Three National Parks around Esperance..camping and walking

Tuesday, Jun 02, 2015 at 06:59

Member-Heather MG NSW

Cape le Grand is located East of Esperance, approximately an hours drive away, so spending the night before going there is a good opportunity to fill water tanks and stock up on supplies. Phone signal there is also intermittent and weak so I have informed family members as to our movements.
It is a very popular place to visit and stay, with camping sites in demand. We arrived in Cape Le Grand beach behind another van before 11am and were very lucky to get one of the two double sites which only just fits our vans. The sites are well screened by low dense shrubs and trees..paperbarks and others, and sheltered by dunes from the beach. Within a short time, all the other sites were taken and the campground hosts Linda and Harry put up the ‘full sign’ at the entrance. There is a camp kitchen, and amenities here housed in a brick building contain flushing toilets and solar heated showers. There’s also garbage collection. It’s amazing to find such great facilities for $13.20 per night for the two of us, and unbelievably cheap for such a beautiful location.
Generator hours are the same here as at Stokes Inlet and other Esperance area National Parks, between 8am and 1pm then again between 5 and 9pm. We will keep a careful eye on our battery level and solar input and try to avoid running ours apart from making coffee, as the weather is clear and sunny and we should be able to fully recharge batteries each day.
This is not our first visit to Cape Le Grand as when we first travelled to WA some 6 or more years ago John and I spent a couple of nights at the campground at Lucky Bay during the April school holidays. It was a bit of a shock to be packed in like sardines in the campground, which resembled a gravel car park, and we weren’t all that impressed, sandwiched between whizz bangs and Wicked campers. Also two years ago, when we stayed in Esperance for a few nights in a van park, John and I did a day drive out to the park in really terrible weather and endured howling wind and rain to do a couple of very short coastal walks but despite the weather it was still a most beautiful coastline, with the bluest of water and white sands, with rounded high headlands and rocks along the shoreline, between the bays.
My main reason for returning to the park was to do some walking and get some exercise, but also because Judy and Barry haven’t seen it and it surely must be one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world. Frenchman Peak summit presented a challenge to me, as on my last attempt, I became frozen with fear on the ‘gently sloping granite’.
On our first afternoon here this time, I was more adventurous and successfully climbed right to the summit, my efforts rewarded with breathtaking vista in every direction on a clear sunny day. Strong winds presented the greatest challenge, although my walking pole provided very helpful support both on the ascent and descents. The granite rocky surface is quite uneven with many small foot or heel shaped depressions and the marker poles which guide the way are helpful in finding the easiest way to the top. The steepest granite section which had presented the problem last time was still steep but I didn’t have any fears about it, and didn’t even worry about coming back down, which was most unusual for me!
I was surprised to see the size and scale of the big open cave close to the top and to be able to look through it to the coastline below, rather like Natures Window at Kalbarri National Park but on a much larger scale. Completing this walk made me feel exhilarated and re invigorated and took us an easy two hours right back to the campground. I had no muscles soreness afterwards and two days later still don’t have any.
On our second morning, I walked up the hill to the lookout over Cape le Grand beach and back to Esperance, on the clearest of blue sky days. There is phone reception up there so that is an extra motivator for even the most unfit people to do the short walk up the hill, as there is only a very weak, intermittent signal back in the campground.
John and I packed morning tea and drove to Lucky Bay after breakfast, walked the length of the beach there and then took the staircase towards Rossitor Bay a distance, which meandered through the heath covered sand dunes and past rounded rocky mounds to the coastline further east. We didn’t go all the way as it was a 2 hour each way walk from the staircase, and almost three from the car park, but we had some wonderful glimpses of the coastline, and frequent vistas back over Lucky Bay. Photos taken here are postcard perfect, and even the most amateurish of photographers would have to be happy with their efforts!
