Steep Point & Dirk Hartog Island

Saturday, Jun 25, 2022 at 04:26

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

Last month, we started our winter research expedition (AKA 4x4 & camoing holiday) and having an awesome time so far.

This is a big trip across WA and NT to review, research and document new and changed POIs, roads, and 4wd tracks for our ExplorOz Traveller app users. Some of our updates go live into the Places data, we may have some new and revised Treks, and other updates will be base map updates to eventually be featured in the next edition of EOTopo - our 2023 edition.

It's our first time checking our capability to fully run the ExplorOz office whilst on the road so this is a really important step. To make it happen we've done some major mods to our comms systems and power as obviously we have to be functional remotely - software development, customer service, and content. The changes to our computing systems and software tools are not interesting to anyone, but we've also taken the opportunity to make some modifications to our current Landcruiser 200 series (2008 model) and Ultimate camper trailer (2009 model) to bring this particular rig up to our standards for reliability and practicality such as long range fuel tank (now 273L), repositioning of the water tank in the car and outlet and designing a water-level indicator, rebuilding one of the roller drawers to allow space behind to install 2 new lithium batteries (replacing the previous AGM in battery box mounted on roller draw shelf), and new gauges etc. All work done by David. To the Ultimate, we removed all the canvas and applied new waterproofing (Dynaproof), and also removed all the old, chipped Raptor paint and did a full re-spray. We have previously done other modifications but these were just final items on our wish list that we knew were imperative for this type of trip. So, here is part 1 of our WA/NT trip, which started end May.

*TIP: Click any image thumbnail to expand to full screen.

Our trip started from home in Perth. We tend to avoid overlay long driving days as we aim to be alert for Place update opportunities, which means we stop frequently to drop pins, take photos, or view locations to verify existing documentation. We have the mapscreen displayed on our headunit and whilst David is driving, I (Michelle) will document using a Samsung A52 mobile phone and/or an iPad. Together, we discuss items on the map, and validate with roadside signage and "what is seen" and stop where we deem necessary. We also cross-reference with other resources to ensure that no opportunity is missed.

Over the years, we've done a lot of driving north from Perth via the Indian Ocean Drive and each time we try to stop at different locations. This time, we took a good long stop at Nilgen Reserve and then instead of going into Geraldton we diverted east via the wind farms and had our first nights camp at Ellendale Pool. This was our first time visiting this location and we found it highly appealing especially on sunset with the white sandstone rockface picking up the colours of the sunset and glowing red for about an hour followed by a bright night sky full of stars and no moon. All complimented by the nocturnal birdsong symphony that played right through the night into sunrise.

This overnight location meant we took a different route north the next day that bypassed the main route to Geraldton, thus avoiding congestion so this worked out favourably. The remainder of the drive to Overlander Roadhouse continued to include research stops, however we had a booking at Hamelin Outback Station Stay so we only had a short distance which made the day easy and enjoyable and we arrived at 3.30pm.

Please read up about Hamelin Station Stay if you're heading to Steep Point because not only is a great place to stay, its the ideal location to minimise your driving time and fuel usage for the journey. Upon our early afternoon arrival and after setting up and settling in, David went for a run down to Hamelin Pool via the bush track on the station's property whilst I drove the main track (after attempting the track but it became impassable/blocked). This visit was timed for just prior to sunset as we knew that the boardwalk over the stromatolites was still closed (due to damage from the 2021 cyclone Seroja). David ran both ways (9km) and I continued touring around photographing the sights in the light of "golden hour" around the Telegraph museum located within the caravan park before heading back up the road to the station where we enjoyed hot showers, flushing toilets, and an amazing sunset display that I was thrilled to photograph. We then sat around the campfire eating our vegie curry of cauliflower, carrots and couscous whilst chatting with Luke from Bush Heritage Australia who explained the history of the station and the work they do.

Our last trip to the Shark Bay area was over 20 years ago and at that time we explored Monkey Mia, Cape Peron National Park and Hamelin Pool sites extensively but we didn't go to Steep Point so this was the main destination of this trip.

Like most people, we had heard of and prepared for an exceptionally rough, hard drive from Shark Bay Road out to Steep Point with sand dunes to negotiate that would be a "challenge" for towing a camper trailer. That is not really how we would describe it... In our opinion, having just experienced the drive in early June, the corrugations are there and ongoing for a long time but far from the worst we've ever experienced. Easily solved by lowered tyre pressures. The sand hills section was no challenge at all with our Landcruiser 200 series towing an Ultimate camper trailer. There was no point where it was a challenging drive other than the visibility of oncoming vehicles due to the many twists and turns (we had a few near misses despite our sand flag).

Sadly, what reputation has failed to pass along, is just how lovely the drive is! There are numerous parts where you get a long range view of sandhills with beautiful azure blue sea. Throughout the sand hills, there is also a lot more vegetation than we expected. It was actually a really fun drive so we were pleasantly surprised.

