If you are a passionate 4WDer, like remote travel, and want to see more of Western Australia, you need to add Dirk Hartog Island to your list of places to explore. In fact, according to AJ from Campers Pantry, push it to the top of your list. We caught up with AJ recently, to find out more about his recent trip to Dirk Hartog Island.
About Dirk Hartog Island
I camped at Shelter Bay over 20 years ago. It was, and is to this day, one of the best trips I've done, and I've dreamed of going back ever since. You’re genuinely away from civilisation and on the rugged edge of Australia, as far west as you can take a vehicle in Australia. Dirk Hartog Island, aka DHI, is in the Shark Bay World Heritage area of the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.
We booked eight nights with another family seven months early due to COVID travel restrictions and availability during the school holidays. With luck, we got four different campsites starting at the North-end of DHI at Turtle Bay and finishing at Notch Point, about one hour drive from the barge pickup location.
A trip like this is not a walk in the park. There’s no pulling off the bitumen, folding out the camp chair, cracking a beer and plugging into 240 volts before heading to the local pub. You will need to carry everything for this trip, including water and fuel, as there are no shops for food or fuel stations on the island.
Getting the off-grid power system ready
Being completely remote on mainly soft, sandy corrugated tracks, you can't afford to break down. We had a few things to do to our vehicle to get it ready to go off-grid. Fixed solar panels and dual battery system upgrades should be your main priority, you'll need to get there and home in one piece.
We were so stoked with how the new REDARC additions to our 12-volt system performed. The Manager30 battery management system reading the battery showed that we didn't drop below 43% state of charge on the whole trip. Having the new fixed solar panel was great, as we could park up and pull a charge for the entire day.
We'd park the car, so the panel was facing the north, east or west, depending on the time of day. At Notch Point, we were parked for a few days. We orientated the 4wd east-west, utilising the low northern position of the sun each day. We didn't need to start the car or re-position for morning or afternoon sun for three days straight.
So, what do you do on DHI for nine days? Activities such as fishing, exploring, sightseeing, snorkelling, spear fishing, camping, whale watching, relaxing, swimming, SUPing, and did I mention fishing? If you're not worried about sharks, the waves are also world-class with lefts and rights breaking over the coral reef.
The island is around 80 km long, and it takes about a day to drive the length with stops along the way. Do not underestimate the travel times driving around on this island though. After researching the DHI website and watching a few YouTube videos, we compiled a list of places we wanted to see during our stay.
The Hartog Explorer
We decided to leave the mainland on a Friday and cross the channel on the 4WD Ferry dubbed 'Hartog Explorer’ and stay two nights at Turtle Bay. You will have a barge booking time, but it is first in best dressed for boarding the Ferry.
Our meal plan changes for each trip we do, and it’s taken a bit of practice to make sure we eat healthily, none of the kids get hangry and not over or under cater. We incorporated more of the instant Campers Pantry dinners into this meal plan as we knew we would be doing some big days of exploring and fishing, and they make it so much easier at dinner time. We cook and eat these meals from the bags, so we have nothing to clean up either.
For some of our other dinners, we tend to cook them a few weeks in advance of the trip to save time and stress. Cooking a meal at home for a weekly dinner and adding a few more ingredients is more straightforward than doing it just before the trip. Then it's a matter of measuring portions and vac seal in a bag, flat-pack and freeze. To conserve water, we reheated these meals (in the bag) in a pot of boiling water and served with either pasta or rice and a side of Campers Pantry veggies which do not require refrigeration. Packing frozen meals in your 12-volt fridge/freezer means it will be running a lot more than usual, so your 12-volt system will need to be fail-safe and ready for that.
Cooking over the fire
We also found out that no fires are allowed in the National Park area, so you will need to prep for cooking with gas. Packing for an outback adventure and leaving the camp oven and fire pit at home is something we need to get used to, and hopefully, they put some permanent fire pits in place at the campsites in the future.
We try to carry fresh fruit that does not take up space in the fridge for snacks. Although on such rough roads, it can bounce around and bruise very easily. We also pack freeze-dried fruit snack packs, which are perfect for breakfast toppings as well. Celery and carrot sticks with a tub of hummus are another of our go-to snacks while on the road.
Fuel and water
Two of the primary considerations for this trip will determine how long you can spend on Dirk Hartog Island. You will need enough fuel for a 370km return, starting at Overland Roadhouse to the barge, plus travel and exploring the island's length and then back 160km to the Roadhouse. Let's round that up and say 750km total for this trip, with one-quarter driven in 4WD. For this trip, we travelled a total of 626 km return from Overlander Roadhouse.
For longer remote trips, we carry 80lt of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and showering. If water supplies are getting low, we soak in the ocean, lather up with soap and rinse off with 2lt of freshwater. Because it’s such a remote destination, it’s critical to make sure you’re travelling responsibly.
Dirk Hartog Island Campsites
We want to say we had a favourite, but all the campsites we stayed at were pretty impressive. The kids formed a "base" on a high hill at every camp, and as long as we could see them, we were happy. We had a few rainy nights, but the days were clear, so be sure to pack away non-waterproof items before bed.
