Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse – 11-13 March 2014 (Part 3)

Return to Tidal River
Via South East Walking Track – Waterloo Bay Walking Track – Oberon Bay Walking Track

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse Hike - South East Point to Tidal River

Dawn was slightly cloudier, though just as magical, on our second and last morning at the lightstation. There was more activity in the cottage this morning compared to yesterday as all overnight guests were checking out today. We were aiming to be out on the track by 9am(ish) but I think we were beaten out the door by a couple of hours by some of last nights guests! Not that it’s a race; we were there to enjoy the experience after all.

In our tired state of arrival on Tuesday, two days before, we had considered taking the shortest route back out (i.e. back along Telegraph Track). Fortunately, the weather had cooled as predicted and after a day of rest we were re-evaluating our options for getting back to Tidal River. We decided to stick with the original plan of heading up the east side to Waterloo Bay, turning inland from there to Telegraph Track, and following that up and over Telegraph Saddle – an anticipated 24.1km.

We had taken advantage of the spare food draw to leave behind the rice & tuna (hopefully it finds its way into a hungry stomach or two!), which meant we were only carrying lunch and snacks for today (if you’re interested, see what food we took here). Thankfully our packs were now a kilo or three (in Stephen’s case) lighter. When I shouldered my pack and tightened the waist strap, it actually felt right!! Thank heavens for that, because I really wasn’t looking forward to another 20km+ walk with an uncomfortable pack.

Colin, Renata and me

Colin, Renata and me

Walking down the steep path to the lighthouse I was once again thankful that I don’t usually have issues with my knees. With a pack on there’s a bit more strain everywhere.

As we climbed the path up to the main (South East Walking) track we passed the first of three groups we’d see that morning. These young people were trooping down the path, once again looking like they’d been transported from a suburban park. One or two said ‘Hi’ as they passed, but it was the group leader at the end, a middle-aged bloke (possibly someone in the group’s dad?) whose comment surprised me.

“Gee, you took your packs?”

Well, we certainly weren’t going to leave them behind!

He was gone as soon as he’d said it, but it got me wondering – how many people realise that there’s accommodation at the lightstation?

If you're only visiting the lighthouse as an optional side trip, why bother taking your pack with you?

If you’re only visiting the lighthouse as an optional side trip, why bother taking your pack with you?

The South East Walking Track has much to recommend it. So much more pleasant walking than the Telegraph Track yesterday. Lovely path, trees, rocks, views…

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Walking north towards Waterloo Bay there is a long steep-ish ridge to climb, but it is shaded and fortunately for us the group coming downhill didn’t bowl us over.

Occasionally you’ll find yourself up to your waist in brakenfern. And sometimes up to your chest. I hadn’t taken any precautions against leeches or ticks, but thankfully I didn’t pick any up. Whether it was because we weren’t the first walkers through this morning, or because the weather lately had been so dry that leeches were a bit scarce, or because there usually aren’t many along there, I’m not sure – just grateful, whatever the reason.

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By now we had been passed by three groups heading south and an older couple hiking and camping independently – must have been a busy night at Little Waterloo Bay camping area last night!

From the highest point of the track it’s pretty much downhill all the way to Waterloo Bay.

We spotted two figures walking along the beach below and thought it could be Neal and Elle, who we knew were walking this way and had started out before us this morning, but we caught up with them before the bottom of the hill. Must have been another pair of hikers enjoying this magnificent part of the world.

Waterloo Bay is quite beautiful.

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This time it was nice to have company while looking for the track leading off the beach. Stephen may have been pretty confident that it was 1km along, but after our Oberon Bay experience, I wasn’t taking anything for granted.

Waterloo Bay Walking Track  entrance to the beach, 1.2km north of track onto beach from lighthouse. Look for footprints.

Waterloo Bay Walking Track entrance to the beach, about 1.2km north of track onto beach from lighthouse.

Once again it’s not obvious from a great distance, but unless there’s been a really high tide or stormy weather, it could be likely that there’s a lot of footprints around to lead you in the right direction. The clear giveaway here that this is the path you’re looking for is the large gap in the dunes and the mesh that’s been laid down to prevent erosion – more on that shortly.

