Ask any Victorian to name their favourite outdoor destination and the odds are that they will name Wilsons Promontory. It’s easy to understand why; The Prom, as it’s affectionately known, is a 500 square kilometre peninsula of rugged granite mountains, lush forests and rocky headlands separated by isolated sandy coves, all with the added bonus of late-night wombat encounters at the main camping area of Tidal River, and just three hours’ drive from Melbourne. With just one main road in the park the best way to see the Prom is on foot, and you will not be disappointed. With a wide variety of tracks from short strolls to multi-day treks (click here for track notes for the classic three day Wilsons Promontory Circuit) this is one of the absolute must-see places to go walking in Australia.
Norman Beach, Squeaky Beach and Picnic Bay (5km, 2 hours)
Start: Tidal River Visitor Centre
Finish: Picnic Bay Car Park
This walk visits the rocky headlands and sandy coves of the Prom’s west coast, one of the scenic highlights of the park. From the visitors centre walk through the campground to the Tidal River footbridge which offers views over the river to Mount Latrobe, the Prom’s highest peak. It also provides testament to the power of nature, as prior to floods in 2011 the wide river heading out to sea was a narrow brook snaking its way through the beach; the floods completely scoured the sand away – there is an information board with some pretty amazing photos and stories from that day outside the Tidal River General Store.
After the bridge take the track left to Squeaky Beach, which climbs to the top of the ridge separating Norman and Leonard Bays. Make sure you take the short side track to Pillar Point for great views up and down the coast and also across to the Glennie Group of islands. Return to the main track and descend via several slabs of granite to the southern end of Squeaky Beach, which really does squeak! The sound, in case you are wondering, comes from the evenly-sized quartz grains which rub against each other like marbles. Cross the beach and climb up over Leonard Point to visit another sandy cove in Picnic Bay, then head to the back of the beach where there is a track to the car park. If you haven’t arranged a car to pick you up return the way you came.
Lilly Pilly Gully-Mount Bishop (5.8km, 2–3 hours)
Start/Finish: Lilly Pilly Gully Car Park
Lilly Pilly Gully is the most famous and accessible of the many pockets of rainforest which are supported by the high rainfall of the Prom, and it makes for a pleasant alternative to the more exposed beach walks if the weather isn’t that great.
From the car park follow the signs to the Lilly Pilly Gully circuit, climbing across the southern slopes of Mount Bishop before reaching a junction for a side track to the peak which provides excellent views over Tidal River and the surrounding coves. The granite is slippery, especially after rain, so be careful on the exposed summit. Return to the main track and turn left, descending into the valley to Lilly Pilly Gully. The rangers have built a boardwalk through the ferns, and it’s well worth the short circuit to soak in the atmosphere of the rainforest.
The transition from the wet eucalypt forest nearby is quite marked, with the shady, secluded environment here home to many species that could not survive in the more exposed world outside. Wilsons Promontory is home to the southernmost extent of warm temperate rainforest in Australia (and for that matter, the world) and it’s worth reflecting on its common heritage with forests that stretch up the east coast of Australia to the ranges around Dorrigo near the border of New South Wales and Queensland (click here for more info on the rainforest walks at Dorrigo). From the gully it’s a half hour walk through heathland back to the car park.
Oberon Bay (15km, 5 hours)
Start/Finish: Tidal River Visitor Centre
For those wishing to sample some of the classic Wilsons Promontory Circuit but who don’t wish to camp out, this walk provides a great sample of the landscapes in the more remote parts of the Prom.
Start at the visitor centre and take the track over the dune and through the campground to Norman Beach, then turn left and head south (make sure you keep below the high tide mark to avoid shore-bird eggs, which are frequently laid on the upper part of the beach). The beach provides good views out to the Glennie Group of islands to the east as well as Cleft Group to the south, including the intimidating-looking Cleft Island, better known as skull rock; rangers exploring the cave high up on it’s granite cliffs have discovered a pile of cannon balls, presumably left by a passing ship using the island for target practice.
At the southern end of the beach pick up the track around Norman Point, which offers more great views across Norman Bay. At the tip of the point a short side-track leads to a large rocky viewpoint. From here the track descends to the white sands of Little Oberon Bay, a great destination on its own.
To continue south, walk along the beach and locate the track at the southern end of the beach. The well-made path winds through coastal vegetation, passing a superb viewpoint then dropping to the broad expanse of Oberon Bay. Stroll along the beach, checking out the flotsam and jetsam, to an overnight hikers campsite about a kilometre down the beach. This is a great spot to stay overnight if you want to enjoy the sunset at the beach, or turn around now and return the way you came to Tidal River.
