A Travel & Photography Guide to Esperance, Western Australia
Esperance and the surrounding areas are home to some of the best beaches in Australia! This is an incredible part of WA that I have been visiting since 2019, and I'll never tire of photographing the landscapes surrounding this coastal town. It is a must see for photographers and travellers, so I have created this guide to help visitors based off of my experiences over the past few years.
Imagine beautiful long stretches of beach, sweeping bays with rolling hillsides in the distance, and the whitest beach sand in the world! The water here is pristine, clear, and so vivid. It needs to be seen to be believed, and you can use this guide to start planning your visit now!
The possibilities for photography in Esperance are endless - whether you prefer photography from the ground, or with a drone, there is no way you will run out of things to capture in Esperance. However getting those "wall worthy" images here doesn't come without it's own specific challenges!
In this guide to Esperance and surrounds I share all you need to know about visiting the region including best times of year, there is some useful information for photographers, and an adaptable 4 day itinerary to make the most of your travels depending on weather conditions.
Where is Esperance?
Esperance is located on the south coast of Western Australia, within the Goldfields Region. It is 715km ESE from Perth by road, and if you are driving you can expect the trip to take approximately 7 hrs and 45 min. Flights from Perth to Esperance are available too!
The drive takes you through the Wheatbelt Region with the small town of Hyden being at about the halfway mark. The famous Wave Rock is just a 3 minute detour from the main road, and makes for a nice rest stop. Along the way there are also a lot of salt lakes which in the summer months can turn pink, orange, vivid yellow, green, blue, or just about any other colour you can think of. Most of these lakes can't be accessed on foot but they are a great point of interest for drone photographers. One salt lake that can be accessed is Lake King on the Newdegate - Ravensthorpe Rd. It is usually dry and could make for some very interesting images with all of the different textures and patterns in the salt.
Left(Top): Wave Rock, Centre: A blue Wheatbelt salt lake, Right(Bottom): Typical Wheatbelt scenery. See the full images and more in my Wheatbelt Gallery.
What type of vehicle is needed to make the most of my visit to Esperance?
There is no need for a 4WD vehicle to have a great time and see the highlights of Esperance, however there are certainly a few extra places to see and things to do if you have access to a 4x4!
The town beaches and Cape Le Grand National Park all have sealed roads for access which is great news for many visitors, but because these places are so accessible they can become quite busy which often isn't what you'd like as a photographer! To make the most of this I recommend arriving to location as early as possible, and I will mention some 4x4 only locations that are often a lot quieter later in the guide for those that do have the luxury!
It is important to note that there is a lot of wildlife on the roads, especially around the national park at dawn and dusk. Take care and allow a little extra time to arrive at your destination, especially if you are in a small car!
What is the best time of year to visit Esperance?
Summer of course! It's often a few degrees cooler in Esperance than it is in Perth, so if you're wanting to enjoy the beautiful clear (and cold!) water, you'll probably want to go when it is warmest between December & February.
But that's not the only reason why Summer is a great time to visit. The days are longer at this time of year, and the sun will rise slightly south of east, and set slightly south of west.
The reason why this is important to photographers is because majority of the coastline here is facing south. Much of the coastline is lined with rugged hillsides to the east and west of each bay, and during the shorter months of the year these beaches may be cast in shadow from the hills before that golden hour glow that we all love has the chance to light up the bays.
Between November & February is when the sun will be positioned best to favour photography, however, April is generally the calmest month of the year and is also outside of the peak tourist season.
Challenges that a photographer may face in Esperance (and tips to overcome them).
As beautiful as it is, capturing great images in Esperance doesn't always come easy.
- One of the biggest challenges in photographing Esperance and surrounds is no doubt the Weather conditions.
It can be very windy on the south coast. Most often in the afternoon but at times in the mornings also. In addition to this there are many overcast mornings and afternoons which at times don't do the beautiful Esperance beaches justice. For this reason I recommend adding a few extra days onto your planned photography trip to give you greater chances of ideal shooting conditions.
The wind can be a pain for photographers wanting to fly a drone. If you choose to fly in windy conditions make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to avoid motion blur in images. Also take note that it can be a lot windier up in the air than it is down at ground level. Be aware of wind direction and your drones capabilities, If you fly down wind to capture an image the drone can struggle to return back home. At best the return would just be slower than expected, but at worst you could lose your drone (and all of the images that you just captured).
If shooting near the water, be mindful of sea spray on the lens/camera on a windy day. It helps to have your back to the wind if you can, and make sure not to leave your camera unattended as sudden gusts can occur and knock a tripod over (speaking from first hand experience here!)
