Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse – 11-13 March 2014 (Part 1)

Last August we left Wilsons Promontory Nation Park (aka “The Prom”) with a sense of frustration that we couldn’t explore very much of the park in one-day-return walks. This had to be amended.

There are two multi-day circuits you can walk in the park – northern and southern – that have campsites spaced at reasonable distances along the way. I’ve read that the southern circuit is the more popular, easier and better defined of the two. The southern circuit also includes optional side walks to mainland Australia’s most south-eastern point and most southerly point; both of which we hoped to bag on this trip.

With the added lure of being able to stay at the lightstation at the south-eastern corner, a mere 20km (roughly) from Tidal River, plans were made to return. It would mean at least two days of long walks to get there and back, but if that’s what it was going to take, then so be it. As mentioned in my previous post we aren’t equipped for camping which is why this would be an all-or-nothing dash between Tidal River and the Lightstation (and back again). If we were also camping we’d probably do it as a 4 or 5 night walk, and travel only half the distance each day that we did.

Our Destination - Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

Our Destination – Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

In preparing for the walk we found there to be a lack of detailed information about both the walk and the accommodation at the lightstation from Parks Victoria – or maybe the information provided is of usual standard and we were just nervous first-timers. I’m not sure.

In any case, we already had an SV Map from our previous visit (see August 2013 Part 1 & Part 2) which, while not quite pocket size, actually gives you the type of information that is of greatest benefit when preparing for walks; trivial details like contour lines, distances between points, landmarks etc – the kind of details you don’t get on Parks Victoria’s maps. Perusing photos shared on Google Maps will convince you that taking your camera along is a good idea (if you weren’t already planning to do so), but likewise doesn’t greatly assist in giving you much of an idea of what to expect along the way.

For the accommodation side of things, the greatest insight (and a large part of the inspiration) was provided by Greg of Hiking Fiasco fame who visited the lighthouse back in 2009. (Note: his photos are from Cottage 5 which currently sleeps about 10 people.) It was this post of Greg’s that lead me to embark on creating our own menu of hiking food – see previous post.

Therefore, our goals for this expedition were twofold:
1. to make it to the lighthouse & return again safely
2. to take enough photos to support a detailed blog post to help anyone else planning to walk to the lighthouse for the first time get a better idea of what to expect

Day 1: Tidal River to Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse (South East Lightstation)
via Oberon Bay Walking Track then Telegraph Track

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse Hike

Our route to Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse

Having driven down from Melbourne the day before, Black Cockatoo’s studio cottage (just oust side the park in Yanakie) was ‘base camp’, allowing us to enjoy a good night’s sleep before rising early and excited, ready for our first big day of walking.

You can’t pass up the opportunity to take a few photos of the sunrise when it presents itself like this, though.

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We’d weighed our packs before leaving home. Despite last minute culling of one or two more items that morning, with the addition of our water bottles mine would have weighed 16.5kg or so and Stephen’s was about 18kg. Ooof!

It was a quiet drive down to Tidal River; not too many people on the road, and no wildlife either. There’s no point being too early, as the Visitor Centre doesn’t open until 8:30am. We arrived at about 8:45am, presented ourselves with booking confirmation at the main desk and were given a sticker to display inside the car’s windscreen. Despite the Parks Victoria website suggesting that we’d need to collect a permit (each?):

Parks Victoria quote

…nothing was given or mentioned. We were asked to check in again on our way out – and then we were free to go! I asked if there were any track issues we should be aware of, but apparently there are none at present.

By the time we put our boots on, packed up the car and made a last comfort stop it was 9:15am. Well and truly time to head off.

Note: The shortest path to the lighthouse is to drive to the top of Telegraph Saddle (Oberon) Carpark, leave your car there (only Parks Victoria vehicles are allowed further), and follow Telegraph Track the whole way down. The shortest possible route (per our SV Map) indicated that to be 17.9km. We did not chose this option because:

(1) Stephen had read comments suggesting that it is less safe to leave your car up at the saddle carpark (and we like the Mini just as it is) so parking it right outside the Visitor Centre & police station (though we’ve never seen signs of police actually there – possibly it’s a peak season thing) seemed like the safest choice; and

(2) We’d read that the Telegraph Saddle Track is a bit boring, so walking the whole length in one go was not too appealing. The original plan was to return on Day 3 from the lighthouse via the South East Walking Track, taking the Waterloo Bay Walking Track back to Telegraph Junction, return to Tidal River over the Telegraph Saddle and see what we’d missed out on (but with lighter packs by then).

By choosing to leave the car at Tidal River, we then had the options of two routes to get to Telegraph Junction:
– either by taking the undulating and varied Oberon Bay Walking Track around the west coast to Oberon Bay
– or heading inland and walking up and over Telegraph Saddle  to follow Telegraph track the whole way.

The Oberon Bay Walking track option is 1.4km longer, but on the other hand you avoid a climb of approx 200m (with full and heavy packs) at the outset. We chose Oberon Bay Walking Track.

Note that there is a shuttle bus service up to Telegraph Saddle but it doesn’t operate during the week, only during peak periods when the Telegraph Saddle (Oberon) carpark is otherwise closed to private cars (see more about the shuttle bus service here).

