Driving to Esperance Western Australia for breathtaking beaches and brilliant seafood should be high on your Australia bucket list because this wild and wonderful part of the southern coast is about as magic as places get. The Southern Ocean’s waters are pristine, the air is fresh, and everything just smells and tastes better.
Driving to Esperance Western Australia, one of the state’s most popular holiday destinations, is worth the journey no matter how far you have to drive. If you follow our southwest road trip itineraries and drive from Perth to the Margaret River wine region (and explore the Margaret River area), from Margaret River to Denmark, then Denmark to Albany, and finally from Albany to Ravensthorpe, then it’s an easy 188km run to Esperance the next day.
If you can’t bare to leave Albany and do the 480km Albany to Esperance road trip instead, then once you arrive in Esperance, check into your lodgings, stretch your legs with a stroll along the Norfolk Pine tree-lined esplanade, and go grab an espresso (‘short black’ in the Australian lingo) from a beachside coffee van or café. If you’ve been on the road all day doing the 696km drive from Perth to Albany then you’re going to need an icy cold beer or three and a nanna nap.
Once you’ve recovered, you’re going to be smitten by Esperance and nearby Cape Le Grand National Park and Cape Arid National Park, home to some of Western Australia’s most heavenly beaches, arguably the best in a country that boasts the world’s best beaches. If you thought you’d seen some spectacular stretches of sand on the previous drives, then expect to be gob-smacked by these beauties.
After driving to Esperance, you have a few options: if returning to Perth and on a tight schedule, backtrack to Ravensthorpe, take a right and drive northwest through the Wheatbelt, seeing Wave Rock en route; if you have all the time in the world, drive north to Norseman, stay overnight, then do the long haul east across the Nullarbor to Adelaide, South Australia, making stops on the way; or, after Norseman, continue north to discover the Goldfields towns of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Coolgardie, then drive through the Wheatbelt and Avon Valley back to Perth. After that, you could do a road trip along Western Australia’s northwest coast. But let’s introduce you to Esperance and its national parks first.
Driving to Esperance Western Australia for Breathtaking Beaches and Brilliant Seafood
Driving to Esperance Western Australia for breathtaking beaches and brilliant seafood is a must if you’re road tripping along the southern coast of the state. The popular holiday town is a laidback spot to spend anything from a few days to a week, feasting on fine seafood and exploring the nearby national parks, lazing on the beach with the local kangaroos.
Driving to Esperance from Ravensthorpe
If you did our Albany to Ravensthorpe road trip, then driving to Esperance from Ravensthorpe is a breeze. It’s an easy 180km which should take you around 2 hours and 20 minutes on the South Coast Highway. En route you could stretch your legs at the small town of Munglinup, 80km from Ravensthorpe and, if you have time, do the 30km drive to the coast to the stunning white sand beach of Munglinup, popular with surfers. On your approach to Esperance, about 8km before town, you’ll see the turn-off to Collier Road and Esperance’s famous Pink Lake on your right. Then it’s just a 10-minute drive to the centre.
There are few more rewarding places to end a long drive and rest for a few days than the relaxed seaside town of Esperance, a favourite summer holiday spot for many Western Australians.
The Noongar people’s Aboriginal name for Esperance is Kepa Kurl or ‘where the water lies like a boomerang’. Kepa means water and kurl is boomerang. Esperance has a long rich indigenous history and an indigenous tour to learn about the area’s Aboriginal history and culture is an absolute must.
Artefacts unearthed by archaeologists at ancient Aboriginal ceremonial places and camping sites throughout the nearby national parks date back many thousands of years. These include rock art, remains of fish traps and stone artefacts, including a backed blade used at the end of spear shafts some 5,000 years ago.
The area’s European history begins when a Dutch vessel passed through the archipelago off the coast of Esperance in 1627, however, it was actually two French ships, L’Esperance and Recherche, which sought shelter here from a storm in 1792 that mark European arrival in the area. It was Matthew Flinders who named nearby Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove, when he was mapping the coast in 1802.
Esperance operated as a supply port during the heyday of the region’s gold rush around 1895, when it flourished briefly. It prospered once again from farming soon after World War II, when it was found that an addition of missing trace elements to its salty soil made its earth fertile.
