Wilson's Promontory Grand Circuit

This page is dedicated to the memory of my cousin, Clare Withers,
a lover of nature and gifted landscape photographer, who, for all too
short a time, lived her dream as a ranger at Wilson's Promontory.
(Nov 2015)

Getting There

Perhaps it is strange to put this walk in with the Great Ocean Walk, but the title does say " .... and more" and this is definitely a "more" walk. Both walks are essentially an exploration of the coastal regions of southern Victoria and we are actually doing it just over a year since completing the Great Ocean Walk, so in similar Spring conditions. Putting the two walks together enables them to be compared and contrasted.

.... so here we are, sitting on the deck of our Black Cockatoo cabin at Yanakie, coffee in hand, taking in the bucolic panorama of lush green pastures sloping gently away from us to the flat grey waters of Corner Inlet. In the distance beyond, the pale sunlight shines on the undulating blue forest-covered hills of Wilson's Promontory. Looking across at our walking destination, as the birds around us sing and the sweet scent of freshly mown grass wafts by on the breeze, life seems very pleasant indeed.

Wilson's Promontory, "The Prom" to those who know it well, has long been a walking destination for lovers of the Australian bush, a favourite getaway for the residents of the metropolis of Melbourne, 3 hours to the north-west. A rugged triangle of land jutting defiantly out into the seas of Bass Strait, it is in fact the most southerly point of the Australian continent, the last rampart of a land bridge that once connected the mainland to the island of Tasmania, all this before a previous round of climate-change raised the levels of the oceans.

The fair Nello and I had not been here before and it seemed the right time to rectify that omission. We were planning a leisurely 5-day stroll around the southern part of the promontory, a bit of walking, a bit of camping, a night at a lighthouse, time to explore the forests, streams, beaches and rugged coastline of this region.

View from our cabin as showers move in over Wilson's Promontory

Clouds envelop the hills of The Prom across Corner Inlet

However, while we sat on the deck, contemplating the adventures to come, a much more immediate climate change was occurring - the sun slowly faded behind an increasingly greying sky, low clouds began to obscure the hills across Corner Inlet and the soft, distant rolls of thunder announced the arrival of a cold front from the west. Soon the rain began to fall, a soothing sound on a metal roof, but not one well-anticipated for a small 2-man tent. Still, Wilson's Promontory is a place with many moods and and both the weather and 5-day forecast suggested that we were going to experience its more sombre side. If you only see a landscape in picture-perfect conditions you miss out on much of the experience of the wild (rationalisation is such a useful mental tool!!!). Tonight we sip red wine over a barbecue and sleep in the comfort of our cabin, tomorrow we load our packs with sleeping mat, tent and dehydrated food, and make the short drive into the National Park to start our walk .... let's see what the morning brings.

Day 1 - Tidal River to Sealer's Cove (13.5 km - 370m ascent - 380m descent)

Dark clouds hung over the rugged hills of the Promontory as we drove down the road into the national park and on to Tidal River, followed by a short climb up to Telegraph Saddle. This is the starting point for many of the walks here, including ours. However, as we were going to finish in Tidal River in 5 days time, that was the place to leave the car.

We unloaded the packs and, leaving the fair Nello to guard them while reading her book beneath the small shelter, I drove back down to Tidal River, set the GPS to 0 km, and walked back up the 200m to the saddle along a 3.5km stretch of bitument road. In the valley below, the damage caused by the bushfire in January this year was clearly evident. It wasn't very exciting, but much better than the both of us trudging up with fully loaded packs (see footnote).

Track up to Windy Saddle

Fire damaged slopes below Telegraph Saddle

The clouds were scudding across the saddle just above us as, at last, we set off on the walk proper - heading westward along the northern face of Mount McAlister. It was more sheltered here, as we followed a well-formed gravel path, that wended its way through fairly open forest, before entering a section burnt by the January fires. We started to climb more steeply up through a scorched landscape of blackened trunks - yet epicormic shoots were sprouting on the trees, grass trees had sent up flowering spikes and a patchy carpet of herbs and ferns was reshooting from the forest floor. Fire is certainly a trigger for a new cycle of life. Climbing steadily, we entered the misty realm of the cloud layer, a gentle mask that softened the scars of the burnt forest, to reach a ridge lined with flag lilies swaying in the freshening breeze. The track took us back into unburnt forest just before Windy Saddle, at 300m the highest point of our day's walk.

