Dirk Hartog Island

Highlights

  • Cape Inscription - First recorded landing of Europeans in Australia
  • Turtle Bay - One of the best breeding grounds for Loggerhead Turtles on the planet

Dirk Hartog Island of Western Australia, lies within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It is about 80 kilometres long and between 3 and 15 kilometres wide and is Western Australia's largest and most western island. 

Steep cliffs on the island’s western side slope gradually eastward towards a low limestone coastline of shallow bays and secluded sandy beaches. The vegetation is low, shrubby and harbours a surprising array of animal life from rare burrowing frogs to wrens found nowhere else in the world. 

Access

There are several ways to get to Dirk Hartog Island National Park
including by vehicle barge, boat and plane.

By 4WD & Vehicle Barge

Travelling to the island via vehicle barge from Steep Point is a popular method of transport, giving you the freedom to use your own 4WD on the island. Note this is a challenging 4WD experience there is a limit of 8 vehicles allowed on the island at any one time.

To access the barge you will need to travel to Steep Point via a rough 4WD track and then take the 20 min trip across to the southern tip of the island. Bookings must be prearranged and can be booked through the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Information Centre on 08 9948 1590. 

By Boat

Boat owners are welcome to visit the island either on a day trip, to camp or to stay at the homestead. Most people travel across from Denham, a journey of approximately 35km as the crow flies. During summer when strong southerly winds are the norm, the journey may not be possible. Check local conditions and ensure you have all necessary safety equipment before crossing. 

Charter boats are also an option and several companies in Denham offer this service. Costs vary depending on your group size. Visit the Shark Bay tourist information website for a list of companies and to make bookings. Please note some charters may not depart daily so you may need to be flexible with your dates. 

Flying

Another option is to charter a small plane to fly to the island from the Denham airport. Charter flights can be arranged through Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Centre on 08 9948 1590.

Camping

Aside from the commercial accommodation at the island’s homestead, facilities are limited to a few small fishing shacks dotted around the coastline. A small number of rugged 4WD tracks give access to these sites, located mainly on the northern and eastern sides of the island.

There are six designated camping locations around the island with very basic or no facilities. The sites include Urchin Point, The Block, Withnell Point, Sandy Point, Louisa Bay and Sammy’s Beach.

History

Sitting out from the far western edge of the Australian continent lies remote and rugged Dirk Hartog Island, one of our most important historic sites. The island has a long Australian maritime history as it was visited by several notable European explorers, many of them well before Captain Cook and the First Fleet.

The arrival of Dirk Hartog in 1616 marked the first recorded European landing on Australia’s west coast. To record his visit, he climbed a cliff, set a wooden post into a cleft in the rock and nailed a pewter plate to it with details of his arrival. Hartog's Plate remained there until the arrival of another Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, who replaced the plate with one of his own. Hartog's Plate is now on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

English explorer William Dampier followed in 1699 and gave the area the name "Shark's Bay".

Several Frenchmen followed the Dutch. On 28 March 1772, Breton navigator Louis Aleno de St Aloüarn landed on the island and became the first European to claim possession of Western Australia in the name of French king Louis XV. This involved a ceremony (which took place on 30 March) during which one or more bottles were buried on the island. One bottle was recorded as containing an annexation document and a coin. In 1998 a bottle cap made of lead with an écu coin set in it, was first discovered at Turtle Bay by a team led by Philippe Godard and Max Cramer. This triggered a broader search by a team from the Western Australian Museum led by Myra Stanbury, with Bob Sheppard, Bob Creasy and Dr Michael McCarthy. On 1 April 1998, an intact bottle bearing a lead cap identical to the one recovered earlier, also with a coin set in it, was unearthed. No trace of an annexation document has yet been found.

In 1818 the French explorer Louis de Freycinet, while exploring the coast, came across de Vlamingh's plate and took it back to France. The plate was eventually returned to Australia in 1947 and is currently housed in the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. 

The island was first given as a pastoral lease in 1869 to Francis Louis von Bibra. Von Bibra established sheep on the island and traded guano (seabird dropping) from its bays.

It was then purchased by the Withnell brothers in 1907. John and James Withnell were the children of John and Emma Withnell, some of the earliest settlers in the Pilbara. The island was regarded as an ideal place for a sheep station as there was no rabbits  In 1909 when it was carrying a flock of about 12,000 sheep and produced approximately 400 bales of wool. The brothers had estimated the area of the island to be 156,000 acres (631 km2) and intended to increase the flock on the island to 25,000. By 1910 the flock size was 14,200.

By 1919 the pastoral lease was put up for auction by the owner James Nicholas who also owned Croydon and Peron Peninsula Stations. The station occupied an area of 153,000 acres (619  km2) and was stocked with approximately 19,000 sheep.

Perth Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Wardle purchased the island as a private retreat for his family around 1969 and later retired there. The island is now under government Parks and Wildlife ownership and became part of the Shark Bay Marine Park,with the exception of the pastoral homestead, which is now run as an eco-tourism resort and maintained by Sir Wardle's grandson, Kieran Wardle.

The island’s history as a pastoral lease has now come to an end and sheep destocking was undertaken in 2008. The island is now a national park and the future looks bright, with bold plans underway to reintroduce some of the island's rare mammals. 

There are some truly beautiful sites to visit on the island including Cape Inscription. This is where Dirk Hartog landed in 1616, although modern posts now mark the spot.  There is also a lighthouse here, which was built between 1908 and 1910. The western coast of the island is a fantastic place to feel the power of the massive waves hit the cliffs.  At some points, where sea has eroded the cliffs, there are unusual blowholes. The east coasts crescent beaches are great for exploring and photo opportunities are rife. At Quoin Bluff, there is the remains of an army outpost, a stone jetty and other relics.