Approximately 720km southeast of Perth, Esperance is at the western end of the Archipelago of the Recherche. Both town and archipelago were named after the French ships that visited the area in the late eighteenth century, and whose persistent interest in the region precipitated the hasty colonization of WA by the edgy British. The archipelago’s string of haze-softened granite isles, bobbing in the inky blue Southern Ocean, presents an almost surreal seascape common to coasts washed by cold currents. The mild summer weather (rarely exceeding 30°C), abundant fishing opportunities and surrounding national parks ensure the town is a popular destination for heat-sensitive holiday-makers.
The hundred or so islands of the romantically named Archipelago of the Recherche – known as the Bay of Isles – around Esperance are chiefly occupied by seals, feral goats and multitudes of sea birds. Dolphins may also be spotted offshore and southern right whales are commonly observed migrating to the Antarctic in spring. Around 50km east of Esperance is the Cape Le Grand National Park, and a further 70km the more remote Cape Arid National Park (DPaW fee), on the edge of the Great Australian Bight. Care should be taken all along this coastline, as unpredictable king waves frequently sweep the unwary away from exposed, rocky shores.