857km (535 miles) N of Perth; 1,867km (1,157 miles) SW of Broome

Monkey Mia's celebrity dolphins may not show on time -- but they rarely pass up a visit. Apart from these delightful sea mammals, Shark Bay's waters heave with fish, turtles, the world's biggest population of dugongs (11,000 at last count), manta rays, sea snakes, and, June through October, humpback whales.

Shark Bay is an enormous body of clean clear shallow water, sheltered by a line of islands and protected by its status as a Marine Park and World Heritage Site. The Peron Peninsula, a strangely shaped prong of land, juts far out into the bay with the cleanest most brilliant beaches you will find anywhere backed by strikingly red cliffs, other beaches composed entirely of shells, and "living fossils" -- rocklike structures by the shore (called stromatolites) that are earth's first life. On the northern tip of the peninsula, the Francois Peron National Park is home to many endangered species, thanks to a fence built across the narrowest point to keep out feral cats and foxes.

The bay's only municipality is the one-time pearling town of Denham (pop. 500), 129km (80 miles) from the main coastal highway. It has a couple of hotels, a bakery, a newsdealer, some fishing-charter and tour operators, and the World Heritage Discovery Centre. Monkey Mia, 25km (16 miles) away on the opposite side of the peninsula, exists purely because of the dolphins. It has a dolphin information center and the pleasant Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort.

Don't do what so many visitors do -- see the dolphins, and then shoot off to your next sight. Stay to see Shark Bay's other World Heritage attractions.