Just imagine it’s the year 1616 as you stand atop the cliff and watch Dirk Hartog row ashore from his ship anchored in Turtle Bay on the northern tip of what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island. This is the first recorded European landing on Australia’s shore, and you are right there at that historic landmark. The weather is perfect, the water inviting and, like Dirk, you’re so happy to have escaped the icy cold winter.
While Hartog used a rowboat back in 1616, in modern times getting to this island paradise is definitely an adventure of the 4WD variety. Access is via a small barge or by flight, so you won’t be able to bring your caravan. and you’ll need a tent at Steep Point, the westernmost spot on the Australian mainland and the departure point for the Hartog Explorer barge.
But don’t let that put you off, as there are several great accommodation options on the island, as well as storage options for your caravan at Hamelin Station Stay.
It’s a minimum three-hour drive from Hamelin Station to the barge point in Shelter Bay, but I recommend taking your time and exploring the Zuytdorp Cliffs on your way to Steep Point. This is a 4WD-only adventure.
Having turned on to the Useless Loop Road from Shark Bay Rd, follow the signs to the entrance to Edel Land National Park. The next few kilometres are severely corrugated, so dropping your tyre pressures is a must. Upon reaching a T-junction, turn left and take a small 7km detour to False Entrance and check out the blowholes.
On your return to the junction, continue straight ahead. You will soon reach the dunes and may need to drop your tyre pressures even more as 20psi is the recommended maximum pressures that you should be running. The sand is soft in places and you will have a more comfortable drive.
The best way to enjoy the national park is to head to Steep Point via the west coast and then return via the east coast. The west offers spectacular views along the Zuytdorp Cliffs, named after a Dutch ship that smashed into the cliffs in the early 1700s. At Thunder Bay, there is another blowhole to marvel at and further north is a memorial to the Nor 6, a trawler that hit the rocks in 1963 with three lives lost. You will pass a lighthouse just before reaching Steep Point, the westernmost point on the mainland.
After you have taken the obligatory photos at the sign (a post to screw your camera to for an expansive selfie is situated in the perfect position), it is only 9km until you reach the ranger station near Shelter Bay. You must report here to show your WA Parks Pass before getting directions to your pre-booked campsite. As you will be catching the barge early the next morning, your campsite will be near the loading point.
BARGING YOUR WAY ACROSS
The 4WD barge Hartog Explorer only operates Friday to Wednesday from 7.30am to 9.30am and bookings are essential. The transfer is from Blackies Beach and it is first in, best dressed — so expect a queue sometimes. The Island has a vehicle limit of 20 per day, so although it may sometimes seem busy, it isn’t.
The barge is purpose-built to carry a 4WD vehicle and offroad camper, but if you are travelling solo, you will be transferred solo. Kieran Wardle is the barge captain and he will guide you on and off, and is extremely helpful when the swell is rockin’ and rollin’ the barge.
I was amazed at how excited I was to be landing on Dirk Hartog Island. It had been on my bucket list since Ron Moon first wrote about it in 2004, and now I was finally here.
The tracks on the island are sand based with corrugations in some parts. With Dirk Hartog Island a national park (except for the Homestead precinct) and the difficulty in bringing heavy equipment on to the island, the tracks aren’t maintained often. Driving on the dunes can be perilous at times, especially in the warmer months, as the sand is fine which makes it easy to get bogged. A long-handled shovel and recovery tracks will help in these situations and a sand flag is a must in country such as this.
RETURN TO 1616
Return to 1616 is one of the largest projects ever undertaken, and its aim is to return the island to how Dirk Hartog would have seen it. Since 2007 more than 5000 sheep, 10,000 goats and hundreds of feral cats have been removed. The vegetation on the island has quickly recovered and it is believed all the feral cats have been eradicated.
An electrified fence still dissects the island but, in 2017, 24 hare-wallabies were successfully released on the island and have bred well. A second release occurred in August last year and they have gained weight and joeys have been spotted.
