The sun was shining when we woke up in Esperance, perfectly suited to our plans to visit Cape Le Grand National Park and its exquisite beaches. Caro ran over a bird in Heidi on the way there and felt terrible for the next few hours, especially with James reminding her at regular intervals. The route in to Cape Le Grand took us past the oddest tourist attraction we have seen in Australia, and remember we have seen a memorial to a tree that MIGHT have been engraved by an explorer; Esperance is home to a full-scale replica of Stonehenge in pink limestone “as it would have been in 1950BC”. Why? Seriously, why?! It is utterly baffling, particularly as its main resemblance to actual Stonehenge is that they have built it next to the road and therefore slowed traffic down considerably as people crane their heads to see it.
The National Park, on the other hand, is magnificent and such a wonderful place to have so close to town. Our first stop was Frenchman Peak, which we hadn’t intended to climb but we drove past and unanimously decided that we must climb it.So, we u-turned, put our boots on, and started the steep climb to the top. It was a reasonably challenging climb which was 100% worth it for the amazing 360 degree views….the fun caves to climb in….And many more excellent photo opportunities. James felt particularly nervous about this one:We were feeling very proud of ourselves for making fairly easy work of the climb when were abruptly brought back down to earth by two young children casually strolling around the summit in sandals.
Once back in Heidi we set off to explore the famous beaches although, interestingly, the most famous one was definitely not our favorite. The first beach we went to was Hellfire Bay, which took our breath away. The sand was white and the sea was crystal clear, so clear that you could see through the waves to the sand beneath.After a stroll along the bay we got back in Heidi and moved along to Thistle Bay. Apparently, you can hear the rocks whistling but we think that this is just a ploy to get a bunch of tourists to walk around cocking their heads on ridiculous angles and leaning against rocks. Needless to say, they weren’t whistling for us, but the bay was still beautiful. Cape Le Grande also boasts Australia’s whitest beach, Lucky Bay. This is the most famous and therefore most popular beach in the park.There were a lot of people around, which is understandable, but there is also a coffee truck which, from our point of view, took away some of the charm. It’s time for some more middle-class problems; the sand is incredibly white but this has two effects; 1. It’s actually quite crunchy and unpleasant to walk on and 2. When the sun is shining the glare is extraordinary and Caro actually had to retire to the carpark because it was giving her a headache. You feel really sorry for us, don’t you?
It was time for lunch and a cuppa so we headed to Le Grand beach and set up in the car park overlooking the beach to enjoy tea and noodles.We felt we had to brave the Southern Ocean before we left, so we hit the extremely cold sea and boy did it hit back.
The water was absolutely bone chilling, unsurprising given that there was nothing between us and Antarctica save for a mere 3600km of water. Back in Esperance, we went for a wander around town and particularly enjoyed the miniature railway.The waterfront is also very pretty and it was amazing that we didn’t really notice the enormous port looming in the background. We made our way back to the same campground but different camping spot, which well and truly brought us overpass adjacent.On our way out of town the next morning we drove the 40km Ocean Drive which takes you along some beautiful coastline, past some expensive looking houses and then inland. All of the drive was lovely but a particular highlight was Twilight Beach, which was voted Australia’s best beach 2006. You can see why, it was an absolute stunner; crystal clear sea, white soft sand, several km long and a few rocks to clamber on. This can mean only one thing… beach jumping photo!Western Australia definitely has the best collection of beaches we have seen. When you think it cannot get any better you come across another belter.
Having soaked up all that Esperance’s beaches could offer we continued on route east, following the highway before cutting south on gravel roads back towards the coast. We had hoped to take the coastal drive in to Hopetoun but, unfortunately the area has been subject to die back disease and a lot of the more rural tracks have had to be closed. This necessitated an hour-long detour but we eventually made it to the town for a brief stop before making our way in to Fitzgerald National Park, our final destination for the day.
The park had recently been hit by a major storm which had washed away the road so our journey in was fairly steady on the temporary road. As we wound our way through the park we made plans for all the stops we would make the next day when we hoped that the weather and the light would be better for some pictures. We camped that night at a campsite run by the local shire. These tend to be pretty basic, long drop toilets and usually some barbeques, but they are well maintained and the fee to camp is nominal. The weather decided to behave itself as the afternoon drew to a close and we managed to get some beautiful pictures from a spot just down the road.It occurred to us on this particular evening that we have not written much at all about Australia at night. This is because we climb in to bed at 8 o’clock, perhaps watch a bit of Netflix and go to sleep, such party animals. The one time we do see the night sky is when we are unable convince ourselves that we really don’t need to pee and have to don several layers of clothing and a miner’s lamp to find the toilets. When this does happen, it is such a pleasure to look up at a sky with zero light pollution and be blown away by an incredible number of stars, the enormity of space becomes very real in rural Australia.
Sadly, the clear skies didn’t hold overnight and the following morning the weather was looking pretty threatening again. Nonetheless, we set out to explore the national park, stopping at several viewpoints before parking up to climb Mount Barren. We were both already wrapped up in leggings and jumpers as we set off up the mountain but as we reached the summit we could see the rain approaching and managed to get our wet weather gear on before the worst of it hit. The wet made for an interesting climb down with both us spending more time than we would like on our bottoms as we slipped and slid our way down.Typically, as we got back to Heidi the rain abated. We decided that the pre-planned swim “to cool off after our walk” was probably unnecessary and instead started on our journey to Albany, the first portion of which was accompanied by the Farm Gate Art Trail; a collection of sculptures created from scrap metal by the local land owners.