25 February 2017

Esperance and the Islands - pink lakes, white beaches, turquoise water, amazing animals

British navigator Matthew Flinders was exploring and sur­veying Australia’s southern coast on board the Investigator. He knew from other explorers that it would be dangerous to navigate through the island archipelago, but he took the risk in Jan 1802. Middle Island's pink lake was well discussed in Flinders' 1802 journals - he climbed Middle Island's highest peak, now called Flinders Peak, to survey the surrounding waters when he came across the lake.

The ship’s botanist and artists collected and documented the landscape, flora and fauna, ate Cape Barren geese, and collected water for the ship. Flinders sailed around the Bay of Isles, discov­ering and naming places such as Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove. After 3 days Investigator left and completed its circum­navig­ation of Australia. I bet Flinders had no idea that when he ditched two anchors on Middle Island waters in 1802, they would be found and recovered in 1973.

Whalers and sealers foll­owed on the mainland, as did pastoralists and miners, keen to exploit the free land, and cash in on the booming gold fields to the north.

An Esperance beachside hotel
lounge room and front deck

Esperance, c720 ks south-east of Perth on Western Australia's southern coastline, is an eight hour drive from the state’s capital city. This small town (pop 10,000), first settled in the 1870s, has become a dream holiday resort for the outdoorsy, sporty types. The local tourist office recommends horse riding, bike riding, fishing from the town jetty, scuba diving, whale-watching in season (the southern winter), wind surfing and 4WD drive tours. For the less sporty types, The Esperance Museum  displays material about the local history, including relics from pioneering families, shipwreck items, pieces of the US Sky Lab which fell to earth here in 1980, Aboriginal artefacts and antiques.

The most interesting Esperance holiday accommodation overlooks Esp­erance Bay and the Recherché Archipelago. The most interesting local industry is a specialist fish and shark leather tannery – the studio shows how hand bags, wallets and jewellery boxes are made from sea creatures.

 Lake Hellier, Middle Island

The ferry lands at Woody Island

The official Australian tourism website says that life becomes even more interesting if the tourist drives from Esperance west along Twilight Beach Road past West Beach, Chapman's Point, Blue Haven Beach, Salmon Beach, Fourth Beach and Twilight Beach. It is quite impressive to walk along the soft, white sands - the sand dunes, pushed to great heights by the Esperance Doctor Wind, rise 50+ metres high. Note also the granite cliffs and watch the ocean change colour from aquamarine near the shore to a deep blue out near the 105 islands of the Recherche Archipelago.

This is also the direction of Cape Le Grand National Park; Stokes National Park and Cape Arid National Park. Rotary Lookout is the best spot for panoramic views of Esperance, Esperance Bay, Pink Lake and the islands off the coast.

Since Middle Island and its hot-pink Lake Hellier are located in a pristine wilderness, the best way to view this lake was from the air. But visitors also liked to explore the islands and abundant wildlife of the Recherche Archipelago on a cruise from Esperance.

Now this beauti­ful but sleepy West Australian tourist area is riding high on a wave of publicity leading to new interest, including for me. Tourism Australia's huge new global marketing campaign, launched on Australia Day 2016, focused on the country's aquatic and coastal experiences. They were correct - research showed that 70% of international visitors targeted such experiences on their trips. The global news wire Agence France Presse included Lake Hillier on a list of five great Australian destinat­ions off the well-trodden tourist track!!

Middle Island, 125 ks from Esp­erance, sits in beautifully clear turquoise waters and is the longest (7 ks) of the islands that make up the Recherche Archipelago. Lake Hillier is a solidly strong pink-coloured lake on Middle Island! The lake is c600 ms long, and is surrounded by a rim of sand and dense woodland of paperbark and eucalyptus trees.

But Western Australia is home to a number of pink lakes. So the question remains: why is Lake Hillier SO pink? Scientists be­lieved the colour intensity was because a high salt content allowed the colour-causing micro-organism to flourish. The dye created by bacteria apparently lives in the salt crusts. Why the lake had such high salt content compared to paler-pink lakes remained uncertain.

Visitors to Middle Island should also inspect the early settler’s ruins and the camp ground belonging to Australia’s only recorded whaler-turned-pirate, Black Jack Anderson.  Alas he was murdered by his own crew!

Cape Grand National Park

Pink Lake is another pink lake set against a backdrop of some of Australia's most stunning coastal scenery, only 7ks from Esperance. The lake turns only a pale shade of pink due to the high concentrat­ion of algae in the water. But Pink Lake has something else to recommend it – it has been registered by Bird Life International because it supports significant numbers of native and migratory birds. The Department of Parks and Wildlife works hard to preserve the area’s history.

For those flying over Lake Hillier, the scenic flight follows the stunning coast out to Cape Le Grand National Park, Duke of Orleans and Cape Arid National Park. For those travelling on the ferry, tours start on the beautiful Esperance beaches, and spend a day sailing to Middle Island, then onto Woody Island and around the other islands. 

Photographers like to focus on the Cape Barron Geese, fur seals, island goats, dolphins, sea lions, cormorants, penguins and sea eagles; they will see kangaroos welcoming the ferries on the very white beach at Lucky Bay. Snorkellers enjoy following the underwater trail of plaques and small boat wrecks.

Map of WA
Note Esperance and the Recherche Archipelago on the south coast
Photo Credit: welt atlas.de 

Cape Arid National Park is on the mainland at the eastern end of the Recherche Archipelago; it is another highly regarded bird sanctuary, noted for its 160 species. And spot brush-tailed wallabies and honey possums are readily visible. Vegetation found within the park is mostly on young dune systems that have large areas of coastal heath with smaller systems of banksia, paperbark and mallee. Species of orchid and ferns exist near Mount Ragged.


Deb said...

The beach hotel is perfectly located. I know WA is very hot in summer, so when is the best time to go?

Andrew said...

I recently heard a filmmaker talking about the beauty of the southern coast of Western Australia. It seems both underrated and under visited, perhaps because, certainly for Esperance, is really off the beaten track. Lake Hellier looks amazing. Like the saying goes, don't eat the yellow snow, I think also don't drink the pink water applies.

Hels said...


It has a typical Mediterranean climate - hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Fortunately the coastal location makes Esperance less boiling hot than Perth in December-March inclusive. The beach hotels, looking out at the Southern Ocean, are perfectly located to start your coastal explorations. You can imagine yourself as Matthew Flinders!

Hels said...


agreed. I lived in Perth for two years (in the 1970s) and visited Bunbury, Busselton, Albany etc. But nobody ever recommended Recherche Archipelago, Flinders Peak, Lake Hellier or any other wonderland of natural history. Shame we are not as young and fit as we were *cough* 40+ years ago.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I just looked up more about Lake Hillier. What a fascinating place. Here in Taiwan we have a lake of milk-colored water, this time from sulphur deposits.

Hels said...


I love that you are familiar with a milk-coloured lake in Taiwan. Until I found Lake Hillier and Pink Lake both in Western Australian, the entire concept of strangely coloured waters was... a bit strange. Now I can confidently add places like Lake Retba in Senegal, Salt Ponds in San Francisco Bay, Lake Tuz Gola in Turkey etc etc.

Blogging rocks!

CherryPie said...

The pink lake is fascinating, I love it :-)

Hels said...

Cherry pie

Agreed totally.

My problem is that many people explore the same type of history, culture and landscape, over and over again. I, for example, have been in the heart of Paris, Berlin, Florence, Tel Aviv, York, Vienna etc many times. But the WA Archipelago seemed as foreign to me as Tibet or Chile.

This will change :)