Museum Village and The Esplanade
Start exploring Esperance at Museum Village on Dempster Street where you’ll find the Esperance Visitor Centre, where you can rents bicycles and pick up information and maps and a Heritage Walk booklet explaining the history of Museum Village, a handful of heritage buildings that now host galleries, shops, a café, and the Museum Village Markets on Sundays. You’ll also find more info on the buildings in local publication Esperance Tide.
A block away, on James Street, Esperance Museum (open daily 1.30–4.30pm; entry fee) is situated in a former railway goods shed and has a fascinating collection of memorabilia charting the town’s history.
A must-do activity is a stroll along the Norfolk pine–lined esplanade to visit Sammy the Seal under the jetty, and join the locals who like to grab a take-away coffee from the Coffee Cat van in the jetty car park and take in the sunshine from the fold-up chairs provided on the lawn.
Things to Do In and Around Esperance
To get an appreciation of the diversity of Australia’s Aboriginal culture prior to and since colonisation, some time spent with Kepa Kurl, a locally owned and operated Aboriginal company, is essential. Their outstanding Eco-Cultural Discovery Tours by 4WD vehicle explore Esperance’s indigenous heritage and show you how the Noongar people have maintained their culture in and around Esperance.
With a Traditional Owner as a guide, you’ll learn about hunting and gathering techniques, hear dreamtime stories, view some of the most southern Aboriginal rock art, including Esperance’s very own ‘Wave Rock’, and (in season) taste bush foods, all the while being captivated by the pristine environment and nature you’re introduced to from an indigenous perspective.
Half-day tours include morning tea, billy tea, and damper with bush jam, while full-day tours include lunch and afternoon tea. They also have an Aboriginal Art Gallery and Gift Shop that are well worth browsing. Bonus: the tours will give you a break from driving if you’ve driven all the way from Perth, and if you don’t have a 4WD, this is an opportunity to get to places you couldn’t reach on your own.
Explore the Coast and Beaches
Esperance has a number of excellent walks and drives you can do from the town, and the visitor centre, above, has information and maps detailing these. The Kepwari Wetland Walk Trail (3.6km) is a five-minute drive from town and is lined with informative interpretative displays on the wetlands environment.
Rent a bike or drive the scenic 40km Great Ocean Drive loop west of Esperance, which takes you to the Rotary Lookout for coastal vistas, the dramatic wind farm, and picturesque Twilight Cove, a sheltered spot that is considered to be one of the most breathtaking beaches on the southern coast.
At Observation Point Lookout, there are sweeping views of the windswept coast, and just inland from here is Lake Hillier or the Pink Lake, which gets its vivid colour from the salt-tolerant algae, which is what also gives the sea its captivating aquamarine colour.
Gawk at Lake Hillier or The Pink Lake
While you can drive to Lake Hillier, better know as the Pink Lake, one of Esperance’s most popular sights, the best way to see it is from the sky on a scenic flight. Departing from Esperance Airport, a one-hour 40-minute flight will take you across Esperance Bay, past Frenchman’s Peak, and over the Cape Le Grand National Park for birds-eye views of the stunning sandy beach and turquoise waters of Lucky Bay, before flying over the Recherche Archipelago to Middle Island and the candy-pink Lake Hillier.
Go Wildlife Spotting and Bird Watching
The wildlife around Esperance is impressive. While the highlight for most visitors to Esperance is the chance to see kangaroos lazing on the beach at Lucky Bay at Cape Le Grand National Park, other species abound as well including honey-possums and bandicoots as well as many bird species and marine life.
Bird watchers should head to Esperance Lakes Nature Reserves where the significant wetlands host around 60 species of migratory waterbirds, with nine of these known to breed in the reserves. Cape Arid National Park is another important park for bird species, with more than 160 present, including rare and threatened species.
Esperance Cruises offer half-day scenic wildlife cruises departing from Taylor Street Jetty at 9am. They cruise along the Esperance foreshore, Lovers Cove, West Beach, and Blue Haven before heading out to approximately eight islands that are part of the Recherche Archipelago.