We returned to the van by midday and I had a couple of double long black decaf coffees to carry me through the day. Afterwards it was a quiet afternoon spent enjoying the campsite, chatting to other people staying or visiting, also to Judy and Barry (who took a drive to Lucky Bay and Thistle cove and were also gobsmacked by the beauty of the place), reading, preparing dinner and the other small chores which always have to be attended to. Judy and I took a stroll around the campground too, which earlier in the day had a few vacant sites but which was once again full overnight. We have used our own shower in order to leave the hot water for campers without showers in their rigs, and had them (showers) out of the way before John settled in at 6pm to watch 4 hours of Friday night Rugby league. I had a quiet evening, managing to upload my photos onto the laptop.
We haven’t had any problems with power so far this time, but have left the Satellite channel receiver box unplugged unless it’s being used. In the sunny weather we have had during the past couple of days the batteries have fully charged by 1pm. Thinking the days of cloudy weather across the Nullarbor, along with the VAST box drawing constant power when on standby were the main causes for our power woes at that time, and as soon as we noticed the level dropping we should have used the generator early on!
Sunday 17th
Yesterday was a cloudy day and colours in my photos refect the muted tones of the landscape whenJohn and I walked part of the track from Le grand beach to Hellfire Bay (3 hours hard walking one way). We left the van around 8am and walked for 75 minutes towards Hellfire bay, hoping that each time we arrived at the top of a bare rocky outcrop, marked with a white tipped pole, we would have views to the coast, and each time disappointed! The track was a mostly easy walk, apart from one narrow section which found its way down into and across a gully, and also crossed bare sloping large granite rocks with uneven surface resembling the climb up Frenchman Peak the other day.
We could hear voices carrying across the hills and on our return trip met three groups of army cadets in full camo gear and kitted out for a day walk between Le Grand Beach and Lucky Bay, they informed us. They were very friendly and well spoken and happy to speak with us, and later in the morning when Judy and I took a drive to Hellfire bay, I mentioned this to their supervisors who were lunching with them at the picnic area.
I was surprised at the variety of colourful red and orange tiny wildflowers in bloom along the track and, despite the very strong winds (the worst of the stay here) managed to get some reasonable photos of them on my phone.
We arrived back at the van by 10.30 and after a reviving coffee, the men set out to attempt to fish at Thistle Cove, while Judy and I took a drive together. We also pulled into the car park at thistle cove and walked part of the track between there and Lucky bay but it was very exposed and unpleasant in the wind, which was so strong that I had difficulty holding the camera or phone steady to take photos.
The cloud cover dulled the colours we had seen in previous days but the landscape is still spectacular, and Thistle cove is unique in that there are several large pillar like rocks marking the headland where the curved sloping granite boulders seem to fall into the ocean. We looked for our menfolk but couldn’t find them, and hoped they would heed the safety warnings about rock fishing in the vicinity.
Glad to be back in the shelter of her car, Judy and I drove the few kms so I could see Hellfire Bay again. I am certain that last time we drove to there on a very wet and cold day, when the ocean was pounding right to the sand dunes and it was a different place, but remembered the paved footpaths, great picnic facilities and toilets.
It was lunch time when we returned to the vans and after the mornings exercise I was more than ready for something to eat. Also had another double decaf coffee before 1pm while we could run the generator, but don’t know why I bothered adhering to the hours when the people across the way from us ran theirs for most of the afternoon.
I was happy to see that the cloudy day was adequate to bring our batteries right back up to full, and only ran the generator twice to make coffees. I had charged my laptop a couple of times and also the phone fully throughout the day too. It’s a mystery….maybe when the battery was removed and then put back in at Esperance, a wire or two was more firmly attached…it suddenly seems to be working more as we expected! We would have expercted that 4 hours of TV on Friday night would have caused more of a power drop than it did for starters but maybe its ok because they were already almost full.
The men returned about 2 pm with a few tiny fillets of tommy ruff but at least they had the opportunity to fish here. We had the usual drinks with Judy and Barry outdoors and the wind seemed to abate somewhat, although it was cool again. There is apparently worse weather on its way coming towards Esperance from the SW and we watched reports of damage to the West Coast on the news.