Thus, this was the elevation profile for our walk to the lightstation:

Elevation profile to Wilsons Prmontory Lighthouse

Elevation profile to Wilsons Prmontory Lighthouse

Oberon Bay Walking Track (very glamorously) starts behind the toilet block between the Visitor Centre and the General Store at Tidal River. This path is well formed and well travelled, and provides lovely beach views as it climbs up to Norman Point and around to Little Oberon Bay.

(I have added in a couple of track photos from August – just convince you that it’s not all calm conditions and sunshine there!)

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There’s a short stretch of beach to cross at Little Oberon Bay. (What a beautiful place this is!)

Just after you cross the line of rocks bisecting the beach, look for a mass of footprints that leads up to the shelf above the beach. There’s a yellow sign indicating where the track continues on.

Wilsons Promontory NP - Little Oberon Bay sign

And that’s not the trickiest one in the park by a long shot. Here’s a closer photo so you know what you’re looking for, not just roughly where.

Sign at Little Oberon Bay

This is a very well beaten path, still being within pretty easy walking distance of Tidal River, but if the weather has wiped out the dozens of footprints usually there to follow, look for the line of rocks indicating the path.

The track around the next headland is very similar to the one around Norman Point. It was along here that I was intrigued to see, and count myself lucky to have got the chance to photograph, a white-lipped snake.

White-lipped snake on path to Oberon Bay

White-lipped snake on path to Oberon Bay

Close up of head of white-lipped snake

Close up of the head of the white-lipped snake

My copy of “Australian Reptiles and Amphibians” (Leonard Cronin, 2001) advises that the White-lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides) is venomous but not dangerous. Although they may grow to 50cm long, this one was only about 20cm, I’d say. And if you’re wondering what they eat…

…skinks, skink eggs, frogs and even small mammals are all potential prey.

By now Oberon Beach was in sight. We’d checked ahead and knew the tide would be pretty low when we got to Growler Creek, meaning getting wet feet was highly unlikely. Keep in mind too, that there hasn’t been any rain (or meaningful rain) for the last couple of months.

We hadn’t walked along Oberon Beach before, so weren’t exactly sure where the turn off was. I thought it was at the end of the beach, but was hoping for another bright yellow sign to show the way. So we kept walking, taking photos and looking for a bright yellow sign…

I was slightly wrong. We overshot by a couple of hundred metres. The track to/from the beach is on the northern side of Fraser Creek, and indicated by the usual wooden green Vic Parks sign but it’s not accompanied by a yellow high-visibilty-type sign that we were looking for. Which is why I’ve adulterated this next photo, in the hope that it may help someone else avoid our mistake. Frasers Creek is only about 1km along from Growler Creek, and you should look for the signed path through the low dune just north of Frasers Creek, which itself is pretty obvious.

Oberon Bay - Wilsons Promontory National Park

After about 30m there is a nice new composting toilet at the turn off to the camping ground. The track to Telegraph Track continues for 3.5km eastward on a pretty sandy, mildly undulating, vehicle track.

Nice loo! Path to Telegraph Track to the left, path to campsite to the right

Nice loo! Path to Telegraph Track to the left, path to campsite to the right

It was getting noticeably warm by this point. There wasn’t a lot of breeze today, and walking through the valley floor I was wondering how stifling it could get through here in the height of summer (usually mid January to the end of February)…

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We finally made it to Telegraph Junction. It felt like a long 11km from Tidal River. Mind you, I couldn’t get my back pack to settle comfortably, and the day really seemed to be hotter than the predicted 23oC, which wasn’t helping.

There is probably about 30m (max) between where the Oberon Bay Walking Track meets the Telegraph Track from the west and where the Waterloo Bay Track meets up from the east. This area is known as Telegraph Junction.

Telegraph Track is (currently) a very well made and maintained maintenance road running from Telegraph Saddle (Oberon Carpark) to about 3km from the lightstation. The park rangers at the lighthouse drive this road to start/finish their weekly shift. It makes for sure footing, but it’s also pretty hot and exposed.

Just 1.8km along from Telegraph Junction, but already feeling like a fair way higher up the hill, Halfway Hut was a great location for a brief lunch stop just off the side of the road (there is also a camping area nearby).

The further we walked, the more I was convinced that it was hotter than 23oC – Stephen later found out from one of the park rangers that it got up to 30oC. But knowing that at the time wouldn’t have helped. You have to be mindful of how much you’re drinking and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But damn it was a long, hard slog up that road on the slopes of Telegraph Hill and past Martins Hill!

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After many false summits we were finally at the top of the track by Martins Hill. The vegetation’s quite cleared up there as it’s also a helicopter landing area (according to our map).  I didn’t feel the relief though. All I could think about was drinking long glasses of lemon effervescent drink (currently in powder form in my pack) once we finally made it to the lightstation – still a long way off – and meanwhile my pack wasn’t getting any lighter.

Walking track option to Roaring Meg's from Telegraph Track at top of Martin's Hill

Walking track option to Roaring Meg campsite from Telegraph Track at top of Martin’s Hill

Here at the top of the hill is the start/end of an alternative walking track route that is 200m longer than the management track. We decided to stick with the vehicle track thinking it’d be a better grade and possible quicker. (Much earlier in the walk, when we were heading up to Norman Point, Stephen had an small accident that resulted in a skinned knee. This influenced a couple of track choice decisions.)

