You probably haven’t heard about Wilderness Island, but every day, more and more people are learning about its remote beauty.
Do you remember the last time you spent a night under canvas? The last time you found yourself an isolated location, looked up to the sky and lost yourself in a vast blanket of stars?
Sounds like it’s about time you took a break and fell asleep with the wind rustling your tent and the sound of waves rolling up the beach. If you’re already hoping there is a day spa, some chic cafes and a shopping mall down the road, Wilderness Island is not for you.
But here is your chance to strip away life’s excesses and spend time in a place where the only traffic is the odd hermit crab crossing your path on a beach walk.
Wilderness Island is located roughly 40 kilometers east of Exmouth and can be best described as a spot where the desert meets the sea. At any time, you will find a mix of families, fishermen and backpackers call it home for the week. The Island can accommodate a maximum of eight peoples in four twin-share safari-style cabins (Now we can have groups of 10 in 5 cabins). While not luxurious, they are certainly comfortable, and I found that the combination of hiking, fishing and sea air meant I slept very well at night.
Central to the camp us a communal meeting/dining tent where people can catch up during the day. Outside is a large deck from which you get great views of the ocean and a large bed to help you indulge in a novel.
At night, you’ll find everyone around the camp fire, where conversation runs late into the night, in keeping with the Eco-friendly policy on the island, the camp is powered by a 12-volt solar system.
The island is run by two colorful characters, Jim Alston and ‘Harry’ Butler, he is not the ‘real’ Harry Butler: his last name is Butler but his mates thought his first name should be Harry and are sworn to secrecy on what his real name is.
You can easily spot Harry – he never wears shoes and despite living on an island, he doesn’t eat fish.
Jim is a local boy of some five generations. He grew up on nearby Yanrey Station and knows this area well. He loves meeting tourist and wants them to experience the country that he has loved his whole life.
Wilderness Island is best known for its amazing fishing: in fact, fly fisherman from all over Australia are leaving there passports at home and are coming to experience what has been describes as some of the best saltwater fly fishing in the world.
I traveled with Rob Paxevanos from the television series Fishing Australia, and we recorded two episodes there in May. He describes it as the best flats fishing he had experienced in more than 150 shows. “The water is so clear that you can see the fish, know if it’s the species you are looking for and cast your lure straight to it”, he enthused.
On one trip to a secret fishing spot near the island, we caught a huge variety of fish – brassy trevally, golden trevally, some large queen-fish , Malabar cod, coral trout and mangrove jack.
The island has a large, comfortable eight meter boat to get the best fishing spots. It draws only 40 centimeters, so Jim and Harry can take you to quite, shallow bays of crystal-clear water – and don’t be surprised if you see turtles on your travels.
I joined some backpackers on a walk to a remote mangrove creek and we went fishing using small pieces of pilchard as bait. They were casting their lines and landing baits just under the eve of the mangroves and before the ripples had settles, they were fighting some good-sized mangrove jacks.
We took a couple of the best fish back to camp that night and cooked them Vietnamese style, with island-grown lemongrass and a sprinkle of turmeric.
Harry is more than happy to take you out looking for mud crabs n the mudflats nearby. Is it a great experience to head out each day to look for your dinner – quite a change from the fight for a parking spot at the local Woolworths.
Harry was quite confident out there without shoes, despite the fact that a decent chomp from a mud-crab would probably chop off your toes. I think he must know every mud-hole out there on those flats and he used a long loop of wire to hook the crabs on. Later, Jim cooked up a fantastic feed in a wok on the campfire: Singapore chili mud crab. We enjoyed it with a crisp glass of Western Australian semillion.
Jim wants the rustic nature of the Wilderness Island to remain intact. “Enjoy it for what it is: it’s a beautiful piece of coastline, a beautiful environment,” he says. “Respect it, and learn that you can actually enjoy yourself in an area like this and not have an impact.”
The island has a policy with regard her policy with regard to fishing: no fish are to be taken back to Exmouth. What is caught there must be consumed there but in practice, almost all of the fishing is ‘catch and release’.
That’s not to say you will get hungry – Jim promises everyone some great feeds of local fish and has a terrific menu to satisfy hungry tummies after a big day exploring the island.
And it’s not just humans who like to take time out around Wilderness Island. For 5 months between July and November, humpback whale mothers and their calves take breaks here on their migration south to colder waters. Then, the fishing rods are stowed and it’s time to just observe and experience awesome nature at her best.
Jim says the best way to see the whales is to stop the boat and turn off the motor: nearly always, then, whales will come up to the boat to assuage their curiosity.
He has photographs of various people almost touching the gentle giants’ noses. That’s the wilderness for you.