Window on Esperance

Esperance, Western Australia 

kangaroos on the beach, space wreckage, mermaid leather...and much more!

 

It is not a myth. Remote Lucky Bay beach, to the east of the coastal town of Esperance, really does have plenty of resident 'roos.

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Rated at Grade 5 difficulty, Cape Le Grande's imposing Frenchman's Peak attracts many climbers.

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Esperance's twenty-or-so beaches are not all east of town. Several western beaches offer other options.

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Western Australia is noted for its wealth of wildflowers. This trigger 'orchid' is waiting for an insect meal.

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Watch out for a first-hand account of this world-famous space station crash, later on this page.

The town is named for one of the early French ships, the Esperance (meaning 'hope'), that sheltered nearby in 1792. 

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Getting there...

Western Australia is remote enough, but Esperance, on the Southern Ocean is a long, LONG way from almost anywhere! 

The goid-mining town of Kalgoorlie is 400 kilometres north.

Perth (700 kilometres to the west) is the nearest major city.

To the east, the 1100-kilometre Nullarbor Plain separates Western Australia from the rest of the country. Even further on, in South Australia, Port Augusta is the first city in over 2000 kilometres.

To the south, it's next stop Antarctica!

This is called silo-art, and it sure brightens up the many huge wheat silos found throughout the wheatbelt. This one at Ravensthorpe, a two-hour drive west of Esperance, gave us a good excuse to stop and stretch our legs as we admired the artist's work. 

Decorated silos like this now appear all over the country. SEE MORE here...

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Finally we reach Esperance

From a nearby lookout, you can see that the small town of Esperance (population around 12,000) is ideally situated on heart-shaped Esperance Bay. Beyond, are farmlands raising wheat and sheep. Drive for about an hour to the east and you will reach Cape le Grand National Park with magnificent Lucky Bay beyond.

In the early days of British colonisation, there were many whaling stations along the southern coast of Western Australia.

The plaque (above) begins with the words Kepa Kurl, the local Aboriginal name for the area, a poetic meaning for 'the place where the waters lay down like a boomerang.'

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OK, let's visit Lucky Bay...we know you can't wait!

Lucky Bay is known mostly for its dazzling white sands, turquoise waters, and complacent kangaroos. 

It has been often rated the 'world's best beach' - or 'Australia's whitest beach' - and anyone who has visited it, agrees.

It's true - the kangaroos really are this friendly, and much more interested in foraging in the bushes, than fleeing from people.

Believe it or not, this dazzling white sand really squeaks like salt when you walk on it.

Being relatively remote, as beaches go, it is easy to feel as if you have discovered this pristine place yourself.

There is space for caravans and camping, available for a fee, located to the right of this picture. The area is close to the beach with solar showers, gas BBQs, toilets and shade shelters. You do need to bring your own water, but the seasonal Lucky Bean Cafe serves coffee!

Just a ten-minute drive west, many people enjoy the challenge of Frenchman's Peak, a two-hour-return climb, and well worth it for the spectacular views from the summit. That 'cap' at the top is a natural formation, but it does resemble a jaunty French beret.

The Cape le Grand National Park has much to offer: wildflowers, bandicoots, possums and kangaroos. This plant is a banksia, rich with nectar that is much appreciated by local birds, small animals and bees.

The noogar chittick shrub (Lambertia inermis) grows throughout sandy bush areas near swamps or flood plains.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is another plant altogether - yet the chittick's flowers simply curl up as blooming finishes, allowing insects a final taste of nectar. These bushes are also popular with honey-eating birds and tiny honey-possums.

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Explore the western beaches

Keeping up with energy needs, in 1993 Esperance erected Australia's first commercial Wind Farm, west of town near Ten Mile Lagoon.

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Blue Haven Beach

If you like a little mystery with your swim, this winding staircase will have you guessing (and gasping at the views) as you descend to the sheltered, pet-friendly beach.

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Twilight Beach

One of the furthest beaches west, Twilight Beach on Twilight Bay, is a ten minutes drive from the town and easy to access. Voted Most Popular Beach in WA is ideal for families and those who enjoy fishing. The western end of this beach, near the Surf Club, is said to be about the safest place to swim. 

 

Those huge wave-sculpted granite rocks make for great photographs too.

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West Beach

This long, scalloped beach has it all: surfing and lagoon-swimming, reefs and rips (beware the latter) and plenty of space for picnics and relaxing as you watch the sunset over the ocean.

The closest western beach to the town, just three kilometres from town, West Beach is easily accessible.

This beach is ideal for exercise, whether you want to stroll and paddle in the water, or get some real fitness in.

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That mermaid mystery 

If you like mermaids, visit this outlet. Then you can say that you have seen (or bought) something that was made using 'mermaid leather'.

Two innovative local men who found a way to use up skins that were being wasted by the fish processing industry, began this company.

Tanning fish skins was unheard of at the time. So, through extensive research and development over a four year period, Mermaid Leather finally achieved a strong, aesthetically appealing and soothing-to-touch quality fish leather that could be used in a variety of unique ways.

The company's showroom has a variety of 'mermaid' products, everything from key rings and bookmarks (great for souvenirs) to quality handbags and durable clothing, like these jeans (above).

Believe it or not, this stylish handbag is made from 'mermaid leather'.

Learn more....

(In case this bothers anyone: we are assured that NO mermaids were harmed in the making of these products!) 

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Linked with France

The small town, Saint-Martin-de-Re, on France's Ile-de-Re, half a world away, is twinned with Esperance. 

