Dirk Hartog Island has to be up there as one of the best places we have visited on our trip so far, and there have been a lot of great places. The island is a remote wilderness of beautiful beaches and impressively rugged coastlines with a bit of history thrown in, including some of the earliest Europeans to visit Australia.
The island is accessed by a barge from the beach near Steep Point, the western most point of the Australian mainland. The barge is expensive ($460 for the car and trailer) and we spent a while trying to decide whether it would be worth it but in the end we were all glad we decided to go. Mum and Dad were still with us and it was our last destination together before we had to part ways so they could head home.
After Monkey Mia in the morning we headed into Denham for a few things and lunch before heading back down the main road and off the Peron Peninsula, which juts out into the middle of Shark Bay. Turning off the main road we started following the unsealed Useless Loop Road towards Steep Point (as a side note, Izzy tells me that earlier in our trip she met a girl that lives at Useless Loop, which Izzy found funny). A signed warned us to allow three hours to get to Steep Point, which was more than I had expected but it turned out to be pretty accurate.
The first 1.5 hours along the Useless Loop Road was a good, unsealed road, but after we entered Edel Land NP (Proposed) – it seems important to put the ‘(Proposed)’ everywhere – the road had a few short sections of bad corrugations and we were then into sandier tracks, including crossing one very large dune with impressive views of a nearby dune field.
Our booking on the barge was for 7.30am the next morning so we found a spot to camp in the rather ironically named Shelter Bay and tried to get a good night’s sleep. The wind, however, was blowing a gale and the air was filled with incredibly fine dust which seemed to just penetrate into everything. Earlier in the trip I had thought a number of times that we hadn’t seen much wind anywhere we had been; we have more than made up for that now that we’re on the west coast.
It was an uncomfortable night’s sleep, but one positive was that it made it easier to get up early and pack up quickly to be in time for the barge. The barge is a small one, just enough room for one car and trailer, so it’s quite a long process ferrying people back and forth.
We went first and Izzy even drove the barge over part of the way.
Then, despite a few nerves, I successfully reversed Liam and Mali off the barge onto the sand on the island. Then we waited on the beach for 40 minutes or so for Mum and Dad to come over. That included one slightly hilarious moment when the barge returned the first time only for us to realise it was empty and he hadn’t picked up Mum and Dad!
Once all on the island we headed north along the sandy track.
While we had been waiting, on separate sides of the water, we had all spoken to others who were leaving the island and highly recommended a side trip to the blowholes, so that was our first side trip. It was only a few kilometres from the main track but we soon encountered a very large sand dune which was to be our only real obstacle on the island. There was some talk of walking the rest of the way, but with the tyres let down a bit more and a few goes at it we were up and continuing towards the west coast of the island.
Once over the dune, the track led into a barren, moon-like landscape. Rugged cliffs rose out of the Indian Ocean and were topped by a flat, rocky plateau which then led into huge dunes covered in amazing sand sculptures carved by the wind with a few hardy grasses being the only greenery we could see.
We found the blowholes and they were impressive. When a wave came in at the right angle, it pushed the air and sea spray through the holes and the sound was like a jet engine.
After enjoying the blowholes we continued on to our campsite at Louisa Bay, about half way up the east coast of the island. Although only about 45km it took us about 2 hours to drive, including plenty of photo stops. One particularly impressive part of the drive took us through a dune field which completely obscured the track, so instead we just followed the star pickets sticking out of the sand at regular intervals.
Louisa Bay was beautiful and, thankfully, quite sheltered from the wind. It can only be booked by one group at a time so we had it to ourselves. In fact we saw very few other people on the island at all.
The camping area is at the southern end of the bay, nestled between a large dune which provides shelter from the wind and the water.
For the rest of the first day and all of the next we relaxed and explored the bay, both on foot and with our snorkelling gear. Matthew’s new underwater camera got more of a workout.
One excitement was when we found a genuine message in a bottle. If anybody knows ‘Annabelle’, please let her know we got her message!
The Northern End
The following day we headed off for a drive to explore the island a bit more. There’s a nice loop track around the northern end that meant we didn’t have to retrace our route very much. It was an incredible drive and we all had a great time.
The whole island was used as a sheep station until fairly recently but the WA government bought it to be a national park. We kept reading about the Return to 1616 project which aims to rehabilitate the land back to the state it would have been in when Dirk Hartog visited in 1616. The feral cats and goats have been removed and a number of species that had been lost have been reintroduced. There’s an Eco Lodge towards the southern end of the island and there’s a fair few old farm relics scattered across the island, but mostly it feels like true wilderness with no development at all.
Most of the island is covered in low bushes and grasses and we didn’t see many trees at all. The beaches on the more protected eastern side are beautiful. Dampier’s Landing, in particular, was lovely and had hundreds of impressive looking crabs scurrying all over the place.
At the northern end lies Cape Inscription, with a lighthouse and restored lighthouse keepers’ cottage. The Cape was where Dirk Hartog landed in 1616 and left his famous pewter plate, followed by Willem de Vlamingh in 1687, who replaced the plate with a new one of his own.
Around on the west coast the coast becomes more rugged as it is exposed to the Indian Ocean. There are two fishing shacks at Urchin Point and The Block. Fishing doesn’t interest me but they both seem to be very popular fishing spots. The scenery was spectacular though and we were treated to the amazing sight of two humpback whales swimming along the coast, just 20m or so from shore, and then repeatedly breaching a little further out to sea.
The drive back across the island to Louisa Bay included another impressive dune field.
For the whole day of driving we didn’t see any other people. In fact, we saw very few others the whole time we were on the island.
Back at Louisa Bay we had a lazy morning the next day and then decided to pack up after lunch to drive back towards the barge site. We had been allocated 8.30am as our time for the barge the next morning and decided to camp closer rather than have to leave early for the two hour drive.
It was a lovely drive and good to be able to take our time a bit but, in hindsight, we probably should have just stayed where we were and left early in the morning. The only campsite we found was incredibly windy and dusty and didn’t make for a good night’s sleep.