Cape Le Grand National Park

Cape Le Grand National Park is the closest National Park to the Western Australian town of Esperance, and is a must-see for visitors to the Eastern Goldfields region of WA and travellers across the Nullarbor Plain.

The park is popular for fishing, off-roading and hiking. Features of the park include incredible coastal scenery - a largely granite shoreline with crystal-clear turquoise water and white sandy beaches - surrounded by majestic granite peaks within expanses of heath.

Beaches within the Park include those at Lucky Bay, Rossiter Bay, Hellfire Bay, Le Grand Beach, and Thistle Cove. Lucky Bay is one of the most stunning and unique bays in Australia. The bay stretches for over five kilometres, offering a magnificent stretch of beach and sparkling clear blue water. The area is home to pygmy possums, bandicoots and kangaroos that like to laze on the pristine beach.

The islands and waters to the south of the park are known as the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve, another protected area of the Archipelago of the Recherche and nearby coastal regions. The equally picturesque Cape Arid National Park is located to the east.

The south-west section of the Park is dominated by rock outcrops of gneiss and granite. These form a distinctive chain of peaks including Mt. Le Grand (345 m), Frenchman Peak (262 m) and Mississippi Hill (180 m). Further inland, the park comprises mostly heath-covered sandplain, interspersed with swamps and pools of fresh water. The sandplains support dense stands of banksias.

Cape le Grand was named on 16 December 1792 by French explorer Bruni D'Entrecasteaux. He named the cape after after Ensign Jacques-Bertrand le Grand (1763-1798) (and later Lieutenant and Captain) of the 1791-1793 expedition vessel, L'Esperance, who bravely scaled the mast during a severe storm, guiding the two vessels Esperance and Recherche through the reefs safely into Esperance Bay.

The names of Lucky Bay and Rossiter Bay recall a memorable incident in Australia's exploration by its European settlers. It was at Lucky Bay that, during his exploratory expedition from east to west in 1841, explorer Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal assistant Wylie were saved from starvation when they accidentally came across English Captain Rossiter and crew of the French whaler Mississippi at Lucky Bay. Lieut. Matthew Flinders sheltered from a storm at Lucky Bay on 9 December 1801 and gave it its name for that reason, but doubtless Eyre would have deemed it lucky too.

Walking Trails

Coastal Trail: A 15km long hiking trail follows the coastline from Le Grand beach, passing through Hellfire Bay, Thistle Cove, Lucky Bay and ending at Rossiter Bay. The trail is well signposted and information boards along the way point out the significant flora, fauna and cultural features. Most people take 6-8 hours to complete the whole length, though less ambitious hikers may opt to take on just one of the four sections. Each section takes about 2-3 hours except for the short section from Thistle Cove to Lucky Bay which you can easily walk in 30mins. The two sections from Le Grand Beach to Thistle Cove are the most difficult as the headland necessitates negotiating varying inclines and descents. The other two sections from Thistle cove to Rossiter Bay are more easy going as the terrain is flatter and the Thistle Cove-Lucky bay section is easy and short enough to be suitable for children. The start or end point of each section is accessible by road, enabling you to have someone drop you off and pick you up and the other end.


Le Grand Heritage Trail: 1 km circuit, allow 40 minutes, easy. Starts from Thistle Cove car park along Coastal Trail to Lucky Bay.


Bird Sanctuary: 400 m return, allow 15 minutes, easy stroll from Rossiter Bay car park.


Climbing

Frenchman's Peak

2hr return, 30-45 mins up: A popular climb as it's not too hard to reach the 262m summit, though a reasonable amount of fitness and balance is needed to traverse the constant incline and scamper over obstructing boulders. Markers from the bottom show a general path to follow up the side with the gentler incline. The lower half is more or less flat (albeit with an upwards slant) but the upper reaches requires some scrambling around and over rocks. Strong winds may cause some difficulty and extra caution is needed in the rain as the moss covered surface gets very slippery. It's a good idea to take water, wear a hat and be prepared for changing weather conditions.

Frenchman's Peak summit view

Mount Le Grand

3hr return, 1 hr up: Slightly higher than Frenchmans Peak at 345m, but a far more challenging climb as there are not any defined paths to the summit. A pair of caves on the eastern side are worth exploring and, of course, the view from the top worth the climb. The most direct access is from Hellfire Bay.

Mississippi Hill

30 mins return: At 180m this one is a mere bump compared to the other peaks. The trail starts at the Lucky Bay campsite and winds its way up the very gentle hill and is pleasant walk in the evening.


Diving

The abundant marine life in the crystal clear waters and a few wrecks attract divers to the region, though the frigid waters and turbulent current of the southern ocean might deter the feint hearted.

