28 May 2014
Looking across the Don Mackenzie seaside park toward the busy port at Esperance
Again I awoke to the sound of rain today, so in no great hurry to get up. We were given a mud map of a suggested 40km Great Ocean Drive west of Esperance, so after a tasty breakfast at Dome Cafe we headed off along The Esplanade, the main road along the beach front. There are a number of cruises available and one that appealed to us was a half day cruise to Woody Island where we might see New Zealand Fur Seals, Australian Sea Lions, Cape Barren Geese, Common and Bottlenose Dolphins and White Breasted Sea Eagles. We left our contact numbers with the cruise company and were advised that the cruise was dependent both on the weather and having twelve passengers.
Before setting out on the drive we called in to the Taylor Street Jetty area which is opposite the loading port – it is a massive operation with huge grain silos, storage sheds and cranes. There were two ships being loaded and another waiting, and we saw the tugs, and the yachts in the adjoining marina. The rain had well and truly eased off by this time and after taking a few photos of that area, we drove behind the port to see these massive silos etc up close. As we were driving out of the facility (you can only get so close before the gates are closed), we passed three road trains arriving with their loads of grain and entering the port.
Looking west at picturesque West Beach
The aptly named Blue Haven Beach (left) with some of the islands of the Archipelago of the Recherche in the background and Salmon Beach (right)
Then we were off on our beach discovery tour, the first beach being West Beach, then Blue Haven Beach, Salmon Beach and Fourth Beach. The water was so blue (being a sunny day helped) and the sand was very white, very few people on the beaches so we had a nice unhurried look at the numerous vantage points and lookouts along the way. I’ll put as many photos as I can on today’s blog, and if you have a touch screen you can zoom in and get a much better idea of this beautiful area on the Southern Ocean.
Fourth Beach (left) and Observatory Point (right) with the islands in the background
Twilight Beach, named in 2006 as Australia’s best beach
Twilight Beach was named in 2006 as Australia’s best beach, and it is obvious why it was so named. Beautiful sweep of the white sand, aqua blue water, looks almost untouched and so peaceful – one could gaze at it forever! Once we reached Observatory Point we walked up the 76 steps to the viewing platform and had a wonderful view up and down the coast and the numerous islands of the Archipelago of the Recherche, there are supposed to be about 110 islands in all. There were a number of plaques along the way noting where explorers had visited (the French were very busy along the West Australian coast, as well as Tasmania where we visited last February), and of course there are numerous placed named after these explorers.
The rocky and dramatic Nine Mile Beach
Nine Mile was the last beautiful beach we visited before turning inland toward the Pink Lake which is not pink at all. Pink Lake (hasn’t been very pink for a while, but some say it’s slowly coming back!) gets its pink colour, and sometimes even purple, depending on weather conditions. The colour of Pink Lake is attributed to high concentrations of salt tolerant algae, Dunalella Sailina. This was first definitely established in 1980 after almost 200 years of conjecture. Confirmation came when Esperance Museum Curator prompted a W.A. University biologist to analyze lake water samples. These samples and others sent earlier confirmed Dunalella Sailina in the lake as well as Coccomonas Algae. The algae has been shown responsible for similar lake colourings in the U.S.A. The salt from Pink Lake is 99.9% pure used to be harvested for W.A. Salt Supply and sent to Fremantle for processing. It is however a very pretty lake, the clouds were moving in when we arrived, had the sun been out it probably would have looked much nicer
By the time we got back to town it was starting to rain again, but we decided to try to walk out on the old Tanker Jetty which (the sign said was open) was accessible despite the construction works along the waterfront. However as soon as we got out of the car the rain increased, so we decided to return to town for some lunch, and hopefully the rain would ease again – which it did.
We were very keen to travel east from Esperance, to Cape Le Grand National Park. It is about a 60 kilometre drive, but the rain had finished and the sun was shining so off we went. This pristine park is known for its stunning scenery and idyllic beaches where you can go swimming, bushwalking, fishing and camping. The landscape changes from massive granite outcrops to freshwater pools and unbelievably white sandy beaches with views over many islands.
