Sunset at Tanker Jetty

Supertown Profile : Esperance

Salmon Beach

Western Australia’s #1 holiday destination!  How can you go wrong with some of the best beaches in Australia, with the whitest sands and bluest waters? Esperance is truly a town of the coast.

 

In 1627, Dutch explorer Pieter Nuyts aboard the Gulde Zeepard passed through the Recherche Archipelago but credit for the discovery of the area is given to the French, when L’Esperance and Recherche sailed through the area and sought shelter from a storm in 1792.  In 1802, Matthew Flinders sailed through while mapping the area, naming Lucky Bay and Thistle Cove in the process.

 

The early settlers were sealers and whalers who survived on kangaroo, geese and fish, but Edward John Eyre was the most famous explorer to pass through the area on his way to Albany.  In 1863, the Dempster brothers drove their livestock into the area and took up the first land holding.  With the discovery of gold up north about 30 years later, Esperance transformed from a sleepy town to a busy port that shipped in thousands of fortune seekers from distant lands.  By 1897, there were four hotels, a brewery and two newspapers amongst the town of tents, with the poor folk sleeping on seaweed on the beach.  Farming started in the early 1900s.

 

 

With a population of 14,000 people, it’s not too overcrowded, and there is plenty of fishing, surfing, sailing, sunbathing, kite surfing and other water sports that can be enjoyed.  The area is very lush and clean, and it could quite possibly be WA’s cleanest town due to the strict littering laws in place.  Despite the country town feel, it’s still fully stocked with fast food joints and major supermarkets, but there are only a couple of crappy, dingy pubs, some with skimpies.

 

The foreshore is lined with Norfolk Island pine trees and the port is one of the deepest in southern Australia, capable of handling Cape and Panamax class vessels up to 180,000 tonnes!  The industry is visible from the beach, which also displays a stunning sunrise if you’re up early enough.

 

Next to the Esperance Museum is one of the original wind turbines on display.  The Salmon Beach wind farm was Australia’s first wind farm and it started operation in 1987 but was decommissioned after 15 successful years.  In 1993, the Ten Mile Lagoon Wind Farm was connected to the Esperance grid, with nine 225 kW wind turbines contributing to the town’s power supply, while the Nine Mile Beach Wind Farm was constructed in 2003.  These two wind farms now run parallel with the Esperance gas turbine power station and have saved 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year they have been operating.

 

 

Esperance is also one of many sites to cop Skylab debris.  In 1979, the space station Skylab entered the earth’s atmosphere, broke into pieces and crashed at various sites in Western Australia.  One of those sites was Esperance and they ended up fining the United States $400 for littering! The fine was paid 30 years later when a radio show host from California raised the funds and paid the fine on behalf of NASA.

 

 

If you’re planning to pass through Esperance, it’s probably best that you organise accommodation as it is not a RV friendly town – no camping or 24 hour parking allowed in any places.

 

Places of Interest

Recherche Archipelago

This 270km string of 105 coastal islands and 1500 islets is the largest group of islands in southern Australia and were first explored by the Dutch in 1627, but it was Matthew Flinders who charted the area for the first time in 1802.  It has a colourful history, setting the scene for the shipwreck of the Sanko Harvest in 1991, which is now the second largest shipwreck that can be dived in the world.  The Archipelago was also frequented by Australia’s only recorded pirate, Black Jack Anderson, who pillaged the area in the 1830s until he was eventually killed by his crew.

 

The Recherche Archipelago is an important aquatic wilderness area that provides a sheltered habitat and breeding ground for a variety of animals, such as seals, penguins, rock wallabies and seabirds.  The area is great for divers and snorkelers and provides a great bounty of abalone, rock lobsters and pilchards to the commercial fishing industry.

 

 

Great Ocean Drive

Enjoy a scenic 40km drive along the coast, past Pink Lake and the Nine Mile Beach Wind Farm.  The views are absolutely beautiful, and include white sand beaches framed by rocky cliffs with the Archipelago visible in the distance.

 

Twilight Beach is a feature of the Great Ocean Drive.  It was voted most popular beach in Australia in 2006 and is a great swimming beach with clear waters, gentle waves and soft white sand.  There are two offshore rocks that protect the beach and there are toilets and outdoor showers are nearby.

 

The Nine Mile Beach Wind Farm was installed in 2003 and is one of Australia’s most advanced wind/gas powered systems and produces more than 25% of the local community’s electricity.  There are nine towers, each stands 46m high and has three 22m blades.

 

Pink Lake

Well… we got there and the lake wasn’t pink, but that was because we were in the right place at the wrong time!

 

Pink Lake is a salt lake that turns pink when the conditions are right.  The green algae in the lake loves salty conditions and when the water reaches a state of high salinity, high temperatures and lots of light, the algae collects beta carotene, a red pigment that is also found in carrots and sweet potatoes!   Halobacterium also exists in the lake and is pink in colour.  The shades of pink that beautify the lake depend on the balance between Dunaliella salina algae and Halobacterium.

