Snorkelling among stromatolites, Shark Bay, Western Australia
You can now go snorkelling among the world’s oldest living fossils… via helicopter!
By Paul Robinson
Ever hitched a helicopter ride to the beach before? At Western Australia’s Coral Coast, you can do just that. Hop on a chopper at the town of Carnarvon, and you’ll fly to a beach only accessible by helicopter, where you can snorkel among 3.5-billion-year-old fossils – thought to be some of the oldest living fossils on Earth.
Meet some ancient wonders
With its landscape of pristine white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters and ochre-red sand dunes, it’s easy to see why Shark Bay (a two-hour flight north of Perth) was listed as Western Australia’s first World Heritage area in 1991. Home to prolific marine wildlife, where dolphins, dugongs, sea turtles, manta rays and humpback and southern right whales are regularly spotted, it’s most famous for its friendly, wild dolphins at the beach of Monkey Mia, who love to swim and socialise with humans. But the area is also home to stromatolites: “living fossils” that date back some 3.5 billion years, thought to be the oldest living fossils on Earth. Resembling giant cauliflowers, these rock-like structures have formed over time by microbes binding with sediment. Seeing them up close offers a unique insight into how the Earth would have looked a few billion years ago.
It’s heli-snorkel heaven!
You don’t have to jump in a chopper to see these fascinating structures (some stromatolites can be accessed on foot at Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve) but this new safari experience is pretty special.
After boarding your chopper, you’ll take a 75-minute flight to a private beach made of white shells, which is only accessible by helicopter. Having enjoyed spectacular bird’s-eye views of the mangroves and pristine waters of Shark Bay along the way, you’ll step into the water and swim among these fascinating fossils, some of which are one-metre (three-feet) high. Afterwards, enjoy lunch on your private beach.
Shark Bay World-heritage Area
There are plenty of other memorable things to see and do in this part of the world. Explore the spectacular scenery of Francois Peron National Park and beautiful Bottle Bay. Take a 4WD trip to Australia’s westernmost edge at Steep Point and marvel at the Zuytdorp Cliffs, towering some 170 metres (550 feet) above sea level. Or learn about the history and culture of the Indigenous Malgana and Nhanda people on a guided tour.
Book a boat or helicopter tour to secluded Dirk Hartog Island where you can kayak and snorkel, and perhaps stay overnight in eco-accommodation. Visit Shell Beach where millions of tiny shells, in drifts up to 10-metres (32-feet) deep, stretch for 60 kilometres (37 miles), creating a glittering snow-white coastline.
Curious about seeing Australia from above? Here are five amazing places to take a scenic flight.
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