It pays to have a plan B for each shoot, adapt to the situation you are given, and try to think outside the box when you are given undesired weather for photography. Always check the local forecast, I frequently use "Windy" a mobile application to check satellite imaging, cloud/wind forecast, etc to decide where I will go for the next photoshoot.
- Another challenge you will come across if visiting in the peak tourism period (generally around Christmas/new year time) is busy beaches.
Many of the beaches in Esperance can be driven on with a 4x4 vehicle, which can leave unsightly tire tracks through your image at times. Photoshop is great for removing unwanted distractions such as people, vehicles, and tire marks from a photo. I teach how to do this as part of my Online Training.
However depending on your personal taste, you might not be so bothered of people and vehicles in your images, they can certainly help to add some scale to show the size of the sweeping bays & rugged hillsides, or just give your photograph a classic "day at the beach" feel.
- The third challenge that photographers may face in Esperance is simply deciding where to point the camera!
When you have the desired weather conditions it really is amazing down there on the south coast, and it can be hard to decide on a composition with such diverse beauty all around. To overcome this I recommend using the time when the weather or light is less than ideal for photography to do some location scouting. Make an effort to plan out some different compositions based on different weather and times of day, then return when the conditions are ideal!
My advise for those planning a photography trip to Esperance is to be ready to adapt to the weather conditions.
- As a general rule, if the sky is clear at sunrise/sunset plan to visit a location where you will be facing away from the sun (45°-180°) to capture that golden light without the harshness of a bright sky. If it is overcast either go for a top down perspective, some moody seascape images, or focus on the finer details in a scene. If it is partly cloudy (particularly high wispy clouds) you'll probably want to make the most of a potentially colourful sky at sunrise/sunset.
What camera equipment do I need to do landscape photography in Esperance?
If you are visiting Esperance for landscape photography, this is the camera gear you'll need to get great results.
- A polarising (CPL) filter. Glare is one of the big challenges to overcome when shooting around the ocean as water and wet rocks will have a lot of reflections. A polarising filter will reduce glare and minimise reflections in your photography. I highly recommend drone flyers in particular to purchase a polarising filter, as it helps to justify that beautiful coastline in the early morning and late afternoon. I have written an article on filters for landscape photography too. I am an authorised reseller for NiSi Filters and you can contact me for advice on which filters to purchase to suit your gear at a great price.
- A GOOD tripod. Tripods are often an afterthought for many new landscape photographers, but a good, sturdy, tripod is essential for taking great landscape images, and you will enjoy the process much more with an easy to use tripod. I recommend using a ball head along with a tripod that has a fully adjustable leg angle. A sturdy tripod will help to keep your camera safe in the sometimes challenging photography conditions that you can experience in Esperance. Travel tripods and bottom of the range tripods may let you down in less than ideal weather.
I go into much more depth on selecting the right tripod on my Tripod Selection For Landscape Photography guide. I am also an authorised reseller for Sirui & Explorer tripods, you can contact me for advice on your next tripod purchase to suit your needs at a great price.
- A lens cleaning kit. You should carry lens cleaning equipment with you in your camera bag at all times. An ideal kit will contain at least one microfibre cloth, lens cleaning solution, a rocket blower, and a soft bristle brush. Particularly if you are photographing "seascape" style images, it is very possible that some spray from the crashing waves will eventually end up on your lens or filters.
- (Optional) Neutral Density (ND) Filters. These come in varying strengths and are frequently used by landscape photographers to achieve a slow shutter speed for that smooth water look. I recommend filters within the 3-6 stop range, and have gone into more depth on my filters for landscape photography guide. I am an authorised reseller for NiSi Filters and you can contact me for advice on which filters to purchase to suit your gear at a great price.
- (Optional) A Drone. If there is one place to take to the skies for photography in Western Australia, it's here! Even if you only have a drone and no regular DSLR/Mirrorless Camera, the opportunities are endless in Esperance and I can highly recommend adding a drone to the toolkit for landscape photographers. I personally still use the DJI Mavic 2 Pro which these days is getting a little dated, but I feel no need to upgrade at this stage and will continue to use this drone until it doesn't work anymore. Some newer options include the DJI Mini 3 Pro (small size for convenience, budget friendly) and the Mavic 3 (much higher price point but superior image quality, increased flight time, and handles the wind much better).
As for the camera, I am assuming readers already have their camera of choice so I won't make any recommendations here. But my lens to choices for Esperance are the 14-24mm f/2.8, and my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Unfortunately I had an incident on my recent trip which rendered the 14-24mm useless on my recent visit, and I had to use my backup wide angle which is a cheap 15mm f/4 that doesn't quite compare to the usual lens I use, but it got the job done! A telephoto lens is also great for isolating a subject and capturing some unique images of the Esperance scenery or wildlife.