I’d like to say I took the opportunity to enjoy walking downhill for a while, but I confess the main thought on my mind was, ‘If we come back up this road [i.e. taking the shortest way back, which seemed more than likely at this point] it’s going to be another looong slog.”

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The tall trees and ferns in the gullies here are lovely, and in any other circumstance I’d probably have been delighted to be walking there, but under the circumstances I didn’t appreciate it as fully as it possibly deserved. The shady parts were wonderful, but surely all this downhill walking meant that soon we would see some sign that we were getting close to the end of the promontory? Unfortunately, there is no glimpse or even hint of your goal (or even the ocean) until you’re practically upon it, and that’s not for half a dozen kilometres yet. There’s nothing but the neighboring hills.

Probably less than 100m before you get to Roaring Meg Creek at the bottom of the hill is an intersection that I shall refer to as ‘Roaring Meg Junction’. Here is the turnoff to Roaring Meg campsite and also the track to South Point, the inventively named most southerly point on the Australian mainland – a destination I had originally hoped to bag the following day, but one that was looking increasingly unlikely (this trip). It’s also at this junction that the bushwalking track that we could have taken back up at the top near Martins Hill joins back to the management track. Another bushwalking track option starts – this time it’s 1.1km shorter (2.3km vs 3.4km) to head off the road. The bushwalking track re-joins the management track 3.8km before the lightstation (per our SV Map).

It was at Roaring Meg Junction that we first met Neal (possibly Neil) and Elle (possibly El). They were also heading to the lighthouse but had chosen the shorter option of starting from Telegraph Saddle and had taken the bushwalker track from Martin’s Hill to this point.

We decided to continue on along the management track, and they chose the bush track. I was not over the moon with this decision, thinking that any track in the shade had to be 100x better than one with bugger-all shade and more hot, gravel surface reflecting the heat back up at me (keeping in mind it was 30oC, with out much in the way of a breeze for the most part), but it was the even surface that Stephen wanted (due to his knee).

It was slow going up along there.

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One surprise on the way up that long rise was something every bushwalker should be mindful of, especially on warm days – a snake!

It was startled by Stephen who was a few metres ahead of me. A dark Tiger Snake (see also), a good metre or so in length, neck flattened, gave me a warning look and quickly moved off the road. “Holy Shit!!” was my startled exclamation.

Tiger snake disappearing into the scrub

Tiger snake disappearing into the scrub

A kilometre or so further along was another Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus). Stephen, still walking in front, was the one to startle it, but this time saw it out of the corner of his eye and got a bit of a fright himself! I don’t think the snake saw me at first. It was lying across the road and watching Stephen.

My photo of the snake, focused on Stephen who'd just walked past

My photo of the snake, looking at Stephen who’d just walked past

Then it noticed me approaching!

I wasn’t sure how to pass. Not in front! Behind?

More effective than Gandalf in barring the way

More effective than Gandalf in barring the way

It took a few seconds (and given my dehydrated state, that’s not surprising) but I realised it wasn’t moving off like the first one did because it felt threatened – trapped between two giant (potential) predators it didn’t know what to do. The flattened neck was a bit of a give away. Once Stephen and I both backed off a few metres (it didn’t take much) the snake relaxed and within 15sec you’d have never known there was a snake there at all.

In the Visitor Centre back at Tidal River there is a sign warning that there are various species of snake in the park. I took this photo on our first trip to the park last August (of course, being winter we were much less likely to see a snake then).

Parks Victoria notice - Snakes in the Park

Parks Victoria notice – Snakes in the Park

Thank goodness both the Tiger Snakes we passed were only interested in disappearing into the bush. I had a couple of compression bandages once, but they got old and mouldy and haven’t been replaced. Our first aid kit has one standard length cotton stretch (crepe) bandage. We may have to do something about that. I had recently heard that the recommended treatment for snakebite had changed… I’ve now looked it up – here’s a link to St John Ambulance’s advice – which is pretty much as I remember it.

Looking back at where the walking track joins back up with Telegraph Track

Looking back at where the walking track joins back up with Telegraph Track

Neal and Elle told us later that although the bushwalking track is shorter, because it’s so steep (and small stones on the path make steep slopes sometimes feel like you’re walking on marbles) it’s not really the easier option.

At last you start heading downhill again and finally come to a couple of signs. The usual green-painted Parks Victoria sign with the hopeless blobby arrows on the right-hand side of the road indicates that the small dirt path on the left side of the road is the southern end of the South East Walking Track. A sign just ahead (on the left-hand side of the road) saying “No Through Road” convinced me that although the track off to the side looked like a goat track, it could actually be legitimate. I’m pretty sure the Parks Victoria sign didn’t say anything about the lightstation, but I failed to take a photo to check! Someone had helpfully scratched into the dirt of the road “Girls this way” with an arrow pointing to the small side track… With that ambiguous statement to ponder, we set off along what I really hoped would turn out to be the right path. Thankfully it was.

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Finally you get to see your destination! It’s a fair way down from Telegraph Track.

At one of the turns, most of the way down, is the turn off from the South East Walking Track to the lighthouse.

Turn off to the lighthouse - less than 1km to go, but it's pretty steep going

Turn off to the lighthouse – less than 1km to go, but it’s pretty steep going

If the small hill between you and the South East Point was man-made, then I would say it was a cruel joke. It’s steep, although (thankfully) reasonably short. There are also unmarked graves near the large ‘skull rocks’ near the top – they once had wooden markers, but they were destroyed in one of the bushfires that burnt out the promontory – the massive bushfire of 1951 I think we were told.

