In true rock-star style, your private plane awaits, as you step into a four-seater Cessna to go look at some water. But not just any old pond – your mid-air destination is the ridiculously pink Lake Hillier, off Western Australia’s south coast.
The massive lake is naturally coloured by algae, but it looks like someone spilled a strawberry milkshake across Middle Island, in the Recherche Archipelago. Inaccessible by car and too far by boat, this bright sight is seen on a 90-minute FlyEsperance scenic flight from the town of Esperance, 700 kilometres south-east of Perth.
Along the way, magnificent views of Cape Le Grand National Park appear below, from the greenery and granite peaks to the rolling turquoise waves of its five secluded beaches. We swoop over Lucky Bay as western grey kangaroos hop along the powdery sand that is claimed to be the whitest in Australia. It’s superfine enough to drive 4WD vehicles, launch boats and ride bikes along the shore. Hellfire Bay is more accurately heavenly, with fewer people and no cars on the narrow strip of sand, backed by grassy dunes. Thistle Cove has unusual sculpted rock formations, while Le Grand Beach is popular for surfing and diving, and Rossiter Bay is a native bird sanctuary.
When back on land, it’s worth the 50-minute drive from the airport to go hiking and swimming in this amazing national park. Rossiter Bay is the starting point for a two-hour walk to Lucky Bay or if you’re up for a challenge, take on the steep climb up Frenchman Peak (three kilometres return) or the Coastal Track (15 kilometres one way).
Closer to Esperance is the Great Ocean Way, a 12-kilometre walk from Esperance Bay to Twilight Beach, passing cafes, the town’s new jetty and the port. This wild and wonderful coastline should also be explored further by car, along the astonishingly beautiful Great Ocean Drive. The 38-kilometre circuit leads to more beaches, craggy cliffs and some eye-catching wind farms. Australia’s first commercial wind farm, at Salmon Beach, has a heritage trail through the decommissioned site to a lookout point. The new site, near Ten Mile Lagoon, hums with the eerie sound of the towering turbines at work.
To drink the essence of Esperance, head to the new micro-distillery – the smallest in Australia. Run by David Price and his son James McCarthy-Price, Esperance Distillery Co makes gin from home-grown local botanicals and rainwater. The keen surfers are passionate about environmental conservation, which underpins every step of the process, from foraging for ingredients to bottling and distribution. Open to the public, the cellar door offers spirit-blending workshops and free tastings.
Lucky Bay Brewing also collects rainwater and sources grains from neighbouring farmers to create authentically local craft beers. The indoor-outdoor space has live music and a wood-fire oven cranking out tasty snacks and pizzas. Tours of the brewery are available.
The only other pub in town is the Pier Hotel, on the Esplanade overlooking the water. Expect hearty meals, such as ribs, burgers and chicken parmy, as well as grilled Esperance octopus or pan-fried nannygai fish with chips. The cocktail bar has introduced the Astrazeneca, with a shot of rum, a jab of Aperol and a healthy dose of passionfruit.
The Taylor Street Quarters restaurant is set in a gorgeous old building, a former hospital south of Perth, which was dismantled and sent by boat to be rebuilt as Esperance Hospital in 1931. It was relocated to its waterside location off the Esplanade to become tearooms in the 1980s. The revamped, family-owned restaurant serves contemporary Australian cuisine with a focus on fresh regional produce such as Shark Bay scallops, lamb shoulder and crispy barramundi in green curry sauce.
Museum Village Markets, one street back from the Esperance Foreshore, operates every second Sunday. Relax on the green, listening to buskers, or chat with the stallholders selling food, coffee, antiques and craft items. Every second Saturday, the Esperance Growers Market is also manned by the makers, who often pick their crops the night before. Stock up on fresh fruit, honey or baked goods for breakfast.
The cutest accommodation, a few minutes out of town, is Esperance Chalet Village. Choose from family-friendly cottages, romantic log cabins or A-frame studios with teepee vibes. There’s no reception so just check in via a code and help yourself to the kayaks and bikes to explore the creek, horse paddock and spacious grounds, which are also equipped with fire pits. Situated away from any artificial lighting, the night sky is perfect for stargazing before bed in this especially easy, breezy Esperance location.
Take me there
Drive: Esperance is an eight-hour drive from Perth or 4.5 hours from Albany.
Fly: Rex flies from Perth to Esperance up to three times daily, from about $275 return.
Scenic flights: FlyEsperance’s tour to Lake Hillier costs $425 per adult, $360 per child.
Stay: Esperance Chalet Village has self-contained studios priced from $200 per night.
Explore more: westernaustralia.com