Esperance has a spectacular coastal setting and has taken full advantage of it. The seafront promenade in the CBD, lined with the town’s famous pines, has a beautiful vista out to the massive granite outcrops in the Bay of Isles. To the west of the CBD, the 40km circular Great Ocean Drive is one of the best coastal roads in Australia, passing postcard-worthy beach after beach after beach, while the national parks to the east of town present even more squeaky, sugar-white sands framed by golden-brown outcrops – most of which you are likely to have all to yourself.
What to see and do in Esperance
Cape Le Grand National Park
At 318km², this sweeping heathland is dotted with light brown granite outcrops and white sandy-beach coves. Jewel of a thousand brochure covers, Lucky Bay with its impossibly clear water, crystal-white sand and spectacular, sheltered granite backdrop – is unsurprisingly the centrepiece of the national park. It’s undeniably popular with visitors but don’t worry – even when the beach is ‘packed’, this is only by Outback standards and you will find plenty of space on the sand for yourself. The swimming here is magnificent – the clarity of the water is such that it feels like you’re in a swimming pool. There are also heaps of marsupials – while the kangaroos get the attention here, the park is also home to honey and ring-tailed possums and bandicoots.
For the experienced walker, the 17km (one-way) Coastal Track goes from Le Grand Beach to Rossiter Bay, taking in Lucky Bay, Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay (another popular swimming beach) and providing beautiful headland, coastal and ocean views along the way. Though different sections of the walk have different class ratings, it is a challenging walk; be prepared for Class 4 and Class 5 conditions. All of these beaches can be visited by car.
Away from the coast, the national park is dominated by dramatic granite hills, the best-known of which (though not the highest) is Frenchman Peak (262m). There is a Class 4, 3km return hike to the summit that provides great views of the park. Mount Le Grand, near Hellfire Bay, is the highest peak in the park at 345m; however, access is difficult and there are no marked trails to the summit.
Whale Tail Sculpture
The town’s famous pines curve around the footpath along Esperance Bay, creating a foreshore that links the bay to the town and provides beach access in front of the CBD. One of the most prominent sights here is the Whale Tail Sculpture, created by local artists Cindy Poole and (British-born but now Esperance-local) Jason Wooldridge as part of the foreshore redevelopment project in 2014 – the sculpture represents the southern right whale population in the offshore waters. Though the town beach can be accessed anywhere along the foreshore, the main swimming areas are in the suburb of Castletown, north of the CBD, along Castletown Quays Road and at Bandy Creek (take Goldfields Road to Daw Drice), which is also a boat harbour and popular fishing spot.
A good place to learn about Esperance’s history is the Esperance Museum, a vast warehouse brimming with some 4,000 objects – including a 19th-century train carriage that you can climb aboard. There is also a model of Skylab, the NASA space station that crashed near here in 1979, with actual debris (including the oxygen tank) from the wreck.
Nearby is the Historic Museum Village, a collection of restored old buildings (including a school, courthouse and chemist) dating from the late 1800s, which have been repurposed into shops and galleries; it is easy to imagine yourself in the period as you wander through here – though it’s worth noting that the buildings were moved here from other parts of Esperance and this is not an intact historical quarter in its original location. The Museum Village Markets are held here (usually) on alternating Sundays.
Great Ocean Drive
Starting from the town centre, this 40km circular route west of town is one of the best scenic drives in the state. Starting on Twilight Beach Road at Esperance’s southern boundary, the road quickly sweeps westward along the coastline. The views start almost immediately, as you drop down from the first hill towards West Beach, when a vista of the Southern Ocean unfolds in front of you. This is the first beach you get to on the drive, 3km from the CBD, and how glorious it is – a sweeping white bay with a reef in front of it and a big granite hill forming a massive natural wall on the eastern side. You can swim here, carefully – note the signs about rips.