Just over the hill with the skull rocks is the helipad where supplies are flown in a few times a year. We saw Neal and Elle ahead of us, already walking up the last steep path to the lightstation.

Unlike many visitors (it seems), we had been forewarned about this bit, thanks to Hiking Fiasco. Knowing it was coming certainly helped mentally prepare for it, but it was even steeper than I’d given his story credit.

Here we were. Time to face the Big Climb To The Top

Here we were. Time to face the Big Climb To The Top

One…last…effort.

I confess I was thinking of Mt Doom

I confess I was thinking of Frodo & Sam on Mt Doom

And then there was Renata, one of the Park Rangers welcoming me to the top, and Stephen with a freshly filled bottle of cold water (I had a mouthful but I was still hanging out for that effervescent drink).

We were shown around the old Lighthouse Keepers Cottage and met Colin, the other Park Ranger stationed here this week. We had room No 1 (perhaps because we were the first to book?) which is possibly the best, as it has it’s own door to the veranda and you can look directly out to the lighthouse (but the light doesn’t shine in of a nighttime). Finally we could drop our bags, take off the boots, find my bag of powdered saline drink and gulp down as much of the replenishing lemon-flavoured drink as I needed to feel somewhat recovered again. (Tip: you know you’ve had enough when it starts to taste less appealing.)

Once we’d rested for a few minutes, it was time for a wonderful hot shower, clean clothes, then to explore! (With a bottle of water in hand; re-hydrating properly can take a while.)

Truly, it wasn’t long before the pure bliss of being here totally washed away all the negative sentiments thought along the Telegraph Track. And then some.

I quickly decided I could happily live here. It’s not just because the walk back out seemed like a lot of effort (especially right now, having just walked 25km to get here), but because it was just perfect. Nice breeze, tall cliffs, lighthouse, ocean, offshore islands, tall, forested mountains, hardly anyone around – what more could you possibly ask?

How about seeing a wombat and her baby walking around the cottages? Well, we did.

A wombat and her young

A wombat and her young

Stephen’s very cleverly put together this collage of them.

Apparently there are about 12 that live around the cottages, and given the amount of wombat poo around, that’s not hard to believe! They do very well at keeping the grass down. They’re quite a bit darker than the ones that live around Tidal River.

Wombat at Tidal River - much lighter coloured than those seen at the lightstation

Wombat at Tidal River – much lighter coloured than those seen at the lightstation

It turned out that it was only the four of us staying at the cottage that night – Stephen and I, and Neal and Elle. It was a nice and companionable evening. (I hope we didn’t bang on at them too much about our opinions on how visitor options for the park could be seriously improved.)

It rained that evening and into the night (which was great to hear) so we didn’t go spotlighting or take any starry photos. I just hope the rain was wide spread in the region as it’s desperately wanted.

See also:

Preparing for Wilsons Promontory Lighstation hike (hiking food, tips on what you will/won’t need to pack)
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation (Part 2) Lighthouse tour, Eastern Landing, accommodation features and options
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation (Part 3) Return to Tidal River via Waterloo Bay

: )


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Wilsons Promontory NP (Part 1) – August 2013

Parks Victoria declares that “The Prom is one of Victoria’s most-loved places“. Indeed, most people who know our love of a good walk in scenic locations had been very surprised to hear that we’d never been to Wilsons Promontory before.

Some ‘classic’ photos of Wilsons Promontory NP

The reason for the delay has been the lack of accommodation options and general services available to visitors to the park. Unless you’re prepared to camp, the in-park choices are costly &/or unappealing to us for a variety of reasons, which is why we chose to stay at Black Cockatoo Cottages just outside the National Park.

Wilsons Prom is a roughly 3 hour drive south-east from Melbourne, and the road there via Korumburra and Leongatha has much to recommend it. I love a windy road through the hills! Gippsland is very green – they get a lot of rain around there – and you pass through mostly dairy farms on the way, but there are also some beef cows and sheep grazing contentedly in the fields.

We stopped briefly at a winery just before Leongatha called Clare de Lune and met Brian, the winemaker, who used to be an abalone fisherman in Waratah Bay, which is the bay to the west of Wilsons Promontory between it and Cape Liptrap. I liked his 2013 Duo (Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay) and was intrigued by his quince liqueur. We bought a couple of bottles of red and white and kept going. (On the drive home we bought a bottle of Djinta Djinta 2008 Merlot, the vineyard next door to Clair de Lune, which was really good, and a bottle of Lucinda Estate 2012 Chardonnay (fine & dry) which was also quite lovely and refreshing).

With wine, of course, you need cheese (and vise versa). When Stephen asked, Brian advised that Berry Creek Cheese doesn’t sell direct from the factory anymore, but the IGA in Leongatha stock their cheeses. So we made another stop and were very pleasantly surprised by Leongatha’s IGA! Our hosts at Black Cockatoo had also advised us to ensure that we buy food for our stay at Leongatha before coming down to the Prom. We had done all our essential shopping before leaving Melbourne, but stopped for some local cheese. I’m not a huge fan of blue cheese, but we tried both the Mossvale and Tarwin (2 of Berry Creek’s 6 blue cheeses), and we both preferred the Mossvale Blue.

