It’s been 21 years since my last trip to Wilsons Promotory, when I did the Southern Circuit bushwalk with some friends, before tackling the more rugged northern section. A trip I still remember fondly, from an unexpected koala crossing the road in front of car as we neared Tidal River, to camping by Five Mile Beach and Johnny Souey Cove (in the northern section), and having many remote beaches to ourselves.
Wilsons Prom, at the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, has been a national park since 1898. Also known as “the Prom”, Wilsons Promontory National Park contains the largest coastal wilderness area in Victoria. A number of short and overnight walks start at Tidal River, the only settlement within Wilsons Promontory or at Telegraph Saddle, half-way up Mount Oberon. The Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit is the most popular overnight walk in the park.
Telegraph Saddle to Sealers Cove (10.2km)
After a short drive from my accommodation at Black Cockatoo Cottages, 11km from the park entrance, I start my overnight walk at the Telegraph Saddle car-park (Tidal River is the more common starting point). I’m taking the long route to the Lighthouse, along the eastern coast of the peninsula. The first section takes me to Sealers Cove, along the Sealers Cove Walking Track. After significant damage from a storm and resulting flash flood in 2011, the track to Sealers Cove was completely re-built and is now very easy walking as it ascends gradually through dry eucalypt forest to Windy Saddle, before descending to the coast.
Before the track reaches Sealers Bay, there’s a long section of boardwalk through Sealers Swamp. A very different, moist microclimate supports ferns and mosses, with the start of Sealers Swamp marked by large swamp paperbarks.
After crossing two streams, the track reaches Sealers Cove. A large and protected beach, Sealers Cove is a popular destination as a day walk, and the camping ground at the southern end is often used as the first overnight camp when doing a southern circuit of the park. Behind the beach is the La Trobe Range, with The Cathedral and Mt Latrobe (754m) some of the higher peaks.
Sealers Cove to Waterloo Bay (14.5km)
After walking along the beach to the southern end, you need to cross Sealers Creek – which can be difficult to cross at high tide. From here, the track is called the Refuge Cove Walking Track. (The camping ground is on the other side of the creek.)
There’s a short climb after crossing the fairly large camping ground, with some nice viewslooking back towards Sealers Cove and Five Mile Beach beyond.
The track stays well inland as it passes Horn Point, Smith Cove and Hobbs Point, before descending through fern and tea trees to Refuge Bay. This is a beautiful beach, with crystal clear blue water, and I can’t resist a quick swim – although the water is very cold! (This would be my pick for a camping spot over Sealers Cove.)
From Refuge Bay, the track climbs up to a large rock platform, where there’s a view over the sheltered bay.
As the track follows the ridge above the coast, there are views to the south, with the Lightstation visible in the distance (today’s destination… which still looks a fair way off!) as well as the pyramid-shaped Rodondo Island.
A short side-track leads to Kersops Peak, which provides even more expansive views to the south and to Waterloo Bay directly ahead.
Next stop before Waterloo Bay is the much smaller North Waterloo Bay – another beautiful beach that I have to myself, when I have a short break for lunch. The beach is divided near the middle by a rocky outcrop, although it must be low tide as it’s easy to get across it and along to the far end of the beach.
The track continues along the coast – there’s no camp ground here, but it’s really nice spot for a break. Again, I have the beach to myself.
Another short section of track and I reach Little Waterloo Bay… yes, another picture-perfect beach and a reminder as to why this walk is so popular. (Even though, on a November week-day, I haven’t seen a soul since Sealers Cove). There’s another camping ground here, behind the dunes.
The track climbs a small way around some rocks, though it’s never far from the sea (which looks like it’s straight from a Mauritius travel brochure), before Waterloo Bay comes into view.
I have the beach to myself again, as I pass the camping ground (set a short distance back from the beach) and walk along the white sand. Little Waterloo Bay (or Refuge Cove) are the usual campsites if you’re doing the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit over three days, but as I don’t need to carry a tent and sleeping bag I’m pushing on the Lightstation.
Waterloo Bay to the Lightstation (10.4km)
About half way along the beach, the Waterloo Bay Track heads over the sand dunes and inland to meet with the Telegraph Track. I continue along the beach, taking the South East Walking Track along the coast to the Lightstation. This is a relatively new track – some of my topographical maps don’t show this route, but it is on any current map. At the southern end of Waterloo Bay, after crossing a creek that runs down the beach, the track immediately ascends about 100m.
The track follows the coast, but a fair way inland. From time to time my destination can be seen – and it stills looks along way in the distance! This section of track feel the longest, part because it’s at the end of a long day, and partly because the track is quite undulating as it goes down and back up a few gullies.
