“So, what are the best things to do in Esperance?”, asked my Queensland friend. I had no idea as I have never been before myself. That meant we were both going to be ‘wowed’ at the same time with every sight and every activity. Nothing like the sense of exploring a new destination for the first time.
I was so pleasantly surprised by Esperance. I had heard that their beaches are beautiful, but I didn’t know it was going to be THAT beautiful. My eyes were so amazed at every turn. I then had to wonder why hadn't I visited this place earlier in my life. Why did it need a border closure (due to C0vid) to make me travel in my own state instead of overseas all the time.
Oh well, at least I finally made it there. And as the excitement was still alive in me, I had to write down my list of the most amazing things to do in Esperance. I don’t want anyone to miss out on anything.
The first three suggestions, are all located in Cape Le Grand National Park, so make sure that’s first on your list. And then I share some other ideas with you.
Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park
A 40-minute drive east of Esperance takes you to Cape Le Grand National Park. This national park is a must on your list. The park entrance fee is $15 per day. I would recommend the 5-day pass for $25 because if you have a week in Esperance, you will definitely return to explore more of the park. If you’re short on time, then I would suggest to place Lucky Bay first on your list and read my complete guide to Cape Le Grand National Park.
Before you even turn into the Lucky Bay carpark, you are immediately stunned by the amazing view. Pure white sandy beach with crystal clear light blue water lapping against its shore. The water colour changes to aqua and then morphs into a deep dark blue 50m or more out to sea. In my personal opinion, it’s the most beautiful beach in Australia.
If you’re lucky enough to have a 4WD or AWD, you can drive along the beach and find yourself a spot. Some people took the plunge into the freezing cold water, others enjoyed a picnic and drinks.
Alternatively, as my Toyota Corolla wasn’t suited to the task, our feet squeaked as we walked instead the whole 2.4km length of the fine white sandy beach. It may seem like a long walk, especially when it's quite windy and the sun reflecting off the white sand burns your skin. But you are well rewarded with more natural ocean beauty.
While you’re at this end of the beach, you’ll notice a wooden pathway. There is a small viewing platform but it's also the start of the Lucky Bay-Rossiter Bay walking trail. It’s a medium class trail that takes 2 hours one way. Of course, you would then need to walk two hours back. Instead, we hiked up for about 35 minutes until we reached the highest peak, called Mississippi Hill. Magnificent views overlooking the whole of Lucky Bay. We took our photos and walked back down to the beach to cool off.
And if you’re able to hang around until 4pm, look out for any visiting kangaroos. They do like to visit the beach in the late afternoon, as we discovered on our first day. On my second day enjoying the beach, they hung around the carpark instead. It's all luck of the draw!
TG Tip: Bring sunscreen with and apply super often. The sun down here seems to burn more here than in Perth. It's exacerbated by the reflection off the white sand and clear coloured water.
Hellfire Beach to Thistle Cove hike, Cape Le Grand
The second-best thing to do in Cape Le Grand National Park is the Hellfire Bay to Thistle Cove hike. FYI, the national park has 4 different hikes that all join up together as they pass through each beach. I did three different sections, and this one was the best by far. It was the most scenic and most adventurous.
This hike is rated as class 4/5, so you need to have sturdy shoes and be an experienced hiker. Start off at Hellfire Bay first. It’s the second nicest looking beach in the national park, after Lucky Bay. Hardly any swimmers here as it has relentless large waves beating down 30m from shore. Making it difficult to relax in the water. I guess that’s why it's called Hellfire!
Behind the carpark is the sign to Little Hellfire Beach, which is the beginning of the 2-hour hike to Thistle Cove. Only a 20-minute walk to Little Hellfire where the waters are calmer and more suitable for swimming.
From here, the first section is a walk up granite rock. Then at the top you have commanding views over both Hellfire and Little Hellfire bays.
As you meander along the top, your eyes are drawn to the deep blue ocean with the Archipelago of the Recherche islands scattered in the distance.
Then there is a steep decline for 50m on smooth granite rock, which is the hardest part of the hike. Follow the trail down the ravine until you reach the shore. This is the adventurous part. There’s a small section where you have to wait for the water to drag out to sea so you can cross over to the rocky coastline on the other side. Otherwise, you have to wade through water. As I followed along the rocky coastline, in one section I had to jump down from a large rock.
The path then follows upwards over a headland to the sweeping views of Thistle Cove. I virtually ran down the track all the way to the shore. The sun was hot and I needed to cool off in the cold Antarctic waters. It was so refreshing.
