Esperance Cruise Port

Port of Esperance: An Overview

It's true, Esperance is long way from anywhere, a dot on the far south-eastern coastline of Western Australia, a state which itself is remote enough. So the ideal way to experience this place is to arrive by sea; after all, the first Europeans came that way.

A Dutch seaman was first, in 1627, and then, in 1792, while sheltering from a storm, Frenchman Bruni d'Entrecasteaux named it after his ship, Esperance, meaning 'hope'.

In the early days the bays of Esperance were thronged with whalers, sealers and pirates. Then came pastoralists with huge land leases, and miners seeking treasure from the goldfields around Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie to the north.

Today's town, with a population of around 10,000, welcomes visitors lured by the pristine salt-white beaches that lead into gemstone-blue waters. Whether you come with a swimsuit or an SLR camera, Esperance delivers jaw-dropping scenery and ultimate seclusion.

Other highlights include whale spotting and wildflowers in season, island tours, diving, fishing, and several national parks ideal for hiking. The local museum has pieces of the US space station, Skylab, which crashed nearby in 1979, making the small town world-famous for a short while. Plus, the town even has its very own Stonehenge.

Port Facilities

As this is a busy cargo port, there is a shuttle bus into the town where you'll find the tourist office, shops and cafes, ATMs and banks, car hire and other facilities.

Don't Miss

Esperance's roll call of local activities is so lengthy that you will need to choose carefully with the limited time you might have.

Water Sports: Known for its fantastic beaches, obviously water sports are numerous -- scuba-diving, beach, game or deep sea fishing, sea kayaking, sailing, sand boarding, snorkelling, canoeing, surfing, windsurfing, or just simply swimming in the crystal clear southern waters.

Land Adventures: On land there are 4WD beach safaris, indigenous cultural tours, eco-tours, off-road driving, abseiling, trail bike riding, birdwatching, cycling, and bushwalking.

Museum Park Period Village: It's worth wandering through. Close to the main street, it has a selection of historical buildings, shops, and an Aboriginal art gallery as well as the Tourist Centre and Museum which house pieces of Skylab, the US space station that broke up over this area in 1979. (Open daily from 1.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.; small entry fee for the museum)

Local Art: Pick up an Art Trail brochure from the Visitor Centre. This will lead you to artists working in a number of fields: textiles, fine arts, glass, pottery and photography. At the Cannery Arts Centre (Norseman Road, Esperance, +61 8 9072 1158; Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon. to Thurs. and Sat. ; 1 p..m. to 4 p.m. Sun.), children may create their own arts and crafts. The Innerspace studio has exhibitions and an artist in residence. There are also public sculptures along the foreshore walk.

Salt Lakes: A number of salt lakes are close to the town centre. Pink Lake really is pink, and its rosy waters are caused by the red algae living in it.

Cape Le Grand National Park: Cape Le Grand National Park is a 45-minute drive from Esperance and offers rugged scenery and stunning beachscapes. It is popular with hikers and those who enjoy recreational fishing or 4WD trips. With enough time, a 1.5 hour (3 km) hike to the top of Frenchman's Peak rewards with sweeping views of the area.

Tour Esperance Bay: The horizon of Esperance Bay is dotted with islands, and a half- or full-day island tour -- complete with sea birds, fur seals and sea lions -- with Esperance Island Cruises is worth doing if time allows. (72B The Esplanade, Esperance; +61 8 9071 5757; Office open (Winter) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. to Fri.; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sat. to Sun; (Summer) 8 a.m. to 5.pm. daily; tours daily depending on numbers and availability)

Helms Arboretum: Western Australia is noted for its wildflowers and this corner of the state has wonderful examples at Helms Arboretum, a huge reserve on the Coolgardie/Esperance Highway, 17 km north of Esperance near Gibson. Free entry.

Great Ocean Drive: Take the 38 km Great Ocean Drive (Tourist Loop) along the coastline and back to town. Highlights include Rotary Lookout, Twilight Beach, Observatory Point, the Wind Farm and Pink lake.

Cyclops Wave: The Cyclops wave, said to be the world's heaviest wave, can sometimes be seen near Esperance. Ask a local for the best place to witness it unloading massive amounts of water onto a shallow reef. Cyclops is featured in the surfing films "Billabong Odyssey," and the "Bra Boys" documentary.

Ten Mile Lagoon Wind Farm: Ten Mile Lagoon Wind Farm might not be a traditional tourist stop, but this is the first electrical wind farm in Australia, built as a research facility in 1987. These massive turbines, at Salmon Beach 19 km west of town, are very impressive.

Esperance Stonehenge: Esperance Stonehenge is an exact full-sized replica of the original Stonehenge found in England, and it's built from huge slabs of locally quarried pink granite. (Open Thursday to Monday from October to March from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; from April to September, the site is open from 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; +61 8 9075 9003)

Getting Around

By Shuttle: There is a free shuttle bus into the town from the port or tender jetty.