Late afternoon sun over Little Wharton Beach. Taken at 24mm.
Some other considerations for your visit to Esperance.
- Phone reception is scarce within the National Parks and much of the coastline once you get out of town.
- Even though the summer days are often warm, it can become cold overnight and in the morning in Esperance. Bring some warm clothing no matter the time of year!
- Some areas may require a short hike or a 4x4 to reach, I have made a note in the locations below where this is applicable!
There are 3 main areas for photography in Esperance.
I have grouped the following locations into 3 areas to assist with planning your photoshoots when visiting Esperance. The areas are: Town Beaches, Cape Le Grand National Park, and Orleans Bay Surrounds.
The town beaches are all in close proximity to the Esperance townsite with a maximum of 20 minutes driving to reach the furthest destination. All but one of these beaches are very accessible, with car parks and well formed roads suitable for 2wd vehicles (two have the option for 4x4 access for the more adventurous too). All of the carparks are within close proximity to the beaches themselves, and require only a short walk. Some of these beaches have amenities which are noted below, and all of them have great potential for capturing some stunning images.
West Beach is the first you will come across as you leave the town following Twilight Beach Rd west. It is only a 4 minute drive from the town centre and in my opinion is one of the best beaches for photography in Esperance!
The rocky headland here is much more abrupt and dramatic than many of the others in the area which makes for a great image. I recommend using the waterline or ripples in the sand to add some foreground interest.
Best time to visit: Sunset, especially on a clear afternoon when the golden glow of the sun lights up the rockface.
Access: There is two sealed car parks to choose from. The eastern car park offers quicker access to the area of beach near the rocky headland. The western car park is larger and has toilets as well as an outdoor shower (great for rinsing off a salty tripod!). Either way, it is a short but steep set of stairs to descend/climb if you want to access the beach.
Amenities: Toilets, outdoor shower.
Blue Haven Beach
The next beach along the great ocean drive (Twilight Beach Rd) in Esperance is aptly named Blue Haven. 7 minutes from the town centre, turn left (if heading west) onto the Salmon Beach access Rd, and then stick to your left right until the end of the road where you will arrive at the car park. If you turn right once on the beach and head toward the rocky headland at the end of the beach there is definitely some nice seascape photography potential.
Best time to visit: Sunrise or early morning - but even midday provides great photographic opportunities at all of these beaches.
Access: Is via a boardwalk on the eastern end of the car park, a leisurely 60m walk and you will be on the beach.
Twilight Beach is perhaps the most famous beach in all of Esperance, and for good reason! You may have seen people swimming to and jumping off of the granite island just off the shore at Twilight Beach, but this iconic rock is also great to photograph. On the southern edge of the beach there is some great foreground interest with the rocky coastline, or if you prefer to keep your toes dry, the boardwalks that allow access to the beach can also make a great leading line.
Twilight Beach is a drone photographers delight with top down aerial shots galore as well as opportunities to capture large scale images of the entire beach and surrounds.
There is also another beach accessible from the southern end of the car park which faces southwest and would make for a great sunset destination.
Best time to visit: Sunrise, especially on a clear morning when the golden glow of the sun lights up the rockface. However I can also highly recommend visiting Twilight Beach on an overcast day to capture some moody images too.
Access: There is a large sealed car park. Turn left onto Cove Lane approximately 9.5km (10 mins) from the Esperance townsite. There are many parking bays in this car park, and beach access is only a few steps away.
Amenities: Toilets, outdoor shower.
Eleven Mile Beach
Eleven Mile Beach is the last stop along Twilight Beach Road if you are driving West. There is a large reef just out from the waterline. It is often exposed creating calm lagoons for safe swimming, but the patterns, textures, and colours of the reef/beach combination are an aerial photographers dream.
There is also a lot of potential for seascape photography at this location but I haven't had the chance to get down there with the camera just yet (My visit to Eleven Mile was after the camera accident so I only had a drone to use).
Best time to visit: Sunset &/or Low Tide. On a cloudy afternoon you may be treated to a display of colour in the sky, and on a clear afternoon when the sun sets the reef will glow on low tide.
Access: The main access is to Eleven Mile is from a gravel carpark (suitable for most 2wd vehicles) and then a short walk down a steep set of stars will take you to the beach. Experienced 4x4 owners can also drive down onto the beach via a short track to the West of the car park.
Amenities: N/A. Closest toilet is at Observatory Beach 6km South on Twilight Beach Rd.
