Overnight stays: Pink Lake Tourist Park, Esperance (2 nights); Lucky Bay Campground, Cape Le Grand National Park
Esperance and surrounds was one of the places we were most looking forward to visiting on the Wombatical. We had seen sensational photos and heard superfluous stories of the beauty of the beaches in this area, so were pretty excited this part of the trip had finally arrived.
Not before a big left turn not far out of Albany, following a last minute decision to visit Wave Rock.
When you look at Wave Rock on a map it looks miles from anywhere remotely interesting, which is why we ruled out a visit a week or so prior. It was a long way in and out just to see a rock. But my mind kept coming back to the fact that we backtracked 3,500km or so to see a big rock in The Red Centre of the NT, so a few hundred kms would be small change.
Rather than a standard in/out, we found a loop track getting us from where we were to Esperance without touching the same road twice; bonus.
The drive in was largely forgettable, with odd tiny towns appearing with as much promise as disappointment felt when the main streets are flooded with abandoned buildings and ‘For Sale’ signs, seemingly pre-dating Federation.
Wave Rock itself was a wonderful surprise. We had set our our expectations pretty low, as it is, after all, just a rock. But so is Uluru, and it blew our minds. Wave Rock towers about 15m high and over time has shaped into the perfect looking wave, shaped like a pro surfer’s wet dream.
It stands impressively, and as soon as we saw it we knew we’d made the right decision detouring. It provided the perfect opportunity for a few token photos, putting us as close to surfing a wave on this trip as we will get 🌊.
Our initial goal for the day was to make it Wave Rock. When we found ourselves leaving the rock around lunchtime our goal updated to somewhere on the highway between Wave Rock and Esperance. It surprised all of us when we rolled into Esperance that afternoon with daylight to spare, 696km down for a gnarly day 🤙🏼.
Pink lakes are shit. The Pink Lake at Esperance is even worse than that, it’s not even pink. When we pulled into the viewpoint we laughed as the sign read that the lake was at one point pink, but is now green. If only they knew it wouldn’t last, they probably would’ve renamed it, and not named an entire suburb after it 😮.
Esperance town is also not what we expected. We expected a beautiful vibrant holiday town, but instead found a soulless collection of quiet suburbs with shops that shut stupidly early, and buildings that haven’t been renovated since they were built about 40-50 years ago. The town needs some serious love.
To the west of the shanty town, the best part of Esperance is the scenic ocean drive, which is one of the best drives in existence, we reckon. Some of the beaches delivered exactly as we hoped they would, offering endless stretches of snow-white sand and crystal waters you could see through from space. 11 Mile Lagoon and Twilight Cove were our favourite spots, tempting us to dive in despite the clouds and cool air temp.
lThat’s the downside to these beaches – they’re look but don’t touch. Driving and admiring these beaches we compared to cliff driving – beautiful to look at, but you can’t interact.
By the end of the morning we were well and truly done, ready to settle in for an AFL Grand Final for the ages, and happy to move on, as it seemed the weather down here only rarely agrees with those wanting to rip out their budgie smugglers.
Cape Le Grand
To the west of Esperance we were just as excited about Cape Le Grand, also famed for some of the best beaches in the world. With a splatter of rain threatening, the Condingup Pub offered a nice but exorbitantly overpriced sanctuary from the weather, until the skies cleared and we were back on the road.
The publican strongly recommended Duke of Orleans and shooting down there eventuated as a great decision. Just on the other side of the bay we spent quite a chunk of time playing footy and swimming at Wharton Bay, another favourite of ours for the trip. On this day we figured we weren’t coming back so threw our look but don’t touch rule out the window, and jumped in for a delicious dip.
The campsite at Lucky Bay, inside Cape Le Grand National Park has to be one of the best in Australia. We pulled in and snagged a front row ticket next to the camphosts, with a view of the delectable bay’s pristine sands and sparkling water.
The rain was holding out so we walked the along the beach, kicking the footy and searching for kangaroos on the sand. It seems they, along with WA kids, were either on school holidays, or joined the Stromatolites on their great northern migration.
Whatever the case, we were over the moon that this sensational beach met and exceeded our expectations.
The following morning, with the weather consistently inconsistent, we agreed that one night would be enough, especially as the winds were picking up. We checked out the slightly impressive Hellfire Bay, Thistle Cove and Cape Le Grand beaches on the way out, admittedly looking their worst with the wind, clouds and white-caps.
But that’s the thing with the south of WA. The beaches are ridiculous, almost unbelievable. But the weather is too. We say bring on Cape Range any day of the week.