Crystal clear waters and squeaky white sand. Cape Le Grand National Park on the south coast of WA is, quite simply, stunning. The Cape was named in 1792 by Admiral D’Entrecasteaux in honour of Le Grand, an ofﬁcer on one of the ships in his French expedition. Le Grand’s ship was called L’Esperance.
After a week of camping at Fanny Cove west of Esperance we made a morning dash through town and further east to this spectacular stretch of West Australian coast.
Having previously spent time camping around Esperance, Duke of Orleans and many other local spots, we relished the opportunity to camp in the national park; something we can’t do when travelling with The Dog.
According to all sources, you have to arrive super early, say 6am…, and get in the queue to secure a campsite at either Lucky Bay or Le Grand campgrounds. We decided to just try our luck. Despite the ‘no vacancies – campgrounds full’ signs at the turn off to Cape Le Grand, we ventured in. The gatehouse lady at the entry to the park advised there were only two sites available at Lucky Bay and she didn’t know about Le Grand. We paid our $11 entry fee and drove on in.
A scenic drive of about 15km takes you to the Lucky Bay turn off. We decided to head straight out to Le Grand beach and campground and try our luck there first. And we were just that – lucky! Despite being mid-morning, there was no queue and one vacant campsite. Quickly, we saw the camp ground host, secured the site and backed the camper in. During this time another 4wd had arrived and if it were not for old Matey-mate (on his 28th day in campsite #1, and feeling a sense of local ownership over the campground) they would have snavelled the spot from under us. Matey-mate told them to move it on as he had seen us drive in and talking to the host; he was certain that last spot would be ours.
Le Grand campground is fantastic. There are 15 sites scattered amongst the bush, right on the edge of the beach. Each site has varying degrees of shade and shelter and range in size from one tent and one car, to spaces that could accommodate two caravans or campers for a small group. There is a basic amenities block with flushing toilets and solar (read: sometimes warm) showers. A few little walkways lead to the beach with lovely views on the way over.
Our site was the closest to the amenities, which in any other caravan park would be a nightmare, but here it was just beaut. We had big bushes all around – no shade – but plenty of windbreaks, which we certainly needed over the coming days. The day we arrived was forecast to be 46 degrees and we’re pretty sure it came very close to that, right about the time we were setting up the camper – it was HOT HOT HOT. We did the bare minimum of setting up then headed via the beach for a leisurely 25km sand drive into Esperance to restock supplies and throw on a few loads of washing at the Laundromat.
Le Grand beach runs into Wylie Bay and the water is just magnificent. Aqua blue and so clear. We saw a group of dolphins surfing the waves and numerous 4wds spread out along the beach enjoying the cool water. That afternoon and evening we enjoyed numerous cool dips to escape the heat. Such a magic place.
Over the next ten days, we fished (and had a close encounter with a very large shark); swam; surfed; explored; weathered a spectacular lightning and thunder show; and generally lapped up the surrounds of this gorgeous place.
The storm came in on our second night at Le Grand. So typical of Esperance, the thunder started grumbling late in the afternoon and the air got steamy. We were around at Lucky Bay familiarizing ourselves with the general lay of the land and checking out the kangaroos on the beach – yes, this is just like the tourist brochure with the kangaroos happy to hop around the tourists and generally go about their business on the sand. It seems they look for food in the seaweed that washes up with the tides.
The closer the storm got, the louder the thunder, and the darker the skies. It was a combination of dark grey and a red setting sun illuminated by flashes of cracking lightning. On the way back to Le Grand we were treated to an amazing lightning show all around the top of Frenchman’s Peak as they clouds gathered momentum and weight.Two walich (eagles) from the inland flew down to Keppa Kurl (Esperance) and landed at Mandooboomup (Cape Le Grand). The mother walich made a nest and laid her eggs, while the father walich flew off to look for food at Stokes Inlet. A group of Aboriginal people camped near the mother walich. The parents told the children to stay in the camp with the elders while they went out hunting for food. Two children did not do as their parents asked and went off on walkabout. They came across the nest of the mother walich and stole her eggs, taking them back to their camp. When the mother walich saw her eggs were missing, she flew after the two children. Catching them, she picked them up and carried them to the sea and dropped them in. Every time the children tried to swim back to shore, the mother walich would pick them up and drop them in the sea again. Those two rocks offshore … they are the children. Look to the granite peak. That’s the mother walich watching the sea in case those children try to come back … … and the water seeping from the peak are the tears of the parents crying for their children. This is the Walich Dreaming story as told by Nyungar Aboriginal people. The granite peak of the story is Frenchman Peak. The Ngadju people to the north and east share this traditional story; however, there are slight variations in the telling between these two groups. In 1870, Alexander Forrest named the rock “Frenchman Peak” as he thought its shape resembled a Frenchman’s cap.
During the night there was rain – big fat rain – but not a lot of it. By morning, it had cleared and we had another incredible south coast day.
Around the next corner to the east from Le Grand Beach is Thistle Cove. With rocky headlands and dramatic drops to the white sandy beaches and clear blue water, the views of these bays are breathtaking. The cove is named after Matthew Flinders’ shipmaster, John Thistle who drowned here 1802. We walked the trail to Whistling Rock, a natural monolith that with sufficient wind (usually not a problem for Esperance) howls and hums.