Waterloo Bay Walking Track found, it was time for lunch. I was starting to get tired of salami, but our guest wasn’t getting fed, even if it did the ‘poor me, I’ve only got one leg’ trick.

Although Neal had very kindly offered to give us a lift from Telegraph Saddle (where they had parked their car) to Tidal River, we decided to push on ahead of them. Shouldering our packs we waved goodbye and set off.

I was expecting this track to be fairly similar to the one on the opposite side that joins Oberon Bay and Telegraph Track, except just over a kilometre longer. Maybe once it was, but currently it’s quite different because you’re not following a vehicle track (thank goodness for that!), there’s more change in elevation, and the vegetation is also much more varied. There are some stretches of sand (especially at the Telegraph Track end), but boardwalks and quite a bit of grid have been put in too. A lot of work has been done to limit erosion along here.

You start out in the swamp, but don’t worry – the boardwalk, though not as long as through Sealers Swamp, is (currently) in perfect condition. The grating also reappears periodically to protect  parts of the track that have been more affected by erosion.

It’s not too long before the gentle rise gets steeper as you climb up the south side of the valley and pass below the Mussolini Rocks.

From there you can see the back of Mt Oberon and across to Oberon Bay.

Despite having walked along Telegraph Track just two days ago, we couldn’t spot exactly where it was from the Waterloo Walking Track until we were right back at Telegraph Junction.

There seem to be signs every which way you look at the junction. It’s not easy to explain, so I’ve made a mud map.

Telegraph Junction mud map

Here are un-cropped photos of the signs (A to D) at Telegraph Junction:

I’ve also summarised the information on the signs because at the time not all of them seemed to agree, and sometimes it’s not until I’ve got pen and paper in hand that I can get things straight in my own mind. It would seem that someone else could have used a bit of pen and paper at some point too…? Check out the Roaring Meg numbers.

Distance (km) from Telegraph Junction - Wilsons Promontory National Park

Now that we were at, very literally, a cross roads once more, our next choice came down to the long, known way or the shorter, unknown, but probably harder way. In other words, back via Oberon Bay, or up and over Telegraph Saddle (via Oberon Carpark)? If we went up and over, the plan was for one person to stay with the packs at the top while the other person walked the final 3.5km back to Tidal River to get the car and come back to collect the other person and packs.

Despite today not being as hot as the first day, we were once again getting low-ish on water. Another steep hill climb really didn’t sound very appealing at all. We chose the known path via the beach – 11km vs 9.6km according to our SV Map or 10km according to Parks Victoria. (Whatever!)

The first section back to Oberon Beach is fairly unremarkable so we just tried to walk the sandy track as briskly as we could.

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Eventually we made it to the beach. It was a very welcome sight. The compact, wet sand makes for easy walking for a kilometre to the northern end of the beach.

Having had a bit of a rest walking along the flat, it was time to climb again. On the plus side, the track around this headland isn’t particularly demanding, and there’s great views and a breeze to be enjoyed.

Climbing up the fine white sand dune to regain the path was tiring. There is a reason why surf lifesavers generally look so fit – sand and sea are not the easiest surfaces to propel yourself through!

The track around the headland past Norman Point climbs just as much as the previous headland, but this time it felt steeper. It was probably that I was just longing to reach the end and re-fill my water bottles. We were both quite tired and more than ready for a long icy drink by now.

Leaving beach views behind, the track heads inland then runs more or less parallel to the beach, back to Tidal River.

It had been a long walk, but we were finally back!

Last turn back to the Tidal River Visitor Centre

Last turn back to the Tidal River Visitor Centre

We’d made it! Unfortunately I don’t have a finish line photo. So here’s a wrap up instead.

Elevation Profile from Wilsons Promontory Lightstation to Tidal River Visitor Centre

Elevation Profile from Wilsons Promontory Lightstation to Tidal River Visitor Centre

Total walking time for ~25km was 7hr 15min but of that actual moving time was only 6hr 20min, according to my Garmin data.

