When working with Western Australia Tourism to plan my stay in their beautiful state, the name Monkey Mia kept popping up, forcing a small chuckle from me each time. The name sounds absurd and I still think of ABBA whenever it comes up. But it’s a great example of a place I’d never heard of before, much less considered visiting, becoming a favorite stop on what was already an amazing trip.
Pronounced Monkey My-a, this hamlet is well placed on Australia’s west coast, about 550 miles north of Perth. Situated on the beautiful blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the town and eponymous resort is famous for the wild dolphins that frequent the nearby waters. An unusual name, there is some controversy over its origin, but the prevailing belief is that the Mia part comes from an Aboriginal term for home and the Monkey either refers to the name of a ship or pet monkeys owned by Malay pearlers who lived and worked in the area. Regardless of where the odd name comes from, its quirkiness is a perfect fit for the resort.
The wasn’t my main reason for visiting however, it happens to sit within the borders of one of the most unusual and interesting ecosystems in the world – the UNESCO recognized Shark Bay. I spent three days exploring this remarkable and almost impossibly beautiful area, each night returning to my comfortable room at the resort. So I thought I’d share what the Monkey Mia experience was really like, especially since it’s the main reason why most visitors come in the first place.
While not the easiest place in the world to reach, thousands make the trek to remote Monkey Mia for promises of relaxation on the beach, warm weather and friendly dolphins as their neighbors. In the 1960s a fisherman and his wife began feeding some of the many wild dolphins in the area and soon realized that they returned every day for some fresh fish. Around this simple activity the resort grew and soon flourished. Today it’s a combination of comfortable cabins and rooms that provide a variety of services to its guests, some who stay for weeks at a time.
The daily dolphin feeding remains the star attraction, but I was comforted to see that the activity is done in a way that is both ethical and mindful of the well being of the dolphins themselves. Strict government rules determine what the experienced staff can and cannot do or, more importantly, what the general public can and cannot do. Every morning guests line up at the water’s edge as naturalists teach them more about these special dolphins and give them the chance to get as close as they probably ever will in the wild. Throughout the talk, dolphins swim in the shallows, eager for their snack. Guests can see them up close, but must obey strict no-touching rules. A few even get an opportunity to hand feed the dolphins, a remarkable experience for many.
It’s not all for show here though; the research undertaken at Monkey Mia is fairly impressive in its own right. Because of the unique access and proximity to wild dolphins, Monkey Mia is the perfect location for scientists to study bottlenose dolphins in a way that’s just not possible anywhere else. Scientists from around the world come to this small outpost resort to learn more about these amazing creatures.
It is a resort though, and as I discovered an incredibly comfortable one. My cabin was located just a few feet from the beach, and waking up to the sound of the surf every morning was a little slice of heaven. The resort has everything a guest needs, from restaurants to a convenience store in case you get the urge to cook for yourself. Before arriving I anticipated a sad, dated resort more reminiscent of an earlier era than the current one. I was surprised when instead I found a modern facility with comfortable rooms and restaurants serving up quality, even delicious food.
For me the resort was a base of operations from which I explored the greater region, and for that it is also well suited. Working with a number of local guides and companies, Monkey Mia helped facilitate multiple days of activities including a visit to my beloved stromatolites and Peron National Park, one of the most remarkable parks I’ve ever visited.
It will be no surprise then when I say that I really loved my brief time spent in Monkey Mia. It was the perfect way to start my Western Australia adventure, as well as to relax a little bit. That’s also perhaps what Western Australia does best; combine opportunities to relax and be adventurous in equal amounts and in equally amazing ways.