Location: Esperance, Western Australia
The very far south corner of Western Australia is one that is usually left off the list for visitors to Western Australia, not because there’s nothing there, but because it’s usually too far to get to for a short weekend getaway. At roughly a nine hour drive south of Perth, it’s understandable that not many people make the long drive down, however, if you’re in search of the perfect white sand beach with clear turquoise blue ocean, and want to rub shoulders with friendly kangaroo’s lounging around on some of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the state, then Esperance is the place for you.
Esperance is a nine hour drive south east of Perth along South Coast Highway, and the journey down takes you along a very long and straight stretch of road past tiny town that you’d miss if you blinked. The easiest way to get there is by car but there are bus and flying options, mind you the airport is located 26km north of Esperance on the Coolgardie to Esperance highway, and you’d end up hiring a car to get around anyway. Esperance is also very popular for people making the drive over from the Eastern side of Australia and you’ll see many grey nomads and young backpackers living out of vans here.
The town itself is very picturesque with its new promenade glistening against the beautiful coast line and many boutique shops and cafes lining the main strip, making it a very welcoming place after the long dusty drive. The Visitor Information Centre is excellent for information on everything including national park passes and calling ahead at Cape Le Grand to check if there are camping spaces (very important if you are coming during the school holidays), and for free maps and tidal information if you plan on fishing or doing any beach driving. The Target store is also great for free wifi, and there are many camping and outdoor stores in the area if you need anything else while you are down here.
There are many beaches further along from Esperance town if you follow the 38 km circular loop called the Great Ocean Drive, with my favorite beach being the lovely sheltered Twilight Beach. You can also check out the other Western Australian pink lake, Lake Hillier.
Cape Le Grand National Park
Entry into Cape Le Grand National Park will cost $12, and it’s worth it. The first glimpses of Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park will stay with me for life; after driving along the usual long stretches of straight bitumen road lined with dense brown Aussie bush, once you catch your first glimpses of bright white sand and turquoise blue water over the horizon you just about burst out laughing at how absurdly beautiful it is. The Kangaroos visit Lucky Bay beach around 9am and again at 2pm almost everyday and are very friendly and photogenic. Besides the beautiful beaches in the National Park, I really enjoyed watching the sunrise from the top of Frenchman’s peak and doing some of the hikes in the area. If your vehicle allows it, check the tide times at the Information centre and take your car out on the beach! You can actually drive between Wylie Bay and Cape Le Grand and enter the National Park that way as well.
Even though Cape Le Grand National Park isn’t too far from town, be sure to have enough fresh water and fuel with you, as there aren’t any stores or fuel stations in the Park. The campsite at Lucky Bay was amazing value for $10 per night, per person; and you get access to hot water showers, flushing toilets, a large camp kitchen area which was equipped with BBQs and tables, as well as flat and shady spots to pitch your tent or swag. During the school holidays season there’s a mobile cafe called the Lucky Bean Cafe that parks on the beach where you can get drinks and snacks. Other great beaches to check out include Thistle Cove, Hellfire Bay and Cape Le Grand beach.
Cape Arid National Park
Further along from Cape Le Grand National Park is the isolated and less visited Cape Arid National Park. Not many people make the drive out this far as it’s another couple hours away from Cape Le Grand, but remember to stop for fuel as the last fuel station is 55km west of Cape Arid. Once you get there pay the $12 National Park entrance fee to the dummy ranger (i.e. metal box with envelopes and a pen) then find your campsite for the night. The closest ones are along the Thomas River, with one lower down and closer to the beach and one set up higher. We went for the upper river site as it had more privacy and trees to break the wind. Cost here is the same as Cape Le Grand, $10 per night, per person that is payable to the dummy ranger as you drive in. We were one of only a few other people who made the trip out to Cape Arid, and had the entire beach to ourselves. The facilities at the campsite here are not as fancy as those at Lucky Bay, however you get the basics (i.e. toilet blocks), but since not many people come out this far they are pretty clean.
Besides the beach there are a lot of hiking options in Cape Arid; if you’re after an easy hike, the Len Otte Nature Trail is a short 1km return hike which will take you to see some beautiful vistas over the bay. If you’re more adventurous try the Tagon Coastal Trail which is a 7km return track. Alternatively, you can tackle Cape Arid’s peak, the Mt Ragged Walk Trail, which is a difficult 3km walk to the top to Tower Peak. Both the Tagon Coast and Mt Ragged Walk Trail start away from the Thomas River Campsites, so make sure you have fuel to get you there and back as it’s a bit of a drive. There are also many ruins in the area that have been slowly engulfed by the white sand dunes that are even further along, or you can visit more of Cape Arid’s remote and beautiful beaches.
A week would be the minimum to visit Esperance, Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid National Parks, and if you could give yourself an extra few days to another week, you could explore the area in depth and fit in a visit to Woody Island. I felt like I had just scratched the surface and I am already hoping to go back sooner rather than later. If you get the chance I highly recommend a trip down to Esperance but I warn you, the beaches here will make it hard to go back to any old beach!
Second and third image by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.