As it was now about 5pm (or there abouts) it was well after closing time for both the Visitor Centre and the General Store. Checking in to report that we’d made it back safely would have to wait until tomorrow, but more importantly in the immediate present we’d have to wait until driving out of the park before getting Stephen the quick sugar hit (a soft drink) he was craving as much as I had been desperate for my effervescent powder at the end of the first day’s walk.

Plain water was going to have to do for now. Since Tidal River is primarily a camping site, finding tap water was not a problem. Knowing if it was safe to drink was a little trickier. There weren’t signs saying not to drink from taps around the place, but to be on the safe side I re-filled our bottles from one of the permanent dishwashing stations (one of the brick buildings around the camp site).

The drive out was easy as it wasn’t late enough for nocturnal/diurnal animals to start feeding by the side of the road and become a traffic hazard – although you should always drive cautiously through the park. It’s about a 30min drive from Tidal River to the park’s entrance in daylight, a bit longer at dusk and night time because you need to slow down to avoid hitting animals.

We had taken (but left in the car while we were out on our hike) pasta to cook for tonight’s dinner back at the studio cottage at Black Cockatoo, but thought we might find something better at Yanakie General Store. Indeed we did! Thursday night was fish’n’chip night! It was fresh and it was good. There were enough chips for probably 4 people, but they were excellent chips, and came with an equally generous tub of tartare sauce. Perfect after a hard day’s hike, and enjoyed as we watched the cows returned to the field after their evening’s milking.

Hike complete, the question is… would we do it again? Yes. Definitely.

Would we do it differently? If we had camping gear it would be nice to take the time to do a bigger loop as I think most hikers do, instead of rushing in and rushing out as we did. But next time, regardless of camping equipment status, we’re planning to go in winter (which will also be off-peak – assuming a stay at the cottages can be booked then) and park up at the saddle carpark to shorten the walking time and distance by half a dozen kilometres! Shorter daylight hours in which to complete the walk, more clothes to pack, but perhaps less chance of encountering snakes on Telegraph Track.

I still want to visit South Point.

But mostly I want to go back and watch the sunrise again in that most serene and beautiful of places.

Sunrise at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

Appreciating sunrise at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

See also:

Preparing for Wilsons Promontory Lightstation hike (hiking food, tips on what you will/won’t need to pack)
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation (Part 1) (walking to the lightstation from Tidal River via Oberon Bay Walking Track and Telegraph Track
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation (Part 2) – Lighthouse tour, accommodation options, exploring eastern landing
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation (Part 3) (Return to Tidal River via South East Walking Track / Waterloo Bay)

: )

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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 2) – August 2013

And so, after some wet weather and one good days’ walking so far, our Wilsons Prom holiday continues…

Thursday

O is for Oberon – today Oberon Bay and Mt Oberon were our goals.

The track to Oberon Bay starts, very conveniently, between the Visitor Centre and General Store at Tidal River. Our walk started pretty wet and windy (again). After passing behind Norman Beach, the rain eased up slightly and our cameras saw some more action as we walked around Normal Point to Little Oberon Bay.

Little Oberon Bay is stunning. Of all the beaches we saw and of the four we walked on, Little Oberon was by fast the loveliest. White silicon sand, turquoise water, orange rocks, green shrubs – gorgeous! The only downside is that the beach is pretty steep, so I don’t know that it would be a patrolled beach in summer; if not, I wouldn’t recommend swimming there.

Turquoise water at Little Oberon Bay

Turquoise water at Little Oberon Bay

Continuing on around the next corner is Oberon Bay. A much longer, less sheltered bay, with yellow sand. Not quite as picturesque, but a much shallower beach and better for swimming – not that I had any desire for a dip; I’d prefer not to experience hyperthermia which was what the wind was promising!

If you cross Growler Creek and continue on down Oberon Bay there’s another camping area.  While not deep, I still found the best way of crossing the ‘creek’ (it is still a creek at when it meets the ocean?) while getting the least wet – yes, despite wearing hiking boots and gaiters, I still wanted to avoid getting overly wet with salty water.

