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PERTH TO ESPERANCE WITH STOPS INTERESTING ATTRACTIONS AND TOWNS TO VISIT ALONG THE WAY

There are so many interesting, and even unlikely, things to see and do on the way to Esperance, that it really would be a shame not to take some extra time getting there.

Driving from Perth to Esperance is a long haul, stretching 696km at its most direct, so a stop here and there is essential.

Driving directly there also means you miss out on more than you realise, including Australia’s biggest yabby export operation, a secret farm shed full of vintage vehicles and a world record-breaking jet engine – not to mention WA’s own ‘Dead Sea’.

Why not break the drive up and turn it into a journey full of adventure – one that’s different for each direction and can be done over a few days.

Perth to York – 98km/1.5hr

Your first stop is York and Penny Farthing Sweets. This old-school lolly shop delivers a nostalgia hit to the tastebuds, but also to the eyes, with historic curios covering every inch of wall space.

Next, wander down to the Avon River, which runs parallel to the café-filled main street. There’s a flying fox playground, a swing bridge and an idyllic riverside campground.

York to Corrigin – 135km/1.5hr

Watch the landscape change and the paddocks broaden as you reach Corrigin. Turn off at the Corrigin Dog Cemetery, established in 1974. A large, flower-wrapped statue of a kelpie marks the entrance to hundreds of heartfelt memorials to our furry friends. Wander the tombstones and pay your respects to Shep, Phoenix, Lassie (not that one) and all the other pooches.

Corrigin to Kulin – 54km/36min

It only adds 15min to the day’s total road time if you add in a side-trip to Kulin – worth it if you’ve never seen the Tin Horse Highway. Stretching 15km and made up of more than 70 tin creatures, the quirky roadside attraction is like a game of eye-spy – you never know when a new one will pop up.

In town, the massive 18m-tall, 182m-long water slide is hard to miss – it’s the biggest in regional WA. Check ahead for Kulin Aquatic Centre’s opening hours.

Kulin to Hyden (Wave Rock) – 83km/53min

Hyden is Wave Rock’s hub town; drive five minutes beyond it and find the 2700-million-year-old rock formation that draws visitors from far and wide. Rather than explore it during the day, wait until sunset. As the heat recedes, the light softens and colours emerge, making the 15m-high wave seem even grander. Carefully scale the side of the 110m-long granite cliff and turn to drink in endless views of the region’s bush and farmland.

Back on ground level, the rock’s natural stripes look like an earthy, vertical rainbow. Snap an obligatory shot of you ‘surfing’ the wave.

Follow the bush path to Hippo’s Yawn, another remarkable formation that very much fits its name. Kids love crawling to the back of the gaping jaw and scrambling up boulders; agile adults will fit through the gaps.

Afterwards, follow the trail towards Wave Rock Resort over wooden boardwalks to salty expanses studded with sculptural, brittle tree branches. Gaze over Lake Magic, a captivating gypsum-based salt lake.

If you arrive with time to spare before sunset, it’s worth taking the 18km graded dirt road out to Mulka’s Cave. Inside are hundreds of Aboriginal handprints formed by ochre spray. Many other rock art motifs are also visible – in all there are 452 motifs depicted in seven different colours. The site holds the largest collection of Aboriginal paintings in the south west of WA – most other sites bear less than 20 works.

Stay in a self-contained cottage at the Wave Rock Resort, reached via a winding track past Wave Rock Airport and a long fence dotted with steel emu cut-outs.

Pull on your bathers and stroll to the weird and wonderful salt pool, which is six times saltier than the sea (it’s also accessible to non-guests; $10 per adult, $5 per child). After stepping onto the bath’s muddy bottom, launch yourself into the jade-hued water, turn on your back and stop swimming. You’ll float like you’re in the Dead Sea. It’s the most astonishing feeling of weightlessness and the closest you’ll likely ever get to being an astronaut in zero gravity. Swinging day beds are soon to be added to the circular pool, along with private showers and toilets, giving it a desert day spa feel.

Wave Rock to Ravensthorpe – 175km/1hr 44min

It’s a misperception that all there is to do at Wave Rock is, well, Wave Rock. A series of niche attractions sit just a few minutes’ walk from the formation.

Check out the 10,000-strong collection of pinky finger-sized war figures at The Miniature Soldier Museum. Each figure was made by the collection’s former owner, who recreated scenes of everything from the Napoleonic and American Civil Wars to the Great World Wars. There are also large ships made from spam cans, sardine tins and bottle tops.

