Start - Off Lucky Bay Rd
Length - 2.5km (Return)
Grade - Orange to Red
Terrain - Single Path, Granite Slab
Vertical Climb - 164m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 2nd April 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wudjari People
Directions - Cape Le Grand National Park is located about an hours drive east of Esperance. Take Fisheries Rd north out of town and take the turnoff onto Merrivale Rd (look for the Lucky Bay signs). Follow this road until you reach Cape Le Grand Rd and continue into the park.
The Hike - With our Easter road trip almost coming to an end with visits to Fitzgerald River National Park and Esperance keeping us busy, there was one final spot on the menu before we departed for home. Cape Le Grand National Park is famous for a few things, one being Lucky Bay and another being Frenchman Peak. We were here to see both with the plan being to stay at Lucky Bay for our last night and to get in the Class 5 hike that is Frenchman Peak. Leaving our AirBnB we departed for Cape Le Grand and only being an hour away we had plenty of time to explore the park once we had selected our campsite.
Thanks to the power of social media, the secret is out on Lucky Bay and the draw card of having kangaroos frolicking on the white sandy beach has meant visitor numbers are now increasing rapidly. To cope with the demand the campgrounds are in the process of being upgraded and at the time of our visit they were still constructing facilities in the upper reaches of the campground. With 50 odd campsites available there is still no guarantee that you will secure a spot so if you are visiting at peak times then get there early (although campsite booking may be in the works for this spot). Being the Tuesday after Easter we were able to find a spot up on the hill and when I returned from this hike the signs were up saying the campsite was full. My plan for Frenchman Peak was to hike it close to sunset to maximise the good lighting so the middle of the day was spent walking and swimming at Thistle Cove before catching up on some reading at the campsite. We weren't that lucky to have kangaroos on the beach during our visit but still saw a few at the campsite opposite us as they sought out the shade of our neighbours tent.
One of the motivators to get Caris out hiking was a picture that Parks and Wildlife reposted on Instagram from a mother on Frenchman Peak with her 4yo kid. If the kid could do it then there would be no excuse but it was a moot point in the end as Caris was quite happy to stay at the campsite reading her book and given all the hiking I had made her do I wasn't going to say anything. She was worried that it was classified as a Class 5 hike and not having seen it before apart from photos at the top I couldn't say if she would enjoy it. I left Caris in the tent and drove the short distance to the car park at the base of Frenchman Peak. It was a popular place today with only a couple of spots left in the gravel lot. With my camera primed and pack on I set off on the gentle first section that takes you along the base and down a couple of valleys containing some lovely orange chitticks (flowers). The easy going stops as you reach the appropriately wonky sign pointing you up the granite rock face and onto the hardest section of the hike. From here you follow a series of trail markers bolted onto the granite but you can't see how steep things get until you round a corner and stare straight up at the granite rock face trying to spot the markers all the way to the top.
I could see a line of people hiking up and went about tackling the steep gradient (sometimes greater than 30%) realising why it is rated as a Class 5 hike given how slippery things would get in the wetter months (this side of the hill won't see sunlight for most of the year). I passed a few people as they stopped to catch their breath and eventually I had reached the rock formation that looks like a hippo or crocodile opening its mouth. There were a few people around this area so I moved on to one of the cooler features of any granite peak in Western Australia, the cave. Formed when the sea levels were 200m higher than they are now, the process of waves crashing into the rock and underwater flows created this hollow formation that is quite sizable and is a bit of a surreal experience to stand in the middle and have the coastline views framed perfectly by the cave roof. I was lucky to have someone else in the cave to provide scale and we both ended up swapping places as we finished exploring the various nooks and crannies. With the cave explored it was time to move on to the final section that involves one last climb to the proper summit. The way is again guided by markers bolted into the terrain and does a little bit of a loop around, showcasing the north and western views back towards Woody Island and Esperance in the distance.
I reached the summit and had to wait a little bit as there was a large group of European tourists on the summit taking photos. I didn't mind as I photographed the little peaks to the west of the hill and soon had the summit to myself for all the 360 degree views I could handle. With views stretching back to Lucky Bay to the south, Woody Island and Esperance to the west and a vast untouched plain of heathland to the north and east, this isn't a bad spot to be. The sun hadn't quite begun setting and I didn't feel like hanging around for another couple of hours so began my descent back down the rock face. It wasn't long before I caught up to the European tourists that were struggling to get down the steep section as their footwear of choice was thongs (hint - don't wear thongs on a Class 5 hike). I reached the bottom of the rock face and found one of them whipping out a drone, which I assumed they didn't have permission to fly in the national park. It kind of put a dampener on the hike as I don't like people not being prepared for the conditions and then blatantly ignoring the rules (there is a big sign at the park entrance addressing the drone issue). Would have been a special hike had it not been for all the ugly tourist behaviour I witnessed. I was somewhat appeased by stopping at a lookout off Lucky Bay Rd and photographing Frenchman Peak in the afternoon sunlight.
Thistle Cove and Lucky Bay - We are so fortunate to have an abundance of pristine white sandy beaches on the south coast and Cape Le Grand features a few that would be the envy of any country in the world. Thistle Cove is located between Frenchman Peak and Lucky Bay and is the perfect location if you want to escape the crowds of Lucky Bay. It may not feature kangaroos on the beach but is a great place to chill out and enjoy a swim. The long beach is free from 4x4s so walk as far as you want and settle down with a towel and a book. Lucky Bay is a tourist hot spot for a reason with excellent facilities and a coffee/food van during the warmer months to provide something delicious for your walk along the beach.
While we didn't get to see kangaroos on the beach during our visit (think it was too windy) there is more than enough evidence on Instagram to suggest that this was the exception. As always with wild animals, please respect their space and do not handle or feed them. We drove out onto the beach for sunset although the wind and cold meant we retreated once the good lighting disappeared. Weirdly for a full campsite we were the only ones on the beach for sunrise, made me wonder why everyone was here if you weren't up for great show we experienced. We would highly recommend Lucky Bay as a campsite but maybe avoid the Easter period and school holidays if you can so you get a quieter experience.
Final Thoughts - Frenchman Peak was the main reason I tacked on an extra night to the road trip and despite the tourist issues, it certainly lived up to the hype.
Although it is rated as a Class 5 hike, I would consider it a Class 4 during the warmer months a the only danger apart from falling off a cliff edge is the slippery granite rock face.
While there is a cave on top of Talyuberlup Peak, it isn't safe to enter and is nowhere near the size of the cave under Frenchman Peak. This I think lifts the hike above some of the other granite peaks around southern WA and really has to be experienced as the photos don't capture the feeling of standing inside.
This is the perfect compliment to any stay at Lucky Bay or a great day activity if you are staying in Esperance. Please be smart and wear proper footwear on this hike and should only be tackled by experienced hikers when conditions are wet or windy.
Get out there and experience it!
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