Turtle Bay is where over 3,000 loggerhead turtles lay eggs every year and if you time your stay with laying or hatchings times, be sure to keep your distance and observe this unforgettable spectacle of nature. The snorkelling is excellent but be careful as you are exposed to swell from the Indian Ocean on this beach. From the campsite, the walk to the beach is down a steep sandy track.
Dampier's Landing, as the name suggests, is where William Dampier came ashore in 1699. The campsite is behind a dune system and is pretty protected. This beach, littered with shells and clams, was a beachcomber's dream. As the swell wraps around the island's northern point, it surges along the coast at speed and brings with it all sorts of sea creatures. We saw sharks, turtles and a cobia that refused to eat a soft plastic lure presented three times then spooking.
Louisa Bay is around halfway on the east side of the island and is one of the best beaches, in my mind, in Australia. We wished for flathead and played all day in the water. We found a massive Australian Trumpet Shell in the water close to shore. This sea snail was around 70 cm long and over 5 kilograms which is a baby. These are the biggest and heaviest gastropod in the world. We found out they can grow to over 90 cm long and weigh a whopping 18 kilograms!
Notch Point is an exciting little area on the island with fantastic snorkelling and swimming right from the beach. Also, camping on a point means it's easy to get out of the wind during the day. We had a late afternoon glass of wine, and the girls pumped up the SUPs and hit the water. The shallows were full of life, and we spotted dolphins, turtles, and a massive 3 metre plus stingray feeding in less than one metre of water. We found a turtle on the beach whose shell was covered in algae and needed a clean before swimming away with a little less drag than before.
Are there bathrooms on Dirk Hartog Island?
There are a few, and you aren't required to carry a portable loo with you. However, we chose to do so. If you don't take a portaloo, please make sure you bury your waste deeper than 20cm deep, 100 meters away from any water source and campsite and put your used tissue in your bin bag. On the island, there are a few campsites with the good old thunderbox. It would be great if they could install long-drop dunnies at each camp as we did see used toilet paper which is disappointing.
Fishing for a 'See-Food' diet
To say the fishing was good is an understatement. We managed to eat well during our trip. Small black snapper and tusk fish are plentiful in good numbers. We caught copious amounts of flathead in every bay across the island.
Flathead is the perfect species for teaching the kids how to use soft plastic lures. We filleted the flathead and then used long nose pliers to pull the rib bones out. It's tiresome work, but these long fillets are an excellent option for fish tacos. Catching and cooking fresh seafood while touring DHI also meant we had an easy unused dinner for when we got home.
Snorkelling at DHI
The marine life along the east coast of DHI is the perfect introduction to kids or adults who want to get into snorkelling. Reefs close to shore in shallow water and small tides allow for clear conditions to all sorts of fish, shells and creatures. Try scooping a bit of sand and shell grit to create some interest, as some fish will be curious and come in for a closer look. Small reef sharks on the hunt will also cruise through with very little notice patrolling in less than a meter of water.
We found we did have some intermittent mobile phone range across the island, but it was minimal, so we didn't bother. Our mobiles are with Telstra, and the best we got was one bar of 4G on top of a few hills. It's more of a safety thing to carry a mobile on the island and a great place to switch off entirely.
Here are a few things we suggest you take if you are heading for a few nights on DHI;
- Sand flag - Corrugated tracks wind their way through the island and there are plenty of blind spots. I do think sand flags while travelling on DHI should be a necessary safety item. Don't be shy to beep the horn on these corners too.
- Thermacell - Each campsite had mosquitoes at dawn and dusk, and mozzie spray just didn't cut it. Thermacell is not your average repellent, and those of you who have used a one will know what I'm talking about. Each day as the sun was setting, it was like we were getting ready for Oktoberfest and practising our folk dance.
- Sick bags - The tracks are rough, and our little one felt car sick with most of the driving. We did have her in front with us a little bit on some slower tracks but, as the saying goes, seatbelts save lives.
- SPOT Tracker or PLB - If it all goes pear-shaped, you need some form of communication to reach the real world. We carry a SPOT Tracker just in case we break down, get stuck, or someone has a life-threatening injury i.e. a snake bite.
- Snake Bite Bandages/First Aid Kit - Nothing new here. If you live in Australia and explore it, these are mandatory items. Know how to use a snake bite bandage kit and what to do before it happens, as you need to act quickly.
Campers Pantry is an Australian owned and made freeze-dried food manufacturer Based in Tasmania. A passionate Outdoorsman, AJ is always planning his next outdoor adventure 4WDing, hiking, fishing, canoeing and exploring. For more information on Campers Pantry or to follow AJ’s adventures check out their website, Instagram and Facebook. If you’re looking for some more off-grid inspiration to plan your next trip as the days start to warm up, check out our NO LIMITS series.
If you are looking for that next adventure to challenge yourself and your 4WD setup, consider a week on Australia’s rugged and remote Dirk Hartog Island. It's a long way away, but that means you'll see fewer people, and it ticks all the off-grid boxes.