Next door is The Lace Place, an extensive lace collection kept in low light to preserve the intricate creations, many of which are as fine as a spiderweb. “It takes one hour to embroider an inch of lace,” says Sheenagh Collins, whose family bought both collections and who leads tours of them.

In an adjoining café, look up and see the butterfly-shaped dried flower creations Sheenagh made in the 1980s, to act as insulation. She and her late husband Dennis started the cafe as a lifeline, after the farm they borrowed money to buy went through a drought and two frosts. Pre-COVID, Sheenagh would host up to 12 coaches of tourists a day; now, things are decidedly quieter.

A $20 pass grants entry to all the attractions, plus the wildlife park run by Sheenagh’s mother, and the Pioneer Town Museum. From here, head to Ravensthorpe, via Lake King.

Ravensthorpe to Esperance – 207km/2hr 15min

Ravensthorpe is surrounded by incredible wildflowers – if you’re visiting in September 2022, don’t miss the 40th anniversary of its Wildflower Show (12-24 Sept). Glance up as you drive under the town’s entry statement, a 100m-long overpass painted with giant honeyeaters.

The town’s grain silos are splashed with enormous banksias and honey possums, part of the PUBLIC Silo Art Trail. The floral theme continues through the main street, where you’ll find a couple of shops and cafes.

Continue on to Esperance. To the west of town, make the breathtaking Great Ocean Drive a priority, stopping at beaches such as Twilight Cove and Blue Haven. To the east, Cape Le Grand National Park awaits, with roos lazing on Lucky Bay’s ivory sands and glass-clear water at Hellfire Bay.

Climb Frenchman Peak and reward yourself with a locally made beer at Lucky Bay Brewery, a short drive away. Spoil yourself with a chopper ride (Oct-Apr) to Woody Island, or beyond to the bubblegum-pink Lake Hillier.

The return journey

Esperance to Kukerin – 416km/4hr 20min

Make tracks for Lake Grace via Newdegate and its painted silos of native creatures. Five-minutes’ drive north of pretty Lake Grace is WA’s most inland winery, Walker’s Hill Vineyard. They do an excellent ‘drought rosé’ and you’ll taste the ironstone terroir in their shiraz. Book ahead if you want a feed for lunch or dinner.

Motor on to Kukerin and Cambinata Yabbies, where farmers Mary and Michael Nenke will show you around their bubbling refrigerated tanks, which can hold up to three tonnes of yabbies at any one time. The pair started with one tank in 1991 and now run the biggest yabby export business in Australia. “We had three kids at boarding school and we needed to make $30,000 – necessity is the mother of invention, as they say,” says Michael.

Mary, a former National Rural Woman of the Year also manages Mary’s Farm Cottages, polished, self-contained accommodation wrapped in blue and merlot-hued corrugated iron. Overlooking grain fields, they back onto a vintage pickup truck with a barbeque under its hood. Better yet, order a feed of steamed yabbies with Mary’s homemade dukkah and bread, delivered to your door. Farm tours are included for guests, or $25pp for visitors, by appointment only.

Kukerin to Perth – 310km/3.5hr

Book ahead to visit another Kukerin secret: a private car collection. Kaye and Johnno Cook house all sorts of beauties in their farm sheds, from a black and white Sheriff car fitted with a police siren to a classic Torana and a yellow Mustang, along with 1850s tractors. There’s even a room in the shed recreating what the couple owned when they got married, including a 1920s kerosene heater, metal eggbeaters, gravy boats and a 1970s TV. “We don’t really throw much out,” laughs Kaye. The pair often host car clubs and will open by appointment (ph 0428 993 445).

It’s a short drive to Dumbleyung, where you can see a replica of the ‘bluebird’ hydroplane that crossed Lake Dumbleyung at 444.71kph in 1964, breaking the world water speed record. A wire sculpture of the pilot, Donald Campbell, sits across the road, in front of Along Came Henry café and the Community Resource Centre, filled with tourism information. Grab takeaway rolls and head out of town to the top of Pussycat Hill for a lofty view of the wide lake.

Finish your adventures with a nod to Bart the Giant Ram, the icon of Wagin, as you return to Perth, and marvel at the number of things to see and do in Australia’s Golden Outback.

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