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 2)

Rest day at the Lightstation

Thanks to stretching adequately after the walk last night, climbing down from the top bunk wasn’t painful this morning, although an extra rung at the bottom of the ladder would have been helpful…

Another bottom rung wouldn't have gone astray. It was a bit of a big step down in the morning.

Another bottom rung wouldn’t have gone astray. It was a bit of a long step down in the morning.

Sunrise was beautiful. I might have been the only one out taking full advantage of it – I’m not 100% sure as I didn’t turn around to check, but I didn’t hear anyone else up and about.

Yesterday we had arranged a lightstation tour for 10am today with Renata. Our tour started in the museum at the base of the lighthouse and heard how the lightstation used to also be a radar station during WWII. RAAF personnel were stationed on the point also; there are a number of photos from this time and physical remnants left on the point. The museum is open to the public.

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After that we were allowed into the lighthouse! The lighthouse is still owned, operated and maintained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and public access is available only to groups under the supervision of a Park Ranger. At a height of only 19m (I think that’s to the beacon – the balcony is a couple of metres below) it’s not a big climb. Because the lighthouse sits atop granite cliffs the elevation above sea level is 117m, giving the beacon’s range 18 nautical miles (33km). Given the number of rocks and islands in this part of Bass Strait, the channel is reasonably narrow, and thus the lighthouse remains a very important visual navigation aid to sea-going vessels. There are also a couple of off-shore lights and lighthouses to help ships navigate Bass Strait.

Four lighthouse keepers and their families lived here, although the only original buildings left from that time are the cottage that we stayed in (Cottage #2) and the lighthouse itself. There was no road to the lightstation, so if anyone had to leave (e.g. for serious medical care) it was a long, hard journey back to civilisation – probably all the way back to Foster or Fish Creek. The township at Tidal River wasn’t constructed until 1946, and even the earlier camp at Darby River wasn’t established until the early 1900’s (when The Prom was given National Park status).

Read more about the details and history of the lighthouse here.

Renata also offered (and we accepted) a look in the other accommodation cottages available, as no one was in them at the time. Here’s a marked-up photo to help set the scene:

Buildings at Wilsons Promontory Lightstation

Note: the drinking tap I’ve highlighted on the centre path is provided primarily for day visitors. Overnight guests have the same fresh, filtered water from the convenience of taps in the cottages.

Parks Victoria Rangers Cottage (cottage #3) where you check in – if you’re not met at the top of the path like we were, after dragging yourself up the hill!

Parks Victoria Rangers Cottage & site of Victorian State School No 227 for 6 months in 1880

Parks Victoria Rangers Cottage & site of Victorian State School No 2278 for 6 months in 1880

The newly renovated Couples Cottage (Cottage #4) is amazing! Such a view to the west! And there’s a window facing east in the bedroom. How can they make you leave after just two nights? The additional charge to stay here also includes a queen size bed and linen – that’ll make the pack a bit lighter! Definitely choosing this option next time.

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Cottage no 5 at the end of the row is another multi-share cottage. Colin was busy painting inside when we visited, so we didn’t go through every room. Less spacious than the old lighthouse keepers cottage that we were staying in, but comfortable and probably the coziest in winter.

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Finally, Cottage No 2 – the original Lighthouse Keepers Cottage – our home away from home for the two nights we were lucky to be there.

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And separately, the kitchen! Let there be no more surprises here – there is a refrigerator, microwave, microwavable containers in the cupboards, gas oven and stovetop, plenty of pots, pans, dishes, plates, utensils, chopping boards, glasses, mugs – and a spare food draw!

Soon the first day visitors had arrived. Without packs, not wearing what I’d call hiking gear, and carrying only disposable (thin plastic) drink bottles. We were somewhat surprised by their attire. It’s as though they weren’t miles from anywhere, but at a local park.

Renata said they average 30-40 day visitors per day (a significant flaw in an otherwise perfect location – the presence of other people). Sure, the lighthouse may only be an interesting side trip for most people walking between Waterloo Bay and Roaring Meg camp sites, but surely that only explains the lack of backpacks?

Day visitors to the lighthouse - people hike like this?

Day visitors to the lighthouse – people hike like this?

If one of these young blokes (or girls, but the majority were young blokes) dropped their plastic water bottle and it broke, he’d better hope he could reply on a friend to share water with him until the next stop. They mightn’t be walking 25km in one go like we were, but if it was a hot day like yesterday, being one bottle down (assuming they had more than one) was a serious blow all the same. The owners of Black Cockatoo Cottages told us they hadn’t had rain this year, and the park at the end of summer was definitely looking dry. We were carrying water purification tablets, but I doubt these kids were, or had anything similar, and it’s not safe to drink the water straight from the creeks.

Don’t get me started on their shoes!

When the lightstation was first built back in the 1850’s, equipment and supplies were brought in by boat every six months. A flying fox was set up from a site just below the hill known as the ‘eastern landing’ to the top of the point, because even just lugging yourself up the hill in those days must have been much more of a challenge – there wasn’t a nice concrete path back then! There was a western landing used at one time too, but the eastern side proved better (probably more sheltered from the prevailing winds). Offloading cargo from either side was tricky business at the best of times.

After lunch we decided to brave the steep path once again to see the eastern landing.

Walking down the hill is easier than walking up was yesterday (hmmm, no surprise there), but I was very glad that we weren’t wearing back packs today.

There’s no beach or convenient looking place for a swim – something that used to torment the early lighthouse keepers during hot summer days. I think Renata said seals are sometimes seen on the rocks. The deep, clear water and healthy kelp attached to the rocks looks like great seal habitat.

The oranged rocks are so reminiscent of the north and eastern coast of Tasmania – which is not very far away, so it’s hardly a surprise.

We discovered that walking up the hill isn’t half as bad when you’re refreshed and not carrying a heavy pack. Still very steep though.

The rest of the afternoon was passed lounging around drinking wine (trying to finish it so we didn’t have to carry it out), eating cheese (trying to finish it so we didn’t have to carry it out), then taking a stroll around the place to walk off the wine and cheese before dinner.

I saw a juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagle too, but without significantly more zoom than what currently I’ve got I can’t show you a decent photo, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. I was pretty chuffed when I realised what I had seen.

Other hikers planning to stay had arrived and that night not only was our cottage full (sleeping 10 in 4 rooms) but people had arrived to stay at the couple’s cottage next to the rangers cottage. I bet they wished they had come for more than one night! (Neal and Elle reported that you can’t book accommodation at the lightstation for a Thursday night).

Sunset was in a gorgeous purple theme…

Unlike the previous night when it (actually!) rained, tonight was clear and had the bonus of a more-than-half-full waxing moon. After dinner we grabbed torches and cameras and went out.

The wombat and baby had already been spotted earlier (in the back garden) but heading to the top of the path we again disturbed the pair of swamp wallabies as we took photos of the moonlight on the eastern bay.

Stephen noticed he didn’t really need his torch to find wombats – he could hear them chewing as he was positioning his camera to photograph something else! They’re noisy enough when they’re only about a metre away. I guess you should carry a torch to make sure you don’t trip over one?!

Wombat munching away

Wombat munching away

I was watching two in the garden outside the rangers cottage when something startled one. There was a rustle, then in a split second they were both gone! It’s amazing how fast they can move! They must have both been not much further than a metre or two from a burrow entrance.

Previously:

Preparing for Wilsons Promontory Lightstation hike (hiking food, tips on what you will/won’t need to pack)
Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse Part 1 (walking to the lightstation from Tidal River via Oberon Bay Walking Track and Telegraph Track 

Next

Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse 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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