Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

100. Esperance

Noel and Denise had said they would be staying at a caravan park called Croker's, but we had passed the Esperance Seafront Caravan Park on our way into town and it had looked so good that we were considering staying there. Karen read up about all the accommodation in the town and found that the Seafront also offered the best facilities and best rates, so that is where we went. We booked a week's stay.

Shortly after we had set up, we ran into John and Margaret whom we had met at Pemberton. They told us that Noel and Denise were also staying at the Seafront, and pointed out their caravan not too far away. We spoke to them a few minutes later. They told us they had been in Esperance for a couple of days, had seen all of the sights, and were currently tied to the caravan park telephone, expecting a call from "over east" about the impending birth of their second grandchild. They offered us the use of their 4WD Nissan Patrol for the afternoon. Karen and I were not too keen to climb back into the saddle, so we gladly accepted their offer.

Typical Esperance coastal scenery

We drove south-west out of Esperance along a scenic drive which hugs the coast and leads to the Ten Mile Lagoon Windfarm - a collection of wind-power generators which supplements the town electricity supply. The generators consist of a giant, three armed propeller mounted atop a tall column, their white finish looking magnificent against the deep blue Esperance sky. I love wind power generators, not only from an engineering viewpoint, but because they are virtually non-polluting, and far more environmentally friendly than all the conventional power generation methods - nuclear, coal and even hydro-electric.

The wind farm

The scenic drive was magnificent too. We stopped at every lookout and marvelled at the pristine water, the white sand beaches and the beautiful granite headlands and islands. The road was rarely flat or straight, a succession of hills leading from bay to bay. Karen and I were very grateful we were not riding.

We reluctantly returned the car to Noel and Denise, sharing yet another impromptu happy hour with them and some of their other caravan park acquaintances. With the approach of darkness Karen and I moved to an excellent, fully enclosed campers kitchen where I cooked our now traditional first day in town barbecue dinner. We celebrated our seven and seventeen thousand kilometre milestones and later showered away the sweat of our last one hundred and ninety two kilometres of cycling.

Noel and Denise invited us to their farewell breakfast the next morning. Denise was nursing a sore head. Her daughter Jodie had given birth to an eight pound baby boy named Ben the previous day, and Denise had celebrated with a bottle of champagne, all to herself. She and Noel were about to leave for Kalgoorlie, then cross the Nullarbor to spend the Xmas and New Year period in Victor Harbour, south of Adelaide. From there they were bound for Sydney, to stay in the caravan park at North Narrabeen, only a few kilometres from Karen's parent's place at Wheeler Heights. After that they were headed for retirement somewhere around Bribie Island in Queensland. They had no home to go to, but they had already joined the local golf club. Very interesting priorities, we thought.

We veged for the rest of the day, listlessly doing some essential maintenance and walking into town to buy some supplies. A visit to a small park near the port rewarded us with fantastic sightings of rock parrots, but that was about the most exciting thing that happened all day. We read newspapers and tourist information, we ate meals, we drank tea and coffee and wine, we slept. We were obviously suffering from the heavy riding of the past week.

Our lethargy was still with us the next morning. Cape Le Grand National Park looked fantastic in the tourist brochures, and it was less than a day's ride away, but neither Karen nor myself wanted to consider riding out to it, camping for a day or two, and riding back, like we had done with the Cape Range National Park from Exmouth. A half day tour to Cape Le Grand would cost us thirty eight dollars each, so I suggested that a hire car might be the way to go. Karen latched onto the idea like a limpet.

Three car rental agencies were located close together not far from the caravan park. Karen and I killed two birds with one stone by visiting each of the agencies on a birdwatching walk to some lakes north of town. The first one advertised cars for only twenty five dollars per day, but the minimum rental period was five days. They charged forty five dollars per day for shorter periods. This was still much cheaper than the seventy six we would pay for the half day tour, but unfortunately, all of their cars were unavailable until Monday. It was currently only Wednesday. The second agency had cars for sixty five dollars per day, and the next agency, Avis, wanted eighty nine dollars per day. We could not believe the escalation in price!

Karen and I considered our rental car options while we continued our walk. We dropped into the Esperance Meteorological Bureau to ask advice about wind speeds and directions across the Nullarbor, but the guy on duty was merely a weather recorder, and could give us no help with actual forecasting or history. The lakes were disappointing, although they did provide us with another semi-new bird. Yellow-rumped pardalotes had their own numbered entry in our field guide, but a footnote on the page indicated they were no longer considered to be a separate species, now being merely regarded as a race of the very familiar Spotted Pardalote.