TG Tip: I didn’t have to walk the 2 hours back to return to my car. Thankfully my friend didn’t feel like hiking, so she drove around to Thistle Cove and waited for me at the beach. If you have multiple cars, you can leave one car at each end. There is no bus service in the national park.
TG Tip: the government doesn’t print the brochure/maps anymore. However, you can download the brochure onto your phone or use the mud map that you receive when you pay your park entrance fee.
Frenchman Peak hike, Cape Le Grand
After completing the above two suggestions, you’ve basically seen the best beaches in Cape Le Grand. You’re not missing much if you don’t see the other beaches.
However, if you enjoy hiking/walking, then the next best hike in the park is the Frenchman Peak hike. Named as such as the peak apparently resembles a Frenchman's cap worn in the 1800’s. But we could see a running jaguar!
We arrived at the carpark at 7.30am to beat the heat. We were the first ones there. Thankfully it was overcast so it was cool to climb anyway. The signs say to allow 1 hour to climb, but we did it in 30 minutes, even with lots of breathing stops.
Although its only 262m high, it's still graded as class 4. That’s because the whole hike is up granite rock at a 45-degree angle.
Most of it is a steep climb up on smooth granite rock. Markers are on the ground to follow. Don’t veer off otherwise you end up in very steep sections.
First, we went inside the open-air cavern and took some great shots overlooking the whole coast. Then walked above the cavern, to the very tip and took some more photos. Finally the sun came out, so we went back into the cavern to take some more photos.
We ended up hanging around the top for 1.5 hours as we took way too many photos. Then it was time for the steep walk back down, which took around 40 minutes. You couldn’t do this walk if it's been raining or if it's extremely windy.
Great Ocean Drive
There is a scenic 40km coastal drive west of Esperance called Great Ocean Drive. Begin by driving down the esplanade road heading towards the port. When you reach the end, you’ll see the brown tourist signs for Great Ocean Drive. Then it's one road that loops around eventually back into town.
The Esperance Visitors Centre can give you a mud map, or copy the map on their website.
The first half of the drive hugs the coast and you have full views of each and every beach you pass. There’s even a couple of viewing points where you can stop to take photos. There a many beaches and it's too hard to stop at all of them in one day. To help you choose, here are some of my highlights/suggestions.
Main feature is that it has a little protective reef close to shore. Was quiet with not many people about.
This is quite a long beach with a couple of carparks dotted along. Again, it was sparsely populated.
This bay seems to be very popular with locals and tourists. And with me too.
It also had the largest carpark of all and was quite full. Seems to attract families and couples alike.
This little bay is sheltered by a small rocky headland and so the water is super calm. And is quite shallow up to 50m out. You can canoe out to the two large rocks about 200m away.
I snorkeled along the rocky coastline. Saw a small school of fish, of the black/yellow striped fish variety. But that’s it, not really exciting snorkelling here. However, I just love how crystal clear the water is. The next bit of coastline is so rocky that there are no paths leading down.
This place is more a viewing point rather than a swimming spot. It consists of a long set of stairs leading up to a hill top. It overlooks a rocky coastal terrain and ocean horizon in one direction. The other direction is a rocky beach that looks dangerous. However, there is a very long stairway leading down if you want to swim and explore. For the brave though, as you have to walk back up all those steps!
9 Mile Beach
The whole stretch is rocky reefs. No sandy beach at all. You have to walk over the rocks to get into the water. Could do snorkelling here but would take effort to get to the edge of the reef and jump in the water. I see now why the carpark was empty!
10 Mile Lagoon
This beach has a reef about 50m from shore and therefore more appropriate for snorkelling. 4WDs can drive along this beach too.
I stepped into the water and the undercurrent immediately wanted to carry me away. It was impossible to swim directly to the reef. So I walked to the right end of the beach where the reef was almost touching the shore. I hopped in and let the current naturally carry me down along the reef. At times it got hard as the waves pushed me away from the reef. But I would manage to maneuver back in. Only saw about 5 fish in total – rock fish and the stripey ones. Almost got to the end of the section but I was so tired so I started to head to shore. However the current wanted to drag me along instead. It was an effort but I managed to get to shore eventually.
As I got up to leave, I noticed that the water wasn’t choppy anymore. And there was no undercurrent as I watched a family walked straight out to the reef. It seems the wind and undercurrent changes every 2 hours. So take your time entering the water.
11 Mile Beach
Although this beach is not too far away, it had a totally different feel. On this day the tide was so low that it formed natural lagoons everywhere between the reef and the shore. I did a couple of dips in the shallow pools. And walked on and along the reef top.
