A month ago, my travels around Australia lead me to Esperance, in the South-West of the country. If you’re road tripping across the Nullarbor Plain, it’s either the last or the first stop before or after 1500kms of nothingness until South Australia. For me it was the end of my visit in Western Australia, and I was very excited to explore it. I was particularly waiting for one place: Lucky Bay, a beach located in Cape le Grand National Park, just 50kms East of Esperance. It was supposed to be a little paradise on Earth, with perfectly white sand (it was voted – and tested! – “whitest sand of Australia”) and popular because you can also see kangaroos there, directly on the beach. If you google “Lucky Bay kangaroo” I’m sure that the images you’ll see will make you dream to go there! Well, wait before quitting your job and buying a ticket to Esperance, because unfortunately the reality isn’t that nice.
There are 2 campsites in Cape le Grand National Park, both right next to the beach. One of them is located just above Lucky Bay but because of this perfect location it’s sometimes hard to get a spot. I followed the advice from the visitor center of Esperance and arrived there very early in the morning: luckily I didn’t have to wait for a long time, less than 5 minutes later somebody left so I could settle down and start exploring.
I was on the beach at 7am. I was completely on my own; apart from a woman doing some early exercise, nobody else was around me… which unfortunately included also no kangaroos. I started walking towards the other side of the beach, where a track starts in the direction of Rossiter Bay further ahead. Halfway, at my great surprise, I was overtaken by two 4×4, driving on the upper side of the beach! As I was walking close to the ocean I hadn’t realised so far that all the sand higher from last high tide was completely furrowed by car trails. What a shame!
I kept walking, climbed up the previously mentioned track with amazing views over the whole bay below, but when I came back at around 10.30am, the vision awaiting me was horrible. The whole beach was covered by cars. I counted not less than 76 vehicles! I can’t imagine how many cars must have been there during the afternoon… The higher part of the beach was turned into a parking lot, while the lower part close to the water looked like a highway. There was no chance to find a nice spot to sit or lie down, and obviously there were no kangaroos either. I couldn’t imagine staying there one more minute so I asked for a refund at the campsite and left.
It made me so sad to see this beautiful beach completely ruined by humans that I almost cried, but it also made me very angry and it’s this anger that I want to share in this article. I find it shocking, absurd and stupid that a national park would let something like that happen and even encourage it with statements like “Beach driving is one way to explore our magnificent coast”. Actually Lucky Bay isn’t the only beach where cars are allowed to drive in the National Park, 4WD can also go on Cape le Grand beach and Rossiter Bay. Only Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay are accessible only for pedestrians…
By curiosity, I checked out the website of Western Australia parks and wildlife service. There’s a section called “Conserving our parks” and I’d like to quote this page:
We must all take responsibility for the conservation of our parks, for our own actions as visitors and as park managers. Park managers have to promote appreciation of, and respect for, parks as well as taking direct conservation action. […] We support the seven principles recommended by Leave No Trace Australia for minimising your impacts when visiting our parks. […] Leave No Trace depends more on attitude and awareness than on rules and regulations and we share that belief in the importance of personal responsibility. However, as park managers, it is our duty to also apply and enforce regulations for personal safety as well as for environmental conservation.
How could opening 4WD access to a beach by compatible with this conservation mission? Not mentioning the “personal safety”: when cars and kids running around are sharing the same place, that doesn’t seem really safe to me…
That doesn’t end here. At the beginning of the track I walked that morning, there was a shoe-cleaning station with the following sign:
DISEASE RISK AREA. Phytophthora dieback disease is killing our native plants. Plants in this area are threatened by this disease. Your footwear can bring in or pick up infected soil and spread the disease. Help stop the rot by scrubbing your boots clean before and after you walk.
So pedestrians need to clean their shoes, but cars are allowed to drive with no restrictions at all on the beach just next to it? Are shoes more likely to carry a disease than tires, really? This is beyond understanding for me. Don’t pretend you’re caring about the environment if you let this kind of things happen!
Not enough to outrage you? It’s still not finished yet… At the entrance of the Cape le Grand beach I spotted a very small and discreet sign, which probably none of the 4×4 drivers read. Here’s what it says:
SPECIAL SHOREBIRDS UNDER THREAT. Shorebirds breed during August to February. The nest is a shallow scrape and the eggs are laid directly on the sand, either on the beach above the high tide marks or in the dunes. Adult birds are easily disturbed and will leave the nest until you are out of sight. Unattended, the camouflage eggs are easily stepped on, eaten by a predator or become cold or overheated. The tiny chicks cannot fly. They will either crouch in the sand or run to the dunes to hide. If they spend too long hiding, they can starve to death.
So to be clear: this place where cars are allowed to drive is not just a pristine beach in a national park, it’s also a breeding place for threatened species! How is it possible? How can something like that be authorized? This is dreadful.
Later that day I had a look at the official tourist brochure of Esperance and read the following sentence: “this unspoilt & spectacular beach features sand so fine and so clean it literally squeaks underfoot”. I found it hilarious. Do you think it’s clean when there’s rubbish on the beach? Is the sand still squeaky after it had had been furrowed by hundreds of cars? Can you pretend this beach is unspoilt when you let 4×4 drive on it? The answer is the same for these three questions: no.
I travelled a lot around Australia and trust me, I know what an unspoilt beach looks like, and Lucky Bay isn’t one. Hopefully someday 4WD will be banned from here and from the other beaches of Cape le Grand National Park and there will be again the natural paradises they always should have been. Until then, I’ll never go back to Esperance again.