LIVING IT UP
It takes approximately 45 minutes to travel from the barge site to the Homestead but take your time and really enjoy the experience. If you’ve decided to stay at the Homestead, you will need to pre-book to avoid disappointment. There are four accommodation options to choose from.
You can roll out your swags or pitch a tent in the campground, just 50m from the water’s edge and enjoy the use of the shared rustic camp kitchen, fresh drinking water, hot showers and flushing toilets.
If you are in a small group, Buddy’s beach camp will suit and includes a private camp kitchen under a safari tent with a gas stove burner and BBQ, hot showers, flushing toilets and drinking water.
The Ocean Villa is a rustic self-contained Mediterranean style three-bedroom villa that sleeps seven people. There is a bathroom with hot showers attached and a fully equipped kitchenette with a large deck and BBQ — the perfect place to watch the sunrise each morning.
For the ultimate indulgence, join Kieran and Tory at the Eco Lodge, the perfect wilderness retreat. Each of the six rooms contains an ensuite and have been recently renovated with luxury in mind. All meals are included, as well as packed lunches if you’re going for a drive. You can even join the Wardle family while enjoying a homestyle gourmet dinner.
There are also several tour options that offer a fantastic understanding of the island's history as well as take you to the most spectacular spots. You can travel with Kieran in Eco Lodge’s Prado or enjoy exploring the island at your own pace on a self-drive adventure.
These are the spots you must visit if you explore the island yourselves:
The Blowholes: When the swell is greater than 2.5m the display is awesome. When the swell is 7m like it was when I visited, you will be gobsmacked.
Cape Inscription and Turtle Bay: This is where Dirk Hartog landed on 25 October 1616 and left an inscribed pewter plate, the first recorded European landing in Australia.
Dampier Landing: Captain William Dampier anchored here in 1699 and gathered a collection of plants, the first scientific collection made in Australia.
Notch Point: A nice place for a swim or beach fishing and you might even spot dolphins, turtles or dugongs
Sandy Point and Louisa Bay: Perfect for snorkelling in the stunning turquoise waters.
Mystery Beach: You never know what flotsam and jetsam you might find washed up on this western beach.
If rock fishing is your passion, try your luck at Quoin Head, West Point or Urchin Point, all on the western side of the island. Take care though as conditions can change without warning and rock fishing guidelines should be followed.
If you prefer to move more slowly, why not roll out a yoga mat and strike some poses on the grass in front of the rooms or take a walk along the beach. Another slow option is a paddleboard or kayak that are available for use by anyone staying at the Homestead and can be found on the beach in front of the Eco Lodge.
The best way to end the day is to join Kieran, Tory and the kids at Herald Height to watch the sun go down on top of 600ft high cliffs. On your return to the Eco Lodge, you might even find the firepit alight, a great way to warm up and relax with a nightcap.
THE WARDLE INFLUENCE
Sir Thomas Wardle purchased the leasehold on Dirk Hartog Island in 1968 as a place to eventually retire to, running sheep and goats. In 1993, grandson Kieran Wardle took over the leasehold with tourism in mind. In 2005, negotiations began with the WA government to turn the island into a national park, requiring the removal of all sheep, goats and feral animals.
The Wardle family were awarded a freehold for an area of land around the homestead and in Sunday Island Bay. In November 2007, 4000 sheep and 750 goats were mustered, shorn and then towed on barges to Denham for the last time.
Kieran and his wife Tory are working on turning the Homestead precinct into a carbon neutral area by developing and implementing an environmental program to preserve the future of the land.
With solar panels and a wind turbine playing a larger role in powering the site, the recycling of glass and aluminium cans and reduced water usage, they are well on their way to achieving their goal.
The growth in tourism is steady and it is no wonder with Kieran and Tory the perfect hosts. With an application for a liquor licence filed you may not need to BYO anymore — in fact, it will give you an excuse to stay longer.
So next time you want to escape the cold of winter, make your way to Dirk Hartog Island. I guarantee you won’t regret.