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Esperance, WA

Town edged by some of the continent's most beautiful beaches

So much of the Western Australian coastline, particularly the coastline washed by the Great Southern Ocean, is idyllically beautiful. Turquoise waters, beautiful white sands, granite rocks edging the beaches. It is hard to imagine a more sustained area of beauty than the beaches which lie just to the west of Esperance - West Beach, Chapman's Point, Blue Haven Beach, Salmon Beach, Fourth Beach and Twilight Beach. The impossibly white sands, the gently rounded granite cliffs, and the ocean changing from aquamarine near the shore to a deep blue out near the islands of the Archipelago of the Recherche, is a combination of nature's beauties which make Esperance one of the true wonders of the Australian coastline. The sand dunes, pushed to fantastic heights by the unforgiving 'Esperance Doctor', are 50-60 metres high. They are so white and so battered by the winds of the Southern Ocean that there are places where the sand has drifted across the road like snow. Below the road the white sands of the beaches and small bays are edged by smooth and dramatic granite rocks and glorious displays of wildflowers. This is one of those areas where the beauty is so overwhelming that it really does take your breath away.

Location

Esperance is located 714 km south-east of Perth via Hyden and Lake King.

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Origin of Name

Captain Bruni d'Entrecasteaux commanding Le Recherche and Captain Huon de Kermandec of L'Esperance, were searching the Australian waters for the missing explorer La Perouse when they were forced to seek protection from a storm and sheltered on the lee side of Observatory Island. That night d'Entrecasteaux wrote in his journal "I decided to give the harbour the name of Esperance Bay, that of the first frigate to enter it." A translation of Esperance means "hope with confidence and faith in the future".

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Things to See and Do

Museum Park Period Village
The Museum Park Period Village is located between The Esplanade and Dempster Street. It is a community space which is used for village markets (from 8.30 am - 12.30 pm on Sundays) and it has an interesting collection of historical buildings which cover an entire block. Apart from the old railway station and yards there is a former doctor's surgery, a school master's residence, a church and a private home. The village is much more than just a collection of relocated historic buildings. It also has a cafe, art gallery, craft shops and the town's Visitor Information Centre. The Visitor Centre and the Museum Village are open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm. weekdays and 9.00 am - 2.00 pm weekends. Tel: 1300 664 455 or (08) 9083 1555.

Esperance Museum
Located at 6 James Street near the corner of Dempster Street and James Street, the Esperance Museum ("Our people, our places, our history") was established in 1975 and was subsequently opened in the Bonded Store and Goods Shed in 1976. It contains 4,000 objects and over 8,000 items in its archives. It displays material relating to local history, including pioneer memorabilia, a 1951 coal-fire locomotive, shipwreck items, pieces of the US Sky Lab which fell to earth in the Esperance region in 1980, Aboriginal artefacts, a room with antique musical items, a display of antiquated communications equipment and agricultural machinery. It is open from 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm daily, tel: (08) 9083 1580 or check https://www.esperance.wa.gov.au/esperance-museum.

Dempster Homestead
The first European settlers in the vicinity were the Dempster brothers who drove horses, cattle and sheep from Northam in 1863, taking up a large grazing lease of 304,000 acres in 1866. The former Dempster Homestead, located at 155 Dempster Street, is listed on the National Estate as an important relic of the early history of the area. Built in 1863 by the Dempster brothers it is rough in construction having used local limestone and a design based on needs rather than aesthetics. It has been restored and is now in private ownership but can be viewed from the street (there is no access to the grounds or interior).
Annie Dempster wrote in 1865: "Andrew describes the place where they intend eventually to have their house - it must be a pretty spot at the entrance of Esperance Bay with a beautiful view of the bay which is twenty miles across - a good landing and a capital harbour - the bay seems almost landlocked with islands and the sea so quiet that when rough outside they could take a boat about to any part of it. Also enough good land for a garden and a field, and plenty of good water."
The homestead was sold to Tom and Victoria Brown in 2017 and they have continued the work of David and Marie-Louise Wordsworth who bought in in 1966 and worked hard to restore it to its former magnificence. It is a comment on the Wordsworth's ability to revitalise the historic home, which features a cellar in the garden room and a “chapel” complete with a chandelier from the Plaza Theatre in Tasmania, that it hosted Prince Charles when he visited Esperance in 1973. It is a private residence.