Regular sightings of marine life include New Zealand fur seals, Australian sea lions, Cape Barren geese, common and bottlenose dolphins, white-bellied sea eagles, and whales in season. There’s snorkelling gear available for those who want a dip in some of the world’s clearest water and a complimentary morning tea is included.
Do Some Fishing and Diving
You can join a fishing tour, charter the boat for fishing, take a diving tour, or complete a PADI diving course with Esperance Diving and Fishing (72 The Esplanade, Esperance). Full day fishing cruises include rods, reels, tackle, bait, and ice, along with a barbecue lunch. Your catch is gutted, gilled and kept on ice for you to take home.
Esperance is rated as one of Australia’s ten best diving locations with countless dive sites around the 140 islands of the Recherché Archipelago, where there are wrecks, large caves, and plenty of colourful soft and hard corals teeming with tiny vividly-coloured fish.
Cape Le Grand National Park
For many visitors to Esperance and Western Australia, a stay at Cape Le Grand National Park (if you don’t already have one, you can buy your WA national parks passes online), with its spectacular wild coastline, dazzling white-sandy beaches, and crystal-clear azure-coloured water, is the highlight of their trip.
Once you arrive at the park, your first stop will be scenic Le Grand Beach, which is worth the scramble for a look. Next, a turn-off on your right takes you to post-card perfect Hellfire Bay, which has a picturesque, tranquil, turquoise cove. Back on the main road, a turn-off to the left leads you to Frenchman’s Peak (262m), where you can park and take a hike to the summit which will take you an hour and offers spectacular views.
There is also a more challenging walk (3hrs) from here back to Le Grand Beach (which you can also do by 4WD from Wylie Bay at the end of Bandy Creek Road at low tide) and an easier walk (2hrs) east to Thistle Cove. Alternatively, you can simply drive on to Thistle Cove, which is where you’ll find the Western Australia’s most beguiling beach, Lucky Bay, which is famous for its kangaroos – that’s the shot you’ll see on almost every Western Australian tourism brochure.
Lucky Bay’s still aquamarine waters are a delightful spot for swimming, snorkelling and canoeing, and there is a small camping ground (fee) here, right next to the beach, with good facilities. Another 6km onward, Rossiter Bay is also yet another attractive beach with crystal clear waters, as is Orleans Bay, a further 42km, although no beach can compare after Lucky Bay.
This 15km (one way) Coastal Trail walking track along the beaches and headlands of the Cape Le Grand National Park takes 6-8 hours in total, however, can be broken up into four shorter walks, including Le Grand Beach to Hellfire Bay (2-3 hrs, hard); Hellfire Bay to Thistle Cove (2 hrs, hard); Thistle Cove to Lucky Bay (40 mins, easy); and Lucky Bay to Rossiter Bay (2-3 hrs, medium). The 1-km Le Grand Heritage Trail is an easy 40-minute walk. Pick up a brochure detailing the trails from the Esperance visitor centre.
Backtrack along Dunn Rock Road in the direction of Merivale Rd for 17.5km, turn right at Merivale Road and drive 8kms, then left at Orleans Bay Road for 7.4km, right at Fisheries Road for 68km.
Cape Arid National Park
Situated on the western edge of the Great Australian Bight, the remote Cape Arid National Park (you’ll need a national park pass; see link above) boasts even more breathtakingly beautiful white sandy beaches, however, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle to explore the park properly.
The rewards are the chance to spot southern right whales, which can be seen from here late winter to spring, when an abundance of wildflowers blanket the heath-covered headlands.
The park also boasts some excellent, easy walking trails, including the Len Otte Nature Trail (1km/1hr) with spectacular views over the park; Tagon Coastal Walk (7km return/4hrs) with more spectacular coastal views and the opportunity to see whales in season; Boolenup Walk (4km return/2hrs) which takes you to the brackish Lake Boolenup; and Mt Ragged Walk (3km return/3 hrs), a harder hike up to the top of Tower Peak, from where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic coastal vistas.
Make sure you take extra care when walking along this stretch of coastline, as there are unpredictable king waves which have been known to sweep people away from the exposed shores.
