Solitary on a beach

Esperance in Australia is the place to be if you want to tune in to your internal clock, writes Sonia Nazareth

Lucky Bay. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

On our crowded planet, there’s something to be said for arriving at a place that has vast open spaces that you can relish alone. Esperance — a seven-hour drive or a short flight away from big city Perth, is currently a badly kept, but rather wonderful Western Australia secret. As the locals tell me with pride, this is one of the few places on earth where you can relish the experience of being solitary on a beach.

In pursuit of this ‘out of the way, out of the world’ feeling, I signed up for a four-wheel drive adventure (very popular to explore these rugged parts with) on an Esperance Eco Discovery Tour. The Cape Le Grande tour — just one of their offerings, involved 50 km of 4WD beach driving along Le Grande Beach, en route to Lucky Bay. If you’re a journey-over-destination traveller, you’ll appreciate the drive itself — sweeping heathlands, rugged coastal peaks, sandy beaches. Your driver will pause at sand dunes, at lakes with tannins, to point out indigenous plants, at the slightest prompt. There’s even the possibility of sandboarding down a dune, if you really want to get under the skin of things. Just keep your feet firmly on the board, as you shimmy down the dune, if you don’t want sand up every bodily orifice.

Lucky Bay is of course the prize to be savoured. Just when I thought I couldn’t appreciate anything more about a beach, we drove into this haiku of white sand, crystal clear water and Western Grey kangaroos sunning themselves on the sandy expanse, as if their life depended on the extra tan. The roo’s are very friendly, but they are strictly not to be fed. Admiration and some non-intrusive photography are acceptable behaviours around them. A 46-meter rock climb in the vehicle provides cries of exhilaration (and trepidation) and grand perspective over the scape.

The striking bubble-gum pink waters of Lake Hillier
The striking bubble-gum pink waters of Lake Hillier

Pink waters

If you can’t get enough of the sweeping views, try other ways into the landscape. Goldfields Air Services operates scenic flights. The pilot’s running commentary is the soundtrack to everything we see. She’ll let you know as you pass the Recherche Archipelago to arrive at Middle Island, that it holds the ruins of Australia’s rumoured pirate — Black Jack Anderson’s camp. That’s not however the only thing that got my pulse racing. The bubble-gum pink colour one sees at Lake Hillier is caused by the presence of the organism Dunaliella salina.

Back on solid ground, there’s always the possibility of a scenic cruise from Esperance’s Taylor Street Jetty. Punctuating Lovers’ Cove, West Beach and Blue Haven are a host of new friends to learn more about. Caspian Terns dance overhead. A Pacific Gull is making her bid for a spot of fish. Causing my camera to fire off enough images to garland a gallery are a sudden flurry of white-bellied sea eagles. In a cove close at hand, a Cormorant regards the excitement bemused. The other sea creatures in abundance were New Zealand fur seals and Australian sea lions, for whom home is the rocky outcrops upon which they perch.

Sea Lions are kept warm by a thick layer of blubber  underneath their skin.
Sea Lions are kept warm by a thick layer of blubber 
underneath their skin.

Fresh from the sea

Back in town later that afternoon, odes to the small scale were being revealed in every restaurant or store that one paused at, with the focus on local ingredients and craftsmanship. The fish at Taylor St Quarters for instance, was so fresh it could have popped from the ocean onto the plate. Mermaid Leather is a store that specialises in harvesting fish skin waste, legally sourced from commercially-managed fisheries, to create a variety of leather products. Here amid permutations of all things fishy — one can also find scales that have been tanned, dyed and dried — available here as craft material for hobbyists. In a town so focused on living purposefully, it comes as no surprise to see art galleries, mural walls and a good local museum — small in size, big in substance, on times past and present.

Blue Haven and the Eleven Mile Beach
Blue Haven and the Eleven Mile Beach.

On my last day in Esperance, I had the chance to head to Cape Le Grande National Park for a trek. The park’s rolling heartlands are home to pygmy possum and the western grey kangaroo. During wildflower season, the banksia — that already thrive abundantly here — become even more showy. The other option is to take the Great Ocean Coastal Drive, a 40-km self-drive along some of Esperance’s unique strip of coastline, pausing only to photograph tranquil bays and sprawling cliffs. Instead, however, I headed to Blue Haven and the Eleven Mile Beach for a few quiet strolls, photographing occasionally the unusual faces that the shapely rocks seemed to make at me. Savouring finally, the tranquility generated in the last few days and tuning my internal clock to the slow speeds of Esperance standard time.

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