wd Trip
There are a number of 4wd tracks though the Cape Peron National Park, all of which are red softish sand which can become very corrugated in parts. The tracks are all single lane which means that on occasion, you are required to pull over to let someone coming in the opposite direction to pass you by.
The Homestead is accessible via a short unsealed 2wd track leading off the main Denham to Monkey Mia road. From here, a single 4wd track heads north, and splits off to lead to a number of different destinations:
- Big Lagoon (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
- Herald Bight (Camping, beach fishing, boat launching and toilets)
- Castle Well (Beach fishing)
- South Gregories (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
- Gregories (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
- Bottle Bay (Camping, boat launching, toilets, beach fishing and BBQs)
- Skipjack Point (Walk trail, viewing platform)
- Cape Peron (Walk trail, toilets, BBQs)
On our trip, we didn’t have time to visit them all, unfortunately.
We were up in Shark Bay during the Easter break (2011) and it was busy… While we were up there, we heard a number of locals saying that it was the busiest that they’d ever seen it. Having said that, during our drive in the national park, the majority of the time we were the only car in sight.
In order to drive on the 4wd tracks, cars are required to reduce tyre pressure to a minimum of 20psi. This helps preserve the tracks by reducing the chance of people becoming bogged. We decided to go to 16psi as we usually do. The national park has installed a ‘re-inflation station’ at the homestead. The air hoses are the same as what you’d find at the service station, and means that there is no excuse for not letting your tyres down.
Throughout the national park, and in fact the entire Shark Bay area, there are a number of flat, low-lying areas called Birridas. These birridas are gypsum clay pans that used to be saline lakes. It is not recommended that you leave the designated tracks when crossing birridas, as the hard crust can hide some very sticky mud. Also, driving on the birridas will cause significant environmental damage which could take decades to repair.
With changing sea levels, some of these birridas have become flooded by the sea to form beautiful lagoons. In the Francois Peron national park there are 2 such lagoons, one is Little Laggon and the other is Big Lagoon.
The drive out to Big Lagoon is much the same as the rest of the national park. Softish red sand and low lying scrub as far as the eye can see.
Our first view of Big Lagoon, after 10kms of driving, was as we crested a small rise. Over the top we were presented with a grand view of green scrub, red sand, white beaches and magnificent blue water.
However, once we actually arrived at the beach, we discovered that it was covered in rotting sea grass. There were also quite a number of people camping there and it was crowded, smelly and unpleasant. We didn’t stay very long before we decided to head out to see some of the other sites.
We decided that the next stop would be South Gregories for a late lunch. One the way there, we came across 3 people in a very dead car. Although we didn’t get directly involved, we were told that the transmission had died. There were already a number of people assisting in getting the vehicle off the track. Once the other cars had moved on, we offered to try to make contact with someone using our UHF radio. We couldn’t quite get reception on our mobiles.
We managed to contact someone closer in towards the homestead who said that as they were heading back to Denham, they’d relay the message on when they were able to get reception. We told the people in the car that we’d help them further if they were still there on the way back. As it turned out, the message must have go through as they were not there when we returned later in the day.
At South Gregories, we set up the awning on our car, rolled out the picnic blanket and set up for lunch. Although it was still quite crowded, it was a much more enjoyable environment from our experience at Big Lagoon.
From South Gregories, it was a relatively short trip up to Cape Peron. The scenery here is spectacular. Red cliffs, blue ocean, white beaches. Amazing.
There were a number of people swimming off the white beach which looked very inviting. However as it was getting late in the day, we decided to just take a look around, and then head back towards Skipjack Point.
Skipjack Point is one of these locations where people tell you that you’ll see amazing marine life from the viewing platform. “Head out there!” they say. “You’ll see manta rays, sharks, turtles, fish, everything!!”. When we’d heard people saying this we’d though to ourselves ‘Sure. Once in a blue moon, someone lucky will see one of those things… but not us…”
So on arrival at Skipjack Point, we were amazed to see a school of manta rays (or eagle rays?) swimming past! We waited for a little while watching the huge fish swimming the base of the bluff when suddenly we spotted a shark a few hundred meters off the coast! Other people on the viewing platform told us that only about 10 minutes prior to us arriving, they’d seen a huge turtle swim by. What an amazing place! Well worth a visit!
Back to the Homestead
As there is only so much time in the day, we eventually decided that it was time to head back to Denham. However we wanted to see the artesian hot spa at the homestead. After driving the 45kms along the soft, corrugated track, we eventually arrived back at
the ‘re-inflation station’. There were about 10 vehicles queued up to use the facilities so I decided to re-inflate using my own compressor.
We then parked the car and went for a walk through the Homestead and found the artesian hot spa. The spa is fed by water that originates some 542 meters underground. The water was originally used as drinking water for the livestock. It has now been transformed into a hot tub that is free for all park visitors.
The water comes from the Canarvon Artesian Basin at about 35 to 60 degrees c.
The hot tub was very popular when we arrived with about 15 people either already in, or taking a short break from the very hot water. We dipped our feet in as we were not all that keen on fighting the crowds.
What you’ll need
As I have mentioned, it was a very busy weekend so tackling this track on our own was not a problem for us. However it’s a good idea to be self sufficient. I’d recommend taking:
- MaxTrax or equivalent
- Snatch Strap and shackles
- Air Compressor
- Sand Flag
- UHF Radio
- Snorkel (for you, not your car)
You can see a video of part of the trip here: Mitsubishi PB Challenger in Caper Peron – Shark Bay
A google map of our trip can be seen here: Map of Cape Peron 4wd Trip