It has just begun raining lightly, as the day dawns. I looked out and happened to see a beautiful pink sky and took a photo on the phone from the open door, before it turned into grey. We are packing up and moving further to the east to Cape Arid National park this morning so hope it is only light as our journey will be over short section of dirt road.
Judy and I walked to the lookout yesterday afternoon and she was successful in booking a site beside us at Tulki beach campground for our 5 days stay in Cape Range National Park in late July. We will have had a lengthy break from one anothers’ company by then as they will be painting a daughters home in Perth for at least a month in June/July so it will be great to see one another again.
I have been thinking about the WA July school hols and where it will be best for us to be so as to avoid any crowds…Cape Keraudren will be in our plans, for five days or so as we have decided to go there before Cape Range so we will have to take our chances I guess and hope there is space for us somewhere which is not too busy in one of the camp areas there. Would also like to see Cleaverville beach and the places around Point Sampson as we missed them on our last trip. Will have to ask some questions on the forums online for advice.

Cape Arid National Park.
The Camping area at Thomas River has similar amenities to those at Stokes Inlet. Camp kitchens, complete with free gas BBQ and sinks with taps (signed boil before drinking) and toilets are constructed from stainless steel, corrugated iron and very heavy wood so as to withstand fire damage. The 15 sites are mostly large, level and have good gravel surface and each is screened and private, set into groves of the beautiful banksias and also grass trees. The trees provide some shelter from the strong winds. Some even have views of the beautiful beach and Thomas River. Garbage has to be carried out from here which is understandable as its 120 kms East of Esperance and quite remote. Cost is the same as for other WA National Parks, and for us $13.20 per night. Generator hours are also the same 8am to 1pm and 5 to 9 pm.
We left Le Grand Beach around 9am with grey, threatening cloudy skies and drove through showers as we headed east. The short gravel section of road which took us through to Fisheries road was quite corrugated and we had to crawl along part of it as the tyres are at usual road pressure. Tagon road which is however was a pleasant surprise and very good gravel road.
We arrived here before lunch and were set up, with all the shade cloth walls erected to try to protect us from the very strong, gusty winds which seem to blow relentlessly each day and night anywhere close to the coast! John had to have a couple of attempts to tie down the awning between gusts but eventually succeeded and it has shaken and rattled since.
So far we have paid for two nights so we can have a look around and see whether we wish to stay longer. The length of our stay depends on the weather partly and when we can do a couple of the walks, of which there are three.
The clouds dissipated somewhat on our first afternoon and we had periods of beautiful blue skies. I checked the solar controller and the input read over 14amps so everything appears to be working as it should.
After lunch John and Barry went on foot to see what the river and beach/rock fishing possibilities looked like and a while later Judy and I also went for a wander down the track to the beach. We had to pick our way across shallow water running out of the river to get access to the beach, but then returned so we could wander along the Tagon coastal track a way, around the headland to take photos of the coastline, so similar to Cape Le Grand with fine white sand and peacock blue seas.
John watched Sunday afternoon footy for a couple of hours and we didn’t need to run the generator to boost the batteries so I guess the solar was still putting in some amps despite clouds and the low angle of the sun.
Later in the afternoon after our hot showers, we sat around in the shelter of our awning until after dark and discussed our future travel plans with Judy and Barry, then retreated to our vans for dinner and some TV viewing. It is good to be able to keep up with world news, then watch an interesting program on ABC TV about animals and their acute senses which enable them to survive, despite the remote location.
I had intended to do some photo editing and blog writing on the laptop afterwards however felt too tired and read for a while instead.
It’s only a short walk to the other campground on the river, also managed by the national Parks but owned by council apparently. It has some excellent large flat sites which would fit two or multiple vehicles, each with fireplaces (fires permitted during the cooler months from May) and table and bench seats. There are toilets, a camp kitchen and garbage bins there. Only a couple of sites occupied, it seemed maybe a little more sheltered by the wind but pretty much the same as where we were, with banksias and paperbarks providing privacy. A short walk through the fence behind one of the sites revealed fresh toilet paper and faeces left by people who were too lazy to walk to the toilet or even dig a hole and bury it! Fees are the same as for here.
On our first full day here I decided to run the generator for a couple of hours during the morning because we woke to cloudy skies and showers. We have stayed away from power now for 4 nights and I don’t want the batteries to get too low. I needed to charge my camera and numerous other batteries…phones, toothbrush, (both on airplane mode), and so I could do the hard drive back up of the laptop and charge and run the laptop, edit pics and write this blog…make coffee. Whilst it is possible for me to charge everything using 12v chargers or our small inverter, I can’t use the Nespresso coffee maker obviously.
Have been thinking about how far my toleranc e of generators has swung around since our first days of caravanning! I can happily ignore the steady hum (roar ) of the Honda 2 even when it is sitting underneath our awning, as it is today because of the rain!
On our second day at Thomas River, John and I managed to do two walks and not get wet, despite frequent showers which came and went in a flash. During the morning we drove to the carpark and walked the Len Otte Nature walk which meandered through a variety of terrain, and vegetation. We saw it quite green in places with water trickling down the rocks which must be unusual, and spotted a few emus and roos, very unconcerned about human presence. At a couple of high points there were views back over to the coast and also inland and we were almost blown sideways by the force of the gusty wind.

