|Western Australia - Esperance|
| Set amid white-sand beaches, coastal heathland, and flagged out at sea by the granite outcrops of the Recherche Archipelago, Esperance is the main tourist centre of this region of southern Western Australia.|
The town inherited its name from French explorer D’Entrecasteaux, who sheltered in the bay, calling it after one of his ships. From D’Entrecasteaux’s visit until the opening of the Coolgardie goldfields over 100 years later, the region remained relatively undisturbed. Pastoralists arrived and took up land holdings in the scrubland, but it was the stream of prospectors from the east landing and provisioning at Esperance before making their way north to the goldfields that got the town established. Esperance’s real development as a service town to the area came after the 1950s, when fertilisers began to be used to supplement the surrounding soil, turning it to productive farmland.
Today tourism represents an increasing source of income, visitors attracted by the vast Southern Ocean, the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. Between August and September migrating southern right whales can be spotted from the coast, and in springtime, the area is alive with the colour of wildflowers.
| The Great Ocean Drive takes the visitor on a 38-kilometre round trip from Esperance via Twilight Beach — popular for fishing, swimming and surfing — Rotary Lookout and Pink Lake. This accurately named saltwater lake is coloured by the presence of a salt-tolerant algae. The drive can be broken with a walk from Rotary Lookout to Salmon Beach. On a ridge above Salmon Beach sits the Western Power wind farm, a commercial operation farming the powerful winds that sweep the area to supplement the local power grid. |
Out to sea lie more than 100 granite islands, known as the Archipelago of the Recherche or Bay of Isles. Although used by sealers in the past, as well as for grazing sheep, none are now inhabited and only 60 or so are named. Visitors wanting to camp or daytrip can take a ferry from Esperance to 14-kilometre distant Woody Island, the only island open to the public. Alternatively, a Bay of Isles Wildlife Cruise explores the water, islands and their inhabitants — seals, sea lions, sea eagles, dolphins, whales and, if lucky, the rare Western Cape Barren geese.
| Forty-eight kilometres to the east of Esperance is Cape Le Grand National Park, covering more than 31,000 hectares of coastal heath, sand plains and granite outcrops. Visitors to the park can swim at beaches, rock climb Frenchman Peak or Mont Le Grand, or bushwalk through the mallee. A track between Cape Le Grand and Rossiter Bay 15 kilometres away can be tackled over the course of a day or in easier one-hour stages. Camping sites and picnic facilities are located in the park.|
Leaving Esperance and driving west along the South Coast Highway takes the traveller into the Ravensthorpe Range, and eventually to the similarly named old copper-mining town. Set in a landscape of rocky hills and rugged valleys, Ravensthorpe celebrates its annual wildflower show in the first two weeks of September. Evidence of the area’s copper, silver and gold mining remains in the disused mine shafts dotting the area.
Back to the sea, south of Ravensthorpe, lie the coastal village of Hopetoun and the Fitzgerald River National Park. Gazetted as a World Biosphere Reserve — meaning in practice that an area in the centre has been left completely inaccessible to the public and authorities alike — the park offers some good four-wheel driving opportunities on the periphery, as well as bushwalks through scrubby heathland, over rocky headlands and along bleached sandy beaches. Fitzgerald River National Park is famous for its variety of plant communities and abundant bird life, including a rare ground parrot. Another creature to keep a look out for is the small mouse-like dibbler. Many of the beaches in and around Hopetoun — Mason Bay, Five Mile, Four Mile, Twelve Mile, West Beach and others — have picnic or barbeque facilities, and sometimes camping sites; they are particularly valued for their peace and isolation.