Getting to Dirk Hartog Island seemed pretty easy on paper, just head out towards Steep Point in the far west of WA, book the barge and spend a few days exploring the island. But it wasn’t until I started doing proper research that it was not quite that easy, this needed some proper logistical organisation.
The island has a few rules, and one of the most important ones is that they only allow 20 vehicles there at any one time. So with that in mind, I found a time slot to suit my exploration on the island for 5 days, next was fuel and supplies. The nearest fuel stop for where the island's barge departure point is, over 200km away, and the same for the drop-off point plus I needed to allow for at least 100km worth of tracks on the island, all with low tyre pressures.
All up I should just come in good at nearly 500 km worth of 4wding. A fuel drop can be organised on the island, but expect to pay a premium price.
My plan was set, so with both fuel tanks chokers and a top-up shop at Denham on the Peron Peninsula, I headed off for the drive around to Steep Point, where the Dirk Island barge pickup point was.
Conserving fuel, it was an easy drive 100km drive to the turnoff point onto Useless Loop Road which was also sealed for part of the way. But it wasn’t long before it was time to drop the tyre pressures for the dirt road section before the sand started.
Signposted 39km before Steep Point, Parks WA recommends dropping tyres down to 28 psi and switching on low range for the sand dune section and corrugated roads, and it is a point well taken as the road to Steep Point was extremely rough from recent traffic, and I must admit some of the worst I have come across in 30 years.
With a few hours of daylight left I headed up to the Steep Point sign for the obligatory photo to say Been there done that, and with the barge pickup point and camp spots right on the beach I soon settled in for the night to wait for the early morning pickup.
The barge takes each car across ( and brings one back ) in a 30-minute around time, camper trailers are welcome but must come within a specified length, and 4wds must have their tyres down to 20psi so they don’t get bogged when backing off the barge on either side.
Now my reasons for going to Dirk Hartog Island were to explore the remoteness of this island, delve into its history and see just why it's now classed as a world heritage island. Roughly the island is 70km long, 20km at its widest point and realistically only about a dozen tracks crisscross the whole island.
There are 8 campsites on the island, 7 are remote and there’s one near the Islands Eco-lodge. Here you can also enjoy the local bar, grab a coffee or a souvenir, and taste their very own homemade Inscription Gin plus this is where you can stay in luxury stone cottages.
With 5 nights on the island, I chose various remote camps away from the centre to experience the isolation and beauty of the island. All camps have some sort of water views on the coastline, In the east the water was still and calm on the sandy shores, but on the west side waves constantly pounded the rough rocky coast that came from the Indian Ocean.
The Island took shape during the last glacial period in the Pleistocene age and since then during the warmer times sand dunes formed and plants grew on the dunes, but later the vegetation died in places and the dunes eroded, exposing the calcified remains of vegetation and shells, which can still be on the west cost today.
What’s pretty impressive are the shifting dunes in the centre of the island. Ever changing, these dunes are as white as anywhere on the East Coast, and the track across the top changes constantly.
My camps varied from the beautiful Notch Point watching the sunrise over dead still water and watching the flurry of birds when baitfish appeared off the point, to where William Dampier landed in 1699 to record the first person to collect plant samples, then across to the ever eroding west coast at Quoin Head, watching big sharks cruise the cliffs below.
One of my aims was to head to the very top of the island to visit where the first European person ever set foot here. Named Inscription Point, this is where Dutch skipper Dirk Hartog left a battered inscribed pewter dish in 1616 declaring he was here.
The original 400-year-old plate is now in the Netherlands. Thanks to Google for the images
Hartog was looking for a faster way across the globe for trading goods when he saw the island, he had sailed much further east than any skipper of the time.
Over the next 200 years, more explorers visited the island, such as William de Vlamingh who in 1697 removed Hartog’s dish and left another one with the original inscription with his own details, then in 1818 explorer Freycinet visited the island removing Vlamingh’s dish hoping to take it back to France for safekeeping. En route, Freycinet’s vessel was wrecked but the dish was saved and arrived in Paris in 1821. Eventually, the island became home to settlers with industries ranging from guano collection, pearling, fishing and then pastoralism.
At Inscription Point, the 120-year-old lighthouse is now solar-powered, there are several other buildings around the historical site with interpretive boards for the visitor.
It was in 1908 that construction of the lighthouse started to improve navigation along this part of the coast and nearby at Turtle Bay a 70-metre-long jetty was also built, it was connected to the lighthouse by a 60-centimetre gauge tramway.
Supplies and equipment had to be hauled up the steep tramway by means of a horse or man-powered winch. At Dampier Landing, turtles lay their eggs through the dunes between November to April, this significant spot is the largest nesting area for the Logger Head Turtle in Australia.
A return to 1616 project has been running on the island for many years to eradicate the pests brought to the island ever since Hartog landed. Anything from goats, sheep, and foxes through to cats have now been wiped from the island. Grazing on the island trampled the food and shelter for many of the native species who were in grave danger of extinction.
A feral animal fence divided the island into sections to control and eliminate the pests and even today it still stands and cuts the island in half. The return to 1616 project has been a huge success and ten of the native species have been returned to their natural habitat across the island. Dirk Hartog Island is a beautiful yet harsh place to visit, and its now been classed as a world heritage Island for the future.
MY TOP TIPS FOR DIRK HARTOG
Spending nearly a week on the island was a great way to unwind and get back to basics.
1… The island can’t be rushed.
2… The roads are very corrugated, Stoney or very sandy - I spent a lot of time in either low or high 4WD.
3… You must be totally self-sufficient and prepared for isolated camps and roads.
4… While on the island I knew there were other people but I saw no one in 5 days.
5… Make sure you spend time exploring the whole island, it can’t be done in one day with nearly 200km worth of tracks on the island.
6… Be prepared when you come off the island for another 200km to the nearest food and fuel stop.
Dirk Hartog Island is off WA’s west coast adjacent to Steep Point, the westmost point of mainland Australia. Now classed as a National park, Dirk Hartog is being returned to its natural habitat with the eradication of all feral pests. A logistical effort to get to the island and where only 20 vehicles are allowed on the island at any one time, it is a peaceful, isolated and remote place to spend time. The Island is part of the Shark Bay World Heritage-listed UNESCO site. Dirk Hartog is WA’s largest island.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
The most significant thing to see on the island is where the Dutch skipper, Dirk Hartog landed in 1616 and left an inscribed pewter dish declaring his presence. Cape Inscription has a lighthouse and buildings, there are remote camps, and blowholes, visit where William Dampier landed in 1699 and made the first scientific collection of plants in Australia. There’s great fishing and snorkelling around the island also.
All the relevant information can be found on www.dirkhartogisland.com.au for information on how to book the barge, campsites, logistics and much more. For those inclined who want some luxury and don’t want to take their 4WD across to the island, charter boats sail out of Denham on designated days across the Denham Sound. Packages can include a stay at the exclusive Inscription eco-lodge, but campers are most welcome at the bar and cafe plus to sample the island's very own Gin.