Just out of Leongatha you get your first view as you come down from the hills, across the farms to the Prom. Wow! I had no idea it was that big! The hills look like mountains as they rise up from the sea, and there are a lot more of them than I’d realised.

But just because you can see something doesn’t mean you’re all that close, and it was still over 30min before we had found the turn off to our accommodation, a couple of kilometres outside the park.

Getting close

Getting close

One of a few accommodation options just outside the park, Black Cockatoo Cottages is protected from the enthusiastic westerly and northerly winds by the tall pines and gum trees at the front of the property, and the other dense trees along the fence lines creating windbreaks. The way the cottages are positioned just below the crest of the hill helps, too.

All the cottages on the property face the east to take advantage of the view, but we were especially lucky to get the studio cottage at the end of the property, because that cottage’s floor plan has the bed facing out to the view – possibly the best part of staying there. The colours of sunset were good, but the sunrises were amazing! It did mean I didn’t sleep in at all, though… the thought of what I’d be missing out on if I closed my eyes was unbearable.

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The cottages are surrounded by paddocks belonging to a dairy farm – a New Zealand dairy operation that is owned by Germans (according to our hosts), which supplies Devondale (per the sign on the gate). Make of that what you will.

That meant that twice a day we were entertained (no, it doesn’t take much) by watching the cows meander back to their assigned field after milking. There’s no herding; they know the routine and just do it. Our only disappointment was that, over the duration of our stay, they weren’t put in the paddock right next to our cottage. I don’t often get the chance to wake up to cows.

A brief history of The Prom

Wilsons Promontory was once part of the tribal lands of the Brataualung. In the 1800’s, sealing, whaling and logging were industries carried out on the promontory. By the turn of the 20th century it was the pastoralists turn, despite the general poor quality of the coastal grasses. In response to a government proposal to create a settlement at Waterloo Bay, the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria (FNCV) led the campaign which eventually saw the formation of  Victoria’s first national park. The role of national parks, namely being for the “preservation and protection of native fauna and flora” was shunted to the side somewhat when the army used the Prom as a training base for commandos during WWII, and to monitor Bass Strait. The toll on the park was such that the FNCV found it required considerable rehabilitation afterwards.

Independent Companies Memorial, Tidal River

Independent Companies Memorial, Tidal River

(For further reading, see Park Victoria’s ParkwebA History of Wilsons PromontoryOz @ War: No 7 Infantry Training Centre for CommandosWikipedia – Wilsons Promontory.)

Wilsons Promontory has made headlines in more recent history when in 2005 what was to be a controlled burn got out of control and 13% of the park was burnt.  A lightning-sparked blaze in 2009 burnt out much of the top half of the park. Then in 2011, extremely heavy rainfall caused landslides and flash flooding, leading to the only road in/out of the park being cut and people had to be evacuated by helicopter. The tracks that were damaged by landslides have only just been reopened to the public after an enormous amount of effort has gone in to repairing them and making sure the environment is as safe as can be expected.

March 2011 Flood - Vic Parks Info board

March 2011 Flood – Vic Parks Info board

Monday

It was a clear-ish sky this morning so I took the opportunity to take some early morning photos. My reward for being up early was seeing the International Space Station (ISS) go over at 6:17am-ish, and dawn sometime after that.

The lovely morning turned into a rainy day. We knew it was going to be windy even before the rain came because we could hear it in the trees around the property.

About mid morning the rain started over the mountains in the park across the bay – and shortly after that, over us. At this point we’d just put our packs in the boot and sat in the car, ready to go…

Knowing we wouldn’t be walking, we headed off anyway to see what the drive to Tidal River (the only settlement in the park) was like.

We didn’t see anyone else going into the park, but passed a few people coming out (winter being low season, after all) so it only took about 20min or so to drive the (roughly) 30km to Tidal River.

There are aspects of the drive that remind me of a number of locations, but of all the places I’ve been it bares the strongest resemblance to Freycinet National Park in Tasmania – only the mountains here are higher, more vegetated, and the granite is not pink. You pass through steep shrubby dunes, swampy plains, and over tall hills/low mountains that look like the smooth, bare granite boulders are both bursting out of them and extras have been scattered over them as an afterthought.

The road signs warning of wildlife are very busy. There aren’t many showing just one animal. There are some with up to 4 animals on the one sign!

As we crested a rise and got our first, albeit rain-obscured view of Bass Strait, I couldn’t help but reflect at how – on a bright, sunny day – this view would cause no end of excitement for travellers, eager to reach their holiday destination. I have felt the same on many an occasion when glimpsing the ocean when nearing Point Lookout on Straddie…

First glimpse

First glimpse

Passing Squeaky Beach I commented that there wouldn’t be any squeaks today. You know, I had a few people tell me to definitely visit Squeaky Beach. Maybe that’s why Victorians like going to the Gold Coast so much! It’s warmer than Melbourne and they can find squeaky sand! If the weather co-operates we may have to give it a go – just to see if it squeaks as good as Queensland sand, of course!

We had initially thought to climb Mt Oberon today – the weather put paid to that idea. The weather report on tonight’s news said wind gusts down here at the Prom reached up to 109km/hr! I took a photo of it from the Visitor Centre at Tidal River instead.

