Sea Kayaking the Dampier Archipelago - Murujuga

Published by Neri on October 18, 2023

"It CAN'T be whales!" exclaimed one of our group, as yet another thunderous 'crack!' echoed across the water to our peaceful beachside camp. "It must be the water rebounding off the cliffs or something".

Our campsite on this evening was at the southern end of an arc of golden sand, nestled amongst a jumble of fractured, ancient red rocks near the northern extremity of Dolphin Island. We'd been hearing these noises for most of the day, and I was pretty sure that their origin was the sound of the humpback whales' 30-tonne bodies or massive pectoral fins slapping the water during their aerial displays - even if we couldn't see them yet.

Suddenly another of our group exclaims, and as the sun sinks below the horizon, we watch a humpback whale surface for a breath not 500m from our beach. Later, under the light of a full moon, we watch through binoculars as the whales breach in the distance. The light of the moon is so bright that we have no trouble watching this moonlit performance.


A humpback whale with it's pectoral fin in the air, Dampier Archipelago
An aerial image of sea kayaks and people on a beach fringed by red rocks and turquoise water
A humpback surfaces, Dampier Archipelago

This is our third day of exploring the Dampier Archipelago - Murujuga - by sea kayak, and we are becoming accustomed to existing in a state of perpetual awe. It seems at every turn there is something that takes our breath away. Just this morning we kayaked into small, shallow bay, absolutely choc-a-block with juvenile green turtles, whip rays, and schooling trevally. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, two tawny nurse sharks swam straight towards us as we stood on the shore enjoying some snacks, seemingly knowing it was morning tea time.

Murujuga is a Yaburara word meaning 'hip-bone sticking out', describing the land and sea country of the Dampier Archipelago. Comprising a narrow peninsula of land extending approximately 22 km from the mainland (Burrup Peninsula), Murujuga sea country includes the surrounding 42 inshore islands, up to 40km from the port of Dampier, Western Australia.

Rock art tour with indigenous ranger Richard, from Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation
A tawny nurse shark patrols the shallows
A rock engraving - petroglyph - of a fat tail kangaroo in Murujuga

We've come to Murujuga to run only our second departure of a brand new sea kayaking expedition exploring the Dampier Archipelago Islands immediately north of the Burrup Peninsula. A sea kayaker's paradise of mangrove-lined creeks, sweeping sandy beaches, tidal channels and sea cliffs, we start our journey on a Sunday afternoon with a night spent in Dampier town camping - a great chance to check all of our gear and make sure it's all working as it should before we head off tomorrow morning to explore the islands, camping on beaches as we go. A group dinner at local Dampier restaurant SOAK on Sunday evening is a great chance to get to know our fellow paddlers, and as we pull out the charts to talk about our plans for the trip and the possibilities, we can sense the excitement and nervous anticipation radiating from our group.

The following morning, we have an early start so we can meet the indigenous rangers of Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation for a cultural awareness presentation followed by a rock art tour - a fascinating insight into the culture of the Ngarda Ngarli, and the chance to view a small selection of the 2 million petroglyphs that have been pecked into the 2.7 billion year old igneous rock over millennia, making it one of the most significant and diverse collections of indigenous rock art in the world. The traditional custodians of Murujuga, the Ngarluma-Yindjibarndi, Yaburara-Mardudhunera, and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo (collectively known as the Ngarda Ngarli) have taken the lead in putting this area forward for potential inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


An illuminated tent under the vibrant Milky Way, with a sea kayak in the foreground, in the Dampier Archipelago
Map of Murujuga, the Dampier Archipelago
Sea kayaks exploring a mangrove creek in Murujuga Dampier Archipelago

The scale of things is something that is hard to process in Murujuga, particularly of time: the generations of people that have walked before us on this land and left evidence of their occupation in their incredible artwork; the age and origin of the rock and the explosive processes that formed it at the beginning of time; and the scale of contrasts with the juxtaposition of industrial interests - massive gas and fertiliser plants, and the bustling Dampier Port - against migrating humpback whales, bays full of turtles, rays and baby sharks, and wheeling kites, sea eagles and osprey overhead.

On our trip we have a mixture of double and single kayaks, and a very good guide to guest ratio: this new tour was so popular amongst our staff that some of our team volunteered their time to come and work! Aimed at people with prior sea kayaking experience, over 5 days of paddling we run the gamut of experiences: sea kayaking with incredible wildlife including dolphins, humpback whales, dugong, turtles, rays and reef sharks; enjoying an impromptu snorkel from our kayaks in a coral-filled bay; pulling up to pristine beaches in the afternoon to pitch our tents and watch the sun set and full moon rise; observing incredible bird life from our kayaks including nesting osprey, brahminy kites, white-bellied sea eagles and sacred kingfisher; glassy mornings at camp as we sip freshly brewed coffee and watch the world around us wake up, as baby reef sharks hunt in the shallows, and reef egrets patrol the shore; paddling our kayaks amongst the largest outdoor art gallery in the world, and being amazed that the wildlife we observe around us is imitated in the petroglyphs we discover as we sea kayak the coastline or explore our campsite; and a challenging and invigorating paddle as the wind picked up to make it to our end point on the final day.

Sea kayaking amongst a natural rock pile, adorned with ancient petroglyphs
A brahminy kite lands on top of a mangrove
Sea kayakers take a break on a sandy isthmus fringed with rocks

After running our first two commercial departures for the Dampier Archipelago and Murujuga Sea Kayaking Expedition this August, one thing is certain: regardless of what the future holds, I know I will definitely be back to further explore this incredible area further. A timeless place that holds a timely reminder of our history and culture, and asks us what we would like our future to look like. A place where past, present and future intermingle and we are free to undergo a metamorphosis as we paddle away from our present and journey through time.

For more info on our Murujuga departures in 2024, head to the tour page on our website.