Our drive to Shelter Bay took a total of 3 hours 18mins from the turnoff onto Useless Loop Rd - this included 2 long stops to fly the drone and 2 additional stops for airing down tyres. I'm sure if you're planning a trip you can watch YouTube to see various experiences from other people but here's our notes:

Useless Loop Road is bitumen for the first 22km. It is then unsealed with corrugations & patches of limestone & sand for the next 24.5km so you should air down for this section (we went to 26psi and found we could travel comfortably at 60-80km/hr fully loaded). There is then another very short tar section of only 4.2km (presumably for the benefit of the mining trucks). At the end of this bitumen section you have come 50.7km from the start of Useless Loop Road and there is no more tar. There is still another 47.2km of rough unsealed road before reaching the National Park self-registration station where there is a sign advising recommended tyres pressures of 20psi or less.

We went down from 26psi to 15psi front & 18psi rear at this point. From here, it is just 5.1km to the T-junction where those heading to False Entrance turn left, otherwise all traffic turns right to continue to Shelter Bay & Steep Point.

From my notes, the worst of the corrugations now begins (yep it gets worse) and then there is no other opportunity to air down before hitting the dune section that begins with a long narrow, winding hill climb where you must be ready with sand driving tyre pressures. Because we had already lowered ours twice, we were able to overtake 2 slower vehicles ahead from this junction who were struggling with the corrugations just prior to the sand hills.

The reputation for the sand section being difficult has clearly been manufactured from people with no experience 4WDring in sand dunes and perpetuated on social media/YouTube for sensationalism. For this section, David was deliberately driving conservatively to avoid the V8 turbo using unnecessary fuel. Just a nice, steady pace with no reason to be concerned about loss of momentum with plenty of torque in high range 4WD. Our Ultimate is only around 1200kg fully loaded (with extra water/jerry cans) and the V8 Turbo in the Landcruiser has no problem with that. The real issue is that the track is narrow and has blind corners so using a sand flag is highly practical.

We arrived at Shelter Bay about 12.50pm and the odometer was at 134.2km from the start of Useless Loop Rd. We were thrilled to find our campsite "Kels 2". It was one of the nicest, most perfect camps you could imagine. We setup, had a beer, made lunch, David tried some fishing, then we went snorkelling. Later, we took a beach walk to see what the barge departure point was like and met some other campers and marvelled at some fishing group setups. (note: the barge route is wrong on all the maps and on Wiki camps - we have put the correct location in ExplorOz places and spoke to the Ranger and Dirk Hartog Island Lodge about fixing this in our EOTopo 2023 map update). We watched a big shark come within centimetres of the shoreline and the boys from the fishing camp further up the beach took it upon themselves to catch it, which provided us with an hour's entertainment! There was no wind andShelter Bay lived up to its name and gave us another beautiful sunset.

The following morning, I awoke pre-dawn to the low hum of the barge coming with its first drop off. I was so excited to get these beautiful photographs. We then had to pack up our camp and move the trailer to another site (Easter 1) as that was all we could book (only booked last minute a few weeks ago). This site is set just off the beachfront sand 10m behind the dune scrub so not quite as perfect but still very nice.

We then did all our Steep Point touring and driving. Again there was hardly any wind or swell so the blowholes at Thunder Bay were passive but still exciting. I don't know why I sometimes get myself a bit worked up about the more "serious 4WD" coastal sites in WA - there is a lot of perceived hype but in reality not extreme and easily doable for anyone that has experience in long distance driving in remote outback Australia. It's all much the same - mixed terrain of limestone rocky outcrops on a base of sand. Sensible wheel placement, common sense and lowered tyre pressures make the drive enjoyable. Back at camp after day 2 at Steep Point we wanted to stay longer but was not able to get extra nights.

Here is our Track Log of the trip to Steep Point from Overland RH. Remember to tap the photo icons on the map to see photos of places. You can also tap "Segment Explorer" and "Overnight Locations" for more stats and info.

The next day, we were ready for our barge to DHI. We had requested the 9am departure but we were able to pack up leisurely and enjoy breakfast with plenty of time to spare so we lined up with the other travellers and watched a few loads come & go - some with small boats and camper trailers but no one had any issues. Obviously, no one wants to stuff up their wheel placement driving onto the barge but the barge operator knows what he's doing and within seconds you're on and off and you suddenly relax and enjoy your 10 minutes on the green water.

When we arrived at Cape Rassonnet, we were presented with a beautiful beach and an easy drive to the homestead. The weather seemed to be in our favour but as strange as this may seem, we weren't impressed when we located our allocated campsite! I suspect it must have been a booking error or oversight, as it made no sense to place a couple immediately beside a large family whilst the rest of the camping area was empty. Before setting up we managed to shift from our allocation at B4 to B14 and problem solved or so we thought. We then struggled to get the camper level - first time in 3 years that we couldn't get it level despite using levellers - the ground looked flat but no matter what we did, one side would sink and the other side would slip off the levellers. It took a ridiculous number of times to get it right so tempers had run thin. We solved it with lunch and a beer and then a long walk to find the illusive "osprey nest". We returned to enjoy having a campfire at our site in the supplied fire pit (campfires are not permitted at the campsites in the National Park but they are allowed at the homestead).