Afterwards we drove past the Rangers residence to lookouts further along the coast at Dolphin cove and Little Tagon beach, the view obscured by heavy showers which blew almost horizontally when I foolishly got out of the car and attempted to take photos. John sat in the car and waited patiently each time, the engine running and heater on! I turned on my phone and discovered there was a signal, managing to retrieve emails and messages. It’s so surprising to find just where there is a Telstra phone signal..and also where there isn’t sometimes!
After lunch the weather improved and we seized the chance to do part of the Tagon coastal track, walking with beautiful views for most of the way as the markers hugged the stunning sloping granite rock slabs which fall into the ocean. At a bare rocky lookout on the top of a high point, the wind was incredibly strong and blew us sideways, so we turned back but it was a lovely walk with so many rewards even in a short distance. However we had barely managed to reach the van before it rained again!
John decided that the wind was so strong the awning should be retracted so everything outdoors was packed away. By now it had changed direction and was blowing from the South, and feeling as though it was coming straight from Antarctica!
Our dinner was leftovers from the freezer, re heated in the microwave thanks to the generator!
When we packed up and left the following morning, it was still raining and very windy and continued to be that way for most of the distance back to Esperance. The dirt road was beginning to get a bit sticky in patches but not at all rough. As we were leaving the park we saw a bustard who took off like a full cargo plane, indeed we almost hit him, and we fantasised about how he would have tasted cooked up in the camp oven had he become road kill!
As soon as I had reliable phone reception, I phoned the National Parks Esperance office to get some information on the roads into Peak Charles National Park as we had intended towing the van in and staying a couple of nights at the campground there. It’s one of the places I have had on my list to visit and twice previously we have driven past! I was advised not to take the van in on the 4WD road, especially as it had rained in the area, however it should be okay to drive in seeing we had a 4WD. We decided to use Salmon Gums caravan park as a base for a couple of nights instead. To have power for a couple of nights was quite appealing anyway given the bitter weather!
Back in Esperance, we stopped for diesel then at the dump point, emptied the toilet and filled the tanks with water before heading North on the Coolgardie Esperance road. Luckily, for the half an hour or so that it took, the showers stayed away, but as we drove they returned and for a while were quite heavy. At Salmon Gums we turned right, drove across the railway tracks, and were soon parked in the small Community Caravan Park. The wind was icy cold and it was freezing outdoors so I busied myself inside the van, my first job plugging in the fan heater and switching it on, while John got the outdoors gear sorted!
We stayed two nights in the little park which costs $15 per night. The water pressure there was so low it was barely a dribble so we were glad we had filled the tanks back in Esperance. I used our van shower which was a bit of a challenge, but the weather outdoors was so horrible I didn’t feel like venturing outdoors when we had the interior so warm! I managed to do one load of our dirty clothes in my machine but decided not to use the twin tub washer provided in the laundry ($5 a load) as I didn’t feel like wasting my afternoon doing washing! The park was very quiet with only one other van parked a distance away, until on the second night a huge fifth wheeler and F250 parked beside us and dwarfed our rig! At the present time there is a caretaker however she says that she will be gone within a week or so now the main tourist season has ended and the winter weather is starting to arrive. Usually the caretaker is local woman who ensures that the toilets and showers (one of each for men and women) are kept clean and the place tidy. The park also has garbage bins and in the laundry there are a few books which obviously have been left by other travellers however we have more than enough books on the kindles still to read so I didn’t even look at them.