I did not realise just how keen Karen was to hire a car until she took it upon herself to drop into the cheap car rental agency on our way back home. She was hoping that a car had been returned early in the couple of hours we had been birdwatching, or maybe they had a spare car that they had forgotten about. I thought she was clutching at straws. Karen waited until the rental car girl came back from lunch, only to be told that she would have to ring back later. We walked back to the caravan park and had lunch, then rather than pay for a telephone call, Karen walked back to the rental place to see what had developed. Again she was told to ring back later, sometime around four o'clock. This time Karen rang back, and her persistence paid off. They had a car for us, but only if we took the five day - one hundred and twenty five dollar option. We could pick it up at 4pm the next day.

We figured it was worth it. If we had taken the tour to Cape Le Grand, it would cost us seventy six dollars anyhow. By hiring the rental car, we would be able to do our own tour, and still have the use of a vehicle for four extra days for less than fifty dollars. In retrospect, this great desire to hire the car was one of the first indications that Karen was tiring of our cycle touring lifestyle. We had been on the road since mid April, almost eight months. The first cycling leg to Cairns had taken only four months, and the much longer leg to Darwin had taken five. With the benefit of hindsight, eight months seems to be Karen's limit when travelling. When she had backpacked around Europe in 1989, Karen was gone for eight months before homesickness had prompted her return, just prior to Xmas.

Karen and I filled the next morning with a self-guided history tour of Esperance. Unfortunately, most of the buildings described on the tour guide really were "history" - knocked down in the sixties to make way for more modern structures or moved to the Museum Park near the Tourist Bureau. We nevertheless followed the guide religiously, all the way to the Dempster House at the other end of town.


Kevin had forwarded some mail to the Esperance post office, so we dropped in to see if it had arrived. It hadn't, so we left, but just outside I suggested to Karen that we find out what time of day the mail arrives, just in case we missed it the next day by coming in too early. When we returned to the post office counter, the clerk asked us our names and I simply replied "Davis". He found our mail had actually arrived at the post office, but that it was addressed to "Mr and Mrs B. Davis." Karen had asked for mail addressed to "Karen Davis." It was not until later in the afternoon that we realised our missing mail in Margaret River might have suffered the same fate. We would ring up about it the following day.

Across the road we dropped in to Harvey World Travel. We had decided to ride to Norseman, catch a bus across the Nullarbor to Port Augusta, cycle back to Norseman, continue up to Kalgoorlie, catch the Indian-Pacific train back to Port Augusta and carry on cycling from there. The young guy behind the counter told us that there would be no charge for the bikes and no worries about packing them onto the bus either, as long as we followed the typed sheet of packing instructions he gave us. He also suggested that we would be better off buying a two thousand kilometre bus pass for one hundred and seventy six dollars each, rather than pay two hundred and twenty nine each for a ticket which was only valid from Norseman to Port Augusta. As it would save us over one hundred dollars, we followed his suggestion. It would turn out to be a fateful decision.

We booked seats on an eastbound Greyhound bus leaving the BP service station at Norseman in the evening seven days later. This would give us five days with the car in Esperance, and two days to ride the intervening two hundred kilometres. When I tried to pay for the tickets however, we discovered that my MasterCard was out of date and could not be used. Karen also had a MasterCard, but its magnetic strip had never worked properly, and besides, it was out of date too. Almost unbelievably, an envelope with Karen's new MasterCard was included in the mail we had just collected from the post office! Karen and I have always thought of ourselves as lucky, but we realised we were on a real streak. We had been lucky to find a hire car, we had been lucky to find our mail, we had been lucky the travel guy suggested the cheaper bus ticket and we were lucky Karen's MasterCard had arrived in the mail!

We picked up our little blue Festiva from the rental agency at the local Ford dealer and wasting no time, drove out to Lake Monjingup. Little wattlebirds were everywhere, but we saw nothing new. A small, dark wader did attract our attention, but it was too distant and the late afternoon was too gloomy for a positive identification. We drove back to the caravan park via Pink Lake, which was not living up to its name.

Karen and our hire car beside an Esperance lake

The next day was cool and overcast, so we postponed our trip to Cape Le Grand for a day when the weather was better. In the meantime we drove out to Bandy Creek Harbour and on to the Windabout Lakes, doing a bit of birdwatching and a bit of sightseeing. With few birds around, we concentrated more on the sightseeing, driving to the Lion's Club lookout on the north side of town. We skirted Lake Warden, drove past Pink Lake again - it was still not pink - and continued on follow the entire coastal scenic drive circuit, most of which we had done on our first afternoon in Esperance.

The wind power generators were still going strong, and the sun broke through the cloud cover often enough to make us wow all over again at the colours of the water and sand along the granite coast. We stopped at a phone box to ring the Margaret River post office about our lost mail.

