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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 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