I used the remainder of the day to hand knead and then bake a lovely loaf of sourdough rye bread (Laucke Breadmix is fantastic for when we are traveling). Having the heater going made the van warm enough for the dough to rise beautifully while we made a number of phone calls to family and friends to catch up on news. We did attempt to have a short walk around the town, t the wind was so cold that we soon returned to the van.
One the next morning, I prepared our morning tea and lunch and we set out to Peak Charles, a drive each way of 80 kms or more on the Kumarl Lake King road and then the Norseman Lake King road and finally the National Parks roads. I loved being on the dirt again, driving through the woodlands with the salmon gums and saltbush, and the red dirt and the mountain peak growing ever bigger as we got closer. We probably could have towed the van in, although in a few places squeezing through the trees where they grew close to the track and beneath branches may have been a problem and caused a few headaches. The surface was mostly quite good too, with minimal corrugations or rough patches.
Before we started the walk we drove through the campground for a look, and stopped to talk to a couple of men staying there in a camper trailer, who had been camped at Cape Arid. We would have found parking the van somewhere a bit of a challenge as the sites seemed quite small and more suited to small vans or camper trailers.
The picnic area was well set up with an undercover area with tables and bench seats and nearby a composting toilet. Large information boards provided interesting facts about the unique flora and fauna, and geological and indigenous and other history of the place. There were also some warnings about attempting the final part of the walk, such as being able to support and pull one’s body weight up the exposed bare rocks in a number of places, and I decided that I (we) would get as far as I could without putting myself (ourselves) in danger! I always visualise the news headlines ‘Elderly couple airlifted from mountain side’ at times like that!
We started up the walk in sunshine and found it most interesting, with small clumps of mostly orange (but some green) plant which dotted the rock platforms in the damper places. Because it had rained recently there were pools of water lying in the hollows and some moss growing and in places it resembled rockeries and was very pleasing to the eye. And as we climbed higher, we were rewarded with fine views over the salt lake and country beyond. One large rock had weathered into a huge mushroom shape, and was big enough to walk underneath.
In places the track was narrow and rocky, and more difficult than walking up the sloping granite on Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand National Park, however there were also similar large areas of gently sloping rough granite rocks at intervals, the hollows filled with the hardy orange plants. As we climbed higher there were great views.
We turned around at the end of the marked walking trail and retraced our steps back to the car where we had lunch before setting out for ‘home’. Back near the bottom we met the only other couple who were staying in the park at Salmon Gums, and spoke briefly with them.
I was very happy to finally see this small, much less visited place and could now tick it off my list! It was well worth the visit.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
Lifetime Member:My Profile  My Blog  Send Message
BlogID: 6502
Views: 9029

Comments & Reviews

Post a Comment
Blog Index

Sponsored Links