By Rental Car: Avis car hire (manual vehicles to 4WDs) is available on the Esplanade.

Beaches

The beaches of Esperance are the true stars of the show for visitors. Remote, uncluttered, with the whitest sand on earth, and clear and sparkling water a colour you may never see again, these are a must to include in your day's visit.

Twilight Beach: There are so many, but the good news is many are close enough to town for you to sample several. The Great Ocean Drive will deliver you to Twilight Beach (voted WA's most popular beach) seven kilometres from town. This is a good family beach, which is patrolled on summer weekends, and good for snorkelling, too. Toilets, parking and showers are available for public use.

Observatory Beach: Observatory Beach is about 10 km away. It's popular for surfing, wind and kite surfing, and boogie boarding. Toilets are available for public use.

Fourth Beach: Many surfers recommend Fourth Beach, too; it's popular for water sports and offers parking.

Ten Mile Lagoon Beach: Ten Mile Lagoon, adjacent to the beach of the same name, is a good family swimming spot. Note, however, that there is a designated spot for nude bathing about 200 metres down the beach from the lagoon. There is a small car park, toilets but no showers.

West Beach: West Beach, just 3 km from town, is a surfers' favourite. There are no facilities.

Blue Haven Beach: Don't overlook Blue Haven Beach, reached by a long flight of cliffside stairs. Descend to the beach for sheltered swimming, snorkelling and good fishing, or simply enjoy the view from the platform at the top. There are no facilities.

Food and Drink

Esperance is a seaside tourist town hosting families, so you will find all the regular takeaway and fast food chains. However, do try to enjoy some of the freshly caught local seafood or some good country cooking.

Because of the panorama across the bay to the archipelago of islands, many eateries take advantage of the views that are located toward the waterfront.

Local southern wild abalone is harvested and processed in the area, but it's not available on menus, as it all goes to export.

Taylors Beach Bar -Tearooms: This funkily restored 1930s' cottage is raved about for its great waters' edge position, as well as the casual atmosphere, friendly staff and 'pub prices'. Veranda tables are in hot demand, as you'd expect. Fish and chips are always a winner, but the pork belly is also popular. (Taylor Street Jetty, Taylor St., Esperance' +61 8 9071 4317; Open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday)

The Pier Hotel Bistro: Whether you try the veggie or fish burgers, steak sandwiches or schnitzels, lunch there is affordable and easy. You can order a beer or glass of wine and enjoy the great views over the bay while you eat. (The Esplanade, Esperance; +61 8 9071 1777; Open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Onshore Cafe: Locals love this place for the variety of salads, soups, open sandwiches and wraps. Fresh muffins appear every morning, and the coffee is delicious. In fact, everything is made on the premises, and plenty of it is gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan. (105 Dempster St., Esperance; +61 8 9071 7505; open for lunch Monday to Saturday)

Ollies Cafe Lounge: The hardest thing here is making a decision, as you are spoiled for choice. Five-spice calamari is hard to beat, or you can settle for a roasted pumpkin and soft fetta tart, or a luscious cake or two, temptingly displayed in the glass-fronted cabinet. (51A The Esplanade, Esperance; +61 8 9071 5268; open for lunch Monday to Saturday until 3 p.m.)

Coffee Cat: This bright red, beachside coffee van has many fans who adore the coffee. Little bites make this not exactly a lunch spot, but it's worth the stop. (1 the Esplanade, Tanker Jetty Headland, Esperance; +61 417 968 177; open for lunch Monday to Friday until 2 p.m.)

Where You're Docked

The Port of Esperance is a busy cargo port servicing the inland areas to the west and north. Iron ore, nickel, grain and other heavy materials are shipped from here and there can be space issues, in which case your ship will anchor and tender ashore. Free shuttle buses take you to the town centre.

Good to Know

Have fun noticing local car number plates. Every council area in Western Australia has its own prefix for cars registered in that region. In Esperance it is E.

Be careful collecting shells in shallow water or on the beach as they might contain live 'occupants'. The blue-ringed octopus is very dangerous. Not all beaches are patrolled or have flags so do watch out for 'rips' (strong currents) when there is a big swell.

Picking wildflowers is prohibited throughout the state. If bushwalking, be alert for snakes, wear a hat, and use sun-protection creams.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

ATMs and currency exchanges may be found throughout the town at banks and also in shopping centres as well as many hotels. Withdrawals will be in Australian currency, usually in $50 and $20 notes. For current currency conversion figures visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. US dollars are not accepted, but credit cards are generally welcome.

Language

English is spoken.

Shopping

Mermaid Leather (yes, you read that right) is made and crafted by the only commercial tannery in Australia specialising in quality fish leather. Colourful and creative, it is environmentally friendly, using what otherwise would be residual waste from the local fishing fleet. This is artisan work, so prices vary widely, from a sample pack of different kinds of fish leathers -- barramundi, shark, groper, snapper -- to dried and dyed fish scales, coasters, key chains, clothing and accessories.