Grave of Tommy Windich
Located on The Esplanade in Port Authority Park is the grave of Tommy Windich. The headstone, erected by the explorers John and Alexander Forrest, explains his importance and why he is so fondly remembered. "Erected by John and Alexander Forrest in memory of Tommy Windich - Born near Mt Stirling Died at Esperance Bay. He was an aboriginal native of Western Australia of great intelligence and fidelity who accompanied them on exploring expeditions into the interior of Australia two of which were from Perth to Adelaide." The Inquirer and Commercial News, a Perth newspaper, reported on 15 March, 1876 that "The following telegram, from Mr. Fleming, Superintendent of Telegraphs, has been received by Mr. John Forrest from Albany: — "Poor Tommy Windich died at Esperance Bay three weeks ago." Mr. Forrest, in communicating the above intelligence to us, thus expresses himself in reference to his old bush companion: - 'This faithful and intelligent native has passed away, still in the field of exploration, as he has been for so many years. He was still quite a young man, and has been intimately connected with every exploration in this colony for the last 10 or 12 years. He accompanied Mr. Hunt, Mr. Alexander Forrest, and myself. Twice he crossed with me from this city (Perth) to Adelaide, and took a very prominent part in those expeditions. He possessed great knowledge of the interior, and I feel sure was the most experienced and best bushman in the colony. He has died far away from his own home and from his friends, for his name is almost a household word in this colony. I will take steps to have the spot where he is buried fenced in and marked. To, me who has had him for my only companion on so many trying occasions, the tidings of Tommy's death is especially sad, and I feel that I have lost an old and well-tried companion and friend." For more information check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/indigenous/display/60457-tommy-windich.

Miniature Railway
Located in Adventureland Park on Taylor Street, this miniature railway is a special experience because, rather than just doing a loop, it crosses bridges, goes through a tunnel and winds around ponds. It is designed as weekend and holiday entertainment for the family and operates from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm on weekends in the summer months between October and April, and during school holidays. For more information check out https://www.facebook.com/Esperance-Miniature-Railway-Society-143265325737899.

Yabby Farm
Located on Warden Road at the north-western end of town, near the southern edge of Lake Warden, is a yabby farm which is open for inspection, tel: (08) 9071 3675 for visiting times.

Rotary Lookout
Located on Doust Street off Twilight Beach Road, 2 km south of the centre of Esperance, the impressive Rotary Lookout offers panoramic views of Esperance township as well as views across Lovers Beach, Lovers Beach Cove, Esperance Bay, the Pink Lake and the offshore islands. There is a pleasant loop walk from the lookout and, in spring, the area is covered in wildflowers.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Great Ocean Drive and the Beaches to the West of the Town
The highlight of Esperance is the necklace of beaches which stretch to the east of the town centre. They are one of the wonders of the continent and include Second Beach, Blue Haven Beach, Salmon Beach, Fourth Beach, Twilight Beach, Nine Mile Beach and Eleven Mile Beach. The drive starts on Twilight Beach Road which becomes Great Ocean Drive and, to experience all the attractions of this spectacular drive - Twilight Beach, the Rotary Lookout, the wind turbine farms, Observatory Point and its monument, and Pink Lake, there is a scenic 38 km loop. It is one of the country's greatest drives but, for all its beauty, the white sands spilling over the road and the huge sand dunes which rise up from the road are a reminder that this stretch of coastline is whipped most afternoons by the dreaded 'Esperance Doctor' which howls off the Great Southern Ocean.

Pink Lake
There are a number of Pink Lakes in Australia. They have a distinct soft pink hue which is produced by the presence of salt-tolerant dunalella salina algae which produces beta carotene. Unfortunately Esperance's Pink Lake has not been pink since 2007 but it may become pink again when the water temperature and salinity levels create the correct circumstances. The lake is 6 km from the centre of Esperance and access is along Eleven Mile Beach Road which funs off Pink Lake Road. In 2017 the local council employed an Environmental scientist to try and raise the salinity level of the lake.

Westwind Windmills
Located to the east of Esperance at Ten Mile Lagoon, are the turbines which were the first wind farm in Australia. Historically, a sign described the early history of the turbines. It read: "Power from the wind. Australia's first wind farm. The supplier was Westwind Turbines of Australia. They are a fixed pitch blade stall regulated, horizontal axis and a two speed generator. The height of the towers is 22 metres and the rotors are 16 metres across. They move between 34 and 45 revs per minute. The machines were built by Westwind Turbines and are based on a modified version of a prototype which has been tested at South Fremantle since March 1984. The involvement of the South East Electricity Commission of Western Australia in wind power goes back to 1980 when it trialled three machines on Rottnest Island. A total of eight machines have been evaluated. Esperance was selected because it has both high average wind speeds and relatively high fuel costs. The turbines were connected to the grid on the 6th April 1987." Yes, over 30 years ago. It was remarkable but it also made sense. Esperance is the second windiest place in Western Australia after Cape Leeuwin which lies exposed to the full force of both the Indian and Southern Oceans. In the beginning there was only six "wind powered electricity generators" and they had an expected output of one million kilowatt hours per annum which didn't happen until the wind reached a speed of 45 km/h. By 1993 there were nine turbines at Ten Mile Lagoon and in 2004 another six were added at Nine Mile Beach. At that time the turbines were producing 20% of Esperance's power. More turbines were added in 2004. In recent times two new state-of-the-art 4.3 megawatt wind turbines have been constructed and improvements in design and technology mean the new turbines will have more power and higher capacity, producing 58% more wind power than the combined output of the original 6 wind turbines. Also a 4 megawatt solar farm is being built. For more information check out https://horizonpower.com.au/our-community/projects/esperance-power-project.