Grass trees flowering after the bushfires

Heading up through the mist

Mossy rocks lining the path on Mt Ramsay

In a ferny glade

From the small clearing on Windy Saddle, we switched to the steep south-facing slope of Mount Ramsay, winding slowly down a narrow wet track through a landscape of mossy rocks, thick ferns and a dense canopy of dripping eucalypts. All around the forest revelled in its dampness. as we passed a series of deep glades, their rocky streambeds lined with tall tree ferns, and found ourselves walking beneath the fresh green lattice of newly unrolled fern fronds.

Tall tree ferns lining a stream

Finding a flat rock, we stopped for lunch, but the damp vegetation of a temperate forest is home to many creatures and, as I found out later, a leech had joined me for lunch (literally).

The tranquil setting of Sealer's Cove

Boardwalk across the swamp

On reaching the bottom of the ridge, a long meandering boardwalk took us across the boggy fern and tree-covered flats of Sealer's Swamp to cross a new wooden bridge over a tannin-stained creek and emerge dramatically on to the beach. What a spectacular entry to Sealer's Cove, with its long stretch of soft tan sand and calm azure water, lined by steep forested ridges and orange-tinted granite boulders.

Looking back towards Mount Ramsay and Mount Latrobe

Orange-tinted boulders lining the shore of Sealer's Cove

A short walk along the beach and wade across the mouth of Sealer's Creek brought us to the campsite, set back into the bracken-carpeted forest. We found a clearing in the dress-circle, looking out to the beach through tall tree trunks, and pitched camp. As we were doing so, the small patch of blue that had appeared above expanded to take over most of the sky.

The forest behind the cove

Sunlight over Sealers

The colours of forest fungi

Cloud blanketing the mountains behind Sealer's Cove

Portrait of a Pacific gull

The mouth of Sealer's Creek

What good fortune - the forecast rain was nowhere to be seen and we had time to enjoy the serenity of Sealer's Cove, enjoying the company of the small bush birds - wrens, flycatchers, thornbills - as they flitted amongst the bracken and shrubs, watching the tide roll in as the shade and sunlight alternated with passing clouds and exploring the tidal reaches of the creek. This was the way to enjoy Wilson's Promontory.

Campsite at Sealer's cove

Footnote: If you start this walk on a weekend from November to April or any day during the summer school holidays, and are not concerned by the geometric imperfection of not joining the beginning and end of a circuit, there is a regular free bus that travels between Tidal River and Telegraph Saddle. Catch it and you avoid the walk up the road.

Day 2 - Sealer's Cove to Little Waterloo Bay
(13.5 km - 540m ascent - 540m descent)

The clouds rolled back in again as we ate our dinner and they kept the night warm. Only the faint and regular call of a distant boobook owl disturbed the silence, until 4am, when a peel of thunder announced the arrival of a storm. The rain lasted on and off until 7.30am and we had just started to make plans for a wet pack-up when it finally stopped. Soon a patch of blue sky appeared and, by the time we set off, the sun was out with large puffy white clouds drifting by. We couldn't work out the weather here, but there were no complaints.

Mixing of red and blue water as the creek
flows into the sea

Silhouette of a gang-gang

Black cockatoo on alert

Farewell to Sealer's Cove and The Cathedral

Leaving the campsite, we climbed slowly westward along the southern edge of Sealer's Cove. Between the trees, the tea-coloured water of the creek was draining the swamp into the azure blue ocean waters - a curious mix of colours. With one last glimpse of The Cathedral, guarding the northern edge of the cove, we turned south to undulate through the drier forest that lined the more exposed eastern slopes of the promontory - to our right the forest, to our left, the ocean and above the sun ... perfect.

View south toward Refuge Cove and Kerstop Peak

Accompanied by the friendly creaking call of gang-gangs or the mournful wail of black cockatoos, the track eventually led us up and over a granite-topped headland with splendid views in both directions, before descending into the lusher, fern-filled hollows and creeks running down to Smith Cove. Here we had the rare experience of crossing paths with a land yabby, a shy creature not usually seen out of its burrow. Cool! .... as Gen Y is prone to say.

