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Save on Park Passes

Entry to most national parks in Western Australia, including Cape Range and Francois Peron, costs A$10 per car (maximum eight people) per day. If you are planning to visit several, a Holiday Park Pass at A$35 per vehicle is worth the money and is valid for 4 weeks in all WA national parks. Obtain passes from the Department of Environment and Conservation (www.dec.wa.gov.au). The passes are not valid for Monkey Mia Dolphin Reserve.

Where Can I See the Dolphins?

The main advantages to making the trek to Monkey Mia  are that dolphin sightings are virtually guaranteed every day; they swim into the shallows and lie in the ultra-clear water, and you can watch them being fed and interacting with the rangers. But it can be crowded, and rangers strictly monitor behavior with the dolphins -- not the interactive frolic you might have imagined. The first sightings, generally around 8am, are the most popular and crowded, after which the tour groups all disappear. If you stay around, the dolphins will often return, and you can have a much more satisfying encounter.

Meeting the Dolphins  -- At 7am, guests at Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort are already gathering on the beach (as are the resident pelicans) in anticipation of the dolphins' arrival. By 8am, several dolphins usually show, and they come and go until the early afternoon. Because of the crowds the dolphins attract, park rangers instruct everyone to stay knee-deep in the water as the playful swimmers cruise by. You may not approach them or reach out to pat them, but they sometimes touch people of their own accord, and you may be chosen to help feed them. Feeding times vary, and the quantities are strictly limited, so the dolphins won't become dependent on the food. Apart from the Monkey Mia Reserve entry fee, there is no charge to see the creatures.

The Sea-Life Cruise, "Living Fossils" & More

Observe the incredible marine life from the sailing maxi-catamaran Shotover (tel. 1800/241 481 in Australia, or 08/9948 1481; www.monkeymiawildsights.com.au). During a 3-hour dugong (sea-cow) cruise, you may see sharks, sea snakes, turtles, dolphins, and, of course, dugongs -- and possibly have a swim in the bay. Every passenger is given polarized sunglasses, which help you spot animals underwater. The cruise departs from Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort at 1pm daily and costs A$84 adults, half-price children 7 to 16, free 6 and under, and includes a free sunset cruise as well. The Shotover also runs a fascinating 2 1/2-hour dolphin cruise at 9am -- worth doing even if you've already seen the dolphins on the shore. It costs A$69 adults, free for children under 17. Sundown cruises are a daily option, at A$54 adults, half-price children 7 to 16. Package prices are available.

On your way in or out of Monkey Mia, stop by the Hamelin Pool Historic Telegraph Station, 29km (18 miles) from the highway turnoff (tel. 08/9942 5905). A small museum houses old equipment, farming tools, and historical odds and ends from the 19th-century days when this was a telegraph repeater station. The A$5 admission fee to the museum includes an explanation of the stromatolites, rocky formations about a foot high that were created by the planet's first oxygen-breathing cells -- in other words, earth's first life. You might want to skip the museum, but do wander down to the shoreline and stroll out along a boardwalk to see them close up. (Warning: They look, and act, just like rocks!)

Nearby Shell Beach, 43km (27 miles) from the highway, is amazing. The beach is said to be 110km (68 miles) long and over 10m (33 ft.) deep, made up of billions of tiny snow-white shells; the numbers are incalculable. They crunch beneath your feet as you walk along and stretch beneath the rich, clear blue water. Solidified blocks of the shells were quarried nearby to build many local buildings. There is a café and gift store.

The conservation plan "Project Eden" is reintroducing and protecting various endangered small marsupials, such as bilbies, woylies, and wallabies, to the isthmus. An electronic fence has been built across the peninsula at its narrowest point, to keep out cats and foxes; there's even an electronic "barking dog" to deter the predators. Dirk Hartog Island has recently been purchased by the WA Government and will add a new dimension to Project Eden.

The northern part of the peninsula, beyond Denham and Monkey Mia, is the 52,500-hectare (130,000-acre) Francois Peron National Park. You can explore its salt pans, dunes, coastal cliffs, beaches, and old homesteads, either alone (you will need a four-wheel-drive, but stay on the marked road -- the clay pans, known as birridas, are seriously boggy) or on a full-day tour with Monkey Mia Wildsights (tel. 1800/241 481; www.monkeymiawildsights.com.au). This is rugged country, but there is great coastal beauty where red cliffs meet beaches fringed with vivid turquoise water. You should spot kangaroos, birds, and emus, and you may see turtles, dolphins, rays, dugongs, and sharks from the cliffs. Other activities include game- and deep-sea-fishing trips from Denham, scuba diving, excursions to the deserted beaches and 180m (590-ft.) cliffs of nearby Dirk Hartog Island, and a couple of pearl-farm tours.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.