Tongue Point (9.4km, 3.5 hours)
Start: Darby Saddle
Finish: Derby River Car Park
This is a great day walk for those wishing a bit more exercise and looking to get away from it all, as you will often encounter only two or three other groups of walkers even when the more popular areas further south are really crowded. The walk described here is a car shuttle – if you have only one vehicle you can still do the 3.8km, 2 hour return walk from Darby River.
From the parking area at Darby Saddle follow the signposted track for 2.1km to a 300m side track to Sparkes Lookout, which provides grandstand views over the eastern coastline of the park. The track then climbs steeply to Lookout Rocks for views across to Norman Island before descending to a junction with the track from Darby River. The most spectacular part of the walk then begins as Tongue Point is well named – it is a rocky headland that sticks far out into Bass Strait, offering great views north and south and a real wilderness atmosphere.
The end of the headland is marked with a rocky semi-detached island; make sure you resist the temptation of continuing on past the end of the track, as the route to the island is dangerous. On the return walk ignore the track to the right at the base of Tongue Point, continuing east to Derby River. Just after the junction is one of the highlights of the walk, the delightful Fairy Cove, a small sandy beach that is only exposed at low tide.
Derby Beach (2km, 40 minutes)
Start/Finish: Darby River Car Park
The geology of Wilsons Promontory can be divided into two parts: the southern and eastern parts of the peninsula which are built around a core of granite, and the Yanakie Isthmus which connects the mountains to the mainland and is basically a giant sand bar. Darby Beach marks the point where the two halves meet, creating a very different landscape than the headlands and coves of other coastal walks at the Prom.
From the car park take the track through the dunes, which are mostly covered in scrub, until you emerge on the beach. The view to the south is marked by the rocky headland of Tongue Point while to the north the beach stretches away into the distance, backed by a line of dunes. You can take your time wandering on the often deserted stretch of sand before retracing your steps back to the car.
Picnic Bay and Whisky Bay (2km, 1 hour)
Start/Finish: Picnic Bay car park
These two picturesque coves lie on the western shore of the Prom and make a delightful short excursion from Tidal River (it’s about a 10-minute drive from the campground to Picnic Bay car park). They can be visited separately (both have small car parks) or combined into one walk, starting at the southern-most car park. From the car park it’s an easy walk on a clear path towards the beach – take the short track down the sand and have a look around before returning to the main path and continuing north to an excellent viewpoint over the crescent-shaped Picnic Bay then descending to the beach at Whisky Bay, which is a bit wilder with lots of big boulders to explore. Return to the car via the same path.
Mount Oberon (6.8km, 2 hours)
Start/Finish: Telegraph Saddle car park
Mount Oberon isn’t the highest point on the Prom but it dominates the western side of the park and, unlike the rugged peaks in the park’s interior that beat it for size (Mount Wilson is the highest peak at 705 metress compared to Mount Oberon’s 558 metres), it is possible to walk all the way to the top. The path itself isn’t all that exciting, following a steep, winding management road for 3.4km. But the views are definitely worth it – a 360-degree panorama of the entire national park from the beautiful bays and coves on the western shore (Norman Bay, Squeaky Beach, Whisky Bay and the rest) to the forested peaks to the south and across the promontory to the west, where the ocean can be seen between the hills. This is a great place for sunrise or sunset – don’t forget a torch.
Big Drift (4km, 1.5 hours)
Start/finish: Stockyards Camp
The Big Drift is a large area of moving sand dunes that provides a very different experience to the rest of the Prom, and often away from the crowds. Park at Stockyards Camp just past the park entrance and follow the marked path through the bush. The trail follows a fence that marks the border of the national park and neighbouring farmland for a short distance before re-entering the forest near the bottom of a steep sandy slope. From here, the way is up to the edge of the vast dunes. Pause here to enjoy the expansive views over the dunes to the Vereker Range to the east and the sea to the west. From here you can spend as much time as you like exploring, but don’t lose your bearings – a wooden pole marks the top of the slope to return to. Return to the car park by retracing the track described above.
Vereker Outlook (3.5km, 1 hour)
Start/Finish: Five Mile Car Park
The northern Prom has a much less developed track network than the southern part of the park, and walkers intending to embark on long-distance treks must be prepared to wade through swamps, push through heath and scrub and navigate on sections where the only ‘track’ is a series of faded ties on occasional trees. For day walkers, though, Parks Victoria has constructed a couple of short walks which provide a taste of the wilderness this part of Victoria has to offer without the risk of disappearing and having to be located by search and rescue teams.