Bypassing this inlet, we emerged out of the tall eucalypts onto the golden gravel beach at the northern end of Refuge Cove, before climbing up and around the boulder-strewn section of shoreline that separated it from the main beach of the cove.

Drier forest of the eastern slopes

Forest at the back of Smith Cove

The endangered land yabby, Engaeus australis

The beautiful golden beach at the northern end of Refuge Cove

Lichen-tinted granite boulders lining Refuge Cove

Crossing Cove Creek

It was the perfect spot for a leisurely lunchbreak, watching a big yacht swinging slowly on its anchor beneath the backdrop of lush green slopes - if I owned a yacht, this is the sort of place that I would sail to!

Leaving Refuge Cove

Time passes and we set off again, crossing the wooden footbridge over the tannin-stained and paperbark-lined waters of Cove Creek, before climbing steadily up the boulder-topped ridge that separated it from Larkin Cove to the south. The track then headed away from the sea, into a drier landscape, and climbed steadily up to the high side of a saddle below Kerstop Peak.

Here we left our packs and made a short detour up to the top of the scrub-covered peak for spectacular views back over Refuge Cove and southward, where the long white line of sand of Waterloo Bay pointed the way towards the distant lighthouse perched on the jutting hump of South-East Point - mañana!!

View northward from Kerstop Peak of our route so far for the day ....

... and southward towards Waterloo Bay and South-East Point where we were headed

Back in the ferny glades

Granite boulders lining the shore

From the saddle, we commenced a long descent into gradually damper and taller forest to reach the peaceful white sand beach of North Waterloo Bay, fringed with yellow daisies and the pink flowers of trigger plants.

Dense understorey in the forest

Crossing the beach at North Waterloo

After traversing the soft white sand, a short sharp climb away from the beach took us above the line of boulders that formed the shore to its south and we sidled our way around the steep slope that separated North Waterloo and Little Waterloo Bays.

Squeaky-fine sand beach at Little Waterloo Bay

Looking back uo north Waterloo Bay

The clouds return to Wilson's Promontory

The track undulated its way southwards as we picked our way around the boulders and creeks, with the sea up to 90m below us. Finally, we quickly descended the track to reach the white sand of the beach - so fine that it squeaked underfoot. With its tree-sheltered campsite set back behind the dunes, Little Waterloo Bay would be our home for the night.

Campsite at Little Waterloo Bay

The creek near the campsite

Boulders in the evening light

We had arrived in time to spend the last hours of the day, lazing on the soft white sand and listening to the steady sound of the ocean swells breaking on the shore. As evening approached, thick grey cloud once again rolled in from the west. We had only just finished our dinner when the first few drops of rain began to fall.

Day 3 - Little Waterloo Bay to The Lighthouse
(10 km - 490m ascent - 430m descent)

The rain fell on and off until early morning, but we woke to high cloud and pale sunlight - enough to dry the fly of the tent as we ate our breakfast and packed up. Underway again, we followed the track through heathland above the boulders that separated Little Waterloo and Waterloo Bays. On reaching the latter, we had to remove boots to wade across the outlet of Freshwater Creek - but there was a plus side to this.

The long stretch of Waterloo Beach ahead

Why the Boulder Range is so named

Dark clouds over Waterloo Beach

The track becomes a bit overgrown

Ahead lay almost 2km of soft firm sand beach, a chance to wander barefoot along this isolated stretch of coastline, feeling the ocean foam wash over our feet and the allowing the sounds and scents of the sea and ion-filled air to wash over our minds. It was zen-time!

Last view over Waterloo Bay from the Boulder Range

Time stalled, but we still reached the far end of the beach, booted up and headed inland up alongside a gully to start the long and steady 320m climb up onto the aptly named Boulder Range, dotted with huge granite tors. The cloud that faded out the sun kept the humidity high and we were a sweat-soaked pair that emerged out of the forest and into the thick scrubby heath on top of the saddle.

Just over the top, we spotted a massive granite outcrop jutting out into the void and an early lunchbreak was declared. It was a chance to sit in the cooling breeze of the ridge-top, looking back over our path from Kerstop Peak to Waterloo Bay and forward to the tree-lined spurs that pointed us to the ever-closer lighthouse, while out to sea the hazy forms of several Bass Strait islands rose from the horizon.

