Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Dixie Lamers checks in from fabulous Esperance in Western Australia...
The region around Esperance is as beautiful as it is remote.
Located on the magnificent southern coastline of Western Australia, those who make the 700-kilometre journey from Perth to Esperance are rewarded with some of the whitest beaches in the world — so much so that the sand literally squeaks underfoot. Stroll by the turquoise waters of the Southern Ocean in the Great Australian Bight and soak up the extraordinary beauty. Chances are you’ll be the only person for miles around.
Enjoy this Esperance travel guide.
Base yourself: The Esplanade
Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $160
Great breakfasts: Brown Sugar Café
Awesome coffee: Lucky Bean Café, Coffee Cat
Top spots for a beverage: Lucky Bay Brewing, Loose Goose Bar & Restaurant, Pier Hotel
Must-sees and dos: Whale-watching tour, Great Ocean Drive, Lucky Bay (Cape Le Grand National Park)
With its stunning natural landscapes, temperate climate and relaxed lifestyle, Esperance is the perfect year-round travel destination. However, from October through to July is generally considered to be the best time to visit. Temperatures average around 28 degrees and rainfall is minimal.
That said, there’s a very good reason to visit Esperance between July and October. The annual whale migration sees humpbacks and southern rights passing through the Recherché Archipelago, and whale watching tours are very popular. Expect average daytime temperatures of around 18 degrees and bring a brolly.
For such an isolated town, Esperance has a diverse range of experiences to offer visitors — including a vibrant cultural scene.
Head along to the Cannery Arts Centre, located on the stunning Esperance foreshore. Built in 1949 as a fish cannery, it is now the region’s premier arts space and hosts exhibitions that change on a regular basis.
As you stroll along the foreshore, you’ll undoubtedly notice the large sculpture of a whale tail. It’s the tail of a southern right, and the joint work of local artists Jason Wooldridge and Cindy Poole. Cindy’s glass art gallery gets great reviews. You’ll find it just a short drive from the centre of town. There’s a cafe on site.
While most visitors to the region are probably familiar with Stonehenge in the UK, Esperance’s slightly odd but nonetheless impressive full size replica may come as something of a surprise. It was built from Esperance pink granite and is perfectly aligned with the local summer and winter solstices (when the sun reaches its most northerly or southerly point relative to the equator). The solstices happen twice a year — the 22nd of December for sunrise and the 21st of June for sunset. If you happen to be present, you’ll see the sun’s rays shine through the station stones to the central altar stone.
Esperance was named after a French ship which made the first recorded European landing here in 1792.
When Matthew Flinders sailed along this part of the coast in the early 1800s, he named other locations such as Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove. During the 19th century, the town boomed with the discovery of gold in the Eastern Goldfields.
A visit to the Historic Museum Park Period Village is a fun way to step back in time. Located in the centre of town, the park consists of a collection of restored historic structures that were relocated here from various points around Esperance. The quaint buildings now house a range of boutiques. Every second Sunday the site hosts the Museum Village Markets. Vendors set up shop between the various buildings.
Those of a certain vintage may recall hearing about the debris from NASA’s Skylab space station that crashed near Esperance in 1979. The Esperance Museum displays a few large pieces of the space station, and also provides a comprehensive rundown on the history of European settlement in the area.
Like much of life in this idyllic retreat, Esperance’s dining scene is relaxed and laidback.
Cafe culture is alive and well here. Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch or something in between, stop by centrally located Brown Sugar Café. Delicious home-baked treats are flavoured with native Australian bush tucker spices. Try the breakfast bruschetta.
With the epic Southern Ocean on the town’s doorstep, it would be remiss not to indulge in fresh fish and chips at least once during your stay in Esperance. Along with takeaways, Fish Face serves quality seafood dishes in a casual dining setting. Check out the specials board, which changes daily. If you’re really lucky, they may have the ‘bass cod, prawns, scallops, squid, octopus and pippies cooked in ginger and lemon chilli butter and served with mash’ on the menu. It’s guaranteed to tantalise the taste buds!
A visit to Yirri Grove Olive Farm and Restaurant is worth the 20-minute drive from town. The restaurant offers a paddock to plate experience. Start with a scrumptious tasting plate, including the farm’s own olives. Move on to the Black Angus steakburger or perhaps the country-style beef pie. You won’t be disappointed. Also check out the shop, which offers a range of olive oils, local preserves and artisanal gifts.
If you’re looking for a great spot to enjoy a few drinks or some good old-fashioned pub grub, you can’t go wrong at the Pier Hotel. Situated on the Esplanade overlooking the Bay of Isles, it’s a great place to kick back and relax after a hard day of sightseeing.
There are some definite retail gems dotted around Esperance’s town centre.
Bob & Jim’s General Store is family-owned and operated. They sell amazing fruit, vegetables, bread and eggs, and pride themselves on only offering Australian produce. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, especially with the aroma of freshly made waffles and sourdough bread wafting through the store. Also check out the range of locally made giftware.
You’re sure to pick up a souvenir of your visit to Esperance at Knots & Weaves Co. This bohemian homewares boutique stocks a wonderful selection of macrame and hand-woven items.
For an eco-friendly, chemical free, healthy and happy take on life, check out Naturally Esperance. It’s a quirky little store with a huge personality.
With five national parks within easy reach of Esperance, your biggest problem will be deciding where to head first.
Cape Le Grand National Park is a popular option. It’s renowned for its breathtaking scenery and picturesque beaches. Here you can swim, rock climb, bushwalk, surf, fish and camp. One of the absolute highlights of the park is Lucky Bay — said to be home to the whitest beach sand in Australia. You may see the famous local kangaroos lazing the day away on the beach (a great photo opportunity!).
For something a little more secluded, make your way on to Thistle Cove. It’s another pristine gem that won’t disappoint those in search of clean white sand and turquoise blue water.
Also in Cape Le Grand is Frenchman Peak. The 262-metre Grade 5 walk to the top is well worth the effort for the stunning views across the park. Check out the caves and crevices that nature has carved out over millions of years.
On the opposite side of Esperance, the 40 kilometre Great Ocean Drive is a circular route that take in more of the stunning coastline. If you feel like a swim en route, stop off at Twilight Cove. It has crystal-clear water and some spectacular rock formations (see if you can spot the dinosaur lurking underwater!).
Towards the end of the drive, turn off opposite Pink Lake (sadly, no longer pink) and make your way to Lucky Bay Brewing for a refreshing afternoon ale. The flavours this boutique local brewhouse produces are clean and fresh, just like the exquisite local beaches.
For more information, please visit www.visitesperance.com.
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Cover image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia. Additional images: Bigstock