Bays Beaches and Blooms
For travellers from the Eastern States heading for Perth, the usual route after crossing the Nullarbor is to turn north at Norseman and take the Great Eastern Highway. An alternative for those people without a deadline is to turn south for Esperance. This is a more scenic and relaxing route.
The southern shore of Western Australia, from Esperance to Albany, is a series of bays with magnificent beaches and spectacular national parks. Most have easy vehicular access, even with caravans in tow. A good time to visit is from June to October when they are virtually deserted. It might be winter, but the scenery is still stunning and there is little competition for the best camp sites. Without a host of noisy visitors to intimidate them, the native animals and birds are less shy.
Unless you have a desire to immerse yourself in the wet stuff to the south of the sand, warm clothes, waterproofs and stout boots are all that you need to keep the weather at bay. Binoculars and camera are recommended.
Visitors can enjoy a range of activities from bush or beach walking, bird watching, boating and fishing or just relaxing with a glass or two, enjoying the company of friends, taking in the great views of bay, beaches and blooms.
Fifty kilometres by sealed road to the east of Esperance, Cape Le Grande National Park is a logical starting point. A fifteen kilometres coastal walking track leads from Le Grande Beach and passes through a bird sanctuary to Rossiter Bay in the east. The walk is divided into four shorter sections so the less active are able to enjoy the scenery. Allow five hours hard walking to cover the two sections from Le Grand Beach to Thistle Cove. It is then less than an hour of easy walking to Lucky Bay. For the final section, from Lucky Bay to Rossiter Bay, allow two and a half hours, but the walking difficulty is classed as medium. Picnic facilities are provided at two vehicle access points along the track. Fit and energetic people who climb to the summit of Frenchman Peak will be rewarded with panoramic views. This is a three kilometres return trek of hard walking.
Le Grand Beach and Lucky Bay, have caravan and camping sites. Lucky Bay also has a boat ramp, but do not venture onto the beach with a vehicle. Wood fires are prohibited in the park, but free gas barbeques are provided at each picnic area. Tank water is available at the camping areas which also have solar heated showers, septic toilets and camp kitchens, but there is no power. Park entrance and camping fees apply.
Esperance was named after the French ship L'Esperance, which along with Recherché took shelter from a storm in 1792. A century later Esperance became an important port serving the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. These days tourism is the major industry with ample accommodation and a host of self drive and guided tours. From June to October whale watching is a popular attraction.
In the Port Authority Park, at the southern end of the Esplanade, visitors will find the grave of one of Australia's unsung explorers. It is set to the south in a grassy area amongst flowering shrubs. Tommy Windich was an Aboriginal who shared the hardships and depravations with John and Alexander Forrest as he guided them on three of their expeditions. After his death from pneumonia in 1876 the Forrest brothers erected the headstone on his grave to his memory.
Stokes National Park is eighty kilometres to the west from Esperance. The park has several campsites, but those by the beach at Skippy Rock and Fanny Cove are accessible only by 4WD. Two others, near the ranger's station on Stoke Inlet Road, are accessible by conventional vehicles with caravans. Simple bush toilets are provided, but there is no water or power. Entrance and camping fees apply. A five kilometres heritage walk has impressive views across the inlet with interpretive signs which provide background information about the area.
Eleven kilometres to the west of Stokes Inlet Road turn left and head south along Springdale Road. The road turns to run parallel with the coast, but about three kilometres inland, with beach access tracks at regular intervals. The Ravensthorpe Hopetoun Council has developed several camping areas to supplement the facilities in the National Parks. These have fireplaces, toilets and showers with boat ramps located at Starvation Boat Harbour and Masons Bay.
The facilities at Starvation Boat Harbour are larger than those at most of the other sites, but anyone launching a boat must have adequate charts. All the beaches are magnificent, but offshore rocks require careful navigation when approaching the ramps. From Starvation Boat Harbour, a dirt road runs along the coast to Mason Bay, Twelve Mile Beach, Five Mile Beach, Two Mile Beach and then to Hopetoun. This can be travelled in a few hours, but by taking advantage of the camping areas the council has provided a visit can extend for days.
Vistas of Showy Banksias, Chittick, Coastal Banjine, and numerous other blooms line the road.
Travellers can replenish their provisions at Hopetoun. Once an important port for the Phillips River Goldfield, the town now caters for tourists and is the eastern gateway to the Fitzgerald River National Park.
Almost two thousand plant species have been identified in the Fitzgerald River National Park so it is no surprise that the display of blooms continues. Many plants, such as the Royal Hakea and the Qualup Bell, are unique to the Fitzgerald River area. The park is more than plants and is home to mammals, reptiles, frogs and over 200 bird species. It is an internationally recognised Biosphere Reserve, part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program. It has been described as the most important Mediterranean ecosystem in the world.
Hamersley Inlet is accessible by conventional vehicles from Hopetoun, but drivers of 4WD vehicles can travel further west along Telegraph Track to a secluded beach at Quoin Head. From there a coastal footpath leads to Point Charles and Point Ann, where a whale watching platform has been established. This is a trek of more than thirty kilometres so is for experienced and well equipped bush walkers only. An unsealed road leads from the west of the park to the whale viewing platform and camp site at Point Ann and a 4WD track branches off this to another camp site at Point Charles. These allow walkers to arrange to be picked up at the end of their trek.
Of the six camping sites within the park, two are accessible by 4WD vehicles only. Caravan parks and other accommodation are located on the outskirts of the park within easy driving distance for day visits. Entrance and camping fees apply.
Bremer Bay on the western side of the park has all services and is the start of the Bremer Bay - Borden Road. This is another road set inland by a few kilometres, with side roads giving access to bays and beaches, some with council camping areas. The coast road joins the South Coast Highway near the Pallinup River and continues to Albany.
About twenty kilometres west of Pallinup River, Sandlewood Road leads to Cheyne Bay where there is another boat ramp and camping facilities. This should not be confused with Cheynes Beach which is at the end of Cheyne Road fifty kilometres further west. Close by is the eastern section of Waychinicup National Park with a camping area at the head of the Waychinicup River. The western and eastern sections of Waychinicup National Park are separated by Mount Many Peaks Reserve, but this is rarely accessible to the general public.
Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve and Gull Rock National park are the last parks before Albany. Both are accessible by conventional vehicles, but they are for day visitors only.
Albany has all facilities for travellers to replenish supplies and rectify any problems before continuing their journey. The new shopping complex, on the South Coast Highway to the east of the town, has ample parking and makes life easier for people towing caravans or driving large rigs.
Now it is decision time. Do you continue around the coast or take the Albany Highway north to Perth?
Three maps produced by the RAC (WA) are more than adequate. Buy them through the motoring organisation in your home state for about $2 each.
Bremer Bay - Hopetoun Region
Dept. of Conservation and Land management (CALM)
South Coast Regional office
120 Albany Highway
Albany, Western Australia 6330
08 9842 4500
Western Australian Visitor Centre
469 Wellington Street
Perth, Western Australia
Free call 1300 361 351
© Jim Ditchfield 2007