World's best lunch spots #124


View over South-East Point to Rodondo island

Lunch over, we commenced the long descent down to the lighthouse, through a dense bracken heathland where long sections of the track had become overgrown. We brushed our way through the overhanging vegetation to cross a fern-filled gully and enter more open forest.

Crossing on of the south-facing gullies

Skull Rock #1

The track led us down a long timbered spur, around and over a couple of densely vegetated gullies, lined with tree-ferns and head-high bracken, until eventually we joined up with the Telegraph Track coming in from the north.

The track almost vanishes in the bracken

From here we dropped quickly onto the neck of South-East Point, where the track was replaced by a wide concrete vehicular road - wide, but very steep as it took us up past the aptly named Skull Rocks to reach the buildings of the lighthouse, perched on a granite dome 100m above the sea.

The lighthouse and its buildings

Getting closer to the lighthouse

Skull Rock #2

Ranger Phil showed us our accommodation in the old Chief Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage, a beautiful stone and timber building built in 1859 - comfortable beds, big kitchen, soft sofa, gas log fire and hot showers - luxury! It was great to sit out on the verandah, freshly showered, sipping hot coffee and watching the odd big container ship pass by between the offshore islands and the mainland.

Ship-spotting from the cottage verandah

South-East Point Lighthouse (built 1859)

Rodondo Island (the closest Tasmania gets to the mainland)

View from the top of the lighthouse

A little later, Phil gave us a fascinating tour of the facilities and lighthouse itself (do you that the light source is a12volt 35W halogen bulb, no bigger than you would put in a torch - it's all in the reflector lens).

One 12V 35W halogen globe - amazing!

Fuel tanker passing in front of West Moncoeur and Curtis Islands (aka Tasmania)

While up in the tower, we could see squalls sweeping in over the sea from Bass Strait. We retreated to the cottage and spent the evening enjoying the company of fellow walkers in front of the fire, as the rain beat in on the window panes - stormy weather seems so appropriate for a stay at a lighthouse.

Day 4 - The Lighthouse to Oberon Bay
(15 km - 430m ascent - 490m descent)

One last look from the cottage verandah

It had been a windy night - whistling around the lighthouse tower next door and rattling the windows - but we slept snugly in our cottage beds. By morning it was but a cold gusty breeze, with patches of sunlight breaking through the cloud cover, though Bass Strait remained slate grey and tormented by white caps. The sunlight gave an opportunity for a few more photos of this spectacular location. We lingered in the comfort of the cottage, made ourselves another coffee and finally headed off at 10am.

South-East Point lighthouse and keeper's cottage (built in 1859)

View from the lighthouse along the southern shore of the promontory

The wind had swung around to the south-east and it was good to have it at our back as we climbed steadily from the low neck 200m up to the top of the promontory proper. At the top, the footpath joined up with the Telegraph Track, a wide gravel vehicular access road that headed off through a rolling landscape of mixed heath and fire-regenerating eucalypts.

Daisy lined track up to the Prom heights

Looking towards South Peak and the track home

Crossing the bridge at Roaring Meg

After a short and easy stroll on the road, we left it again to cut across country and traverse a series of deep wooded gullies that drained southwards into Fenwick Bight. We stopped at the campsite at the last of these, Roaring Meg, for a bite to eat and to muse on the origins of the name - was it because of the sound of the creek in full flow or the sound of the wind in the trees. From the evidence of the south-easterly roaring through the canopy above as it funnelled up the steep gully, the latter seemed most likely.

A lone Telegraph Pole marks the track across the heathlands

Climbing up out of Roaring Meg, we reached an open rolling heathland, where the recently cleared and well-worn track followed the line of forlorn disused telegraph poles across a dense low scrubby landscape, dotted with grass trees, flowering herbs and bushes - yet another habitat type on the Prom.

Heathland flora

Eventually, with sun and cloud alternating overhead, we rejoined the road to descend the side of Martin's Hill. To our left, views opened out over the broad tea-tree flats that led to Oberon Bay, overlooked by the rocky peak of Mount Oberon itself - our circuit was closing. Near the base of the hill, we stopped for lunch in the tiny stone shelter of Halfway Hut.