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We lunched by Growler Creek after passing another couple coming back – the only two other people we saw along this walk. Like so many people we see out walking, they weren’t carrying anything. From Growler Creek it’s over 6km back to Tidal River – that’s 12km+ they’ve come without even water – that’s pretty silly. Water is the primary reason why Stephen and I each wear a backpack, even though we sometimes may not drink more than a quarter of what we take.

Today we were joined for lunch by a hopeful raven (most likely Corvus coronoides), but it got no satisfaction from us.

P1070887 Australasian Raven - Corvus coronoides

Despite the weather looking like it was closing in again, we were spared too much more rain on the walk back. We took the short path out to Norman Point, but the sun was not in the best position to get great photos.

Instead of heading straight back to the car when we reached the Tidal River camping area, we deviated slightly and followed the loop road around the back of the school camping area to check out the Wilderness Retreats – the 5 or so ‘safari-style’ tent/cabins they have as a deluxe camping option. While far more comfortable looking than the small cabins for two located closer to the Visitor Centre, we still think there are some major draw backs to staying in-park compared to staying at somewhere like Black Cockatoo Cottages just outside the park. (Comparison at the end of the post.)

Walking back to the car parked near the Visitor Centre, we saw many wombats! Wombats clock on from 3:30pm it seems. And there was a nice kookaburra, too.

We arrived back at the General Store at 3:45pm ready for a post walk icecream! Just in time, too – despite the sign saying they close at 4pm, they locked the door to all comers at 3:50 – not a minute after Stephen went in. The next three people who turned up were a bit confused and disappointed! Fortunately they seemed to know people who were already in the shop buying things. Too bad if not!

I wonder if this ‘hospitality’ is the same during the peak summer months?

Here are the map and stats from the Oberon Bay walk. This is from Stephen’s garmin because I didn’t reset mine between walks, and so recorded not just both walks we did today, but the drive back to the cottage afterwards. A lesson for next time.

While I was waiting for Stephen to come out of the General Store, I couldn’t help but notice how lovely Mt Bishop looked in the afternoon sun…

Mt Bishop, late afternoon

Mt Bishop, late afternoon

So it wasn’t until about 4:30pm that we headed up to the Telegraph Saddle (Mt Oberon) carpark to then walk up to the summit of Mt Oberon to take sunset photos – arguably the most iconic photos taken of the park, possibly along with the orange stained rocks of the beaches and Tidal River.

Being winter, we realised that we didn’t have much time to waste getting up there. The sign at the carpark says the road is 3.4km; the walk notes on our map said 6.5km return and to allow 2hrs. With sunset just after 5:30, it sounded like we might be cutting it fine! So, after one photo at the start to the road, the camera went back into my pocket; time to focus on walking. Steel springs! It was a quick march the whole way. I arrived at the top of the road in 45min; hot and red-face – but before the sun had set!

(Incidentally, the distance is roughly the same as that we walk home from the city each night, which takes us roughly 35min… but home isn’t 347m above the city!)

From the top of the road, there’s one last one effort to make it up to the actual peak – some stairs and steps carved into the rocks behind the transmission towers. This last little effort is a little bit like an easier version of the very top section of Mt Warning in northern New South Wales when you get to the chain section. You think you’re done, then there’s just a wee bit more before you get to the lookout!

But then you are rewarded with an amazing 360 degree view over the park and Bass Strait and of the setting sun. What a view!

We weren’t the only ones up there. There was a group of half a dozen asian (Japanese?) students who were jumping around as though they were getting a bit cold. Funny that. Fortunately it wasn’t blowing a gale – given the weather of the last couple of days (including gale force winds up to 113km/hr) we were supremely lucky to have such perfect weather.

The light of a shining half moon helped guide us the down the road back to the car.

Here are the map and stats from Stephen’s walk up to the summit. I’m rather disappointed mine aren’t so easily decipherable – here it is incase you want to have a look for yourself.

