Dongara and Port Denison are two small towns 4 km apart on the coast of the Mid West Region of Western Australia. Dongara lies north and Port Denison south of the outlet of the River Irwin, but for practical purposes they're a combined settlement, with a population of 2782 in 2016. Lying 351 km (210 miles) north of Perth, their main interest to travellers is as an overnight stop on the Brand Highway north towards Carnarvon, Exmouth and Broome. Sir David Brand (1912-1979) who gave his name to that highway was born in Dongara, and had four spells as Premier of Western Australia.
"Dongara" derives from the Wattandee aboriginal name "Thung-arra" for the river estuary, meaning "sea-lion place". The area became settled by European cattle farmers in the mid-19th century, and in 1890 it was connected by rail to Perth. Today the main industries are tourism, lobster and crayfishing, and support for the Dongara Gas Field.
Port Denison is named for Sir William Denison (1804-71). From 1856 he was Governor General of most of Australia, until 1861 when he was posted to India.
By road, simply follow the main highway north from Perth - either Brand Highway 1 via Eneabba, or Coastal Highway 60 via Jurien Bay which merges into Highway 1 some 30 km south of Dongara. The entrance to town is next to the (kinda creepy) statue of a lobster, just as the highway sweeps round from west to north.
By bus: TransWA Bus N1 runs Mon-Sat along Highway 1 via Eneabba. They leave Perth around 8:30AM, reaching Port Denison and Dongara at 1:40PM, and continuing to Geraldton for 2:30PM; M W F this service continues to Kalbarri. Southbound buses leave Geraldton around 8:30AM, reaching Dongara by 9:30AM and Perth for 2PM. A single fare from Perth to Dongara in 2022 is about $65.
TransWA Bus N2 is a slower route via Moora. These run four days a week including Sunday, when they leave Perth towards noon to reach Dongara at 6PM and Geraldton by 7PM. Southbound they leave Geraldton at 11:45AM, Dongara at 12:30AM and reach Perth before 7PM. Times on Tu Th Sa are two hours earlier.
Don't take Bus N3, which sweeps far inland. TransWA Bus N5 is the weekend getaway vehicle, running between Perth and Geraldton Friday afternoon and Sundays via Coastal Highway 60.
Integrity Coaches run three times a week between Perth and Broome via Coastal Highway 60. Northbound they leave Perth Tu Th Su around 7PM, reaching Dongara half an hour after midnight. The southbound bus arrives M W Sa around 2AM, to reach Perth at 7AM. Use these buses to reach Carnarvon, Exmouth, Port Hedland and Broome, as the TransWA buses don't go north of Kalbarri.
1 Point Leander Drive is the bus halt in Port Denison. Only the TransWA buses make this detour.
2 The Visitor Centre is the bus halt in Dongara.
All drop-offs and pick-ups at Dongara or Port Denison must be booked in advance, otherwise the bus will fly on past along the highway.
Both towns are walkable, but the road between is damned hot and you've brought a car anyway.
Dongara Taxi is on +61 8 9927 1555.
- 1 Big Lobster is the spooky creature at the highway turn-off into town, more specifically a rock lobster or crayfish. It's a large red fibreglass creation, perched on a plinth resembling a fishing boat, looking as if it's eaten the skipper and is now hungrily eyeing the passing traffic.
- Irwin District Museum, 5 Waldeck St, Dongara (next to Visitor Centre), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM - noon. Small museum set in 19th-century courthouse, police station and jail.
- 2 Russ Cottage is a 19th century cottage maintained by the museum. It's on Parker Rd just south of the bridge.
- 3 Dongara Nature Reserve, part of the larger Yardalonga Reserve, is a duneland area at the north edge of town.
- Swimming and kiddy-paddling is safest at Harbour Beach within the marina breakwaters, but stay clear of the boats. Grannie's Beach just north is also safe.
- Surf is best at South Beach, at the far south end of Port Denison. The access road White Tops Drive is sealed, but only 4WD should venture onto the beach.
- Irwin River Trail is a 4.6 km loop on boardwalks along both banks of the Irwin. Upstream you cross (and probably start) at the road bridge between the two towns. Downstream you splosh across the estuary sand bar, so maybe not at high tide or when the river is full.
- Drive-in Cinema is on Point Leander Drive as you come into Port Denison.
- Golf: Dongara Golf Course is east side of Port Denison.
- Port Store is the local supermarket, in Port Denison by the bus halt. It's open M-Sa 7:30AM-5PM.
- Fuel: this is a good place to fill up. Going north on Highway 1, the filing station near the town turn-off has decent prices, as has the "S-bend" station 30 km north. Then prices rise 10% as you approach Geraldton, and jump further beyond there. Going south, there's reasonable choice on Highway 1, but fuel on Coastal Highway 60 is sparse, pricey and harder to locate - it may involve a long detour to a village pump that's not always open.
- Southerly's Tavern in Port Denison is the main eatery, open daily 11AM-11PM. Port Store does deli take-away.
- Dongara Pizza is at 4/43 Moreton Terrace as you turn into town. It's open W-M 5-8PM.
- Pannarai Cafe at 38 Moreton Terrace Dongara is open Th-Tu 8:30AM-2:30PM, 5-8:30PM.
- Dongara Bakery at 24 Waldeck St is open M-Sa 9AM-4PM.
- Breeze Inn in Dongara has good food, see Sleep.
- Southerly's and Breeze Inn are the main watering holes.
- Illegal Tender Distillery makes rum at Springfield a few km southeast of town.
- Port Denison Holiday Units, 14 Carnarvon Street, Port Denison (follow Point Leander Dv SW almost to its end; Carnarvon St is two blocks back), ☏ , email@example.com. Clean and cosy self contained units just a few yards from Port D shore
- 1 Dongara Denison Holiday Park (BIG4), 250 Ocean Drive, Port Denison, ☏ . Slick resort chain with chalets and powered sites.
- Dongara Hotel Motel, 12 Moreton Terrace, Dongara, ☏ . Comfy motel with a good restaurant. B&B double $150.
- Breeze Inn, 32 Waldeck St, Dongara, ☏ . Value-for-money budget place. B&B double $100.
- 2 Old Mill Motel, 58 Waldeck St, Dongara, ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. North side of town in a converted flour mill, gets mixed reviews.
- 3 Seaspray Beach Holiday Park, 81 Church St, Dongara, ☏ . Well-run resort and caravan park by the beach. Rooms from $105, en-suite caravan pitch $55.
- Dongara Tourist Park, 8 George St, Port Denison, ☏ . Friendly helpful place in Port D, with chalets and caravan pitches. Rooms from $140, unpowered site $45.
As of April 2022, there is no general mobile signal in Dongara or Port Denison from any carrier. Port Denison has a small pocket of 4G from Telstra.
- North the road leads via Greenough to Geraldton. It continues north towards Carnarvon, with side roads for Kalbarri National Park and the Shark Bay / Monkey Mia area.
- East the road inland joins Highway 123 from Geraldton to Mount Magnet on the Great Northern Highway.
- South towards Perth the road divides: recommended for cars and for tourist sights is the Coastal Highway 60. Highway 1 further inland is the truck route and has less to see.
- West are small islands 50 km out to sea, noted for wildlife and scuba, but you need to go to Geraldton to access them.