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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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


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Wilsons Promontory NP (Part 1) – August 2013

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

Some ‘classic’ photos of Wilsons Promontory NP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting close

Getting close

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

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

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

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

A brief history of The Prom

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

Independent Companies Memorial, Tidal River

Independent Companies Memorial, Tidal River

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

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

March 2011 Flood - Vic Parks Info board

March 2011 Flood – Vic Parks Info board

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First glimpse

First glimpse

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

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

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

Mt Oberon - too wet & windy to climb today

Mt Oberon – too wet & windy to climb today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracks from Filve Mile Road Carpark

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

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

Tuesday

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

Sunrise

Sunrise on Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally found the correct 'concealed' track entrance.

Finally found the correct ‘concealed’ track entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

What you get when you don't use a tripod

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

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

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

Capturing the moment

Capturing the moment

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

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

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

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

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

Dusky Antechinus photo credit C Andrew Henley/Larus

Dusky Antechinus photo credit C Andrew Henley/Larus

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

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

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