It was a slow drive back to Black Cockatoo Cottages – maximum speed was only about 60km/hr due to the abundant wildlife. The majority of the wallabies and wombats we saw were happy to keep munching by the side of the road, or turned away as we neared, but a couple of wallabies had different ideas and wanted to cross in front of us. And then there were the deer. Sambar, to be precise.

A sambar!

And the possum sitting on the road with it’s back to us – I didn’t even see it! I saw the swamp wallaby on the other side of the road, but luckily Stephen somehow saw the brushtail possum. It’s dark brown-black fur blending in with the bitumen of the road very well. We came to a complete stop and had even waited a minute before it decided maybe the road wasn’t where it wanted to be and moved off into the bush. Lucky for it that it’s an Australian possum, and not a New Zealand possum…

Despite the wallabies, wombats, kangaroos, emus, possum, deer, rabbits/hares, and an unidentified bird that wanted to swoop across the road just as we were driving by, we made it home without killing anything. Bit of a relief, really.

Friday

Fantastic sunrise this morning – and given it was my last opportunity to photograph it, what more inspiration did I need? I grabbed the tripod and got going.

I had no idea what the time was, but I’d taken a couple of photos when I heard the dairy farmer next door start his day, so… early enough.

The only drawback with having such a magnificent view from you bed is seeing what you’ll miss if you close your eyes. Pity I couldn’t take these photos from bed! But it wasn’t quite as cold as previous mornings – still cold enough, but again being out of any wind or breeze makes it much better.

I believe that the mark of a really good holiday is that as you leave you’re already asking yourself ‘When can I/we come back?’.

So, would we go back?

Hmmm, well…

Wilsons Promontory National Park is spectacular and beautiful and deserves all the lovely things that are written about it, but (and there’s a BUT)… there’s a lack of adequate services within a reasonable distance of the park.

Basic accommodation and scenery are not all that tourists looking for in a holiday destination. At the moment I really feel that’s all that is on offer if you want to stay somewhere in or close to the national park.

Since visiting the park currently requires you to take your own food supplies with you, it’s good to know in advance where you can buy supplies should you run out, or if you’ve forgotten a key ingredient – or your toothbrush!

From Tidal River, the closest general stores are:
Tidal River General Store: next to the Visitor Centre (limited stock, overpriced and closes earlier than advertised)
Yanakie General Store: ~1hr return drive (we didn’t visit but I wouldn’t rely on it to be better than Tidal River. Check opening times.)
Fish Creek General Store: ~2hr return drive (undergoing renovations when we visited and had very limited stock.)
Foodworks at Foster: ~2hr return drive (we didn’t visit but it looked to be a larger (and better?) option than the two above)
Michael’s IGA at Leongatha: ~4hr return drive (fantastic, but not somewhere you’d go just for a litre of milk)
(NOTE: take 1hr off return driving time if staying at Yanakie. Add at least 10min per direction if traveling through park after dark.)

There are also no take away food options for dinner after Foster. I don’t know what the cafe may provide in the summer peak – maybe fish & chips? Though by the look of it don’t expect restaurant quality dishes. In low season the cafe closed for the day even before the General Store did.

Should you arrive at your destination and find yourself low on fuel, you can apparently refuel in Yanakie (just on the Park boundary). We made it back to a BP service station in Leongatha to refuel.

Recently, the state government has passed a bill making Victorian National Parks open to proposals for environmentally sensitive developments like those that exist along the Overland Track in Tasmania and the Milford Track in New Zealand – both of which Stephen and I have completed with the private guiding companies and loved. Despite these stirling examples of sensitive in-park development, the general public either don’t know or don’t appreciate how these private guided walks are operated, and/or they do not trust the government to limit the private interests to developments of just this nature. (I also have some concern about the latter, but until an actual proposal has been made, we won’t know for sure.)

