The Raw, Alien Beauty of Dirk Hartog Island

Known by the local Malgana people as Wirruwana, this rugged island off Western Australia is being regenerated to its pre-1616 condition, before European settlement.

Article by Belinda Luksic

A boat making its way through the sand dunes on Dirk Hartog Island. Photography courtesy of Island Life Adventures.

We bounce over sand dunes in our dusty 4WD and through a pincushion terrain of yellow wattle, grevillea and the pale orange Tamala roses unique to Dirk Hartog Island/Wirruwana and the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. A final, stomach-fluttering dune lands us high above them in an apocalyptic, rubble-strewn sandscape tinged red. 

I half expect to see a robot wheel into view declaring, “Danger, Will Robinson”, and not surprisingly, scenes from the Marvel blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok” were filmed here. Car commercials too, says Holly, a marine biologist and our guide on this Island Life Adventures 4WD tour, part of a new day trip from Denham giving travellers without a 4WD or boat the chance to explore Western Australia’s largest island. 

The Blowholes are far below, a clamorous swirl of foamy, white-capped aquamarines and teals that shoot rainbow-splashed spray high into the air. It’s as if heavy machinery is running the show; massive cogs in need of a good oil groan below the waves. It’s hypnotic viewing, this ribbon of towering cliffs and roiling, tempestuous sea. The sun feels warm despite the whipping wind. 

Dirk Hartog Island is bigger, wilder and more sun-leached than I’d imagined. This is the place known by the local Malgana people as Wirruwana, alternatively named after the Dutch explorer who came ashore in 1616 — the second European landing on “Terra Australis”. Today, a successful regeneration program is underway to return it to 1616, before settlers and sheep grazing. “The feral cats and sheep have gone, and most of the goats. So much of the vegetation is coming back. I hope you find it as beautiful as I do,” says Holly.

This small island is the most westerly point of Australia and a World Heritage listed site. Photography courtesy of Island Life Adventures.

It’s a short drive from the Blowholes to Surf Point, a marine sanctuary with perfect breaks and views across to Steep Point, mainland Australia’s most westerly spot. Giant crabs side-shuffle across wind-ravaged rocks, landing in rock pools that mirror the blue sky and clouds. A grumpy-faced purple crab raises its oversized claw at me like an old man yelling at clouds.

Holly leads us to a sea cave where the ocean courses in and slow-moving crabs crawl across the ceiling. Next to it, a natural rock window frames the turbulent surf, a mesmerising Omo-wash of white and blue. The air is invigorating, rich in brine. 

It’s a tamer scene in Shark Bay marine sanctuary. A short walk across a sandy rise and we come upon a crescent moon bay with still blue waters. “This is where baby sharks seek refuge from bigger sharks like tigers and great whites,” says Holly. We walk along the shoreline, spotting the tiny fins of baby wobbegongs and other Nervous sharks feeding in the bay. It’s like another world.

 The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism WA and Australia’s Coral Coast.