Where to Stay in Esperance
Esperance Clearwater Motel Apartments
The pick of Esperance’s accommodation in the centre of town, the family-owned Clearwater Motel Apartments were refurbished just before our last stay. Set across a number of different buildings, the 21 fully self-contained apartments include a range of lodgings to suit all sorts of travellers and budgets, from single and standard one-bedroom apartments, to two-bedroom apartments aimed at families, a newer luxury premium apartment, and – the pick of the bunch – the three-bedroom beach house, which has a sleek kitchen, big flat-screen TVs, and a deck with barbecue. 1A William Street, Esperance.
Esperance Chalet Village
Some of the most stylish lodgings in town, Esperance Chalet Village is located just out of town on Bandy Creek and looks like something out of an interior design magazine. The chic A-frame chalets, family shacks, cottages, and log cabins sport whitewashed interiors and a minimalist style warmed up with plush bedding, lamb’s wool throws and plenty of cushions. The large chalets have a balcony, kitchenette, lounge area, and barbecue, while the two-bedroom shacks, cottages and log cabin have full kitchens and outdoor fire pits. There’s self check-in, complimentary sparkling water, tea and coffee-making facilities, local home-baked treats, free Wifi, complimentary bikes, kayaks, and it’s just a 5-minute stroll to the beach. Frank Freeman Drive, Esperance.
Alexander Drive B&B
Guests love the self-contained lodgings at Alexander Drive B&B with private access, a kitchenette with a microwave and kettle, patio and barbecue facilities, as much as the friendly hosts, Brian and Jenny. There’s free WiFi, books and a DVD player with movies, but most of all they appreciate the well-stocked fridge with drinks, snacks and breakfast supplies.
The only real budget lodging in town, Esperance YHA has clean family, double and twin rooms, and dormitories, including female-only dorms with shared bathrooms. Some of the private rooms are snug, but there’s a spacious communal area with plenty of sofas and a pool table, complimentary bicycles, free private parking, a garden terrace with barbecues, and best of all, the beach is across the road.
Where to Eat and Drink in Esperance
Like most Australian towns, Esperance has some cosmopolitan dining, including Indian and Chinese restaurants and a Turkish bakery, along with a decent selection of bakeries, cafés, takeaways, ice-creameries, food trucks, and juice and coffee vans, the best of which is the Coffee Cat.
Fish Face Takeaway and Restaurant
Fish Face offers some of the finest Australian seafood on the coast, served up with creative flair, of a quality that belies this takeaway and eatery’s casual surroundings. Seafood and fish change depending on the season and availability, but expect delights such as pickled Esperance sardines with carrot salad and caraway seed bread; local pink snapper with pea puree, cauliflower and hollandaise gratin and potato mash; tiger prawns grilled with roast garlic, lemon zest and chilli butter; and grilled octopus with labneh and cucumber and Turkish bread. Check their specials board which they post to their Facebook page. Reservations essential if you’re eating in, especially during high season, otherwise you can order takeaway. BYO. 1 James Street, Esperance.
Taylor Street Quarters
Located in a lovely, light-filled weatherboard house with wide verandahs and water views, Taylor Street Quarters is a popular restaurant, café and bar with a lawn and where they host a popular Sunday Sesh. There’s live music, plenty of outdoor furniture, picnic rugs, and outstanding takeaway – sweet potato fries, empanadas, pork belly bao buns, fish tacos, chicken burgers, Buddha bowls, and the like – available from their food van. While the breakfasts are special and coffee is good, dinner is when they really shine: expect anything from an Esperance scallop ceviche cured in lime with apple, radish and chives to house-made pan fried gnocchi in sugo sauce with white beans, cherry toms, crispy kale and fresh parmesan. Beside Taylor Street Jetty, Esperance.
Loose Goose Bar and Restaurant
Loose Goose is a down-to-earth family-friendly restaurant and bar. Only Australian seafood and produce is used in the old-school dishes such as garlic prawns, baked local fish in a cream white sauce and cheese wrapped in filo pastry and rack of lamb with mash and mint sauce. Order the fresh oysters if they’re available and save room for dessert, which includes old-fashioned faves, such as warm apple crumble with cream, ice cream and custard. 9A Andrew St, Esperance.
