Esperance, a little town on the bottom left corner of Australia, is becoming well-known for several reasons. It’s home to some of the whitest sand beaches in the world, with kangaroos lounging in the sunshine. It’s an amazing place for whale watching. The color of the ocean is unreal – the most vibrant turquoise blue you’ve ever seen. There are bubblegum-pink lakes.
But one of the biggest surprises for me around Australia’s Golden Outback was botanical in nature. This part of the world is home to some incredible plants and wildflowers. It’s a veritable botanical wonderland. I’ve not seen anything like it. The wildflowers in Esperance are unbelievable.
You guys know that I love my plants. I just wrote New Zealand’s first book about houseplants. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Western Australia is home to the most extensive wildflower collection on the planet. In fact, in this part of Australia, there are more than 12,000 species of wildflowers. Here in Esperance and its surrounds down under, the season for wildflowers is spring (August to November).
Here’s a little taste of my time exploring the wildflowers in Esperance – enjoy!
Check out the annual Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show
For forty years, the most incredible wildflower show has quietly taken over this little corner of Australia. While the wildflowers in Esperance are amazing, it goes beyond just the town by far.
While spending the afternoon with Esperance Distillery Co, a micro-gin distillery using local botanicals, they introduced me to Sue, an incredible local who has been coordinating the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show. And it just happened to be going on while I was there. Lucky me! Since 1982, this festival has celebrated the incredible biodiversity and florals of the region. It’s really freaking cool, especially considering the town has less than 1000 inhabitants, yet they feature hundreds of incredible local flowers on display in the local town hall.
During the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show, there are many events and experiences you can join in on. To be honest, I had no idea what I was jumping into. I love flowers and plants and locals who are passionate about them. Sign me up.
Explore the amazing Fitzgerald River National Park
A few hours from Esperance is Fitzgerald River National Park, which has some of the best biodiversity in Australia and is one of the country’s largest national parks, clocking in at 300,000 hectares. I couldn’t resist a visit out here after spending the day at the wildflower show and exploring the surroundings.
With 60 percent of plants found nowhere else on the planet, including native orchids, banksias, grevilleas, and many others, it was truly a botanical wonderland. In fact, Fitzgerald River National Park has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are a couple of different ways to get into the national park, but I followed the only paved road near Hopetoun.
There are also many four-wheel drive tracks and heaps of hikes inside the national park. You could easily spend days here.
Something I found interesting was that Fitzgerald River National Park reminded me of South Africa. It looked a lot like areas around Cape Town to me. While I have no scientific background to connect this, I do remember from science class that Australia was once part of Gondwana, which included Africa. Does anyone else see this, or just me?
I noticed this a lot with plants that reminded me a lot of proteas, which are one of the flowers I love and often pick out when I buy bouquets. I mean, is there anything more beautiful than a king protea/Protea cynaroides? It’s also the national flower of South Africa. Hear me out, guys!
Around this part of Western Australia and Fitzgerald River National Park, you’ll notice another stunning wildflower – banksias. Banksia is a genus of around 170 species in the ancient plant family Proteaceae. Ah ha! See where I’m going with this? Evidence suggests that ancestors grew in Gondwana, some in Africa, some in Australia, and others in South America.
Banksias are also named in honor of Joseph Banks, the renowned naturalist who collected many of them during Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour around 1770. It’s also when he came to New Zealand. As a massive plan nerd, I know a lot about Mr. Banks. He went on to make Kew Gardens in the UK the world’s leading botanical garden. It’s my dream to go here.
Something fascinating I learned is that banksias have adapted to regular bushfires. Many need fires to burst open their seed pods. Too cool. You can see lots of banksias around here, and of course, the best time for wildflowers is spring. But some plants flower all year long here. If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the tiny and very cute possum, their main pollinator.
Anyway, I didn’t imagine it; the biodiversity and landscape reminded me a lot of South Africa. Tell me a Banksia baxteri does not look a lot like a protea. Moving on.
Learning heaps at a regenerative honey farm
During the Ravensthorope Wildflower Show, there are often events and tours around the area to learn about the natural history. I was invited last minute to join a group tour in Kundip at the Djilarup Honey Farm to learn about native plant regeneration. While I was definitely one of the younger visitors, I found it very engaging. If you haven’t realized it by now, I geek out on plants.
I often help with native planting here in New Zealand and am passionate about land restoration. Many places I write about, especially accommodations, often invest heavily in restoring the land. I think it’s really important; it’s all interconnected.
It was fascinating to learn it through the lens of honey and bees. Save the bees.
The Djilarup Honey Farm has been working hard to regenerate their land by planting thousands of local native plants. It was amazing. You could see a clear line from where they haven’t planted to where many natives grow now. Doing this has the dual benefit of restoring the soil and helping the bees thrive.
Without geeking out too much, I was eager to learn more about how they have been looking into growing native Leptospermum, a genus of plants from the Myrtle family. We have them here in New Zealand too. Our famous mānuka honey comes from the nectar produced by Leptospermum scoparium, our mānuka trees.
Mānuka honey is a big business here in New Zealand, and it was really interesting to see if explored from their perspective. Especially as I got to taste the fruits of their labor. The honey is amazing.
Flowers flowers everywhere
There’s something pretty amazing about people who love plants and flowers.
I found everyone I met in Esperance to be kind, friendly, and wonderful. They know they live somewhere unique and special. To visit it as an outsider and see that for myself, where it hasn’t yet been overrun with tourists, is pretty neat. That’s becoming rarer these days.
I learned so much while I was there about the native flora, and yet I left knowing there was so much more to see. Pretty much everywhere where I went, there was some new plant or flower I hadn’t seen yet. Sue was kind enough to drive me around after the honey farm and show me another area full of wildflowers. It was just down a red dirt road with views as far as you could see. It wasn’t a reserve or national park. Here the flowers are abundant, just like in this part of Western Australia.
Are you the kind of person who would travel to see plants? Would you travel to see the wildflowers in Esperance? Can you relate?