When my first overseas trip in ages was abruptly canceled – thanks, Omicron – I went a little wild. With time suddenly on my hands, it was the perfect excuse to visit a land I’ve never been to before. Somewhere I’ve been meaning to go for ages since everyone I know raves about it All The Time.
Wilsons Promontory must be the best-loved stretch of Victoria’s coastline. It has so many fanatic admirers.
When I told my friend W, a Prom nut, that I was finally heading down there she sent me a blizzard of messages – 21 in total – with recommendations, hand-drawn maps, and even written instructions for how to find her favorite “secret” beach.
She did all this from her hospital bed. As I said, people are bonkers about the Prom.
For those unfamiliar, Wilsons Promontory is a 500sq km wilderness national park (established in 1898) covering the southernmost tip of the Australian mainland. It’s a three-hour drive southeast of Melbourne via rippling hillsides of emerald pastures and many cows.
At the national park entrance the landscape turns all mountains and drama. Moody granite peaks crowd the shore which, up until about 15,000 years ago, connected us to Tasmania. That explains why this land reminds me so much of Tassie’s gorgeous east coast –specifically the Bay of Fires and the Freycinet Peninsula.
The Prom’s 130km coastline includes bushlands, wetlands, grasslands, rainforest, and delicious beaches edged in granite boulders flamed with orange lichens.
Home to myriad plant species and a menagerie of Australian fauna, it can sometimes feel more like a petting zoo than a rugged promontory.
In the space of 24 hours I encounter emus, kangaroos, sea eagles, an echidna, a juvenile albatross, clouds of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, parrots of various colorful persuasions, kookaburras, a riot of superb fairy-wrens, honeyeaters, a microbat and even, in my front yard, a mother and baby koala munching happily on manna gum leaves.
I pull into the Tidal River campgrounds around lunchtime when the air’s thick with sizzling sausages. I immediately regret not getting a cabin here in the heart of the national park, but I made the rookie mistake of not booking a year in advance. The Prom really is that popular. (I snag a cute Airbnb in Sandy Point outside the park – with bonus koalas – so I’m happy.)
Hiking is the big drawcard here. There are more than 30 walking tracks ranging from an hour to overnight. I tackle some easy ones: the Prom Wildlife Walk, a short circuit through grasslands overrun with emus and eastern grey kangaroos. The Big Drift, a 40-minute stroll via tea tree-scented bush to arrive at a vast ridge covered entirely in sand dunes. It’s quite something.
And I walk down to Picnic Bay, but there are two people in the water already – I hate crowded beaches – so hike to nearby Whisky Bay instead and find it busy with beginner surfers.
Sigh. Back to Picnic Bay, a shimmering crescent of sand and see-through ocean, where the two swimmers have thankfully vanished. I stride through the shallows to the far end and take a dip in crystalline waters. Since no one else is around I strip off and dry myself and my swimmers, separately and daringly, against the sun-warmed boulders. Total bliss.
Next morning I return to Tidal River and the office of Pennicott Wilderness Journeys – just in front of the open-air cinema – to join an expedition around the Prom’s coast and marine park.
About 17 of us huddle in a drizzle as skipper Justin Edgelow outlines what to expect on the Southern Ocean.
“Be warned,” he says. “The wind was only supposed to be 17 knots, but it’s 30. So it’s gonna be windy and it’s gonna be lumpy in spots – yeah, lumpy.”
He offers the option of rebooking for tomorrow but no one flinches. We dutifully don red coverall slickers and climb aboard Pennicott’s amphibious boat at Norman Beach.
We drive into the ocean until the outboard takes over, urging us into angry surf where waves crash over the bow and all over me. I feel more alive than I have in months.
The conditions are foul so we don’t reach famous Skull Rock or Kanowna Island, home to a flourishing Australian fur seal colony. Instead, we stick close to shore, admiring mosaic coastlines of crazy granite shapes and the pastel gardens of the inner islands.
We visit South Point, mainland Australia’s southernmost tip while looking across to Rodondo Island, the northernmost tip of Tasmania. Then we motor past Anser Island, ogling long-nosed fur seals and Cape Barren geese against pig-faced hillsides.
I’m inspired by the plucky attitude of crew and passengers. Conditions are extremely average but, as a deckhand, Sam Benra says early on, “Let’s just make the most of it, hey?”
Which sounds like pretty great advice for life generally. Especially in a pandemic.
For those who know the Prom well and love the place, these might seem like once-over-lightly observations. Which they are. But I got the attraction. I really did. And I can’t wait to return. To tackle more hikes, swim at more beaches, meet more critters. Perhaps in 2023 when, with a bit of luck, I might score one of those coveted Tidal River cabins.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com