Travel & Touring | WA Road Trips

13 July, 2021  By: Fleur Bainger

Once you've arrived, you'll feel like you're a million miles away, but it's not as far as you'd imagine and worth every bit of the trip.

Like the storied pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Esperance is a treasure worth every kilometre of bitumen that leads to it.

The isolated coastal town is surrounded by the whitest sandy beaches in the country and faces a string of islands.

There are new helicopter tours across national parks to a bright-pink island lake, new cycling paths leading to swimming lagoons and a microbrewery, and even a mountainous peak to climb – all within easy reach of town.

You’ll count 696km beneath your tyres between Perth and Esperance, with the quickest route taking you through Pingelly, Lake Grace, Lake King and Ravensthorpe; the trip can be done in about 7.5hrs. A more interesting option is found via Corrigin, where you can visit the dog cemetery and remember loved pets as you wander through more than 200 headstones ringed by canola fields.

Continue on to Wave Rock and Mulka’s Cave, an Aboriginal rock art site about 18km north, off Lovering Road. Consider stopping for the night at the Wave Rock Motel (where there’s also a camping ground and a salt pool where you can float like you’re in the Dead Sea). Otherwise, push on to Ravensthorpe. This scenic adventure only adds another 170km, so do it at least one way.

Don't rush it

Viewed as a whole, the journey may seem a long one, but it’s not much further than driving up to Kalbarri from Perth – and plenty of West Aussies have done that for a long weekend.

Esperance deserves more than three days, if you can spare them. After all, once you get there you won’t want to leave. Especially when you meet the father-son duo behind Esperance Distillery Co.

Working from a little white building on Norseman Road, the main route that leads you into town, David Price and James McCarthy-Price have combined their skills to turn a “hare-brained idea” of David’s into a commercial gin making operation.

With James’ expertise in environmental engineering, the pair aim to create a carbon-free distillery as they expand. “In 10 years’ time I’d like to be one of the biggest exporters of gin in Australia, so long as we can do it sustainably,” says James.

The gin is currently brewed with acacia and lemon myrtle and David is experimenting with grass tree sap and strawberry gum foraged by an Aboriginal supplier, as well as sea parsley from Broome and kelp from Woody Island in Esperance’s Recherche Archipelago.

Those snow-white sands

Heat isn’t something you need to worry about much in Esperance. While the sun still comes out in winter, locals say between March and June is a nice time to visit, when the winds are calm and the days are warm. When temperatures do rise in summer, a dip along the brisk Southern Ocean coastline quickly chills the skin, before the breeze blows in the afternoon.

The coastline’s distinctly white sand, crystalline blue waters and rounded granite rocks look out to more than 100 islands which all makes for a captivating scene.

It’s hard to pick the most beautiful stretch: the competition is hot. The Great Ocean Drive leads you along 40km of breathtaking beaches. Blue Haven is loved for its sheltered curl and plunging wooden staircase, while easy-access Twilight Beach curves around sculpted islets encircled by calm, transparent water.

RELATED: Guide to Esperance's best beaches »

Two people paddling boarding along the Esperance coast

A new coastal cycle and walking path leads from Esperance to these and other magnificent beaches, providing a refreshing journey that’s close to nature.

On the other side of town, about 40min drive away, is Cape Le Grand National Park. Much-loved Lucky Bay, as nearly every West Aussie knows, has Australia’s whitest beach sand, and is where kangaroos come to sunbathe.

But Hellfire Bay gives it a run for its money, being slightly more secluded and sharing the same ultra-fine sand that literally squeaks underfoot; Thistle Cove is another transfixing sandy hideaway.

RELATED: Top 10 things to do in Esperance »

Woody Island

Esperance even has its own Rottnest Island, of sorts. A short distance across the water, Woody Island is the only landform in the archipelago you can stay on, and while day-tripping is fun, overnighting is better. There’s raw bush camping, furnished tents on raised platforms, balconied safari huts and a coveted number of recently upgraded luxury retreat tents with inviting interior-styling, lush linen on a king bed and stunning deck views.

