Esperance, WA, Australia

On Australia’s south west coast, Esperance is a perfect place to be outdoors. Beautiful white sand beaches meet turquoise waters whose dusting of islands and islets are home to seals and sea lions.

This corner of Australia is the traditional home to the Noongar people, whose presence here stretches back thousands of years. There are examples of cave art in the region, and architectural finds of tools on several islands within the Recherche Archipelago.

They named the area where Esperance now stands Kepa Kurl, which roughly translates as “where the water lies like a boomerang.” This is now the name of a gallery in the Esperance Museum Village where you can browse for aboriginal artwork and handicrafts.

Although Europeans had passed by previously, the first to touch shore here were French, part of a 1792 expedition in search of a missing navigator. Bad weather forced the party ashore. Cape Le Grand was named after a sailor who spotted the harbor; the settlement and the archipelago just offshore were named after the two ships, Espérance and the Recherche.

The town itself was established after the discovery of gold around 1895, especially around Kalgoorlie around 250 miles due north. The Esperance Museum is worth exploring, as it tells the history of the area, through means of photographs and collections of antique furniture, farm machinery and even a locomotive. One particularly intriguing exhibit relates to one of Esperance’s main moments in the more recent limelight. In 1979, the US’s first and only space station, Skylab, broke up on re-entry into the atmosphere, and many pieces of debris landed over the town, much of which is on display today.

While Esperance is charming enough, you might prefer to admire the stunning shore of white beaches, granite headlands and broad meadows. Much of it is protected, including Cape Le Grand National Park. It’s a place of coastal drives, hiking trails and cycling routes, surf spots, and places to kayak and canoe.

Within its borders, you might visit Thistle Cove, home to a “whistling rock” and natural formations connected to aboriginal dreamtime mythology. There’s also Lucky Bay, whose impossibly white sands have been known to attract sunbathing kangaroos.

Esperance is arguably more famous for what lies offshore: Recherche Archipelago, a scattering of around 100 islands. Woody Island is among the largest, and the only one to offer public access. You might step ashore there to admire the teeming bird life of its wetlands or for a snorkeling trip to Shearwater Bay.

Cooper Island is another highlight, a favorite breeding spot of the Australian sea lion and the New Zealand fur seal. Middle Island, meanwhile, offers an astonishing natural phenomenon. Lake Hillier is the color of strawberry milkshake surrounded by greenery, and separated from the turquoise ocean water by just a thin ribbon of sandy shore. It’s a view best seen on a sightseeing flight.