Without realising the connection, we visited the island years ago, following the fun history of their donkeys in pyjamas.

Read about it here... 

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Esperance - the town

Of course no coastal town should be without a good few cafes and restaurants. Esperance has many, and we particularly liked this one, Taylor Street Quarters, beachside and close to the main street. Relaxed and welcoming, it caters for everything from snacks to wines and upmarket dishes.

Esperance has something for everyone and families (and train-buffs!) love this place, also on Taylor Street and well located beside the Adventure Playground. Although it has tiny carriages, the mini steam engine is the real deal. The Esperance Miniature Railway operates on weekends and school holidays. 

Esperance's mechanical clock (that chimes every quarter-hour) and its eye-catching brick clock tower, overlook the miniature railway. The clock and castings, all made from bronze, were cast and machined in Esperance, and the clock tower is said to be the first mechanical four-face clock built in Australia for many years. Read more about it...

Like many remote country towns, Esperance is well able to offer a wide range of options for visitors, with plenty of shops, accommodation, and things to do. 

Find out more HERE...

Tours and charters to the nearby islands for sightseeing or fishing are of great interest to many visitors, and well worth the experience, especially during whale migrations.

Over the past decades, since Esperance was first settled by the Dempster brothers in 1860, the town has welcomed many visitors. This plaque remembers one of the first people to stumble upon these shores.

Of course Admiral Bruny did not actually 'discover' this lovely area. For many tens of thousands of years, the Esperance Nyungar Peoples have inhabited their ancestral lands, spanning over 30,000 square kilometres of south-western Australia.  

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Skylab crashes

In 1979 we were living in Esperance. Early that year, news reports told us that Skylab, the first US Space Station, launched on May 14, 1973, was in trouble and might crash somewhere on earth within a few months.

Call me crazy, but I had a feeling it would crash on us, and so I took special notice of reports.

On the evening of July 11th, 1979, when it was expected to finally fall to earth, I listened for hours to the radio at our home in Esperance. Very late, at almost midnight, a news report came through: "We have a report that Skylab has splashed down in the Southern Indian Ocean."

A little disappointed, I walked outside into our backyard and looked up at the dark sky. Suddenly there it was - absolutely silent and zooming through the air with a tail of fiery, flashing debris. I watched it for a second or two until it was out of sight, then shouted the news.

Seconds later, there was an enormous bang (which townsfolk would explain the next day as the space station crashing to earth), but which was in fact a sonic boom. The larger parts of Skylab went on much further, scattering space junk around Balladonia on the Eyre Highway.

Gordon immediately phoned the police in Perth to share the news, and then he spent much of the night awake, speaking to news outlets around the world. We were two of the 'lucky' few who witnessed Skylab's unforgetable death-throes.

For a small country town, it was a rare moment of fame, and locals spent many hours scouring beaches and bushland for space junk they could display. The local lad who found the first piece was flown to NASA and given a generous reward.

Over the next few years, the local museum accepted many pieces of Skylab, and now there is large area dedicated to many pieces that have been found near Esperance. Fortunately no one was injured in the event, and the only fatality (allegedly) was a cow in some distant paddock!

These pieces of insulation became quite common, no doubt because they would have broken away early in the space station's return to earth, and also because they probably floated in on the sea. We have some of our own and you will see those on the VIDEO as well.

Jokingly the local radio station demanded that the town be recompensed for the litter, and proof that it was received is also on display in the museum.

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Esperance - the town 

Andrew Street, Esperance's main street, may look 'small town' but it has almost everything shoppers need, and there are supermarkets, cafes and restaurants - and of course good local fish and chips!

The waterside's beautification in recent years has seen sculptures such as these added, and there are plans are in place for more additions to the bay frontage.

See what may be still in store...

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Tanker Jetty

Many years ago when we lived nearby, we would take our small children and dog for a walk on this jetty that opened in 1935. 

There's no chance of walking on it now. The jetty was closed to the public in 2015 because of instability, and, at the time, a decision was made to 'deconstruct parts of it' so that it could not be used.

Today, there is still conflict as to just what can be done with it. READ this for more information....

However, jetty or not, those islands remain fixed on the horizon, and the shore is still a good place from which to land some squid, herring, tuna, skippy or snook for dinner.

For history buffs, here is the Tanker Jetty story.

Finally, farewell Esperance. We will return!

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Heading north

Just when you think that Esperance has delivered every possible surprise, what do you find not far north of the town? Esperance Stonehenge! The only full size replica of the UK's original Stonehenge, looking much as the original would have around 1950BC. It consists of 137 stones of Esperance pink granite, quarried locally less than a kilometre from the site.

To match the local Solstices, on the morning of the Summer Solstice (21st or 22nd December) the sun's rays align with the Station Stones and shine through to the altar stone. The sunset of the Winter Solstice (21st June) repeats the same alignment in reverse. 

By the time we reach the small settlement of Gibson, we have left lovely Esperance 26 kilometres behind, and are well on the way to Kalgoorlie. The name of this hotel, licensed in 1896, is a bit of a teaser. Gibson Soak was named after Billy Gibson, who reportedly stumbled across the soak (a source of underground water) while searching for stock.

With a reliable source of water (needed for steam engines) and because of the proposal to construct a railway between Norseman and Esperance, a decision was made, around 1910, to establish a town here.

Further north, in the Mallee region, is the whistle-stop town of Grass Patch, also begun because of the Esperance to Norseman railway.

 


Gordon and Sally Hamond travelled independently on this trip, self-driving and staying in accommodation at their own expense. All opinions are their own.

Words and pictures: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

 
 

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