(PS: they’ve recently had gusts up to 120km/hr – when there’s nothing between you and South Africa to keep the wind in check, it can get a bit frisky.)

Mt Oberon - too wet & windy to climb today

Mt Oberon – too wet & windy to climb today

There’s not that much in the Visitor Centre. An information board said the track across to Sealers Cove had been re-opened which was good news, and there was general park information, a weather forecast, and free-but-not-very-detailed-maps but at least there was something. The staff there really just seem to be administration people to take bookings, collect fees and issue permits to campers and overnight/multiday hikers.

Next to the Visitor Centre is a General Store which has a souvenir shop. You can buy a giant stuffed (toy) kangaroo there for $500.00! It would have stood about 2m tall. How you’d fit that in the boot of a car (along with the rest of your camping gear) I have no idea. I bought a couple of (nice but overpriced) postcards and we headed back to the cottage. There’s also a cafe attached to the General Store which possibly sells food in summer. I may well be mistaken, as I was in there for a whole of maybe 10sec, but I don’t think they actually make anything, just reheat stuff.

On the way out of the park we saw a kangaroo, a wallaby and a wombat – fortunately all alive and munching away contentedly on the road shoulder.

Later in the afternoon when it appeared the showers might be easing slightly, Stephen suggested we go and see if we can see more animals along the road our host suggested. We layered up, grabbed torches and headed back into the park.

14km into the park is Five Mile Road which, according to our hosts, is supposed to be great for seeing animals along. Although it’s unsealed, it’s pretty well maintained. The surface is a fine gravel that drains well, so there wasn’t any flooding or even puddles on the road despite the heavy rain during the day. We drove to the carpark a couple of kilometres in – without seeing any animals – and decided to walk further along the track. A number of tracks start at the carpark, but we thought the one straight ahead would be our best bet.

We walked a steady uphill gradient for a while along the wide vehicle track passing through banksia forest with an understorey of grasstrees and brackenfern, but did we see anything? Nope. Not a foot print or dropping. To be fair, given the recent rain I would have been mildly surprise to have seen tracks if we didn’t also see the animal that made them, because anything older would surely have been washed away.

At the top of the rise (at about 1.5km along) we came to a couple of signs. One small path lead up to a lookout, the other was a rough vehicle track leading down to the bay. By this stage it was close to sunset, and Stephen argued that it would be better to go down on the clearer track rather than up the more indistinct track and risk getting lost, despite carrying torches. So down we went. As soon as we turned off the main road, there were wombat scats every few metres it seemed! We still didn’t see any animals though. 1km down the hill, the track ends as it intersects with a nicely made gravel footpath (which turned out to be Millers Cove Track) which was somewhat reassuring – if only because it meant we didn’t have to return up the sandy track. After a final, slightly steep descent to a sliver of a beach, we’d reached the bay with just enough light to take some photos and record some frog calls, then turn to head back to the car. I was pretty sure Millers Cove Track lead back to the carpark….

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Despite keeping eyes and ears peeled we only saw one wallaby along this track. Given we didn’t know exactly how long it was to the carpark, by the time we were most of the way there we were starting to wonder if it did indeed go back to the carpark, or if it headed back out to the main road. Although it was getting dark we didn’t (yet) need torches to see the path – and, as mentioned, the path was even and very well maintained. Stopping and checking the map (in the pack Stephen was carrying) would have just spoilt the surprise. And neither of us really wanted to turn back…

Happily we didn’t have to. Only a hundred or so metres (give or take) later and we emerged back at the car park. It’s good to remember that when you’re unfamiliar with a path, and especially in the (semi)dark, distances seem to multiply. From the carpark to the beach it’s only 2km. Not knowing this, and not being able to see clear reference points, made it seem double that distance – even thought my feet knew we hadn’t been walking that far, my head was starting to get wild ideas.

Tracks from Filve Mile Road Carpark

Tracks from Five Mile Road Carpark. We walked up Five Mile Road, down Track 4 to Millers Landing, and back up Millers Landing Track (Track 2)

We saw a wombat on the way out that I tried to photograph but couldn’t quiet get his happy face in view, and a couple of rabbit on the road. Aside from another 3 wombats by the roadside, that’s all we saw. So much for a wildlife hotspot. Maybe the animals had the night off.

Tuesday

We woke to the sound of rain on the roof. (The news reported 43mm for Wilson’s Prom). The sunrise wasn’t quite as clear and spectacular as the previous morning, but there were moments of beauty that I photographed.

Sunrise

Sunrise on Tuesday

Unlike the previous day, the weather did seem to be clearing instead of closing in, so we decided to go around to Cape Liptrap Lighthouse and try to do part of the Cape Liptrap Coast Walk.

Armed with a map (to find our way back up the road to Fish Creek, and then down the other side of Waratah Bay to Cape Liptrap), a walking book (Day Walks Around Victoria), our GPS, and full walking attire, we set out.

It’s a very nice drive, on winding, tree-lined country roads through the rolling green hills, between dairy properties for the most part, but there are also some sheep in the paddocks we passed, too.

After a couple of false turns along the way – the map we were using wasn’t terribly detailed – probably should have just used google maps on one of our phones since we’re with Telstra and have coverage – we eventually made it. If we drove there directly, from just outside the park I think it would have taken about 1hr or close enough.

