Esperance – Beauty in Isolation

Story and pictures by Steve Collins

Dawn over the Bay of Isles - Espereance Western Australia

Esperance is a gem of a town which many grey nomads miss when they do the lap of Australia in their caravans.
When travelling from east to west, when they get to the end of the Eyre Highway at Norseman, most people turn right to head to Kalgoorlie and Perth. If you turn left, two hours later you will enter one of the most delightful towns in Australia.
Located 725 kilometres southeast of Perth, or 203 kms south of Norseman, the town of Esperance boasts one of the best settings of any town, anywhere. I have travelled Australia widely, and this is my favourite section of coastline.

Situated on the Bay of Isles, which is lapped by the Southern Ocean, the most obvious features of the town are the glorious aqua waters breaking against perfect white beaches and the spectacle of many islands in the Recherche Archipelago that are clearly visible in the distance.
The town is named after the French ship Le Esperance, which visited in 1792. Its name is French for “hope”, and that sentiment was fully exploited when vast tracks of farmland were opened for development in the 1960s and Americans, such as the Rockefellers and TV personality Art Linklater invested there.

The fascinating Pink Lake is a popular attraction

The best place to view Esperance, and to enjoy the full impact of its splendid beauty, is from the Rotary Lookout which is perched atop a granite outcrop just to the southwest of the town. From here you can enjoy a 360° panorama of the area taking in the view of Frenchman’s Peak across the bay in Cape Le Grande National Park, many of the islands in the bay and beyond, several of the town’s lovely beaches, the fascinating Pink Lake and Lake Warden further on.
Esperance is a busy port which services both the mining and agricultural industries and a goods railway connects the town with Kalgoorlie, which is a four hour drive away. Fishing and tourism are two other big industries which keep the town going.

Enjoy a 360° panorama of the area from the Rotary Lookout

Whilst the town is indeed charming, to truly enjoy the region you just need to hop in the car and go sightseeing.
Covering the countryside beyond the town are some of Australia’s largest farms. There are also five significant national parks within reasonable range, with three of them being within the Shire boundaries.
There are a couple of great scenic drives, one of which, the Great Ocean Drive, is a 40km drop-dead beautiful drive around the town and its nearby bays and beaches visiting places such as West Beach, Twilight Beach and Salmon Beach.
The other drive is longer at 92kms and is called the Great Country Drive. This drive introduces you to some of the lovely rural scenery and is especially breathtaking during the wildflower season when the natural foliage erupts into colour.
The Pink Lake, on the edge of town, is so named because at times it used to turn a very deep pink colour due to high concentrations of salt tolerant algae. The Pink Lake is supposed to change colour every so often, but the vivid pink is a little muted these days. At present scientists are working on introducing new algae so that the lake can return to its usual bright pink hue.

You can watch kangaroos from Thistle Cove

Although Esperance is the major town in the region, and by far the largest town between Kalgoorlie and Albany, it holds a population of just over 9,000 residents. Apart from the magnificent scenery and natural attractions in the region fishing and surfing are popular activities. There is good fishing off the town jetty, and there are some famous surf breaks near the town.
There are also cruises out to Woody Island, just 15 kms offshore, to see the abundant birdlife and seal colony. As all of the one hundred and five islands in the Archipelago are protected, this is the only island which welcomes human guests. Visitors can wander around the island, there is a kiosk there, and tented accommodation for those who wish to stay.
No visit to Esperance is complete without a trip to Cape le Grand National Park, just 56 kms south-east of the town on a good road.
This is where my personal bias cuts in because the park is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and deserves to be visited!

Lucky Bay, reputed to be Australia’s whitest beach

For the best overall view, hike up the 260m track to Frenchman Peak as it boasts a breathtaking panorama that is almost overwhelming. The hard part is tearing yourself away to visit other parts of the park.
The most popular beach is Lucky Bay, which is reputed to be Australia’s whitest beach, although that claim is disputed by Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay, New South Wales. Sadly, for Hyams Beach, soil scientists have proved that Lucky Bay is whiter. In fact, Hellfire Bay, another exquisite part of Cape le Grand National Park, is the number two whitest beach in Australia.
There is camping next to Lucky Bay which offer such facilities as picnic areas, solar-heated showers and toilets.
Lucky Bay stretches for five kilometres, and you can drive along the beach to find a great fishing spot. Please ensure that you don’t disturb the kangaroos, who love the beach enough to spend time on it.
Hellfire Bay is also spectacular, which, despite its name is peaceful. My favourite beach is Thistle Cove. It boasts some lovely rock formations to clamber across and I really like Thistle Cove because you can cross the sand dunes to see spectacular wildflowers in season and enjoy watching kangaroos drink from the small lake.
The waters all around Esperance look so inviting, but you do need to be careful. I don’t swim off secluded beaches near Esperance because Great White Sharks are known to inhabit the area and there have been several recent attacks, some of them fatal.

A rainbow forms over the Southern Ocean

Esperance is a treasure worth finding. If you don’t wish to drive, there are daily flights from Perth and ample accommodation of all types. There are also coach services between Perth and Esperance. My choice of public transport would be to take the Prospector train to Kalgoorlie, then the coach to Esperance and spend time in Kalgoorie, either before or after your sojourn.
As already mentioned, Esperance is on the Southern Ocean, so the weather can roll in from Antarctica. The best times to visit are in spring or autumn, when the weather is mostly ideal. Esperance is a distant destination, no matter how you choose to get there, but entirely worth the effort.

To find out more about Esperance, check out this website and start salivating: www.visitesperance.com

 

Steve Collins is a professional travel writer and regular guest on The Couch, Foxtel Australia, Radio 6PR Perth and Have-A-Go News, Western Australia. Website: www.stevecollinstravelcorrespondent.com