There has been – and still is – a lot of resistance from various groups to the thought of opening up our national parks to commercial development. Victorian National Parks Association (an NGO – not Parks Victoria) are totally against it. Friends of The Prom (FOTP) are organising a rally in November to show their protest against the idea. “Hands off” is their key message. While these groups do a lot of good in raise awareness about national park issues, and the FOTP have certainly done much to help the park recover from recently natural disasters, it does seem that people are assuming the worst about any potential commercial development (i.e. that their beloved parks are going to be trashed by thoughtless, rich interlopers attracted by large hotel chains who are only out to make money from what doesn’t belong to them).

However, with the construction a few small private huts just off existing tracks (as is the case along the Overland Track), walkers like Stephen and I would have the opportunity to see more of the park than is currently within our reach. Small groups (8-10 guests) of guided walkers are not going to trash the park. At an all-inclusive cost of $400-600pp/night (based on 2013/14 season prices charged by the private operators of the guided walks along the Milford and Overland Tracks), this kind of experience attracts people who really want to experience and appreciate the best our premium national parks have to offer, and who don’t care to (or can’t) do the camping option.

With or without in-park development, a modest-sized hotel just outside the park (which would definitely include a restaurant and possibly also a cafe) would also make visiting the Prom easier. I can think of any number of places – not all of them high-end – that have similar arrangements:

Kingfisher Bay Resort – Fraser Island NP (Qld)
Tangalooma Island Resort – Moreton Island NP (Qld)
Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge – Carnarvon Gorge NP (Qld)
O’Reilly’s – Lamington NP (Qld)
Freycinet Lodge – Freycinet NP (Tas)
Falls Creek – Alpine NP (Vic)
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld – Grampians NP (Vic)
Halls Gap – Grampians NP (Vic)
Thredbo – Kosciusko NP (NSW)
Ayres Rock Resort – Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP (NT)
Ben Lomond Village – Ben Lomond NP (Tas)
Cradle Mountain Lodge / Chateau – Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair NP (Tas)

Remember, it’s not just Victorians and 20-something backpackers who want visit. The desire to see the worlds best National Parks is experienced by everyone at some point who has been touched by the beauty of nature. If you were travelling from interstate or overseas and were told to bring all your food for the duration of your stay with you – how would you manage?

One of the pioneers of national parks in Australia was Gustav Weindorfer in Tasmania, who was instrumental in the formation of the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. He didn’t just want to protect this place of great beauty and environmental significance, but share it with people. The (and his wife Kate) built a lodge and brought in guests. They didn’t try to hide their find. They understood that the more people who visit and fall in love with a place, the greater the number of people who will then be willing to protect that place, and places like it.

– – –

As mentioned above, this is my comparison table that I hope may be helpful for couples thinking of visiting Wilsons Promontory:

Comparison between Accommodation options we considered at Wilsons Promontory

Park Victoria’s Wilderness Retreats,Tidal River Private Accom – Black Cockatoo Studio Cottage, Yanakie
Closer to start of most walks Drive 30-40min to/from walks
No view Stunning sunrises from bed
Native wildlife at your doorstep Birdlife and cows
Limited privacy Privacy
Ensuite (not sure if this includes a shower) – shower & laundry facility block separate Full bathroom & laundry facilities within the cottage
Bring all food with you – limited general store in Park Bring all food with you – nearest general store is ~5min drive at Yanakie
Fully equipped communal kitchen tent. Fully equipped kitchen in cottage
Bar fridge in sleeping tent, shared full-sized refrigerator in communal kitchen tent. Full-sized refrigerator in kitchen
Shared BBQ (electric) area. BBQ (electric) on veranda.
Cost (as at Aug 2013) $302.50 per night Cost (as at Aug 2013) $140-160 per night

If/ when we go back, we plan to walk to the Lighthouse and stay a night or two (there’s no minimum stay, but maximum stay is 2 nights – yep, go figure), but otherwise we’d be staying outside the park at in the studio cottage at Black Cockatoo. (I can’t pass up that view!) By ourselves there’s no way we’re going to get to see much of the rest of the park that you can’t do as a return day walk.

Dayna on top of Mt Oberon panorama

Dayna on top of Mt Oberon panorama