The Prom from Walkerville, across Waratah Bay - one of our mis-turns

The Prom from Walkerville, across Waratah Bay – one of our mis-turns

The last part of the road, shortly after the point where you see a brown sign indicating the old kilns and the lighthouse, the road is unsealed and not too bad, but could be better. The potholes for the most part are in the centre of the road and can be avoided by driving in the middle of the road. Even so, there was one or two that were a surprise. No lasting damage, we hope.

There are private properties all along the length of the road until you get to the lighthouse. All I can say is these sheep and cows must be accustomed to really windy weather and fabulous views!

As soon as we got out of the car we donned our gortex jackets, hiking boots, gaiters, beanies, and gloves. From the carpark it’s a 2min stroll to the lighthouse. As I walked along I reflected at how, if we were up at the snow, I wouldn’t be wearing all that much more than what I was at that point. Another layer top and bottom perhaps. Thicker beanie and snow gloves. Water proof pants. That’s about it.

The wind hadn’t died down must – if at all – from yesterday, and the chill factor was notable. The risk-of-being-blown-away factor was also notable.

Cape Liptrap Lighthouse is not particularly ostentatious. It’s not very tall, nor does it have stripes of any kind. Just square-sided, white and adequate for it’s purpose. You can’t even see it from the carpark, and you only get a glimpse of the top of it from a couple of hundred metres back up the road.

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There was one other person there when we arrived: a Bloke. In his jeans, boots and checkered jumper, you didn’t have to ask if he was cold because every ounce of him was silently, but staunchly, declaring that he was Not Cold. Compared to him, we looked like we were about to set off to Antarctica!

Photographs taken, we walked back past the carpark and along the road a bit, following Glenn Tempest’s directions. At least, we thought so. After walking up and back along the road, venturing along the path hang gliders launch from, re-reading the instructions – all the while both of us missing the key word/instruction “disregard [this path]”.

After trying various means of trying to determine where the track started, Stephen found a track on his GPS unit which looked promising. It started roughly 100m up the road from the ‘false’ track we were on and, as I look over the trail notes once again (now that we’re back at the cottage), actually matches the instructions given by Glenn Tempest.

Having wasted about 45min searching in the wrong place for a track that isn’t there, we moved up the road and got it right. It was obvious very quickly that this was the right path, despite the shrub being pretty close in parts.

Finally found the correct 'concealed' track entrance.

Finally found the correct ‘concealed’ track entrance.

It’s not a maintained path – there are trees down and large puddles on the path that require a bit of negotiating. At the junction, roughly 50m in from the road, we took the left hand path that leads pretty much straight down the hillside. It’s a very rough track culminating in some serious erosion that we would call ‘precipice’ or even ‘cliff’. Unwilling to risk life and limb – and the possibility of not being able to scramble back up again – we abandoned our goal of exploring the cove and scrambled back up the slope. The woody shrubs that parted with a little bit of effort on the way down seemed more determined to catch and snag on the way up, especially on my backpack. At least it wasn’t overly muddy and slippery – it could have been worse!

Not yet ready to call it quits, we tried the other path indicated by the GPS near the top of the hill. Wide and clear it looked very promising…right up until it just – ended.

Here are the GPS data and stats from our somewhat confused and impeded walking attempt for the day.

We stopped at Fish Creek on the way home. The cafe/gallery on the road (C444) in is unfortunately closed in low season. It’s a nice little town with a main street that could really use some patching or (ideally) a complete resurface.

There’s a pub (of course) and what looked like a cafe or two, but we were after a general store. Fortunately Stephen spotted it, next to the hardware shop (the only shop in town clearly open for business). They must be doing renovations because of the majority of the area is partitioned off behind a large curtain, leaving about 15m2 (I’m probably being generous) for stock. We bought a local paper (great selection) and some Arnott’s Savoy biscuits (we were lucky) to go with our cheese.

Verdict? The drive there is lovely, but don’t rely on Fish Creek for supplies.

At the end of the road that Black Cockatoo Cottages is on is the Yanakie Caravan Park. I wanted to go and check out the beach, hoping to see some seabirds. It wasn’t quite what we expected…

As it was cold we didn’t linger. Next time I’d like to go for a walk out along the spit (checking first to make sure it’s low tide!) and see if I can spot some more waterbirds.

Wednesday

Rain, hail, or shine, we resolved that today we’d walk from the Telegraph Saddle (Oberon) Carpark to Sealers Cove.

The day started clear enough. I had no idea what time it was when I woke up and saw the stars shining so brightly, but decided not to miss the chance to try a long exposure. Pity I couldn’t remember where we’d put the tripod. Nevermind. Using one of the veranda posts to steady the camera I took a 15 and 30 second shot, then used the table with the camera on a tilt for a 60sec exposure.

What you get when you don't use a tripod

What you get when you don’t use a tripod – 60sec exposure

Naturally, when I climbed back into bed, proper sleep seemed to have escaped when I opened the door. I noticed that the brightest star that I could see (from bed) was not twinkling, which means it must be a planet. I have an app that can tell me which one… I reached for my phone. After confirming that the bright start was Jupiter and the second bright start near it was likely one of the two stars in the formation Canis Minor (Procyon or Gomesia) and that it was only just after 5:30am, I put the phone to sleep mode and tried to do the same.