When I returned the following day, it was quite windy and the waves were crashing over the reef. The peaceful rock pools could not be seen.
After you leave 11 Mile Beach, the Great Ocean Drive loops inland. You pass the lookout for Pink Lake. But be warned, it is no longer pink. It hasn’t been for over 10 years. Construction of roads and rail changed the eco system and the lake lost its pinkness. However, don’t despair, there is another pink lake!
Lake Hillier – pink lake
There is a natural pink lake located on Middle Island, the largest of the Recherche Archipelago islands. It has the most amazing bubblegum pink colour.
Currently, the only way for tourists to see this lake is from the air. Middle Island is located about 130km from Esperance by sea. They used to have cruises but have ceased during Covid times. Hopefully it will return soon as travelling by air is an expensive option.
Fly Esperance - $425 per person for an 80 minute flight over Lake Hillier and Cape Le Grand.
Helispirit - $1295 per person for a 3 hour tour by helicopter, including a 1.5 hour guided walk to Lake Hillier.
There are other things to do in Esperance besides beaching and hiking. How about eating. For the best fish and chips in town, you go where the locals recommend and go themselves.
Fish Face is located in town centre. They have an extensive menu, including salads and pasta dishes, for those who don’t like fish.
But the best part of their menu is the choice of 5 different fresh local fish. Most were names I’ve never heard of before, confirming to me that they are indeed caught locally. My favourite was the nannygai (trumpet emperor). They offer grilled, crumbed or deep fried. Just check out the menu!
Coffee Cat and Sir Juice
How do you know where the best coffee in town is? Just look for the queues. And we found it on the esplanade foreshore, eastern end.
Coffee Cat kiosk offers an array of coffee in hot and iced versions. And they have teas as well.
Next door, in another kiosk is Sir Juice. This place satisfies the health junkies with a range of freshly squeezed juices or delicious smoothies. They also sell light snacks too.
I guarantee you will visit this part of town nearly every day.
Lucky Bay Brewery
I believe that every coastal town should have a micro-brewery. I loved the two breweries that I discovered in Exmouth last year. And I’m glad that Esperance did not disappoint.
Lucky Bay Brewery is set 10 minutes out of town, on Bandy Creek Road. A typical micro-brewery set up with indoor and outdoor casual dining. And a huge lawn area.
There’s 14 different beers to choose from. And yes, they do offer tasting paddles if you can't quite decide. I was surprised to find their newly released gluten free beer, which tasted like a shandy.
For dining, they offer pizza’s and salads. And if you visit Friday or Sunday afternoons, you dine and drink against the backdrop of live music.
TG Tip: If you drive all the way to the end of Bandy Creek Road, you’ll arrive to a small fishing port. You can be fresh fish caught that day at the blue and white Fish Shop.
Sunset at 11 Mile Beach
Finally, the best way to end any wonderful day in paradise, is to watch a sunset.
The best place to watch the sunset is from the western end of the Great Ocean Drive (from 9 Mile Beach to 11 Mile Beach). The most scenic sunset viewing spot is from the boardwalk at 11 Mile Beach. You may want to go a couple of times as some days its windy, then it's not. Other days the tide is out and you walk along the rock pools and other days you watch the waves crash over the reef.
So, grab a drink, maybe some nibbles and say thanks for a great day in Esperance!
Bonus – Duke of Orleans Bay
If you should tire of all those beautiful beaches of Esperance, then consider venturing further afield. A 100km drive east of Esperance brings you to Duke of Orleans Bay.
Before you walk down to the beach, look for a little track from the carpark. In a few steps you can marvel at the view of Table Island in the distance.
Best part is you can walk to this island. Head down the beach access path from the carpark and follow the beach around. There’s almost a sandbar that crosses over to the island. We were able to walk across to it in knee deep water. Of course, it will depend upon the tide at the time you visit. The easiest way to spend time on a secluded island!!
And as you’ve made the effort to drive all that way, you can visit one more amazing beach. A 5 minute drive further down the road is Wharton Beach. Again, it has light blue waters rolling over the pure white sandy beach. I called it the little sister to Lucky Bay beach.
TG Tip: For the wine lovers, as you leave this area through the township of Condingup, make a quick stop at Condingup Vineyard. Check their FB page for opening times as its limited and changes weekly. But it’s the only winery I found down this way.
What's on your list of things to do in Esperance
Of course, you will discover many other places along the way. But these I feel are the top 10.
I’m curious. Let me know below which activities above would you put on your bucket list while holidaying in Esperance?