Halfway Hut

From here, the road became more sandy as we pushed out onto the dune system that separated Mount Oberon from the southern ranges of the promontory. The tea-tree heathland had only recently been burnt and stark dead trunks stood out above the thick mat of regenerating bracken and seedling trees. Reachng Telegraph Junction, we turned left to continue through the scarred flat and open landscape of Deer Flats, wandering in silence along the sandy 4WD track that led to Oberon Bay. For the first time on our walk, a creeping monotony began to settle, but this was quickly broken when we entered undisturbed old-growth tea-tree thickets and found ourselves beneath a shady archway of gnarled old tea-trees.

Beneath an arbor of tea-trees on Deer Flats

Relaxing at Oberon campsite

Eventually, the salty estuarine smell signalled our arrival at Oberon Bay and its campsite, with tent sites scattered in the dunes between Fraser's Creek and the ocean. On arrival we were greeted by the resident wombat.

Fraser's Creek near the campsite

The wombat welcoming committee

A portrait

It was a charming spot, which tonight we would share with a group of schoolkids from Melbourne. They were quite pleasant once the fair Nello persuaded them to use less colourful language and at a reduced volume - why do teenage boys need to swear so ¶*@!ing much?

Sand crab about to enter its burrow

The long flat expanse of Oberon Beach

Even in death there is beauty

After setting up, we wandered off to check out the broad flat grey-sand beach. Sadly, it was the beach of death, a bloated seal and hundreds of feathered remains of shearwaters lay half buried in the wind-drifted sand. How cruel can nature be - these birds had flown 8000km from Siberia, only to die exhausted here, less than 100km from their breeding grounds on the Bass Strait islands. The cold southerly wind that swept the beach and ruffled the feathers of this ghostly flock of shearwaters, drove us back to our sheltered camp.

At last a sunset!

Part of the blue wren family

Native mouse on the lookout for food

As we cooked up our last walk dinner, a little of The Prom magic returned. We were joined by a family of blue wrens, that boldly flitted about beneath our feet and a native mouse scurrying in and out of the bushes on the search for morsel of food. Life and death are both part of this rich tapestry we call nature.

Day 5 - Oberon Bay to Tidal River
(7.5 km - 130m ascent - 120m descent)

Clearer skies had brought a cooler night but we were greeted by a pleasant sunny morning for our last day of walking on The Prom. We were up early and keen to get away - less than 8 km of track lay ahead of us, but after that there were several hundred kilometres of roads to drive on, so we wanted to be back at Tidal River as soon as we could.

With lighter packs, we strolled bootless up the length of Oberon Beach, heading towards the southern ramparts of Mount Oberon. The snaking course of Growler Creek flowed into the sea at the northern end of the beach and, after wading across, we rebooted next to a group of boulders painted a brilliant orange by lichens.

Heading up Oberon Beach towards Mount Oberon

Crossing Growler Creek

Lichen covered boulders at the northern end of Oberon Beach

View southward over Oberon Beach

A track led us gradually up and around the south-western slopes of Oberon, before following a contour through low regenerating heath and scorched dead tea-tree trunks - the fire had opened up views back over the length of Oberon Beach and out toward the Glennie Group of Islands. It also revealed the incredible number of granite boulders and tors that were scattered across the steep slopes of Oberon.

Norman Point and the rocky walls of Little Oberon Peak

Soon we were descending again to cross the soft sands of Little Oberon beach, backed by eroding dunes and tucked away beneath the smooth walls of granite protruding from the small mountain of the same name to its north. From here, we had one last short climb to get around Norman Point and descend slowly towards the broad flat beach of Norman Bay.

Little Oberon Beach




The last leg - heading toward Norman Beach and Tidal River

Spot the black swamp wallaby

Looking out over Norman Bay

Come back again one day

Once on the beach, a quick walk through the flattish, vegetation-covered sand dunes brought us back to Tidal River and our car. Our grand circuit of Wilson's Promontory had been completed. To celebrate, we stopped off at the Tidal River Camp store for a chocolate milkshake, with chips and crumbed squid rings - delicious!!! It is curious the cravings one gets after several days of camp food!