A slow, careful, 360-degree rotation confirmed my fears: I had missed a trail marker. The rock beneath my feet had become dangerously steep and I was surrounded by nothing but low-lying scrub.
I shouted for Jared, but my voice disappeared into the howling wind. The gusts were so powerful that my hair stood on end and my jacket puffed behind me like a sail, threatening to launch me off the edge.
I was nearly 260 meters high on Frenchman Peak, and Western Australia’s Cape Le Grand National Park stretched out in every direction. As impressive as it was, I decided that the best approach was to go back the way I’d come.
My white-faced husband was just past the trail marker I’d missed.
“I was starting to think you’d fallen off,” he said.
Western Australia is just the kind of place where a tourist could easily go tumbling from a mountainside; it’s wild and unsupervised, so you need to keep your wits about you. This is often easier said than done, because the scenery is so spectacular that I was constantly losing myself in my surroundings.
Cape Le Grand National Park
Cape Le Grand National Park is a 45-minute drive from Esperance, which itself is an eight-hour drive from Perth. Esperance is part of Australia’s Golden Outback, a region making up 54 percent of the entire state. It takes time to get there, but the beaches in the area have been voted among the best in the entire country.
After my near-miss on Frenchman Peak, we returned to solid ground and got our bearings at Hellfire Bay, a spot that is so spectacular I think the name was designed to keep it a secret. Smooth rocks decorated with orange lichen curve into the clear blue Indian Ocean, and it’s all fringed by blinding white sand.
From there it’s a short drive to Lucky Bay, where visitors frequently see kangaroos on the beach. The roos were, of course, hiding out when we arrived. Keep an eye out for a local brewery in Esperance called Lucky Bay Brewing, which does a tasty barley pale ale that you can find on tap in the local pubs.
The Great Ocean Drive
Australia has an embarrassment of gorgeous coastal drives, and Esperance has one of my favorites. The Great Ocean Drive (not to be confused with Victoria’s Great Ocean Road) is a 38-km loop that will take you past some of the most incredible beaches you will ever lay eyes on.
Every time we turned a corner, I gasped. The beaches were unbelievable, and there were so many of them. Surfers caught waves at protected West Beach while families splashed around the striking rock formations at Twilight Beach. The drive takes you past Rotary Lookout, where you can get a sense of the entire coastline.
We finished the loop at Pink Lake, and I was excited for the bubblegum colors I’d seen in pictures. We climbed out of the car and stared, perplexed, at the view.
“It’s…white,” I said.
Esperance’s Not-So-Pink Lake
The lake has lost its pink pigment over the years, most likely due to the construction of transport links that stopped the natural flow of water. As a result, the lake lost the high salt levels it needs for green algae to thrive. Beta-carotene—the pigment that makes carrots orange—builds up on the algae and turns the lake pink.
There are a handful of other pink lakes in Australia. The nearest is Lake Hillier, accessible by boat from Esperance with Esperance Island Cruises. Others can be found in South Australia or north of Perth in Port Gregory.
Esperance’s ‘pink’ lake is now so white that it’s reminiscent of salt flats; you have to look closely to see that there’s actually water on top of it. Locals seem torn between trying to get the lake pink again or reverting back to its original name, Spencer Lake.
Esperance has so much going for it in terms of whites and blues, a misleading pink lake only becomes part of its charm. It’s a place that catches people off guard, and several people we met all made the same comment: I can’t believe how beautiful it is here.
The colors of Esperance are enough to blow away even the most jaded traveler—but if they don’t, you can always wander off-course at the top of Frenchman Peak.