From Five Mile Car Park follow the sandy track as it winds uphill through dry banksia woodland onto to the slopes of the Vereker Range. The drier nature of the landscape bcompared to the southern Prom is immediately apparent, and the sparse vegetation offers frequent gllimpses of the plains to the west towards Darby River. Soon you begin to climb onto the rocky spine of the range itself, eventually reaching the outlook which provides sweeping views of the northern part of the park.
For some variety on the return leg turn right at a track junction near the bottom of the slope, to emerge quickly onto Five Mile Road. A short excursion to the right offers one last view across the heathlands stretching away to Corner Inlet and Mounts Hunter and Singapore on the Prom’s northeastern tip – don’t continue on from here unless you plan on trekking the additional 15km to Five Mile Beach – before turning around and following the road back to the car park.
Millers Landing (3.5km, 1 hour)
Start/Finish: Five Mile Car Park
Among it’s many distinctions, Wilsons Promontory is home to the southernmost mangroves in the world, and these bizarre and intriguing plants can be easily visited via a short walk .
From the car park the track to Millers Landing descends gently through open woodland to the shore of Corner Inlet, where the mangroves have colonised the extensive mud flats. The challenges of living in such a challenging environment have resulted in the trees adopting a number of unusual evolutionary adaptations, the most visible of which are aerial roots. Trees need oxygen just as much as animals do, using it to burn the food they manufacture through photosynthesis, and while most plants get what they need from pores in the soil the sticky mud on the shoreline is too clogged to let any oxygen in. The mangroves’ solution is novel and direct – they grow the roots up into the air to access it directly.
From the landing take the link track up the hill to Five Mile Road, where you cen detour to the left for a few hundred metres for some views (see above) before heading west back to your car.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO
When you’re not walking Wilsons Prom is a great place to kick back and relax for a summer holiday. Tidal River, which runs past its namesake campground, provides safe swimming, with nearby Norman Beach another option if you prefer waves. Squeaky Beach is also popular with surfers. The ocean surrounding the park has been declared a marine national park, with excellent snorkelling and scuba diving, or for sailing to check out the numerous offshore islands (check with the rangers before jumping off your boat as many of these are restricted and are home to endangered species).
FLORA AND FAUNA
In a word, lots! The open country in the north of the park is home to emus and kangaroos, while the forests and coastlines around Tidal River are habitat for large numbers of swamp wallabies and other mammals. The park’s most famous inhabitants are wombats, which are found essentially everywhere but are most easily seen at Tidal River.
No night of camping there is complete without a torch-lit wander around the campground doing a wombat-count, just make sure your food is stashed in your car and don’t leave your boots outside as wombats mark their territory with poo and they have a fondness of depositing it on the highest point available. The vegetation of the park is very varied, with coastal scrub behind the beaches and headlands and tall, wet forest with pockets of rainforest on the central mountains. The northern Prom is drier than the south, with extensive grass and heathlands.
From Melbourne take the Monash Freeway (M1) then turn onto the South Gippsland Highway, following this until the turnoff to Phillip Island. From this point the road runs through Cranbourne and Tooradin before reaching another turnoff to Leongatha. Take this road though Korumburra, Leongatha and Meeniyan, then follow the big signs to the park entrance about two and a half hours from Melbourne. Tidal River is another half an hour further on – drive carefully, especially at night, because there is a lot of wildlife on the road.
It comes as no surprise that summer is the most popular time to visit as it has the warmest weather and the most sunny days, but the Prom is one of those places that tends to experience all four seasons in one day, so make sure you take your raincoat. Winter is a lot wilder but it has the benefit that you will have the tracks almost to yourself.
CAMPING AND ACCOMMODATION
There are few places in the world that are quite so nice to stay as Tidal River. The campground has unpowered sites with access to toilet, shower and laundry facilities, and with easy access to Norman Beach and the walks – just be careful not to trip over a wombat if you’re walking around at night! Christmas holiday bookings are by a ballot system and you need to get in early for other busy holiday periods, but outside these times you can just rock up and pick a site. Parks Victoria also operates a range of accommodation, from basic huts to fully equipped cabins and ‘wilderness retreats’ and a number of businesses operate accommodation close to the park entrance, with the occasional added bonus of sweeping views across Corner Inlet to the mountains of the Prom.
Many of the walks traverse rocky coastlines, so take care especially near the water as people have been washed off by large waves. Caution should also be exercised when swimming, as the beaches are often home to rips or other dangerous swimming conditions. Contact the parks visitor centre for more information and for the latest track conditions.
The walking track network is well maintained and pretty well graded, although there are some significant ups and downs on the longer walks.
Book online at www.parkstay.vic.gov.au or with Parks Vic on 13 1963.
These descriptions are a guide only. While we have made every effort to make them accurate, we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained while using them. Make sure you use an up-to-date map and consult rangers before heading out.