Tucked away in a crescent-shaped bay along the remote southern coast of Western Australia, Esperance – or Kepa Kurl, as it’s known to the Wudjari Nyungar people of the area – was once a sandgroper’s secret. But now it’s increasingly popular with interstate visitors too. It’s little wonder. Aside from its famous bubblegum-pink lake, eye-popping wildflower trails through a UNESCO-listed national park, and beaches voted some of the best in the country, the town’s offering has matured in recent years with excellent food and drink spots and stylish stays.
With a paddock-to-plate microbrewery, a bush-to-bottle distillery, and a charming chalet village, savvy locals are capturing the feel and flavours of the region – making the 1.5-hour plane ride from Perth, or epic road trip, all the more enticing.
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Whether you’re new in town or a third-generation fisher, you’ll want to gravitate towards the shore. It’s what Jane Coole did in 2017 when she opened Taylor St Quarters with her daughter, Sophie McMeikan, restoring the building that housed Esperance’s old hospital and former tearooms. The modern eatery, complete with decking and lawn areas overlooking the marina, transforms from a cafe and restaurant during the day to a buzzing cocktail bar and live music venue by night. McMeikan is a baker and her partner, Dean Wood, is TSQ’s executive chef, and together they’ve raised the bar for Esperance’s food scene. Expect snacks inspired by the area’s coastline and agricultural heritage, like tempura akoya oysters and chargrilled octopus, plus vegan burgers and karaage tofu bao buns. Pair them with a glass of riesling from the Great Southern or a south west chardonnay.
Also championing local is seafood restaurant Fish Face. Owner-operators Craig and Dahlia Adams change their menu daily, depending on what the boats bring in that morning and what vegetables are in season. With Covid-related staff shortages putting a halt on their dine-in service for now, the couple still do a roaring takeaway trade. Drop anchor here for battered nannygai or snapper and chips, Bass cod rillettes with Lithuanian-style garlic-rubbed herb bread, blue eye trevalla in Parisienne sauce, or marinated octopus.
Located among the historic buildings of Museum Village, newcomer Bistro Louis opened its doors earlier this month. The French-style cafe is run by co-owner and head chef Roger Poutet (formerly at Melbourne’s popular Bar Margaux) and there are plans underway to operate as a bistro in the evenings with dishes such as coq au vin and steak tartare. For now, though, Poutet – who received much of his culinary training from his Swiss-French father – is doing traditional brunch favourites like croque monsieur, freshly filled baguettes and house-baked madeleines and pastries.
The only thing better than Bread Local’s freshly baked sourdough is perhaps their lemon cheesecake cruffins. And banoffee galette. And jalapeno, cheese and mustard scrolls. Okay, it’s tough picking a favourite at this family-owned woodfired bakery four kilometres west of Esperance, nestled among gum trees. The kitchen is run by baker Tiffany Brown and open on Friday afternoons only.
If you’re looking to grab one of the aforementioned loaves in town – or any of Esperance’s quality goods for that matter – head to Bob & Jim’s General Store. Trading since 1973, this small, independent grocer is run by the granddaughter of the original owner and supports artisan Australian producers. Shop here for Yirri Grove’s olive oil, Kommunity Brew kombucha, and Holy Smoke pate and meats. Or opt for a seasonal hamper.
Long gone are the days when distance from the city meant going without good coffee. In fact, isolation has been a blessing for Glen and Mitsuko Rollond – the couple behind Cloud 11 Coffee & Tea. Roasting his own since 2017, Glen’s Upward Spiral blends have a solid local fanbase and are also attracting connoisseurs further afield. Stop into the cafe on Dempster Street to try it, along with a pastry or fancy toastie. It’s also where you’ll find Mitsuko’s own blend of chai, select teas and her handmade ceramics range, Mintblue Sea.
On the outskirts of town is award-winning microbrewery, Lucky Bay Brewing. Having grown up on farms in the Wheatbelt, owners Nigel Metz and Robyn Cail are the first in the country to produce their craft beer using raw barley, which they source from the area’s farming community. While their Sandy Hook Pale Ale (which also comes in a one-litre takeaway can) and Figure of 8 Island Ale are big on Esperance flavour, their range highlights other regions too – like their Beaches to Boab Blonde Ale that features Ord River Kimberley corn. Consume with live music and one of their woodfired pizzas in the brewery’s shed-style restaurant.
Launching at the end of 2020, Esperance Distillery Co might be the smallest distillery in the country (its 30-litre still produces only 50-bottle batches), but the father-and-son team behind the town’s first and only distillery is big on passion, highlighting the value of environmental conservation and capturing the taste of Esperance. David Price and James McCarthy-Price want to showcase the incredible floral diversity of the region (nearby Fitzgerald River National Park is a UNESCO-recognised biodiversity hotspot), combining local native botanicals like vanilla acacia and Esperance wax alongside traditional juniper to create their sublime selection of gins. Stop by the cellar door to try their award-winning Cut and Run gin and Blue Haven gin as well as their limited-release Eight Islands Vodka, which features ocean-foraged botanicals like sea kelp combined with mandarin and lemon peel.
Since returning from Sydney and opening Esperance Chalet Village in 2015, Fiona and Matt Shillington have upped Esperance’s accommodation game in a big way. Seriously stylish A-frame chalets and luxe king shacks and cabins dotted throughout their 3.2-hectare bushland property come with their own outdoor setting and fire pits. Inside, you’ll find white interiors, plush furniture, luxury linen by Bed Tonic, and bathroom products by Appelles Apothecary. The recently added Creek House – with its bespoke, intimate interior – hosts food events and yoga and wellness retreats. Outside, guests have access to complimentary bikes to ride into town and canoes to paddle up Bandy Creek, which winds alongside the village.
If you really want to escape, Woody Island Eco Tours offer day trips to the nature reserve of Woody Island, located 15 kilometres off Esperance’s coast. If you’re keen to kick back, soak up a bit of nature and enjoy island activities like bushwalking, snorkelling and fishing, they also offer luxury retreats in the form of furnished large-scale canvas tents with private balconies overlooking the sea – with the added lure of complimentary champagne on arrival.
From beaches with the whitest sand in the country – so pure and clean it squeaks – to bays of turquoise blue, and lakes and sunset skies the colour of fairy floss, there are multiple ways to enjoy Esperance’s colourful coast. Great Ocean Drive is a good way to introduce yourself to some of the area’s best beaches. Hire a car and make your way around the 40-kilometre loop, stopping at dramatic lookouts and local favourites like Blue Haven Beach and Twilight Cove. Lucky Bay is also not to be missed. Located in Cape Le Grand National Park, this crescent-shaped bay, with its resident mob of sunbathing kangaroos, ranks consistently as one of the world’s best beaches. Come spring, Cape Le Grand is bursting with colourful wildflowers. Or for serious spotters there’s the Esperance Wildflower Trail. Alternatively, take the Coastal Trail or hike up Frenchman Peak to combine a walk with stunning views.
To mingle with marine life, take a Scenic Wildlife Cruise with Esperance Island Cruises. Departing from Taylor Street Jetty, the half-day cruise that visits some of the 105 islands of the Recherche Archipelago gives you the chance to sight and snorkel with bottlenose dolphins, Australian sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, and maybe even a whale.
Or book a scenic flight over Lake Hillier on Middle Island. The Instagram-famous, bright pink lake, stretching 600 metres over the Recherche Archipelago’s biggest island, is considered one of the best examples of its kind in the country. With flight operator, Helispirit now partnering with Woody Island Eco Tours, you can combine it with a day visit to the nature reserve from October through to April.