The Recherche Archipelago is known by locals as the “Bay of Isles.”
The archipelago contains over 100 pristine islands, and 1500 islets, off the coast of Esperance. The archipelago is located in the south-east of Western Australia, and covers 230 kilometers from East to West, and 50 kilometers from north to south, and total almost 100 square kilometers of land combined.
The archipelago is arranged in two groups, the western group (which includes the largest island, Woody Island, offshore from the Cape Le Grand National Park), and the eastern group (which includes Middle Island and is near Cape Arid National Park).
Much of the archipelago is called the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve, stretching from the aforementioned two national parks.
Woody Island is the only island open to the public within the reserve, and thus offers the most activities to visitors.
In 1627, a Dutch ship captained by Pieter Nuyts traveled through the archipelago but did not come ashore. In 1792, two French vessels, “L’esperance” and “Recherche,” landed in the area during a violent storm. In 1802, Matthew Flinders’s expedition sailed around the archipelago and mapped the coastline.
The archipelago boasts amazing wildlife and wilderness. The islands are fringed with white sand beaches and surrounded by clear turquoise waters. The larger islands are vegetated and support animals and birdlife. These islands support tammars (marsupial), bandicoots, wallabies, snakes, geckos, cape barren geese, and frogs.
Some islands in the grouping are in fact granite outcrops, with steep inclines, and usually lacking beaches, and some are only visible at low tide.
The marine life is varied, with seagrass meadow habitats, steep granite declines offshore, and extensive reefs. There are over 450 species of sponge, soft coral, and sea grass.
Visitors can see sea lions, fur seals – which both travel to the islands to breed. Dolphins are also visible from boats, as are minke whales (between July and October). Birdlife is abundant as well, and includes sea eagles and cape barren geese.
Woody Island is known for its lagoons, beaches, and wildlife – which include wallabies and bandicoots. The island is covered with eucalypt forests
Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)
The archipelago offers many opportunities to explore if one is aboard a charter boat. Woody Island is the only island in the archipelago that is open to the public and that offers boat transfer services.
- Swimming and snorkeling: Woody Island has lagoons that are perfect for swimming, as well as a swimming platform with a waterslide and an underwater snorkel trail.
- Boating: Boating is a popular way to explore the various islands in the archipelago. Day wildlife cruises depart from the mainland and tour the islands and stop at Woody Island in particular.
- Bushwalking and bird-watching: Visitors to Woody Island can explore themselves, or join guided day tours featuring the island’s natural beauty and wildlife.
- Fishing: Visitors can fish offshore as long as they are not stopped within the reserve – a no fishing zone. Commercial fisherman typically catch sharks, pilchard, Esperance Rock Lobster, and abalone.
- Diving: Esperance Bay and the archipelago are one of the top diving sites in Australia, offering diverse marine life and great visibility. Granite wall dives are popular, but divers can also explore caves, and a couple of wrecks – including 174-meter Sanko Harvest.
- Scenic flights: 45-minute scenic flights travel over the coastline, Cape Le Grand, Luck Bay, and the Archipelago.
Many islands in the archipelago have excellent waves, offering great surfing opportunities. Surfing schools operate trips to the different surfing spots.
The only accommodation on the island is the camp ground, which offers luxury safari tents as an alternative to bring-your-own-tent camping.
Alternatively, visitors can stay in or around Esperance – on the mainland – and travel to the archipelago by day.
Camp sites are located on Woody Island within eucalyptus forests and overlooking Shearwater Bay. The camp ground is open from September to April. The camp ground offers basic campsites but also safari huts with outstanding views of the bay. The facilities include a camp ground kitchen and BBQ area, a washing block, and a sheltered deck area.
Esperance is the launching point to the Bay of Isles. Esperance Bay is a 721 kilometers drive from Perth (or about a day’s drive; bus transfers are available) or a two hour flight. The airport is located 26 kilometers north of Perth, along the Coolgardie-Esperance highway.
Cruises depart daily from Taylor Street Jetty en route to Woody Island.