 

Tanker Jetty

Due to foreshore redevelopment, the Tanker Jetty was closed, but we did get to enjoy it during a 5:30am sunrise.  Another feature of the Tanker Jetty is Sammy the Seal, a bit fat blob of a mammal that lingers around the coastline to catch the off-cuts of a fisherman’s catch.  He must have still been sleeping when we came past but we got to see photos of him.

 

 

Mermaid Leather

A tannery that makes leather out of fish and shark skins.  The story of this place is incredible.  Check out our post on Mermaid Leather.

 

Esperance Stonehenge

Kim and Jillian Beale live about 12km from Esperance and their backyard has a complete full-scale replica of the original Stonehenge in the UK.  What does your backyard have other than a Hills Hoist and weeds?

Check out our post on the Esperance Stonehenge.

 

Alimento Café

We really needed a coffee and didn’t want to settle for a long black because we didn’t trust the person behind the espresso machine.  We decided to seek out the best place in Esperance for coffee and while there were a few suggestions, we chose a place that had people lined up out the door.

 

Alimento Café sits humbly without any frills in the centre of town.  Inside is an orange, mustard and chocolate brown décor and a matriarchal woman with a mop of curly hair works behind the counter.  We had faith, and ordered a soy latte and strong latte in a mug for $10… that’s right, $10 for two coffees.  Our expectations were high.

 

 

While we waited for our coffee, we got our first glimpse at a Western Australian newspaper before being presented with two huge mugs of delicious coffee topped with creamy microfoam!  No sugar required – these guys sure know how to make the perfect cup!

 

INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION

Esperance Visitor Centre – Dempster Street, 08 9083 1555

Blue Waters Lodge YHA – 299 Goldfields Road, 08 9071 1040

 

Mermaid Leather

Experience : Mermaid Leather

Leather made from mermaids?  Not exactly… and the curiosity to find out what this place is all about was too strong to ignore.

 

Mermaid Leather

 

Dave MacDermott was a chef and one day, he got a phone call from his brother, Andrew, asking for fish skins from the kitchen so that he could do an experiment.  Using a big milo tin and a tanning hobby kit, Andrew started tanning fish skins and this is where Mermaid Leather began.

 

Andrew and Dave had a mate called Bob Bubb who had a fishing boat and was interested in reducing waste by using all parts of the fish that he caught.  He teamed up with Andrew and started a business that made use of the flesh and skins of fish, reducing waste and working to conserve fish populations for future generations.

 

All of the fish skins that Mermaid Leather use are by-products of the food industry and they use local and imported skins; never from protected species.  They purchase the skins which would otherwise be destined for the bin for 50c a kilo and start the two week tanning process only with the nicest skins – all icky, smelly, old skins are discarded.

 

The skins are soaked for 3 days in fresh water before all the flesh and scales are removed with a drawknife.  The skins are then put into the tanning tumbler and coloured with either synthetic dyes or organic eucalyptus tannins that produce brown and honey colours.  Drying the skins take between 3 days and 4 months and in that time, they are stretched and handled to ensure softness and flexibility.  Finally, they are sprayed with a finishing product before being sold or made into purses, bags, wallets, iPhone covers, buttons, pens and other accessories.

 

 

Mermaid leather also use shark skins to make leather, or shagreen.  Shark skins are covered with little teeth called dermal denticles, which remove drag when swimming by 10%.  Fish skin tanning is an old art that was practiced in Scotland, Norway and Korea and shark leather was used by Vikings.  Mermaid Leather has featured in 2000 Leagues Under the Sea in Michael Caine’s costume.

 

Mermaid Leather is now Australia’s only fish and shark leather tannery and produce leathers that are about 25% stronger than sheep-skin.  They’ve appeared on a few television programs over the last 20 years, including The Discovery Channel (1991), Clever Country (1992), Healthy, Wealthy & Wise (1995), Getaway (1999) and Our WA (2001).

 

Fish leather falls into the category of exotic leather, meaning it has decorative value in the pattern. Other skins that fall into this category include crocodile, emu and snake.  To get the best fish leather, scales need to be removed without damaging the cell pocket.  Leathers with big scales, such as barramundi and grouper, sell more than the smaller scaled leathers, and it is probably the most affordable of all exotic leathers at $50 per square foot, compared to crocodile at $400 and emu at $200.

 

The guys keep a cat on premises as a means of pest control – rats and mice like the warmth and chewiness of leather.  They’re currently on their third kitty and he’s gorgeous!

 

Mermaid Leather is open Tuesday to Sunday from 2pm to 5pm.

Phone: 08 9071 5248

Website: www.mermaidleather.com.au