We had booked 5 nights camping at the homestead because we could not get any sites in the National Park for 2 consecutive nights except for on the west side at "The Block" and my research suggested that sites here could be exposed and on rocks not sand so I was reluctant to do that. That meant we had to plan how to get around the island to see all the sites - either one big driving day, or multiple day trips. At the time, fuel usage was our main concern as we had no idea what the terrain would be like and the internet is full of varied reports about fuel usage. The next issue was the weather - we had internet service and it looked like a bit of rain was coming later in the week but we also wanted a rest day so today we would just explore the area around the homestead and tomorrow would be our big day doing the whole island drive.

We started our day leisurely but included viewing the magical sunrise over the water again, a breakfast of pancakes, and then a hot shower. We then went off to explore the Blowholes and Surf Point. Wow the DHI Blowholes are something else - way better than on Steep Point. We were there for hours just marvelling at the area which we had completely to ourselves until we decided to leave and another 2 cars came in together. We had stopped to take photos and then they came past on their way out and overtook us - so they must have only stay 10 minutes. We then knew were were the only ones and took our time travelling across the open expanse of dune to take a bit of drone footage.

We then drove out to Surf Point, another amazing but totally different spot. Again, we stayed here for easily an hour just watching the wave motion. Absolutely beautiful. Little did we know it that this place would become impassable in just a few days due to rains and flooding.

An unexpected treat when camping at the homestead campground is the use of campfires at your site - they provide the fire pit and you buy the wood. They also run communal fires at the main hub of the homestead - Inscription Bar.

Around the bar you will meet people, have your questions answered by the very knowledgeable staff and enjoy the family hospitality. This is a truly family run business and I am so pleased to have experienced just a few days in their company and their property.

We had mobile service at our camp and checked weather to make our plans for our days ahead and knew that a significant weather event was forecast however we really needed a day off. So we realised our "big day" for driving around the island had to be tomorrow to be sure it would happen.

Below is a video we put together of our trip on DHI, including our visits to the Blowholes, Surf Point, and a day touring the island where we visited Quoin Bluff, Herald Bay, Louisa Bay, Sandy Point, Withnell Point, Dampiers Landing, Cape Levillain, Turtle Bay, Cape Inscription, Urchin Point, The Block, Mystery Beach, and the inland track.

As you'll see in the video, we left 2 days earlier than planned but go to use the final day for a bit more touring instead of the usual dawn departure so we really only missed one day. The day we left, we go up to Notch Point and also Sunday Island Bay, but sadly on this trip we missed reaching Charlies Harbour and Quoin Head. Other than those 2 locations, we got everywhere else but feel we were both incredibly fortunate to see the island when the weather was A1 perfect, but also unfortunate to not have had enough time on the island in general. We'll be back!

And here is the Track Log of the DHI part of this trip. Remember to tap the photo icons on the map to see photos of places. You can also tap "Segment Explorer" and "Overnight Locations" for more stats and info.

After leaving Dirk Hartog Island at 2pm and landing back at Shelter Bay, we drove back out to Hamelin Station. We really like this place and stayed there for 3 nights whilst it rained. We tested our working efficiently with both of us on our laptops hooked into the 2000W Redarc invertor in the Ultimate but the next day choose to plug into the 240v power outlets on the exterior of the quarters, although it was more difficult to get internet connection there than at our campsite. On the afternoon of day 2, a van rolled in with signage that interested me and a solo traveller. We ended up enjoying his company and hearing his story of his travels. In fact, the next day before we left he came and gave us a signed copy of his self-published book "Searching for Pearls". Ben O'Neill is his name - keep an eye out for him travelling in his van with signage "The Giant Benjamin Project", cycling for mental health and the environment. One of his sponsors is Bush Heritage Australia. He is worth your time. We hope to catch up with him later this year in the Kimberley.

Since we had our DHI time shortened, we had hoped to use the time to go to Francois Peron National Park however the roads were closed due to the rain and remained closed. The wet weather was dominating the entire coast down to Perth but we had to return home for a brief 2 week period due to family reasons and it seemed we may have dodged being trapped in by closed roads but now we were going to encounter rainy weather no matter what we did. So home we went, but we didn't plug back into our office - we have remained working remotely and intermittently and doing what needed to be done and we're now off again on stage 2 of this trip to the NT.

If you have any questions, please feel welcome to ask by posting a comment to this blog.

We are now heading out along the Great Central Rd to Uluru, then will go via the Mereenie Loop and possibly into Arnhem Land, and then return via the Kimberley and return to Perth in September.

If you want to follow the rest of our journey - please subscribe to the ExplorOz Instagram account where we intend to post daily stories of what we're doing. Hopefully we can post some more YouTube videos and blogs to our account too.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Always working not enough travelling!
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