Monument to Captain Bruni d'Entrecasteaux and Captain Huon de Kermandec
Located at Observatory Bay, on the headland overlooking Observatory Island, there is a monument to the discovery and naming of the area. It is beyond Twilight Bay on Twilight Beach Road to the west of the town. It records that in 1792 Captain Bruni d'Entrecasteaux commanding Le Recherche and Captain Huon de Kermandec of L'Esperance who were searching the Australian waters for the missing explorer La Perouse while charting the coastline and exploring the new continent were forced to seek protection from a storm. The two vessels sheltered on the lee side of Observatory Island and that night d'Entrecasteaux wrote in his journal 'I decided to give the harbour the name of Esperance Bay, that of the first frigate to enter it.' A translation of Esperance from the French would mean something like "hope, with confidence and faith in the future".

Helms Arboretum
Located 18 km north of town, along Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, Helms Arboretum was named after Andy Helms. It was created in 1973 and is now a sizeable area which comprises 80% native Australian trees and flowering native shrubs. The arboretum is known for its rare native orchids, notably the Spider Orchids, and it has impressive stands of pine trees from overseas. Detailed maps are available at the Visitor Information Centre.

Cape Le Grand National Park
Located 56 km south-east of Esperance is the 31,801 ha, dramatically beautiful, Cape Le Grand National Park which is characterised by wildflowers (in bloom from September to November), a rugged coastline, picturesque bays and beaches, rocky headlands and excellent coastal bushwalking tracks. Inland the park consists of sand plains covered by coastal heath interspersed with the occasional swamp and freshwater pool. Mount Le Grand is the tallest of the park's several granite peaks, at 345 metres. The caves and tunnels in these structures are thought to have been caused by waves and other water erosion from a time when they were submerged. Activities in the park include walking, camping, boating, picnicking, sightseeing, nature study, swimming, photography and fishing.
The park was named after Monsieur Le Grand, an officer on the French vessel L'Esperance, which explored the coast in 1792. Matthew Flinders reached the coast in 1802 and named Lucky Bay where he took shelter from a storm. In June 1841 explorer John Eyre was relieved to find, after crossing the Nullarbor, the ship Mississippi, captained by a Mr Rossiter. It was anchored in what Eyre named Rossiter Bay while Mississippi Hill, at Lucky Bay, was named after the vessel.
The park is dominated by coastal banksia and the fauna includes western grey kangaroos, bandicoots, pigmy honey possums, reptiles and birds.
Caravan and camping areas are available at Cape Le Grand Beach and Lucky Bay.
There is no power at the campsites but there are septic toilets, tank water, picnic areas, shade shelters, information bays, walking tracks, tables and barbecues. 
A marked 15 km one-way trail runs along the coastline from Rossiter Bay to Cape Le Grand. It has been broken into four sections but the entire track can be traversed in 6-8 hours. The shortest section lies between Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove, which is an easy stroll, taking about half an hour to complete.
Another walk is to the top of Frenchmans Peak (262 m above sea-level) which can be reached in a two-hour, 3 km return trip from the car park.
Lucky Bay which is a 63 km, 40-minute drive east of Esperance, is a particular highlight. It has a reputation as the best beach in Western Australia and, in many surveys, it comes out as the best beach in Australia and the whitest beach in the world.
The sand is impossibly white; the offshore waters are turquoise moving into a darker, richer blue; and the area abounds in banksias and coastal natives and in spring the wildflowers – pink and red coastal banjine, green peppermints, creamy white pipe banjine, blue lobelia, bright pink kunzea recurva – turn the whole area into a wonderland. As a bonus Lucky Bay is edged by attractive granite headlands which make the beach ideal for visitors wanting to swim, sunbake and fish.
There is a sense of peacefulness because this section of Cape Le Grand National Park is never busy and it has no signs of commercialism. There are 56 individual campsites.
The contour of Lucky Bay is so gentle, and the sand is so firm (it squeaks when you walk on it), that it is ideal for children near the water’s edge and equally perfect for swimmers, surfers and snorkellers wanting to test their skills in the deeper water. A special bonus is that the beach  is loved by kangaroos. They graze on the shoreline grasses and often hop down to the water’s edge.
There is a secret about the beach: it is 5 kilometres long which means that even at the height of summer, when the camping sites are full and there are numbers of people in the car park area, it is still possible to take your picnic and, after a few minutes, you will be in all by yourself on a peaceful part of the beach where the only intruders will be a few, shy kangaroos who seem happy to share their special stretch of paradise.