Sanko Harvest wreck

Sanko Harvest wreck, (12km of south of Hellfire Bay). The second largest diveable wreck in the world and the largest on the Australian coast. The 33,000 tonne Japanese tanker hit a reef in 1991 and after spilling its cargo of fertilizer and deisel into the bay was declared unsalvagable and scuttled. The sunken 174m long ship has broken into 3 peices that lay at a depth of 13 to 44m. The hull is covered with kelp, anemones, sponges and sea tulips though it is still possible to access the ships bridge, engine room and the tower cranes. The site was declared a marine sanctuary in 1994 for its resident schools of blue groper, red snapper and the occasional seal or dolphin. The turbulent southern ocean and strong winds make it a dificult dive though around April is said to best time to dive as the winds are a little lighter.

Islands of the Recherche Archipelago

Numerous scraggly islands and small granite domes with their heads barely above water that are part of the Archipelago, lay within the park. Underwater granite walls, boulders, caves and reefs can be explored. The largest are Ram and Mondrain islands.


Camping

Two camping grounds are situated at Cape Le Grand National Park, one at Lucky Bay, and the other at Le Grand Beach (see map). Facilities include septic toilets and showers. A camping fee is charged. Firewood is scarce in the park and you should bring a portable gas stove.


Boat Launching

Boats are best launched at Lucky Bay. Small boats can also be launched from Cape Le Grand Beach. Launching at Rossiter Bay is not recommended. These beaches are notoriously treacherous for vehicles and it is easy to become bogged in the most innocent looking wet or dry sand. Ask the ranger about surface conditions and tides.


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How to get there

Cape Le Grand National Park is located 30 kilometres south east of Esperance. Esperance is located 740 kilometres south east of Perth, or 390 kilometres south of Kalgoorlie. Follow the road to Cape Le Grand National Park from Esperance via Fisheries Road. Seafarers can enter the park from the Southern Ocean. The park lacks jettys to dock at so you will have to drop anchor at a suitable spot offshore and make land fall on a smaller craft. Lucky Bay is the most popular sheltered water.

A fee of $11 per car is collected at both entrance gate. The ticket booths are generally staffed between 8AM and 4PM, but may close early or not be staffed at all during quiet periods. If ticket staff are not on duty you can still pay using the self service ticketing envelopes and deposit box at the rear of the ticket booth. The ticket is valid for the day of purchase but if you are camping and don't leave the park you only need to pay for the day you arrived. Make sure you keep the ticket displayed on your dashboard as park rangers sometimes do spot checks of vehicles inside the park. The entry fee can be avoided if you arrive on foot or from the ocean.


Highlights

Hellfire Bay

Perhaps named after the orange rocks that curve around the fingernail of white sand beach in the crook of the small bay. The booming ocean waves that crash into the headland peater out by the time they reach the shore. The surrounding bush is well stocked with showy Banksia trees and other wildflowers. An easy 40min walk loops up and along the headland from the carpark. Picnic shelter and gas barbecues are provided as well as a beach viewing area. Two unisex accessible toilets are provided.


Le Grand Beach

A wide stretch of flat white sand seems to stretch out forever from the granite headland. It may not have the dramatic beauty of the other bays but is does offer plenty of wide open space. The coastal hike starts here and even if you dont want to do the whole thing the first section to the top of the headland leads to a good site to look out into the islands. A camping area, toilets and a picnic area with a barbecue are provided. There are 15 campsites and a sheltered camper's kitchen with two picnic tables.


Lucky Bay

Lucky Bay, in Cape Le Grand National Park, is one of the most stunning and unique bays in Australia. It stretches for over five kilometres, offering a magnificent stretch of beach and sparkling clear blue water. Here, seaweed accumulates in deep spongy masses and provides the interesting spectacle of the local kangaroos descending to the beach of an evening to dine on fresh seaweed and afterwards laze around on the sand. Camping is available for large caravans, motorhomes, tents and swags. There is a camper's kitchen, picnic tables and barbecues. Picnic tables are partially shaded by trees.


Thistle Cove

A bay between two bulging headlands, named by Matthew Flinders after his ship's master, John Thistle, who safely brought HMS Investigator into the cove on 10 December 1802. Thistle drowned ten weeks later at Cape Catastrophe on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. A natural monolith next to the carpark makes a peculiar sound similar to an air-conditioner or electrical humming depending on the angle of the wind and your position. The rocky cove is scattered with boulders sculpted by wind and water into savage shapes. Behind it is a small sandy bay that has the force of the entire ocean concentrated into to a white capped tumult. Probably not the best spot for a swim. No toilet or shower facilities.


Rossiter Bay

Though not considered by many visitors to be as exciting or as dramatic as other bays in the Park, it is historically significant as the stretch of coast where explorer Edward Eyre and his Aboriginal companion Wylie were saved from near starvation in June 1841 by Captain Rossiter and the crew of the French whaling ship Mississippi. The bay and nearby Mississippi Hill were named by Eyre in honour of his saviours. Less notable accounts exist of whalers, sealers and pirates using the bays and isles for their trade over the past few hundred years.

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