Give me any excuse to hit the road with my gal pal on a drive along the spectacular Fitzgerald Coast towards Bremer Bay in WA - particularly if it’s in the speccy Ford Everest Sport.
For someone like me who drives a small, ‘vintage’ manual, coming from an old car to 2023 Wheels Car of the Year is a huge upgrade. So, both bedazzled by its glamour and ready for an exciting four-wheel drive adventure, I am more than curious to board this shiny new SUV and test its mettle - on and off the road.
Esperance seems like the perfect starting point for a memorable Thelma and Louise storyline.
There are many four-wheel drive tracks around this area, not to mention pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and unique rock formations; but Cape Le Grande National Park (around 30 km from Esperance) has a 22 km long stretch of sandy coastline running from Cape le Grand Beach to Wylie Bay that we think we can satiate our thirst for some powdery soft sand driving with.
We are forewarned it isn’t the right time of year to be testing out these tracks, but nothing is stopping us from giving it a crack!
It’s worth it for its close proximity to the ocean and the dulcet sounds of gentle waves crashing as we sleep
Unfortunately, once we make our way down to Cape le Grand beach, it has been heavily draped in stinky tendrils of seaweed for some time and the tide is way too high, with lower tides tending towards the evening darkness; so we pose for some obligatory sunset shots over the bay instead, tour some of the park, then stop off at Lucky Bay Campground.
This is a lovely little overnight spot; even with the most basic facilities, it’s worth it for its close proximity to the ocean and the dulcet sounds of gentle waves crashing as we sleep.
The next morning we roll out of bed and dose up on coffee at Downtown Espresso Bar in the heart of Esperance, take a pit stop for some food, water and fuel, then head out for the next part of the road trip: through to Hopetoun, Fitzgerald River National Park and last but not least, Bremer Bay.
Music is the lifeline on these journeys once the banter gets stale, so I am pretty happy to see that there are both USB points and a handy wireless charging pad for our phones to work at 100 percent and sync to the infotainment screen.
In the Everest, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work wirelessly too, so even the ‘backseat drivers’ can control the music with ease.
Wildflowers and art trails
It’s a 2-hour drive west through to the wheat (and mining) town of Ravensthorpe. This also marks the beginning of the Farm Gate Art Trail; with Amok Island’s painting depicting the “Six stages of Banksia baxteri” painted on silos, as just one of 32 sites on display throughout the area.
We stop for a quick pic on the way out of town, then head south to Hopetoun for some homemade sossie roll action from the bakery and demolish it parked up at Hopetoun jetty.
After more than a few hours driving, it’s evident the Everest Sport is built for comfort on long hauls. It’s no wallflower, with its mean-looking grill and shiny blue exterior, and there's also a lot of fun design features on the interior that make this trip a pleasurable experience.
As someone who is 6-feet tall, the seat settings feature wins me over. What a relief not to have to adjust my driver position on every changeover - with just the press of a button, I can save it to ‘long-legged’ mode and cruise the open roads in comfort.
We leave Hopetoun and after a few more hours of driving, nothing can prepare us for our first peak at the mountains of Fitzgerald River National Park that only serve as a surreal cardboard cutout backdrop to the most unique flora that is endemic to this area.
The further we delve into Noongar Country, the more prevalent these human-sized Royal Hakea (or Tallyongut) shrubs become as they blanket sides of the road with their red and white plumage and spiky, stoic-like leaves.
There’s over 1800 species of wildflowers in the national park, so it’s worth exploring some of the various walking trails and lookout points along the way; including our destination of Point Ann, where there is a 1 km easy return walk from the carpark that follows a section of No. 2 Rabbit Proof Fence.
Got the moves baby
At the heart of the Everest Sport’s four-wheel drive capabilities lies its selectable drive modes.
This innovative feature allows us to choose from various driving settings to tackle specific terrains. So, just by turning the dial to Sand mode and dropping the PSI on the tyres, the Everest stealthily adapts its traction control, throttle response, and transmission settings to adjust to the bleached white sand between Point Ann and Point Charles within the Fitzgerald River National Park.
This area is also quite significant for whale watching - particularly within the months of July through to October - with the southern right whales visiting the bay to calve and raise their young every year.
However, we’re not fortunate enough to witness these events take place, as we’re preoccupied with four-wheel driving across the soft, sandy inlet and taking every opportunity to photograph our experience.
For someone who has spent minimal time driving on beaches, I feel completely confident, if not adamant, that I am going to be trying this again, and again…and again. Particularly in situ of the glorious backdrop of Point Charles!
Just behind the dunes, is a cosy camping corner called St Mary’s Inlet Campground, that’s also situated within walking distance from the Point Ann viewing platform. It has BBQ facilities, a picnic area, basic drop toilets and 2WD access, and we practically have the place to ourselves!
However, during school holidays and the warmer months this is a non-bookable campground and an extremely popular swimming, walking and four-wheel driving spot; so best to have back-up accommodation should there be no room available.
Our final destination is Bremer Bay; a wonderful fishing, diving and surfing village less than an hour’s drive from Point Ann.
There are plenty of little beaches to visit around this area, including Bremer Beach, which is a great place for a swim while camping at the Bremer Bay Caravan Park.
Bremer Canyon is a unique deep-water ecosystem off the coast of Bremer Bay, and is one of the few locations on the planet where killer whales (orcas) can be regularly encountered. Unfortunately for us, it’s not the right time of the year to witness this, but charter boats run from January to April, leaving daily from the Fisheries Beach boat ramp, and this is now on my bucket list of things to do next year!
If you’re up for accommodation with incredible views of the bay, some bar banter with the locals and a large indoor fireplace to warm your toes on the cooler nights, then Bremer Bay Resort is where it’s at.
We stay here and then take a little morning drive to watch the sun rise over the bay at Rock Cairn Cuneo Drive and John Cove Beach, just 5 minutes drive away, before we head off towards Hood Point and the Doubtful Islands.
Once we hit Doubtful Island Road, it’s time to put the Everest into Mud/Ruts drive mode for some post-rainfall four-wheel drive fun. There are plenty of indistinguishably deep puddles, and it glides across the ruts and potholes with no issues at all; barely even feeling the bumps on our behinds.
Driving the more dubious tracks is a pleasurable experience in the Everest, due in large part to a raft of tech smarts, including an electronic locking rear differential to maintain momentum in the mud, and a dedicated off-road screen that shows the path ahead, as well as the car’s pitch and roll.
It’s a long road and the weather has made it quite the mud fest, so we are running out of time to take this track all the way to Hood Point as dusk sets in. It’s time to turn around and head home, but it has been fun to ‘jump’ puddles for a bit.
So it is with great regret that this Thelma and Louise trip ends here - but on a much more positive note than the movie itself.
As my friend and I part ways in Bremer Bay and head back to our respective states, I can safely say that it will take some time to adjust back to my ‘analogue’ vehicle after experiencing the technology-rich interior and noiseless cabin of the Ford Everest Sport.
I’ll also miss the freedom of the open road from Esperance through to Bremer Bay. Time to plan the next adventure!
Tips for off-road: before setting off on a 4WD track, check tyre pressures for the conditions, carry a spare tyre, tyre pressure gauge and pump; as well as recovery gear like MAXTRAX to get you out of a sticky situation.
Keep an eye on weather forecasts and road conditions - particularly in the wetter months. Heavy rains, seaweed and high tides made some tracks impassable or closed - particularly around Esperance. So, it’s essential to plan your trip accordingly and be prepared for any changes.