 Two people swimming at Woody Island

The peaceful island is snake-free, making the signposted bush hikes all the more enjoyable. Head to Skinny Dip Bay, Summit Loop or Twiggy’s Landing (named after a pet Labrador lost at sea who turned up three months later).

Each morning arrives with the sound of birdlife, heralding days spent gazing through a Perspex-bottomed kayak or snorkelling around the jetty to see some of the 450 species of soft coral, intricate sea grasses and sponges, along with varied fish (marine gear is free to overnight guests; day-trippers can rent it).

RELATED: 6 of the best snorkelling spots in Esperance »

The most exciting way to arrive on the island is via a HeliSpirit helicopter ride, landing on smooth granite beside the water. You can do a 6min heli-hop across from Esperance or extend for a 30min scenic zoom over Cape Le Grand (which is definitely recommended). Return to the mainland via the island ferry.

Woody Island Jetty

Middle Island is also open to pop-in visitors; its bubble-gum-pink lake is proving a strong lure. Seeing it from the air reveals the contrast of Lake Hillier’s astonishing colour against the green scrub, white beach and blue ocean; take a fixed-wing aerial tour with new operator, Fly Esperance, or join HeliSpirit to land on a rock platform and follow a guided walk to the lake’s edge.

Be sure to listen closely to the tales of Black Jack Anderson, Australia’s only known pirate, who used to terrorise the surrounding waters.

Lake Hillier - pink lake - off Esperance

Other adventures

Away from the water, Frenchman Peak, or Mandooboornup, is a climbable, 262m-high summit that locals describe as being “on top of the world”. Most hikers get up and down the 3km trail in two hours. In spring, the paved path around the base of the peak is lined with rare and colourful wildflowers.

Mountain with a rainbow in the background

On the drive back into town, stop at Lucky Bay brewery for lunch. The brewery’s green ethos is reflected in the venue’s décor: upcycled furniture and glassware fill the hangar-like shed. In time, a new bike track will lead from town to the brewery, passing listed wetlands where waterbirds flock.

Around town

Back in Esperance township, you’ll want to wander the recently redeveloped foreshore and its new 415m-long jetty with a dive platform and fish cleaning station.

The popular Coffee Cat van is usually found near the jetty entrance and its neighbouring playground, allowing parents to tick a number of boxes. Be sure to watch for southern right whales while you’re facing the bay, active from June to October (or join an archipelago tour with Esperance Island Cruises).

From here, it’s a pleasant walk alongside towering Norfolk pines and past the Whale Tail sculpture and skate park to Adventureland Park, a huge, grassy fun zone. There’s a flying fox, miniature railway, mini golf, slides, and a playground ship as well as bike tracks and basketball courts.

The kids will be entertained for hours, and it’s right next door to the airy, white-washed Taylor St Quarters, which serves excellent meals overlooking the boat marina.

Double back into the town centre via Dempster Street, the main commercial drag, where Bob and Jim’s General Store is brimming with gourmet finds such as honeycured bacon, beetroot chocolate cake and Albany sardines, then consider hiring some pedals from Watt Lab bike shop next door.

Pop into the creative hotspot of Esperance Community Arts then cross the road and explore Museum Village, a collection of treasure-filled gift, clothing and book boutiques housed in historic buildings. Bustling craft and produce markets are held on the grounds every second Sunday. Next stop: Esperance Museum, where you can see pieces of Skylab, the world’s first big space station, which scattered debris around Esperance when it plunged back to Earth in 1979.

Families yearning for rural life should dart out of town to Oake Marsh Farm, where kids can feed calves and lambs, walk through shearing sheds, follow chooks and watch sheep dogs at work.

Choose between a new three-hour farm tour called Esperance Farm Experience or combine it with a See, Touch and Taste tour which includes a visit to Yirri Olive Farm, where there’s an excellent café serving home grown produce.

You’ll also get to see what could arguably be called one of the region’s most unusual ‘wonders’ - Esperance Stonehenge. This full-size replica of the UK’s famous prehistoric monument is constructed from local pink granite and even aligns with the summer and winter solstice.

Collection of rocks viewed from above

When it comes to wonders of all kinds, this spectacular destination is full of incredible treasures, so if you are making the trip, be sure to leave enough time to uncover them.

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