I’ve very glad when I reach the 4WD track that leads to the Lightstation, using the last of my energy to walk up the steep road to the top of the headland. It’s been about 35km of walking today, although I’m travelling relatively light…
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation
The Wilsons Promontory Lightstation was built in 1859 from local granite at the end of a narrow peninsula, and offers accommodation in both a shared dormitory or a fully self-contained cottage. Which means I only need to carry food and water. It makes the 60km circuit of the southern section of Wilsons Prom feasible in two days; otherwise, carrying a tent and cooking equipment, this would be more typically done as a 3-day walk.
Although the lighthouse was fully automated in 1993, it still has a permanent “lighthouse keeper”, who is now responsible for running the property – rather than maintaining the light. The historic residences are the southern-most settlement on the Australian mainland. Supplies are flown in (and rubbish flown out) every six months by helicopter, and the light-house keepers rotate every few weeks. Other than by helicopter, access to the Lightstation is only by foot or by boat (weather permitting).
Directly in front of the headland is the pyramid-shaped Rodondo Island, a granite island that supports a breeding colony of over one million mutton birds.
While waiting for the sun to set, I take a photos of a wombat that’s taking advantage of the watered grass by the cottage, and doesn’t seem to mind my presence.
The sunset from the Lightstation is stunning, looking west towards South Point (the most southerly point of mainland Australia) and Wattle Island just off the the coast.
Wilsons Prom Lightstation to Oberon Bay (16km)
The following day is grey and overcast, despite a clear night when I went to bed… I set-off early, as I need to get back to the car and then onto the airport for a late afternoon flight.
The rain holds off as I head north towards Halfway Hut, up the middle of the peninsula. While the Telegraph Track (a wide 4WD track) goes all the way up to Telegraph Saddle, there are sections of narrower walking trails which offer a much more pleasant alternative. The landscape is quite different here than the route along the coast, consisting mostly of low heathland.
Just over a kilometre after Halfway Hut I reach Telegraph Junction, the intersection of the Telegraph Track with the Waterloo Bay Track and Oberon Bay Track. The quickest way back would be to continue straight head along the Telegraph Track, to finish the Wilsons Prom Souther Circuit where I started (at Telegraph Saddle). The longer and more scenic option is to head west to Tidal River via Oberon Bay. I head west, hoping the rain will continue to hold off… It takes about an hour to reach Oberon Bay.
Oberon Bay to Tidal River (8km)
Having reached Oberon Bay (there is a campsite at the southern end), I walk along the desolate beach. It’s not as nice as the beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula. I’m definitely not tempted to go for a swim, with the temperature much lower than yesterday.
At the northern end of the beach I cross the wide Growlers Creek, and the track continues up and over the headland as it follows the coast.
After about three kilometres, I reach Little Oberon Bay, with Little Oberon (267m high) just behind it. I also meet a group of serious-looking hikers who are setting off from Tidal River in the opposite direction to me, the first people I’ve seen (except for the Lightstation keeper) since Sealers Cove on the previous day.
Despite the still-gloomy weather, the desolate coastline is arguably enhanced by the low clouds that hug the coastal peaks.
I’m soon on the final stretch, with Norman Beach visible in the distance. This last section of the Oberon Bay Walking Track is very well maintained and fairly flat, and I make rapid progress.
I’m soon at the sheltered Norman Beach, which is very close to Tidal River – the track passes by the southern tip of the beach, and heads inland to the Tidal River settlement.
Unfortunately, my car is not at Tidal River, but at Telegraph Saddle – which is a 3.5km walk along the road, and most of it is a steep and winding road. I’m not really looking forward to this rather anti-climactic ending, so I very gratefully accept a lift from someone who’s driving up to the car park!
It’s definitely one of my “Top 10” Australian bushwalks – I’ve very fond memories of my last Wilsons Prom bushwalk here many years ago. The accommodation at the Lightstation makes it feasible to do the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit as an overnight walk, and without having to carry a heavy backpack. My only recommendation (other than “just do this walk!”) is to avoid busy holiday periods if you can, and book the Lightstation accommodation (or camp sites) well in advance.
Best time of year to hike in Wilsons Prom?
You can hike the Wilsons Prom Southern Circuit all year. Summer is arguably the best time, with warm weather and least rainfall – but it also the most number of people. If you walk in autumn or spring you’re more likely to get some rain, but booking campsites will be much easier. Winter brings colder weather, but also the highest rainfall and number of rainy days.
Where to stay near Wilsons Promontory?
There are “Wilderness Retreats” (permanant tents), huts, cabins and lodges at Tidal River, as well as campsites. The nearest town to Wilsons Promontory National Park is Yanakie, and around Yanakie there are a number of cabins and cottages, which are a short drive from Tidal River.
Which direction should you hike the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit?
The eastern side is the most spectacular – not that the western side is bad (although the Telegraph Track up the middle is pretty boring). Most people seem to do it clockwise, as I did. I would say try and do the eastern side, through Sealers Cove and Waterloo Bay, on the day/s you have the best weather!