Cape Arid National Park
Located 116 km east of Esperance, Cape Arid National Park covers 280,000 ha of remote white sandy beaches, dramatic coastal scenery, the Thomas River and its estuary, low granite outcrops and marshy clay flats, along with several rocky hills - notably the Russell Range - which rises to 600 metres and offers panoramic views. Park activities include bushwalking, camping, birdwatching, whale watching, picnicking, photography, four-wheel-driving and fishing. The cape was named 'Cap Arride' in 1792 by Bruni D'Entrecasteaux and it was anglicised to Cape Arid in 1802 when Matthew Flinders inspected the area. For more details check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/cape-arid.
It is an important wilderness with more than 1100 flora species consisting chiefly of coastal heath systems, banksia woodland (which surrounds the Thomas River campground), saltbush and bluebush, swamp yate woodland, with dense stands of mallee inland, as well as patches of paperbark and other semi-arid eucalypt woodland types. There are shrublands around rockier inland areas.
The fauna is diverse and includes brush-tailed wallabies and honey possums, although the park is chiefly noted for more than 160 bird species, including 16 honeyeater species (some are common at the Thomas River campground when the banksias are in flower), stints, sanderlings, pardalotes (in the yate woodlands), kites, currawongs, the scarlet robin, the ground parrot, the western spinebill, the pied butcherbird, the mulga parrot, the red-eared firetail (unique to Western Australia), lorikeets amid the mallee eucalypts in autumn, the silver gull, the crested tern, the pied oystercatcher (the latter three can be seen around the Thomas River estuary), and, in the heathlands, falcons, emu-wrens and bustards. Cape Arid is also home to the endangered western ground parrot and it is visited by rare species such as the Australasian bittern, Carnaby's black cockatoo and the hooded plover (at Yokinup Bay which extends eastwards from the estuary). The West Australian Cape Barren goose breeds only in the Recherche Archipelago.
The park has a number of walking tracks:

* Len Otte Nature Trail (https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/len-otte-nature-trail) is a 2.7 km loop trail which takes around 90 minutes. The website explains: "The walk winds through woodlands and thickets, showcasing the tremendous variety of plants in the area. Enjoy seasonal displays of yellow hibbertia, scarlet honeymyrtle and the golden southern plains banksia. There are also views across coastal heathland to Thomas River and Yokinup Bay."

* Tagon Coastal Trail (https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/tagon-coastal-trail) is a 15 km moderately difficult trail which takes around 5-6 hours to walk. It passes through coastal heath and over rocky headlands and is particularly good as a vantage point to see Southern Right and Humpback whales in late winter and spring.

* Mt Ragged Trail (https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/mt-ragged-walk-trail) although only 3 km return, it is a difficult 3 hour walk which involves a 500 metre climb to the top of Mt Ragged and a rock scrambling descent. The website explains: "The Mt Ragged Walk Trail also offers good opportunities for spotting birds.  Mt Ragged and its surrounds feature mallee scrub and woodlands, home to mallee fowls, mulga parrots, chestnut quail thrushes, shy heath wrens, purple-gaped honeyeaters, yellow-plumed honeyeaters and crested bellbirds."

Telegraph Stations
There were five historic telegraph stations along the southern coast. They are located at Bremer Bay, Esperance, Israelite Bay, Eyre (now the Bird Sanctuary south of Cocklebiddy) and Eucla. Located 201 km to the east of Esperance (beyond Cape Arid) is Israelite Bay where the ruins of the Israelite Bay Telegraph Station, which operated from 1877-1917, still stand. The original building was constructed of timber. It was replaced by a standard stone building in 1896. The complex includes the ruins of a cottage built in 1884 and two graveyards where telegraph operators and others who lived in the area are buried. Although very inaccessible, Israelite Bay offers both good fishing and good swimming. The road passes through Cape Arid National Park.

