In perfect isolation 720 kilometres east-southeast of Perth, Esperance is a port town on a beautiful stretch of coast.
The beaches are some of the best in Australia, with flawless sand so white it looks like snow.
Esperance’s sheltered bays are bathed by transparent waters that glow from the pristine sand underneath.
Along the coast in both directions are rounded cliffs, dunes, headlands and granite peaks, while the granite humps of the Recherche Island rise offshore.
Spreading out over Esperance’s interior is some of Australia’s most productive arable land, harvesting grain exported from the harbour via massive bulk carriers.
1. Cape Le Grand National Park
On Esperance’s east flank is more than 30,000 hectares of white sandy beaches, wild heathland and stirring granite topography.
Several of the items in this list are within Cape Le Grand National Park’s boundaries, and you can pick up trails to climb those granite peaks or follow one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines along the Le Grand Coastal Trail.
Much of the terrain is under a blanket of heathland, inhabited by pygmy possums and grey kangaroos that will often hop down to the beaches.
Spend the night at campgrounds at Lucky Bay and Le Grand Beach, equipped with picnic tables, barbecues, running water and toilets.
2. Lucky Bay
While surveying the Southern Coast in 1802, explorer and cartographer Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), moored HMS Investigator in this bay to shelter from a storm.
He later named it Lucky Bay, and the ship’s botanist Robert Brown came ashore here, discovering a catalogue of species new to science at the time.
As it was in Flinders’ day, Lucky Bay is sheltered, and has the snow white sands and crystalline waters that Esperance is famous for.
There’s great fishing, snorkelling and surfing, while humpback and southern right whales swim close by in winter.
If you visit late in the day, don’t be surprised to be sharing the sunset with the local mob of kangaroos.
3. Twilight Bay
The pick for family beach trips in Esperance has to be Twilight Bay, touted among the best beaches in the country.
All of the hallmarks of Esperance’s coastline are here, from the brilliant white sand to the clear, light blue waters and the low, heath-covered cliffs.
But what really elevates Twilight Bay are the granite reefs and outcrops on the west end, causing a kind of natural water park with calm, transparent waters and rocks for children to scramble over and jump off.
It’s a perfect environment for swimming, paddleboarding and snorkelling, while the more boisterous waves on the east side are surfable.
Twilight Bay is patrolled on summer weekends, and has shower and bathroom facilities.
4. Esperance Museum
This museum delving has a super setting, in an atmospheric old goods shed at Esperance’s former railway marshalling yards.
Below these old beams you can investigate different strands from Esperance’s past, like the town’s French connection, the sinking of the Sanko Harvest bulk carrier in 1991, Esperance’s pioneers and the coming of the railway in the 1920s.
Some of the highlights are a piano from the 1820s, a lifeboat from the Sanko Harvest and the restored locomotive W919. The museum also boasts the world’s most detailed display on NASA’s Skylab space station, launched in 1973 and falling back to earth not far outside Esperance in 1979. The Shire of Esperance even charged NASA a $400 fine for littering!
5. Great Ocean Drive
You may gather that the Goldfields-Esperance Region has loads of amazing coastal scenery.
So much in fact that there’s a 40km driving trail to help you see the best of it.
The Great Ocean Drive starts out in Esperance and goes west along the Twilight Beach Road, along cliff-tops, past granite outcrops and next to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Take the road between May and December and you can pause at lookouts to catch sight of humpback or southern right whales.
There are 23 recommended stops on the Great Ocean Drive, from hidden coves to windswept beaches and giant windfarms harnessing the ocean breezes.
6. Middle Island & Pink Lake Hillier Scenic Flight
This 90-minute flight is available through the online tour platform GetYourGuide.com and will give you a sparkling picture of Esperance and the immense beauty that lies just offshore.
Taking off from Esperance Airport, the flight is bound for the Recherche Archipelago, but on the way you can cast your eyes over the scrolling farmland in the town’s backcountry and the pure white beaches on the coast.
As you approach Middle Island, you’ll be captivated by the otherworldly pinkish tint of Lake Hillier on its north-east corner.
This permanent hue is caused by a type of green micro-algae common in saline lakes.
7. Woody Island
You can take a leisured ferry ride out to Woody Island, 15 kilometres off Esperance in the Recherche Archipelago.
Listed as a nature reserve and covering 2.4 square kilometres, it’s the only island in the group that can be accessed by visitors.
On the crossing you’ll have the chance to spot marine life like dolphins, seals, sea lions and white-bellied sea eagles.
Woody Island Eco Tours built a visitor centre here 20 years ago and can arrange all sorts of activities like snorkelling in sheltered and nature-rich waters, fishing from the jetty and guided nature walks.
