White sand and orange streaked granite at Thistle Cove.
Cape Le Grand National Park is in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia.
Cape Le Grand was established in 1966 and is now one of the most popular national parks in Western Australia.
The cape was named in honour of an officer on the French ship L'Esperance who climbed the tall ships mast during a storm to identify a safe place to wait it out in 1792. British explorer Matthew Flinders also dropped anchor in Lucky Bay in 1802. Rossiter Bay is named after the captain of the French Whaling ship Mississippi who saved explorer Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal companion Wylie from starvation after they had completed their famed crossing of the Nullarbor Plain in 1841. Less notable accounts exist of whalers, sealers and pirates using the bays and isles for their trade over the past few hundred years.
Flora and fauna
- Kangaroos can often be seen on the beach.
- Banksia trees
It can be bitterly cold, thrashed by the frigid Antarctic winds in the winter. Spring is a good time to visit as the sun brings out the wild flowers.
The main entrance to the park is around 50 km by road from Esperance. Take Fisheries Road, then turn off at Merivale Road and on to Cape Le Grand Road to the park entrance.
The second entrance at the Le Grand Beach campsite is accessed by driving 30km along the beach from Wylie Bay. A 4WD is essential and be sure to check tides as parts of the beach can be cut off by the rising tide. Numerous people have lost their cars to the sea.
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. Lucky Bay has been a popular sheltered water for centuries.
An fee of $11 per car is collected at each entrance gates. The ticket booths are generally staffed between 8AM and 4PM, but may close early or not be staffed 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 not required if you arrive on foot or from the ocean.
Sealed roads run through the park and to the main beaches.
Whistling rock at Thistle Cove
- Frenchman's peak - A 262 m high granite cone. No the highest but the gentle slopes make it the easiest to climb. A cave like arch over the hollow peak is worth exploring.
- Hellfire Bay - Possibly named after the orange rocks that curve around fingernail of white sand with booming ocean waves to each side. A little 40min walk loops from the carpark. BBQ, disabled accessible and regular toilets.
- Le Grand Beach - A wide stretch of flat white sand. The granite headland is good place to look out into the islands.
- Lucky Bay - A sweeping bay with a rocky headland on one side, half moon of white sand on the other and a camp site in the middle.
- Thistle Cove - A bay between two bulging headlands named after Matthew Flinders' ship master, John Thistle who drowned here 1802. A natural monolith 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.
- Boating - Boat ramps are located at Lucky Bay and Cape Le Grand beach.
- Climb Frenchman's peak - (2hr return, 30-45 mins up) The climb is not too hard but a reasonable amount of fitness and balance is needed. Markers give a general path to follow up the side with the most gentle incline. The first half is flat (albeit with a upwards slant) but the upper part requires some scrambling over rocks. The rocks can get slippery in the rain.
- Climb Mount Le Grand - Slighly higher than Frenchmans Peak but a far more challenging climb as there are not any defined paths to the summit. The eastern side has a few caves.
- Fish - A popular spot for locals.
A four section hiking trail follows 15km along the coastline from Cape Le Grand beach to Lucky Bay. The trail is well signposted and intermittent information boards explain the significant flora, fauna and cultural features of interest.
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, (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.
The closest shop in in Esperance.
Rainwater tanks and drinkable water taps can be found next to the campers kitchen at both camp sites.
Two prescribed camp sites are your only choice.
The nearest hotel is in Esperance.
Camping fees at both camp sites are $9 per adult per night.
- Luckybay campsite - On the bays under trees. Caravans sites and a fairly small area for tents. Rain water tanks, solar heated shower block and campers kitchen. This one is the most popular and fills up fast.
- Cape Le Grand Beach campsite - Fourteen spaced out caravan bays behind the sand dunes with a campers kitchen and clean ablution block. Sometimes it smells of the ocean - and not in a good way.
Camping rough elsewhere or in parking lots is not permitted.
- Esperance - The closest town of any description.