WA Coastal Experience
With the longest coastline in Australia, Western Australia offers the perfect opportunity for a true coastal experience. And for those with an adventurous heart and a 4WD at hand, Dirk Hartog Island is the perfect way to experience the raw, natural wonders that this state has to offer.
Found to the northwest of Shark Bay, Dirk Hartog Island is the largest island in Western Australia and it was here, at Cape Inscription in 1616, that the first recorded European set foot in Western Australia – including Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, for whom the island is named.
At 80km long and reaching 15km in width, this World Heritage Island and National Park is the only island you can take your four-wheel drive, and once you arrive, visitors can enjoy a paradise of crystal rugged cliffs, private beaches, pure blue waters and marine life. “Catch a fish, snorkel, explore coastal 4WD tracks, watch whales from the cliffs, camp on a remote beach or stay at Homestead Campgrounds”, Wardle recommends. The island is perfect for all ages, however, with a limit to how many 4WDs are allowed on the island at any one time, bookings are essential.
About Dirk Hartog Island
Up until 2006, Dirk Hartog Island ran as a pastoral station, until it was given back to the Western Australian government to become a National Park in 2009. “There is also a special project called Return to 1616 that is transforming the island back to how it was discovered in 1616, [with] a 26 million dollar budget to make this happen,” Wardle says. Dirk Hartog Island is the largest island in the world to have cats, goats and sheep fully eradicated from the island, which has allowed vegetation to flourish over the past 12 years and new habitats to be created for rare and endangered animals.
Must-do coastal activities at Dirk Hartog Island
While the beach is the first thing that comes to mind when planning a coastal experience, Dirk Hartog Island has a range of must-do activities that visitors should ensure to put on their bucket lists. Here are several of Wardle’s top recommendations:
Watch Australia’s Last Sunset sitting on top of the 600ft high cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean at Herald Heights, Dirk Hartog Island.
Visit Cape Inscription, the site of the first recorded European to land in WA in 1616. It was also the site where Vlamingh (1697), Dampier (1699), Saint-Aloüarn (1772) and de Freycinet (1818) landed.
Take an early morning drive to view rare and endangered wallabies.
The coastal 4WD track between Charlie’s Harbour and Mystery Beach is a fan favourite and adventurous trip. Its landscapes are breathtaking and the whales that are cruising past from August to November are a sight to see.
Visit the blowhole at the south end of Dirk Hartog Island. It shoots 200ft plus into the air and the roar is deafening.
There is a natural bridge located on the northwest side of the island that is enormous. Ask the barge skipper for directions.
There are some coral caves located near Withnell Point that everyone must see.
When to visit Dirk Hartog Island
With a bucket list in hand, the next thing to consider when visiting Western Australia is the best time to visit. “Most coastal experiences in the north-west of WA are best done between March and November”, Wardle says, which can then be narrowed down by what kind of activities you are wanting to experience.
Although entering autumn, March through April can still be quite warm as the sea breezes begin to ease off. However, visiting the WA coast through these months can allow visitors to experience turtle hatching and ideal weather for swimming and snorkelling.
May to June brings with it cooler weather, Dugongs, and enough fish to keep you busy throughout your fishing getaway.
For those seeking to enjoy the beauty of WA without the heat, July through to August is a great time for campfires at night and heading out to spot the whales that begin gathering through these months. For lovers of flora as well as fauna, wildflowers are out by early August.
These activities continue from September to October, with the weather beginning to warm and wildflowers and whales to be found in greater quantities.
As November rolls around, the weather is generally warm, making it a great time to visit for the quintessential and delightful summer activities of swimming and snorkelling that make this part of Australia perfect for the whole family.
Dirk Hartog Island is closed from 1 Dec to 1 March each year, in order “to give all involved with creating island experiences some time off”, Wardle explains.
Staying at Dirk Hartog Island
A coastal paradise for four-wheel drivers, Dirk Hartog Island is perfect for tents and off-road camper trailers. However, it is not suitable for caravans.
Visitors can reach the island with their 4WD, using a landing barge that operates from Shelter Bay, Steep Point, a crossing that takes around 15 minutes and must be booked in advance. “We recommend camping at Shelter Bay and catching the ferry across early morning. There are no ferry transfers in the afternoon.”
The landing barge has a maximum of one 4WD and one camper trailer at a time, with a maximum overall length of 10.6m. No trucks are allowed.
Trailers should have a maximum weight of 2tn, or they will not be allowed to board.
“Practice your reversing skills before arrival”, Wardle advises, “as you will need to reverse off the landing barge.”
For those with caravans or oversized trailers, these can be left at Hamelin Station (which is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from the landing barge pick-up area), and simply bring a tent. Alternatively, the Dirk Hartog Island Eco Lodge offers a luxurious coastal experience. Book early to secure your spot, as there are only six rooms with ensuites. “The rooms are a rustic luxury and it’s a great spot to spoil yourself.”
A final must-see attraction at Dirk Hartog Island
Whether you stay at the Dirk Hartog Island Eco Lodge or are camping out in nature, a visit to The Inscription Bar & Café at Homestead Bay cannot be missed when visiting the island. The venue is open for coffee from 7:30 am to 10 am and sunset drinks from 5:30 pm-7:30 pm. “You must try the small batch Inscription Gin that has been created using World Heritage Island botanicals,” Wardle says. There are two on offer, the Dampier 1699 and the Rose de Freycinet 1818 pink gin, each the perfect companion to “enjoy while watching the passing marine life”.
A natural paradise that balances wildlife conservation with adventure, Dirk Hartog Island is an absolute must for travellers who want to enjoy a true Western Australia coastal experience.