One of my favorite things about my trip to Esperance was the jarring color palette.
Here, on the bottom left corner of Australia, deep red rocks the color of clay merge with dense verdant green shrubby bush. Turquoise waters splash onto pure white sand beaches home to kangaroos. And come springtime? The land erupts in a rainbow of wildflowers. And there are also bubblegum pink lakes. It’s so colorful!
To cap off the end of a beautiful week in Esperance, Western Australia, I hopped on a ferry to Woody Island. Fifteen kilometers offshore from Esperance, Woody Island is a nature lover’s paradise. Home to unusual birds, crystal clear waters, cozy glamping tents, and the most colorful landscape, it’s the perfect place to escape it all and get off the grid.
I snoozed on the boat’s deck as we headed out to Woody Island. The hour-long trip flew by with the occasional white-bellied sea eagle overhead or dolphins jumping out alongside us. Is this place for real?
In many ways, it felt “undiscovered.” I hadn’t heard of this place until my trip, and it still feels very authentic and rustic. Not touristy at all, and Woody Island is simply a nature reserve with basic facilities for visitors. The vibe was genuine and friendly, and it almost felt like the summer camps of my childhood here.
You could really immerse yourself in nature easily here.
Rich in history, Woody Island is the only inhabited island out of the 105 that comprise the Recherche Archipelago. A nature reserve since the 1950s, back in the late 19th century, it was used for grazing livestock. Intimate and small, it’s only about 240 hectares in size, and you can easily explore most of the island over a day or two.
Overseen now by Woody Island Eco Tours, you can visit as a day trip from Esperance or stay for a few days in one of their cute glamping tents and safari huts.
I was lucky; it was great spring weather and pretty quiet when I was there. I had an amazing glamping setup that was super cute and cozy, overlooking the water and the rest of the island. As someone mildly obsessed with glamping, this was a hard yes for me!
If I have the time, I prefer to stay the night or even for a few days in places like this. Often sunrise and sunset are the best times for wildlife viewing, especially birds.
While I have never been a morning person, I try to get up for the dawn chorus in places with amazing birdlife. There’s something so hauntingly beautiful about hearing their calls through the bush as the day breaks. I love it.
There are no snakes on Woody Island or other predators, which allows the other wildlife to flourish. I spent hours watching the beautiful rock parrots hanging around my tent. Hanging out mostly on the ground, they weren’t timid at all.
Another critter I kept running into was the southwestern crevice-skink. Large and fearless, I kept seeing them on my walks and wanders around the island. Along with a small group of introduced kangaroos, there was no shortage of epic wildlife spotting on Woody Island.
As a huge plant nerd, I fully geeked out on all the amazing plants. One of the only islands in the archipelago with tall trees come springtime; it blooms with colorful wildflowers.
The orchids were in bloom, and walking amongst the acacia and eucalyptus groves was stunning. Trails crisscross the island and are easy to follow. There’s even a snorkel trail you can follow at Shearwater Bay.
There are a few different ways to explore Woody Island. There are guided walks timed around the boat trips, which is a fantastic way to experience the best of the island in a short amount of time.
Probably the coolest story is about Twiggy’s Landing, one of the marked trails on the island that overlooks a muttonbird colony. The story goes that back in the day, Don Mackenzie’s dog, Twiggy, was washed overboard during rough weather. Don Mackenzie built a nice jetty on Woody Island back in the early 70s and helped set up tourism here.
Furthermore, the story goes that Twiggy somehow managed to swim to Woody Island and survive for years before being caught again. There aren’t any beaches on Woody Island. It’s mostly big red rocks. How did she manage to get onto the land? It could only have been at this spot.
One thing I should mention is the black algae on the red rocks at the waterline. So many locals told me to mention this to visitors. Exploring the Esperance coastline and on the islands, in some places, there are black algae on the rocks above the waterline on the shore. It’s really slippery, and people have slipped, fallen, and died – so be careful. Do not walk on it. Out of pure curiosity, I tested it with one foot, and they are not wrong.
On my last day, I went on my own adventure and bush-bashed my way across the island to see the red cliffs on the other side following cairns. It’s not as adventurous as it sounds because the island is pretty small, and often the vegetation is below my height. With native skinks keeping me company, I was able to get lost in my thoughts as I made my way through the shrubs, only jerking back into the present if my face went through cobwebs (you know, spiders. Australia. Shivers.)
It was well worth it; the views were amazing. What a magical place I could have easily stayed for a week.
My few days on Woody Island were really relaxed and peaceful. It consisted of sleeping in, going for walks, birdwatching, reading, and repeating. It was magic.
Finally, as I grow older, these are the kinds of trips I really love. I love to be able to travel slowly, immerse myself in a place, and take my time. I don’t like rushing. Our lives are so rushed these days. Escaping into nature is the perfect way to balance this. Don’t you think?
Have you heard of Woody Island? Is this your kind of adventure? Spill!