Sunrise was lovely once more, but the clouds soon closed in – once more. (This IS Gippsland after all – how else will the grass stay green unless it rains all the time?)

Capturing the moment

Capturing the moment

After a wholesome breakfast of steel cut oats (pre-soaked overnight) we suited up and headed out. We had planned to be on the road by 9:30am, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Passing by the ‘wildlife hotspot’ area, for once we were in luck; I spotted an emu! And some wallabies/kangaroos too, but an emu has been a much rarer sighting in our travels.

The Telegraph Saddle Carpark is 2.5km further on from Tidal River and marks the end of the road. It was pretty cold, wet and windy when we arrived. I was slightly surprised to see 4 or 5 other cars already there. It is the place to leave your car if you plan to do overnight/multiday walks, although that requires a permit from the Parks office.

We were finally underway by (almost) 11am. The sign at the start of the track indicated the track to Sealers Cove was 9.5km (one way) and would take 3hrs. If we wanted to get back before needing to use a torch to see by – or before a Park Ranger closed the gate at the bottom of the road (if they do close it?) on us, we’d better press on!

The rain kept my camera in my pocket for the first 10-15min (unfortunately) but after that passed I was able to be my snap-happy usual self. There was a lot that was pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera in hand (due to another brief shower of rain) when we came to Windy Saddle. Stephen had spotted what I believe was a Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus swainsonii). I didn’t see it at first – I was looking for something larger, like a wombat or wallaby. This antechinus was about the size of a guinea pig – not that it looks anything like one. It was eating something at the base of a small stand of brakenfern, then hopped off. Given it’s a carnivore, it’s most likely to have been eating an insect or invertebrate.

Dusky Antechinus photo credit C Andrew Henley/Larus

Dusky Antechinus photo credit C Andrew Henley/Larus

Since I didn’t get my own photo, this one comes from p98 of my copy of “The Mammals of Australia” (ed Ronald Strahan, 1995, Reed New Holland).

The vegetation changes noticeably on the other side of the saddle. Gritty pathways through a forest that has been opened from landslides and forest fire changes to (very) muddy ones through close sassafras(?), stringybark, ferntrees – generally very wet and mossy forest. The track descends down to the boardwalk across Sealers Swamp which, at about 1.5km long is an impressive structure through some of the most beautiful parts of the walk.

The beach at Sealers Cove is well worth the walk. We were glad that it wasn’t raining when we arrived and we could enjoy our lunch by the beach, watched closely by a silver gull.

Heading back, we passed another hiker on the boardwalk section, who was carrying a much smaller backpack than either of ours. We didn’t expect any day walkers behind us – we thought we were leaving things a bit late as it was! There had been other people on the path though. Earlier we had passed maybe half a dozen other – mostly overnight – hikers all up coming back up the track – one of whom was bare-footed!

Determined to keep up with Stephen on the trek back up the path, the camera stayed mostly unused in hand, or safely sealed in a zip-lock bag in my pocket to protect it from the rain and brief hail storm on the way. There was only one rumble of thunder and flash of lightning – nothing too exciting. I was mostly concerned about the size of the hail that might be pelting down on the car back at the carpark!

Reaching Windy Saddle we were a little disappointed (but not very surprised) not to catch unaware any other Dusky Antichinus – or interesting native critter.

The sun rays through the clouds and mist as we made our was down from the pass was stunning. Against the burnt tree trunks (from the fires of 2005) the contrast to the soft sunset was stark.

In fact, that starkness inspired me to do something I don’t generally do – mess around with creating black and white versions of photos. Some of them work out ok, I think.

A mere minute of so after we reached the carpark, the hiker who we passed back at the swamp caught us up! Not only had he made it to the beach, but walked along to the end only to find that the tide was high making Sealers Creek too deep to cross. (This is a point that is noted on the SV Map we bought, but not on the Parks Victoria map. We are very glad we bought the SV Map to take with us!)

Despite having at least a 3km handicap, he said we set a cracking pace. I’m not entirely sure if that was a compliment to us, or a boast from him, or maybe both…

The story gets better – it turns out his original plan was to not just walk a little further than we did, but do the loop around Refuge Cover and Waterloo Bay, and then back up Telegraph Track all in one day. All 35.5km of it! There are three camping spots along this route and I doubt anyone one would recommend doing it in one go. He started his walk at about noon – expecting to complete the walk in half a day! Sure, he can do 20km in good time, but we really thought he was taking on more than he surely knew with this plan.

Unlike in Tasmanian National Parks, there are no log books (sign in/out books) for day walkers. Unless you get a permit from the visitor centre for a multi day walk, the rangers aren’t going to know if you’re overdue. I wonder if this guy had a backup plan if he got stuck out there… (The next night we saw his car at the carpark again, and just hoped that he started a bit earlier this time, and had taken a torch with him!)

We were pleased that we had completed our walk before dark – and in well under the official time frame.

Here is the map and stats from today’s walk – a much more satisfying 18km in 5hrs (including our lunch stop). Not bad. I was pleased to finally have completed a decent (ie long) walk, as our holiday time was quickly running out!

The holiday continues in Wilsons Promontory NP – Part 2 (coming soon) in which I’ll post photos of Oberon Bay, sunset from the summit of Mt Oberon, and the best sunrise yet!