Stokes Inlet National Park
Located 88 km west of Esperance off the South Coast Highway, Stokes Inlet National Park covers 14,000 ha. Its prime attractions are beautiful coastal scenery, ocean fishing and excellent beaches. The park was named by Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe in 1848, after his friend, John Lort Stokes. The estuary itself is cut off from the sea by an extensive sand bar and is typically surrounded by dense bushland. 
The park's vegetation consists principally of coastal heath, scrub and areas of dense low forests. Paperbarks typically fringe the shore, along with sedge and samphire. Aquatic plants, such as seagrass, stonewort and a type of algae, are to be found in the waters of the inlet. Owing to the sandbar the salinity levels vary considerably. The larvae of mussels, prawns, cockles and some crabs enter the waters when the bar opens, as it does occasionally, but they die as evaporation intensifies salinity levels. Some species of worms, bivalves, shrimps and snails, which have high tolerance of the changing salinity, are present at all times, and a species of snail can, at times, number in the millions.  Fish species also vary depending on the inflow of sea water. The fauna also includes 29 waterbird species, including Australian shelduck, grey teal, little black cormorants, black swans, chestnut teal and migratory species such as the common sandpiper, the red-capped plover, Australasian grebes, Australian pelicans, little pied cormorants, white-faced herons, great egrets and pied oystercatchers. There are also kangaroos and the occasional seal can be found along the coast. 
Access is via a 6 km road which leaves the South Coast Highway 2 km west of the Young River crossing. This track leads to camping areas on the western shore of the inlet. They have no power or water but there are pit toilets, walking trails, dinghy-launching sites, tables and gas barbecues. The eastern shore is only accessible by boat or a rough 4WD track which runs off Farrells Road. 

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Tjaltjaraak Aboriginal people.

* The first Europeans into the area were the Dutch aboard the Gulde Zeepaard who sailed across the Great Australian Bight in 1627 led by Pieter Nuyts.

* A chart of the southern coast of Australia printed in Holland in 1628 includes the islands off Esperance.

* In 1791 Captain George Vancouver sailed the HMS Discovery along the coast to the Recherche Archipelago.

* In 1792 Captain Bruni d'Entrecasteaux commanding Le Recherche and Captain Huon de Kermandec of L'Esperance who were searching the Australian waters for the missing explorer La Perouse while charting the coastline and exploring the new continent were forced to seek protection from a storm. The two vessels sheltered on the lee side of Observatory Island and that night d'Entrecasteaux wrote in his journal 'I decided to give the harbour the name of Esperance Bay, that of the first frigate to enter it.' A translation of Esperance from the French would mean something like "hope, with confidence and faith in the future".

* The explorer Matthew Flinders, who arrived in the area on 8 January 1802 and stayed until 17 January, explored the islands and the mainland and named Thistle Cove and Lucky Bay.

* In the 1820s and 1830s the harbours and bays around Esperance were commonly used by sealers and whalers.

* In 1835 John Anderson, known as Black Jack or Abyssinia Jack, moved to Middle Island to hunt whales and seals.

* In June, 1841 Edward John Eyre, exhausted from his journey across the Great Australian Bight, reached Rossiter Bay (now part of Cape Le Grand National Park to the east of Esperance).

* The explorer John Septimus Roe carried out a surveying expedition of the area in 1848.

* The first settlers were the Dempster brothers who drove sheep, cattle and horses from Northam in 1863, taking up a grazing lease of 304,000 acres.

* The Overland Telegraph reached the town in 1876.

* The town of Esperance was formally gazetted in 1893 as a port facility for the Coolgardie goldfield.

* A town jetty was built during the 1890s.

* The arrival of the railway from Perth to Kalgoorlie in 1896 destroyed the importance of Esperance as a port.

* By 1898 the population of the town reached 985.

* Attempts were made to open up the area as wheat farming land in 1912 and 1924.

* In 1927 the railway from Coolgardie reached Esperance.

* In 1935 a second jetty was built.

* It wasn't until 1949 that the Gibson Research Station of Esperance Downs discovered that the local soil only needed additional trace elements to make it fertile. This simple discovery ultimately turned the area into a successful producer of wheat, sheep and cattle.

* By 1954 there were 36 farmers on about 8000 hectares.

* In 1979 pieces of the space station, Skylab, fell near Esperance.

* By the mid 1980s there were 600 farmers utilising over 400 000 hectares.

* Esperance Port was upgraded in 2002 when $54 million was spent on improvements.

* In January, 2007 the area was declared a natural disaster zone after being hit by 155 mm of rain in 24 hours accompanied by 110 km/hr winds.

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Visitor Information

Esperance Visitor Centre, Museum Village, Esperance, tel: (08) 9083 1555 and 1300 664 455.

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out https://www.visitesperance.com.

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