Blue Haven Beach is next, about 4km beyond, and is one of the most popular swimming beaches – with calm conditions close to the shore and a stunning outlook to Chapman Point and West Beach in the distance. Long-distance views and more beaches then follow for about 5km until you reach Esperance’s star, Twilight Beach, roughly 12km from town and routinely voted one of the best beaches in Australia. While it has the pre-requisite vanilla sands and impeccably turquoise waters, what sets it apart are the unusually shaped outcrops just offshore – one with a massive circular dent in it about two-thirds of the way up – that, when photographed with the seagrasses behind the beach, offer a truly photogenic scene. Though the postcard-worthy landscapes continue after Twilight Beach, both Ten Mile Lagoon and Eleven Mile Beach are very attractive with sand dunes in the background and a reef bar in the foreground – though the water here can be too shallow for swimming.
Lake Warden Nature Reserve
Recognised as a Ramsar Site of International Importance, this wetland complex is made up of a series of lakes on the north edge of town and can support nearly 30,000 waterbirds including hooded plovers, grey and chestnut teals and black swans; it is also important as a site of refuge for birds impacted by drought. The Kepwari Walk, which starts/ends at the Lake Wheatfield car park, is a great place to spot birds with hides en route. Birds Australia’s Birdwatching Around Esperance brochure (pick it up at the visitor centre) is an excellent resource describing the variety of birds you are likely to encounter.
You can also canoe or kayak here, but you need to bring your own. The 5.5km Esperance Lakes Canoe Trail starts at the Lake Wheatfield car park and has markers every 200m to guide you – though you have to do this trail in winter when the water levels are high enough. There are also launches at Woody Lake and Lake Windabout.
The Recherche Archipelago
Also known as the Bay of Islands, this group of 105 granite islands is located just a few kilometres off Esperance’s coast. The only inhabited island is Woody Island, where there is a visitor centre, café and accommodation; Woody Island Eco Tours runs ferries and tours to the island. There is decent snorkelling, swimming and walking trails – if you want to get out on to the water and clamber about the granite islands, this is an easy option; day tours leave from the Taylor St Jetty.
The largest in the archipelago, Middle Island, near Cape Arid, is home to the bright-pink Lake Hillier its size, nearly 15ha, differentiates it from some of the state’s other pink lakes in places like the Wheatbelt, and the contrast of its white salty shores, the turquoise waters of the surrounding ocean and the green vegetation on the island make it as photogenic in real life as it is in the brochures. Scientists aren’t really sure what makes Lake Hillier pink – generally it’s believed to be related to salinity, but Lake Hillier is different from WA’s other pink lakes because it stays a vibrant colour all year round rather than fading with the seasons.
Stokes National Park
Known for its 14km² inlet, this 10,667ha national park 80km west of Esperance is a fishing haven where long beaches are fringed by dense bushland (although you will need a 4×4 to make the most of them). Terrific snorkelling can be enjoyed at Shoal Cape, while further west Skippy Rock is great for diving, snorkelling, swimming and fishing – both have small, basic DPaW camping facilities.
Abundant birdlife frequent the inlet’s waters – black-browed albatross, white-naped honeyeater and fairy tern are just a few of the 40 species found here – and there is a boat launch at the end of Stokes Inlet Road from which canoeing and kayaking are also popular. Also in the park are the 1870s’ ruins of Moir Homestead, home of the Moir family who were early pastoralists – the homestead is on the Heritage Register as an example of early pastoral structures in the area. Note it can only be accessed by 4×4 on the way to Shoal Cape.
Travel to Esperance
Esperance is 700km/8 hours from Perth, 400km/4 hours from Kalgoorlie and 480km/5 hours from Albany. Transwa coaches take a bit over 10 hours from East Perth, almost 10 hours to Albany (changing at Wagin; from A$74 one-way) and 5 hours to Kalgoorlie (from A$64 one-way).
Esperance Airport is 22km north of town near Gibson on the Coolgardie– Esperance Highway; Rex flies there from Perth. If you don’t have a car, you will need to take a taxi into town.
To make the most of Esperance and the surrounding coastline and national parks, you will need your own vehicle.