In the planning stages of this trip back in Sydney, the Esperance region of Western Australia rated highly in our must see places to visit …and it didn’t disappoint.
We cruise out of Hopetoun about 8am and head for Esperance for 2 nights in the town to collect paper mail, and catch up once again on washing, supplies and good drinking water. However, Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid further to the south-east were what brought us down to this part of the Western Australian coastline.
After spending two nights in a somewhat forgettable run-down Esperance caravan park we managed to get everything done we wanted to do and looking forward to the 70kms (one of our shortest on our trip) around the main archipelego of Esperance (bay) to Cape Le Grand – see inset.
Cape Le Grand was one of the Esperance areas that were hard hit with bush fires about a month or so ago. We planned on staying at a small camp ground at Cape Le Grand Beach which is a NPaW run site by volunteering camp hosts – same way as Dales Gorge campground in Karijini NP is operated. Cape Le Grand has only 16 camp sites and cannot be booked. It’s operates on a “first come, first served basis” *if* there are sites available and this was a large concern to us as we were informed by the ladies at the Esperance visitors centre that some campers in recent days were arriving as early as 4:00am to get first inline and still missing a spot. To make matters even harder, the only other camp site in the Cape Le Grand National Park at Lucky Bay, was currently closed to camping due site expansion works until April 1. Subsequently, we had low hopes of getting a site and departed Esperance about 8:30am and started to make our way over after refuelling with diesel at a respectable $1.19 P/L.
Approximately 30 minutes south east of Esperance, we drove through large bushfire affected areas. It was quite shocking and amazing to see how hectares upon hectares of forests, within a few weeks of the devastating fire, are already starting to show signs of new growth and recovery. We also noticed in some parts the bitumen and a road sign had melted by the intense heat of the fire. We make out way to the park entrance – this one is manned at the gate- and were relieved to hear the campground should have a spot or two available. We arrive at the campground and decide to drive straight in. We could see a couple of vacant sites and seconds later were greated by two lovely smiling senior camp hosts, who proceeded to say 10 lovely words; “Welcome folks, how many nights would you like to stay”? (As a side note, back in Hopetoun a few days ago, we developed a strange van battery issue where we were repeatedly setting off the inhouse circuit breaker and the solar battery charger was not converting incoming solar like it usually does. We were lucky to get 4-5 Amp hours when we normally generate up to 30. Our in-house batteries level had dropped down to 66 percent of capacity as a result and the Cape Le Grand site has no power available – so were not sure how long we could stay without A/C or solar performing properly) “Three nights!” I blurt out, but wanting more. “No problem,” says Dot the camphorates, “done!” We were offered a choice of 3 vacant sites, we walk them all and decide on site 4 and then proceed to back the Kimberely into position and set her up for the stay. 25 mins later we were complete with the remaining 2 last sites already taken.
After lunch we head across to Lucky Bay (LB) approx 13 kms away to check out the pristine white sand beach and to see if any Kangaroos were there, which this magical beach is renowed for. (LB is open to day visits but no on-site camping). Sure enough, there were several. We head over to some and, naturally, they were only interested in handouts and you were quickly dismissed by them if nothing was forthcoming from your hands.
We looked further up the beach and could just see in the distance two other ‘roos – a mother with her young male joey, lounging on the beach. When we arrive, each of them were fast asleep (or pretended to be) so the boys slowly and quietly moved behind the joey so we could get a shot or two. It was a windy day, very glary with overcast skies but the light was very harsh. Whilst we took several images of the boys and joey, the mother didn’t budge an inch, perhaps resting easy in the safety of having seen it all before and was just another day? After a minute or two we leave them in peace and head back to the car then back across the park to camp. We stop at a few lookouts on the way including Hellfire and Little Hellfire beaches.
The following day the wind had picked up a notch and a few more clouds gathered around – we even had to out long sleeves on as it was chilly. We head over to Hellfire Beach to check out the gentle and azure waters of this fabulous, largely protected beach – what a spot this is. Over the course of our Cape Le Grand stay we come to this beach (and Little Hellfire) every day for a swim – a very chilly swim at ~17°deg.
That evening after dinner, the boys and I head out with torches to see what wildlife we could spot. It wasn’t ideal – the wind down these parts at this time of year often picks up in the evening and it had lightly rained a few hours before as well and there was no moon. However, we didn’t let this dampen our enthusiasm and get out – at least the mozzies wouldn’t bother us. First off, we see as we stepped out of the van a feral cat a couple of metres from our back door . A young thing which didn’t hang around. Soon after, the boys found several types of ground dwelling and flying beetles, including their current boys favourite, the sherman-tank looking giant weevil.
As we headed out of the campground we also spot a skinny fox pup dancing around the heath next to the 4WD entrance to Le Grand Beach and he was not concerned about what we were doing and continued with his hunt. We come back into the campground area after 30mins and Lochie then spots the best find of the night – the living fossil, a large Western Australian Sand Scorpion at about 12-15cm long.
The following day we conduct some regular van maintenance checks and I also take a closer look at our Lithium Battery situation. The day before, I had quickly performed a power reset on our solar controller and soon after simply forgot about it. When I remembered to re-check some hours later, we were now back to taking onboard between 21-29 amphours and our house-battery levels had risen back up over 90% capacity. By late morning the next day, the house was back to 100% so the reset must have remedied whatever the problem was. As a result, we happily extend our stay for another two nights – 5 nights in total.