In the south-west corner of the park, massive rock outcrops of granite and gneiss form an impressive chain of peaks including Mount Le Grand (345m), Frenchman Peak (262m) and Mississippi Hill (180m). They are the result of erosion and movements in the Earth’s crust over the past 600 million years. Caves and tunnels found in the peaks are thought to have been formed or enlarged by wave action and underwater currents during a period some 40 million years ago, when sea levels were at least 300 metres above their current level and the peaks were largely submerged.
The massive, jaw-dropping, Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand National Park with the arch in the top right hand corner
A party led by explorer and prominent colonist John Forrest passed through the area in 1870, in search of good country for pasture. During this expedition, Frenchman Peak was named by his brother, surveyor Alexander Forrest, because its shape was said to resemble a man wearing a Frenchman’s cap. The Aboriginal name for the peak was Mandooboornup.
The French were among the first to explore this coast, arriving in December 1792. An expedition under the command of Admiral Bruny D’Entrecasteaux had sailed east along the western south coast of New Holland. The expedition’s naturalist, Labillardiere, described the events that led to the naming of the southern cape:
‘L’Esperance was driving towards the land so rapidly that she was on the point of being stranded when Citizen Le Grand … went to the masthead in the very midst of the tempest and almost immediately came down, explaining with enthusiasm that the ship was out of danger! He then pointed out the anchoring place … This discovery saved both the ships [L’Esperance and Le Recherche] … We gave [the cape] … the name of Citizen Le Grand’.
Le Grand Beach was the first that we visited. It is in a large bay and open to the southern ocean and southerly winds that were whipping up the surf. The beach can also be accessed by 4WD vehicles along the beach from Wylie Bay 22 kms away. The wind was so strong and cold that we donned our spray jackets as soon as we got out of the car, and only stayed for as long as it took to photograph this wild and beautiful beach.
Mount le Grand with secluded caves and spectacular markings
After a short back track past the fabulous Mount le Grand with its mysterious looking caves and spectacular markings, we drove to Lucky Bay. The beauty of this beach is breathtaking as you turn the corner into the bay and see the white sands and aqua water spread out below. There is a camping area there, we saw a couple walking along the white sands but there seemed to be nobody else around. Lucky Bay is home to a colony of friendly kangaroos which are often seen soaking up the sun. We didn’t see any on the beach, but a few kangaroos hopped across the road in front of us as we drove down to the beach.
Thistle Cove between two bulging headlands and with the dramatic Whistling Rock was next on our discovery list. Captain Matthew Flinders sailed along the coast of Le Grand National Park in 1802. He named Thistle Cove which he thought was ‘a small but useful find’ after his ship master John Thistle, who discovered it, and drowned here in 1802. Whistling Rock, a natural monolith next to the carpark makes a peculiar sound similar to an air-conditioner or electrical humming depending on the angle of the wind and your position. The rocky cove is scattered with boulders sculpted by wind and water into savage shapes. Behind it is a small sandy bay that has the force of the entire ocean concentrated into a white capped tumult. With both wood and water here, Flinders thought it superior to Lucky Bay. As we arrived it started to sprinkle and the wind was becoming quite gusty. The rock formations are unbelievable, they must be millions of years old.
Thistle Cove (left) and (right) the amazing rocks overlooking Thistle Cove
Our last call was Hellfire Bay, the rain was still hanging about but we walked down close to the beach to see again the fabulous blue water and white sands, and the rock formations. The rain was now becoming more heavy, we decided that it was time to leave this wonderful area, where I was truly in awe of the beauty and drama that nature can provide for us to enjoy.
Under an overcast sky the sectacular Hellfire Bay
Just loved the dazzling beauty of the Cape Le Grand National Park, the massive ancient rocks (which I think make Uluru look a little small!) were magnificent, the caves and markings in the rocks were spectacular and being able to see so many islands of the Recherche Archipelago. was very special
It rained most of the way back to Esperance so we counted ourselves very fortunate to have had good weather and the opportunity to see all the wonderful beaches and scenery that we have seen today. After a rest we went to town to find somewhere for dinner, and came across The Loose Goose that was open (now that the season is coming to an end a number of the restaurants are not opening every night) and enjoyed a really nice meal – I had barramundi and prawns in filo pastry and Pete had pork loin, both with vegetables – could not resist the dessert either!
We had a call from the cruise operator that there weren’t enough people to run the cruise to Woody Island tomorrow, however there are plenty of other things to see and do around Esperance so we weren’t too disappointed.