You could also just bask in the island’s tranquillity and grab a bite from the kiosk, or something cold from Black Jacks Bar.
8. Frenchman Peak
Part of a chain of prominent granite formations in the south-west of Cape Le Grand National Park, Frenchman Peak presents a tough but very satisfying challenge for walkers.
The name describes the peak’s resemblance to the hats worn by French soldiers in the 19th century and rises 262 metres above the park for distant panoramas.
The route to the summit up the east side is a stiff three-kilometre return, requiring about two hours.
Near the top is a system of tunnels and caves, carved out by wave action around 40 million years ago when sea levels were around 300 metres higher than present.
Avoid Frenchman Peak in wet weather as the steep slopes become slippery.
9. West Beach
If you can’t get enough of Esperance’s crisp white sandy beaches, the south-facing West Beach is on the Twilight Beach Road, just below the Rotary Lookout.
The Southern Ocean pummels South Beach, giving it a wild splendour that is amplified by the granite cliffs, headlands and the islands of the Recherche Archipelago offshore.
The deceptively large swells are a hit with surfers, but bathers are better off in the shallow area created by a long sandbar, as the rip tides are strong.
And as you’d expect, the sunrises and sunsets are sublime here set off by those tall headlands flanking the beach.
10. Observatory Point
A fantastic place to stretch your legs on the Great Ocean Drive, Observatory Point is a wave-battered promontory capped with a lookout platform.
Climb the stairway for a panorama that you’ll want to linger over for as long as possible.
Laid out below you is the mesmerising blue tone of the Southern Ocean, the dark green vegetation of the cliffs and solemn granite formations strong against the waves.
Dotting the horizon are the islands of the Recherche Archipelago, the closest of which is Observatory Island separated from Observatory Point by a narrow strait.
11. Rotary Lookout
The summit of the bulky granite outcrop, Wireless Hill is the highest point for several miles and gives you phenomenal views of the ocean, the Recherche Archipelago, Esperance’s sandy beaches and the town itself.
A circular walking trail wends its way through the brush, taking you to another vantage point on the west side where you can look right along West Beach.
There’s an orientation table on the platform to help you get your bearings, and you can take some time to watch the bulk carriers manoeuvring in and out of port, just to the north.
12. Lucky Bay Brewing
A lot of the expansive farmland in Esperance’s hinterland is given over to barley, almost all of which is exported to make malt for beer.
Lucky Bay Brewing sources this high-quality barley directly from local farmers, and has developed a way to use 75% raw barely in its brews.
So you can be certain that you’ll be tasting something completely local here.
In the regular line-up when we wrote this list in 2020 was a Barley Pale Ale, a German-style Kölsch, a Blonde Ale, a Witbier, a Dark Ale, an IPA, a Farmhouse Ale and “Lockdown”, special Dark Ale developed during Covid-19. To find out more you can pre-book a tour of the brewery, or visit the taproom, open Thursday to Sunday and baking its own pizzas.
13. Esperance Stonehenge
The world’s only full-size replica of Stonehenge took shape in Esperance in the 2010s.
Built from the local pinkish granite instead of bluestone, the Esperance Stonehenge has been designed to reflect the layout of the original as it would have been around 1950 BCE.
The 137 hunks of granite used in its construction were all quarried less than a kilometre from this site and placed to align with the Solstices at this location.
So in the morning of the Summer Solstice (22 December) the rising sun shines through the Station Stones to the Altar Stone, and the same alignment occurs in the opposite direction at sunset on the Winter Solstice (21 June).
14. Wharton Beach
For those willing to travel there’s another jaw-dropping beach on the east side of Cape Le Grand National Park, about an hour by road from Esperance.
If it were anywhere else in the world, Wharton Beach would attract visitors in their droves.
As it is, most of the traffic comes from Esperance locals, and with three kilometres of pristine white sand you’ll have acres of space to yourself.
That sand is super-fine, even by Esperance standards, to the point that it even squeaks underfoot.
The beach is set back from the open ocean in a scallop-shaped bay, which makes the water even clearer, with just enough swell for surfers.
If you don’t want to make the return trip so soon you can book a berth at the Duke of Orleans Bay Caravan Park, next door.
15. Esperance Visitor Centre
A useful first port of call, specially for first-timers, the Esperance Visitor Centre will ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
You can book accommodation, transport and tours, and consult the well-informed staff for travel inspiration.
What’s more, the visitor centre is set in the Esperance Museum Village, preserving various historic buildings from the town’s past.
There’s a schoolhouse, a doctor’s surgery, courthouse to name a handful, all given a new purpose as shops and galleries.
The Museum Village also hosts a market for fresh produce and arts and crafts, held once a fortnight on Sunday mornings.