Meanwhile, after a couple of days at the camp ground, we had come to notice the daily mass onset of back-packers from about 3pm onwards come into the campground. As it turned out, they would arrive from all over to use the national park’s only solar-powered showers. We were kind of cool with this traveller behaviour until one guy decided he would jump the waiting queue in front of Aidan as Lochie finished his shower. The not so young European person jumps from his already shower cubicle (there were only 2) straight into Aidan’s – why; because it had a better shower head. The boys tell me what happens and afterwards I pleasantly confront the guy as he walks back through the carpark wrapped in his towel. He was shocked I knew about it – denied it at first then admitted he did and was sorry – well sort of. He proceeded to mention he was only sorry because it was my son it happened to and I knew about it he says. Other words, if I was none-the-wiser then his sorriness would be essentially, nil. Oh boy, the period of self-entitlement and I’m alright jack and that other related stuff.
The largest mountain (more of a tall rock-monolith) in the middle of the park is Frenchmans Peak. A popular climb for the fit, can be dangerous when wet or windy due to mostly climbing on steep granite rock, and with magic views from the summit and 3 hours return.
It was an overcast day again but still quite warm so we pack our swimming gear for a swim afterwards and head out to the Frenchmans car park. There were 4 other cars with a 5th arriving as we did. We grab a camera or two, our water bottles and head out along the 1.5km trail head to the base of the steep climb. 45 minutes later we arrive on the summit and yes, the views were fantastic, but it was VERY windy up there. It was even hard to take a photo trying to keep your body steady and I was looking for some rock formation to prop myself against to arrest any camera movement. Where’s a six legged tripod when you need one 🙂
There was another family of 2o-somethings with their parents on the summit taking some rather risky “look at me shots” on one of the more precarious spots on the summit. Thankfully, all ended well …but did remind me of a funny scene by Will Ferrell out of the movie “Wedding Crashers”. (Can you guess which scene – please post a comment if you think you know?) 🙂
We also take a look at two caves just below the summit and wonder what it must have been like when this peak was part of the ocean. All the rock formations on the summit were highly weathered in shape, with scollops and hollows only formed with wave or wind action over thousands of years. Once cave had quite a lot of vegetation and you could even see on the cave walls that a bush fire has gone through the cave system at some point in the past.
On the way back down I give the boys a lesson on how to descend and tread carefully to avoid slipping and to how to look for and use the natural rock formations to gain safer foot purchase. So we all played follow the leader and everyone had to use the same footsteps as dad on the descent.
All went well with no slips, falls or truant excursions. We even had time to have a little fun climbing some of the summit’s steeper and more exciting sections. Once back down to the trail-head, we noticed a “beware of bees sign” (never seen this sign before anywhere) and I thought I would take a photo when we were immediately distracted by an inquisitive Sand Monitor digging on the trail. In the end, I forgot to take a photo of the bee warning sign.
Later that afternoon we head back across to Lucky Bay to see if we can get a better image of the kangaroos on the beach, before having a brisk dip at Hellfire. No such luck – not one Kangaroo on the beach we could see however there was one in the car park area and he was lazing in the scrub next to our car. Celia brought bribery stuff this time to lure them and it worked a treat – a natural muesli bar with no sugar (ahem). After 5 lovely minutes spent with the roo we set off back across the park to hellfire beach.
The following day we head back over to Lucky Beach for a third time to try our luck once again with the Kangaroos. Whist we saw a few more than the day before, it was a very windy day and the normally calm and sedate bay was looking quite rough with white caps all over. We rounded up a couple of roos, took some more photos, which the boys loved every minute of, and headed back across Hellfire beach for a daily swim and generally having some fun.
Over at Hellfire, the higher winds of the day (@40kms p/h) drove everyone away and we had the beach all to ourselves. The nice thing is Hellfire beach was protected at the south-eastern end and there was hardly any wind to worry about. Still, the water was beautiful but cold as ever.
The wind on the last day of our stay was proving difficult to do much on foot so we decided to drive along Cape Le Grand Beach. If you follow all the way heading north-west it will almost take you back into Esperance. We drove about 10kms before turning around, chased a lone Pied Oystercatcher for a photo (he was very shy once we got out of the car and was the only example we’ve seen on the trip so far) and saw a few bright red star fishes washed up on the beach that we took a couple of shots of.
All in all, Cape Le Grand National Park is a great park if you enjoy the outdoors. We were fortunate to get into the campground at Le Grand Beach when we did and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay and the camp ground hosts were very nice and accommodating. The boys and Celia especially loved the brisk and exciting swimming due to the water temperature of the southern ocean and the colours of the beaches are some of the most spectacular we’ve seen anywhere – including Whitehaven Beach in far north Queensland and Hyams beach near Jarvis Bay in NSW. From a photographic perspective, the conditions can be challenging here – especially when changing lenses, filters etc as the wind blows lots of dust particles and very fine-grained sand gets into everything. Regardless, the results are very satisfying and the activities, memories and smiles captured will no doubt last forever.