Esperance & Bay of Isles

May 1st, 2001 Features, Scoop Traveller

Things to do

Tour Cape Le Grand National Park. Look over the Great Southern Ocean across colourful coastal heath, sandy plains and granite outcrops.

The beaches have pure white sand and turquoise water, perfect for sunbathing and swimming, snorkelling or diving. Watch for sealions basking on the rocks.

Go on a 4WD tour of the park — there are plenty of operators in Esperance.

Climb Frenchman Peak or bushwalk through the mallee and heath. The more adventurous can walk the 15km track to Rossiter Bay. Camp or go for a picnic and just let the stark beauty wash over you.

Fish the Rechereche Archipelago south of Esperance. The comparative cold from Antarctic runoff is home to salmon and herring. Heaps of tour boat charters can get you there and let you lose yourself in the relaxation of it (until you get a bite). The islands are also home to export quality crabs and crayfish.

Only a few of the islands are open to the public for camping or daytripping, but it’s packed with enclosed and empty beaches where you can wade, sunbathe with seals nearby or snorkel or dive on the coral formations.

Take the 38km round trip from Esperance along the Great Ocean Road. Described by some as better than the Victoria version, this route will take you past some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australia.

There are plenty of sites along the Great Ocean Road. Twilight Beach is popular for fishing and surfing, Pink Lake is so called because of the salt-tolerant algae that thrive in the water, Rotary Lookout offers a great view, and above Salmon beach (a short walk away) is the Western Power wind farm, which supplements the local power supply.

Drive yourself or take a tour to Cape Arid National Park, on the border of Southern Central Australia’s designated arid zone. It’s studded with beaches, an estuary and the Thomas River. Amid the mallee, heath, and banksia, the granite peaks of the Russell Range rises majestically over the semi-desert vegetation. The park offers a huge range of bird habitats and as such is a haven for many varieties.

About the region

One of the many towns around Australia with a distinct French heritage (which gave the town its name), Esperance is full of history to explore, but you have to know where to find it.

It’s a nice place for a summer holiday, but if you’re after palm trees and cocktails in coconut shells, go north of Perth instead. The maximum summer daytime temperature is usually about 25. Esperance is at the Great Australian Bight’s windswept corner, so if on the other hand you want to spirit yourself away in a lodge in front of a fireplace in the single-digit night time winter temperatures, it’s perfect.

D’Entrecasteaux and his two ships, the Esperance and Rechereche, sheltered in the Bay of Isles in 1792. He named the nonexistent town (then a sweep of sandy plain and coastal heath) and archipelago and moved on, leaving it to Stirling’s crew to claim it in 1826 on their way to Perth.

Like much of early WA, the region was worked for its pastoral qualities and for a long time and Esperance’s surrounds remained largely undisturbed heath and scrub. Then, gold was discovered to the north in the late 1800s and, with the burgeoning population and commerce, Esperance grew into a major port for the goldfields.

When the gold rush tapered off, farming continued at a slow pace until the 1950s when technological advances identified the potential for very fertile ground, and Esperance experienced a second boom as a million hectares of sand plains were transformed into farmland.

The Recherche Archipelago of the south coast is a Mecca for anglers, and you can battle some real monsters. However, some prefer to just cruise to one of the dozens of islands and watch out for the dolphins and seals, or scuba dive or snorkel the many coral reefs.

And while browsing through the Esperance Municipal Museum at old tractors and chairs, you’ll come across a curious twisted piece of burnt metal and suddenly remember Esperance’s fifteen minutes of fame back in 1979 when Skylab hurtled to Earth in the plains just north of town.

Main page

Today Esperance is as much a tourism base as anything else. Popular because it lies along the road that links us with the eastern states, it can service any kind of traveller — the range of accommodation, handy amenities and shops make it nice to stop over in or stay at for a little while. Just over 13,000 people live here, and a bulk cargo port still services the region from the roots of the gold rush.

Settled as farmland amidst windswept plains of heath, hardy banksia and scrub, the Esperance and Bay of Isles region is another of WA’s living nature reserves. Sealions frolic and sun themselves on the rocks and in the archipelago of Rechereche which extend like giant footsteps into the sea, and the national parks which share the area with reclaimed farmland are home to hundreds of bird species, many of them endangered.

Climb a granite mountain and look over the spectacular coastline. Most people make Esperance an overnight stop on their way across the country, but there’s plenty to see and do in town and throughout the region.

Most people remember the area as the scene of one of the 1970s’ most famous crash-landings, but its history stretches much further back. Since the French named the area and the British claimed it, Esperance has seen one boom after another, in commerce from the gold rush to the north to the spread of high-tech agriculture that still blankets the landscape.

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