"What is your name?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked.
"Davis," I answered. "D-A-V-I-S."
"It could be B, K, Brett, Karen or even Mr and Mrs," I said, not wanting to take any chances.
"Oh, yes. Here it is. Would you still like it sent to Albany?"
"Um, no thanks. We are well past there now. Could you send it to Port Augusta?"
"Okay. By the way, the redirection notice is now three days out of date, but we will forward the mail on at no extra charge."

How magnanimous! I had briefly considered having the package sent to Norseman, but the risk of another stuff-up was all too possible, so I had chosen a destination more further afield. Karen and I would probably be in Port Augusta in seven to ten days. Hopefully, so would our mail. We felt really good that we had finally located our mail. Our luck seemed to be continuing.

The Esperance Museum was next on our driving agenda. We each paid our three dollars, not expecting too much, but we were pleasantly surprised. Apart from the usual historical stuff like photographs and diaries and documents, there was a mass of old items, from butter churns to sewing machines to washing machines to radios. A train and carriage was housed inside the building as well, but the most impressive display, to my mind, was Skylab. The space station had fallen out of orbit and re-entered the atmosphere in 1979, with pieces large and small falling to Earth near Esperance. The display contained many of those pieces, plus stories from papers and magazines of the time. Although a sign warned against it, I could not helping reaching across the barrier to touch a piece of Skylab. Sometimes I am just a big kid. Most times, Karen would say.

We had packed our swimming costumes, anticipating a change in the weather for the better later in the day, but when we came out of the museum after a very well spent couple of hours we found only grey skies. We settled for a quick walk out to the end of the town jetty. The only other person about was an extremely embarrassed old lady who was walking her two dogs, one of whom was obviously very much in love with the other one, and did not mind demonstrating his affection.

Back at the caravan park we engaged in our usual evening activities, and after dinner made ourselves comfortable in the campers kitchen to do some reading. At one point Karen and I were examining a detailed map of the Antarctic which accompanied an article about people walking to the South Pole. I said to Karen that the Pole was actually at quite a high elevation, and pointed out the three thousand, thirty five hundred, and four thousand metre contour lines. Karen traced the lines back towards the coast and then asked an incredibly stupid question about the people in the expedition.

"What height did they start from?"
"It couldn't be from sea level, could it?" I asked in return. I have always wondered what it is like in the universe which Karen alone inhabits.

The following day dawned semi decent, weatherwise, so we headed for Cape Le Grand. Our first stop was Rossiter Bay. We walked along the beach to a rocky point via a so-called bird sanctuary. The only birds in residence were the common-as-muck Little Wattlebirds and New Holland honey-eaters. At the point, a nasty stink was traced to the rotting carcass of a small dolphin wedged between rocks. All in all it was a disappointing walk.

Lucky Bay was our second stop for the day. We explored the rocks on the headland and took a few photos of interesting formations and the beach. Thistle Cove was just a beach, and if there were any fires at Hellfire Bay they were well and truly doused by the downpour that hit us during a morning tea break.

Frenchman's Peak (note the cave on top)

Probably the most famous feature of Cape Le Grand National Park is Frenchman's Peak, a rounded massif two hundred and sixty two metres high which is crowned by a huge rock cap. The cap forms a gigantic, open cave which allows tourists to walk through the top of the mountain from one side to the other. Karen and I climbed to the top during a break in the weather. The views of the entire national park from the summit were outstanding.

The cave on Frenchman's Peak

We drove further on to the Duke of Orleans Bay, but this section of the trip was largely a waste of time. The scenery was similar to that of Esperance and Cape Le Grand, and the weather was pretty lousy. We passed through numerous showers as we drove back to town, and avoided an hour of wet weather by shopping for the supplies we would need when we left Esperance in two days time. Later in the evening we made even more use of the car, driving to a fish and chip shop to pick up some dinner, and eating it while parked above one of the beaches on the scenic drive.

Our last day in Esperance produced the best weather of our stay there. Karen and I drove to the beach at Twilight Cove where we walked around the headland before swimming in the crystal clear channel between the beach and the granite island just offshore. We lay on the beach for an hour to read, but our concentration was interrupted by a boisterous blue heeler pup whose ignorant owners had let run free. However I completely changed my opinion of the owners, a mining company worker and his wife, when they retrieved their dog, apologised to us, settled down on their towels nearby and engaged us in a pleasant conversation for an hour. My change of opinion had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the woman was Norwegian, young, tall, slim, blonde, tanned and wearing almost nothing!

I spent the afternoon watching a one day cricket match between Australia and New Zealand while Karen wrote postcards and did a final load of washing. After dinner we watched a Michael Palin travel show on South America, during which we learned that Cape Horn is not part of the mainland, but is actually situated on an island. I slotted that piece of trivia into a corner of my mind and settled back to watch the slightly less esoteric movie starring Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts which followed.

Tomorrow we would head north to Norseman, where a totally unexpected change of plan awaited us.

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