Wylie Bay is located on the other side of Esperance. It a 14 minute drive east at the end of Wylie Bay Rd. This beach is heaven for drone photographers thanks to the sand bar the bridges the rocks to the main beach. There is also a tidal waterfall that pushes over the rocks at the end of the sand bar which has potential for a great image if your visit coincides with the right conditions. This beach is a little more difficult to access than the rest of the town beaches mentioned as you'll either have to walk or drive in soft sand.
Best time to visit: Any time of day, however sunrise and sunset are especially spectacular. Best visited around neap tides as on a high tide the sand bar does sometimes disappear under the waves, then on a very low tide the sand bar can be too wide to show the two opposing beaches.
Access: I recommend parking in the sealed car park on the left at the end of Wylie Bay road, then following the sand tracks that lead south to Wylie Head Beach (driveable for experienced 4x4 owners only).
Other Points of Interest near town include:
Pink Lake: Whilst it is no longer pink, the pink lake lookout is a great spot to launch a drone for some abstract aerial images.
Chapmans Point, Salmon Beach, Observatory Point/Beach, & 10 Mile Beach: These are also all along the Great Ocean Drive (Twilight Beach Rd) and are worth scouting out for some photography.
Bandy Creek Harbour: At the end of Bandy Creek Rd (a short detour from the drive into Wylie Bay) is the sheltered boat harbour which is a popular place for locals to relax in the sheltered inlet and calm water. There is definitely some potential for drone photography here too.
Wylie Bay Dunes: To the north of Wylie Beach there is a large set of dunes which are great for photography but to get good images you'll have to put in the time to scout out the area. I didn't photograph them on my recent visit due to a large number of vehicles and motorbikes leaving tire tracks across the dunes, but if you aren't visiting in the peak season this won't be as much of an issue.
Cape Le Grand National Park
The entry to Cape Le Grand National Park is approximately 36 minutes from Esperance on Cape Le Grand Rd. Within the park there are two campsites which must be booked in advance (and usually have a long waitlist). Both campsites have showers and flushing toilets, and some of the day use areas have amenities also. Majority of the roads within the park are sealed however there is some optional gravel roads & 4x4 beach driving.
Cape Le Grand National Park is filled with rugged hillsides and idyllic beaches, which could arguably be some of the most scenic in the world. It is famous for its squeaky sand beaches and sheltered bays which are so inviting that even the local kangaroos cant help but laze around on the sand sometimes. There is a 20km (one way) hiking trail that goes from one end of the park to the other (this would be great for anybody adventurous wanting to capture a unique angle of a popular park) As well as all of this, it is a top spot for all kinds of photography whether you are a landscape photographer shooting only from the ground, doing drone aerials, or wildlife photography, Cape Le Grand has something spectacular to offer.
Le Grand Beach
Le Grand Beach is on the western edge of the park at the very end of Cape Le Grand Rd. The Le Grand Coastal Trail hike starts (or ends) here. This beach is 20km long but the best area for photography is right near the entry point at the base of Mount Le Grand. On the far southern end there are some great rock pools and scattered boulders on the beach which make for an awesome seascape image.
Best time to visit: Sunset. The beach will be shaded by the hills for much of the morning, and as the beach faces west I recommend timing your visit for a partially cloudy afternoon.
Access: There is a sealed carpark at the end of Cape Le Grand Rd allowing beach access in just a few meters walk, otherwise you can also drive directly down onto the beach itself where in the beginning the sand is mostly quite hard and compact. There is also the option to drive 20km along the beach from Wylie Bay (experienced 4x4 owners only).
Amenities: Toilets at the campground.
Hellfire Bay & Little Hellfire
The next beach along the coast is Hellfire Bay. This is one of my favourites for photography as there are so many great compositions both from the ground and above. As you walk down onto the beach immediately to your left there are some nice rocks on the shoreline to use as foreground interest. There is also a lot of vegetation and boulders on top of the granite outcrop to the left, which will make for great points of interest in your images.
A short hike will take to to Little Hellfire Bay, and whilst it is much smaller than the main beach, there are just as many photographic opportunities. An added bonus is that Little Hellfire is often much quieter than all of the other beaches in Cape Le Grand National Park, because it takes a little bit more effort to reach.
Best time to visit: Either sunrise or sunset. However the landscape here is so spectacular that there is no need to rely on a colourful sky for a great image. The golden light around this time of day will help to highlight certain points of interest.
Access: Turn right onto Hellfire Rd from Lucky Bay Rd. The sealed car park is located at the end of the road and once arrived the hiking trail to Little Hellfire is on the eastern side of the car park, to the west is access to the main beach.
Amenities: Toilets, BBQ, & seating.