Cape Le Grand, Western Australia
You don't really need a four wheel drive to take a tour of Cape Le Grand National Park in Western Australia. Virtually all of the Park's natural attractions can be seen by more conventional means.
Cape Le Grand National Park is situated about 50 kilometres from Esperance which is on the south coast. Esperance is the last town of any size before you hit the Nullabor Plain and head for South Australia. Esperance is a day's drive (or a two-hour flight) from Perth. Off the coast of Esperance is the Recherche Archipelago. The archipelago is made of around 100 islands, most of them untouched. It is often called the Bay of Isles. One of the islands, Woody Island, has a range of accommodation types for rent including safari huts, adventure huts, tents and camp sites. The environment is eco-friendly with a huge variety of birdlife and native flora. The Cape Barren goose can be seen on the shores of the island.
Explorers from the French ship l'Esperance are credited with making the first landing near the present townsite in 1792. This accounts for the many French names that have been given to sites in the area
There is a good sealed road that gets you to Cape Le Grand National Park half an hour after leaving Esperance. The Park is renowned for its white as white beaches and bluest of blue oceans. A favourite tourist postcard features a kangaroo lying on a snowy white beach. Around the coastline, rocky headlands separate secluded, wide, sandy beaches. There are also many freshwater swamps and pools.
Giant outcrops of granite and gneiss (banded rock similar to granite) punctuate the gently rolling sandplain country. The highest of these outcrops is Mount Le Grand at 353 metres. From the top of Mount Le Grand or Frenchman's Peak (286 metres), there are spectacular views over the islands. These peaks are good vantage points from June to October to watch migrating humpback and southern right whales (June to October).
Frenchman's Peak is a popular tourist spot and the top can be reached via a track from the car park up the east slope. Allow 1 ½ hours to walk the three kilometre return journey. The peak gets its name from a huge granite boulder that sits like a Frenchman's beret on top of the main rock. Sitting under the 'beret' is a good spot to have a drink and a rest before starting the return journey.
From September to November, wildflowers colour the area. Banksias, coastal heath, melaleucas and the whole gamut of eucalypts can be seen throughout the park. Kangaroos, pygmy honey possums and the southern bandicoot are quite common too not to mention a whole array of birds.
Marked walks traverse the coastal area. The Coastal Track has wonderful views and covers 15 kms running from Cape Le Grand Beach via Hellfire Bay to Rossiter Bay. One-hour sections are marked or you can tackle an eight-hour hike.
Cape Le Grand Beach and Lucky Bay both have camp sites with tank water, solar heated showers, barbecues and camp kitchens. However there is no power, no fuel and no shops. Fires are not permitted. There is an entrance fee to the Park itself and camping fees if you decide to stay. Picnic facilities are provided at Rossiter Bay and Hellfire Bay.
Swimming conditions are ideal at Lucky Bay which routinely wins the prize as one of Australia's best beaches. Squeaky sand leads to turquoise blue water. With five kilometers of beach there is plenty of room for you, fellow tourists and the local 'roos intent on getting a suntan. Boats can be launched off the beach by 4WD at both Cape le Grand Beach and Lucky Bay. In other areas, beach sand can be treacherous.
Photo opportunities abound with both Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay offering spectacular scenery. For divers, the wreck of the Sanko Harvest lies just 12.2 km off the Cape le Grand area and 8.1 nautical miles west-southwest of Hellfire Bay. The Sanko Harvest is Australia's largest diving wreck and the second largest in the world. The ship is 174 metres long and a Japanese-owned bulk carrier. It sank in February 1991. Commercial enterprises regularly organise dive tours out of Esperance. The wreck has now split into three and the sections sit in depths varying from 13 to 44 metres of water. In 1994, the area was declared a marine sanctuary. Large blue groper, soft corals, huge lobsters and red snapper can all be seen here.
Although visibility is always excellent in the southern waters, relentless winds and swells make diving a day-to-day proposition. Winds tend to be lighter around April and most dives takes place then.
Cape Le Grand National Park gives the traveller a driving experience that will be long remembered. The whitest beaches and bluest seas you are ever likely to see are here plus unspoilt natural regions and sensitively managed camping and control.