Why Dirk Hartog Island is the perfect destination for 4WD beginners

Dirk Harthog Island is an adventure paradise framed by rugged cliffs and shifting sand dunes. The only way to explore it properly is in a 4WD. Here’s how you do it.

Aerial view of two swimmers in the ocean next to a beach.
  • Words: Jeremy Drake; main picture: Powershala
  • January 2020

Dirk Hartog Island is an 80km long finger of dirt that lies more than 700km north of Perth, dropped like floating pearl off the coast of Western Australia.

But unlike the edges of a pearl the Island’s rugged sandstone cliffs fight off the wilds of the Indian Ocean to one side, while 200m high shifting sand dunes morph their shape and colours on the other.

It lies just off Steep Point, Australia’s most westerly precipice, making it an adventure paradise for young families but it’s also a destination which requires a little more preparation and travel courage in order to reach if you’re going to tackle this destination properly.

Properly, means in a 4WD and this is one driving adventure you need to put at the top of your Aussie bucket list.

Two swimmers in the ocean next to a rock ledge.
Dirk Harthog Island is an adventure paradise for families. Picture: Tourism WA.

How to get there

While there is convenient boat access via the nearby fishing town of Denham in Shark Bay, a choose-your-own-adventure 4WD road trip from Perth and onto the Island will not only test your off-road driving skills, it will also give you the greatest access to visiting the more remote sections of Dirk Hartog Island - including Cape Inscription - once you arrive.

You need to be well prepared as the journey by car is not for the faint-hearted, but that’s no reason to be scared off. Even if you’ve never done any four-wheel driving before, detailed instructions provided by Kieran Wardle who operates the only accommodation on the Island is precise and there are plenty of other tourists driving the same way.

After arriving in Perth, grab your 4WD and head north for the iconic Overlander Roadhouse. If you’re not comfortable punching out an 8-10-hour road trip in just one day, stops in either Geraldton or Kalbarri are recommended. But if you do manage to do this full distance in a day, you should spend the night at the Hamelin Station Stay in Hamelin Pool before you head into the Shark Bay conservation area the following morning.

A barge ferry carries a 4WD car in the ocean.
Book your 4WD barge ferry in advance. Picture: Will Wardle.

Your journey to Dirk Hartog officially starts as soon as you hit the bone jarring corrugated Useless Loop Road. Drop the PSI on your tyres slightly for a smoother ride and once at the first Ranger’s House, this is when you will need to drop your tyres even further to around 20PSI in order to navigate the soft sand. You may need to drop them even further depending on how much weight your car is carrying.

As you head for Steep Point and you navigate the gradual dune rises, engage low gear on your 4WD and take it slow, keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic. You can expect a 2.5 to 4-hour journey depending on both your driving skills and the conditions of the road.

You must book your 4WD ferry with Kieran well in advance. This single car and trailer nicknamed “The Explorer” leaves Steep Point from Blackies Beach each morning for 364 days of the year. It’s only a short 10-minute trip across the passage with Kieran always at the helm.

View of cliffs and ocean with eco lodge in the foreground.
Stay in the luxury eco lodge in Homestead Bay. Picture: Dirk Harthog Island.

Where to stay

Kieran and his wife Tory Wardle offer several types of accommodation options on the Island, as well as beachfront camping spots.

Their signature, luxury eco lodge in Homestead Bay is nestled on the Eastern side of the Island and is made up of six double rooms (all with an ensuite) in the Homestead’s converted shearing sheds. A self-contained ocean villa down the beach also sleeps up to 12 people and has three separate rooms and a bathroom.

A 5-night self-drive package, which includes the 4WD transfers with Kieran, a stay in the eco-lodge, gourmet meals provided as well as an evening tour over the dunes to see Australia’s last sunset, costs around AUD $1,495 per adult.

Do not miss

  • Surf Point - A protected bay not far from the Homestead that’s home to dozens of Nervous sharks feeding on schools of fish in the shallows
  • Cape Inscription - The site of the first European landing point in Australia back in 1616 (allow a full day of driving from Homestead Bay)
4WD towing a campervan on a remote track by the ocean.
You will need a 4WD to explore the more remote areas of this island. Picture: Jed Currey.

6 Tips to be 4WD-ready for the journey into Dirk Hartog Island

  1. You will need to have access to a high clearance 4WD for this trip. Hire one in either Perth or Geraldton after your arrival into WA.
  2. Make sure your hire car comes with a full recovery kit, including an air compressor, which you’ll need when you drop (or raise) the PSI on your tyres at the first Ranger House before entering and leaving the Steep Point 4WD Track.
  3. Contact the Ranger at Steep Point prior to your arrival to let him or her know your estimated arrival time and your boat transfer on The Explorer. There is limited phone reception once you leave Hamelin Pool.
  4. Pack a Jerry Can of extra Diesel for once you’re on the Island, which you may need on your drive out depending on how much adventuring you do once you’re on the island.
  5. Have plenty of water in storage just in case!
  6. A keen sense of adventure. This trip is not easy, but if you’re well prepared it really can be the driving adventure of a lifetime. If in doubt, the team at Dirk Hartog Island will provide any answers to questions prior to your departure.