Lucky Bay Brewing
Started by a couple of grain industry professionals who grew up on farms in the Wheatbelt region, the award-winning Lucky Bay Brewing Company is a micro brewery offering a dozen or so ‘paddock to pint’ craft beers produced from premium raw barley and wheat grown by local farmers. It’s environmentally friendly – no food miles and they use solar power and rainwater in production – and there are no preservatives. Try the Beaches to Boab Blonde Ale, brewed from Esperance barley and Ord River Kimberley corn in north Western Australia. They offer tasting paddles, pizzas, and brewery tours (book ahead). Open Thurs-Mon 11am-6pm and other times by appointment. 63 Bandy Creek Road, 8 kms east of Esperance.
Downtown Espresso Bar
The white-washed Downtown Espresso Bar is the fixed placed espresso stop to the Coffee Cat van we mentioned above. Not only do they offer superb specialty coffees, light meals and snacks, including toasties, daily baked pastries and gluten-free treats, but they also participate in a coffee mug exchange programme, which means if you don’t want to sip in you can take-out using their up-cycled donated coffee cups, which you can return later or drop off to any participating outlet across Australia. Also look out for their $1 batch brew top-ups of filtered coffee. Shop 1, 94 Dempster St, Esperance.
Cloud 11 Coffee + Tea
The heady aromas of freshly roasted coffee and just-ground chai spice emanate from plant-filled Cloud 11 Coffee + Tea café where small batch Upward Spiral coffee roaster Glen is responsible for the great coffee he roasts and sells, and his pottery artist wife Mitsuko crafts the handmade ceramics, which she also sells, as well as blending her own teas and chais. There are toasted sandwiches for lunch and baked goods and French pastries. Shop 13, 75-79 Dempster St, Esperance.
Where to Shop in Esperance
Bob and Jim’s General Store
Your one-stop-shop for beautiful fresh local produce from Esperance and beyond, Bob and Jim’s General Store is run by Anna, granddaughter of the Jim who started the grocery shop with his mate Bob back in 1973. Renting a holiday house or apartment in Esperance? Make this your first stop to stock the fridge and pantry with coffee by small batch roaster Upward Spiral, sourdough from Bread Local, pastured eggs from The Lucky Chickens, Yirri Grove’s olives and extra virgin olive oil, pure honey from Esperance Honey, pastries from Belgian bakers Papa Waffles, and regional grass-fed beef for the barbie from Pink Lake Butchers. If you’re arriving late night, you can order boxes of fresh local fruit and vegetables and seasonal hampers of cheese, charcuterie, dips, speciality foods, and chocolates/sweets which can be delivered to your accommodation.
Kepa Kurl Aboriginal Art Gallery and Gift Shop
Don’t miss the indigenous-owned Kepa Kurl Aboriginal Art Gallery and Gift Shop, located at the Museum Village in the original Old Court House dating to the late 1800s. You’ll find plenty of stunning art by local artists, along with handicrafts, edible souvenirs produced from indigenous ingredients, scented candles, accessories and scarves with indigenous prints, and greeting cards featuring works of art. The gallery provides certificates of authenticity and information on artists and artwork, can facilitate commissioned works of art, and arrange packaging, transport or shipping of art.
Also located at the Museum Village, this wonderful shop, Naturally Esperance stocks all kinds of eco-friendly stuff including bulk refill stations for natural skin/body care products and cleaning products and disinfectants, organic teas, 100% natural deoderants and lip balms, locally produced herbal extracts, homeopathic remedies and supplements from the ancient salt lakes of Western Australia’s desert, and plastic alternatives for cling wrap and freezer, zipper and rubbish bags made from sugarcane.
We’d love to hear from you if you find yourself driving to Esperance. Over the years we’ve driven the length and breadth of Western Australia (and a fair chunk of the rest of Australia) researching, writing and updating guidebooks. Things change, places close, new spots open. We’ll update drives when we can, but in the meantime please feel free to leave your feedback and tips in the comments below.
Book Tours and Activities in Esperance and The Surrounding Region