Do you fancy a three day hike in paradise? Well, if you happen to be in southern Victoria, and have a few spare days, then this one’s for you! Wilsons Promontory is the home of Victoria’s most southerly National Park, and contains some of the most stunning, and rugged coastal scenery in southern Australia. From lush rainforest, to white sandy beaches, and dramatic rocky outcrops, it has a taste of wildness that will make you want to come back time and time again.
What follows is my account of a 3 day hike through the wilds of Wilson’s Promontory….
It’s been 4 months since my last multi-day hike. I have had itchy feet the moment Summer bowed out and let the soft, gentle mood of Autumn take its place. I have spent the last few months training in the State Park that is my ‘backyard’ and I feel more than ready to immerse myself into the physical challenges that may present themselves over the next 3 days. I am accompanied by my trusty hiking partner Peter, who is characteristically unprepared for our traverse of the eastern side of Wilsons Promontory. His preparation could not be more different to mine, but what he lacks in fitness he more than makes up for in enthusiasm, and in making sure we have enough ‘rewards’ for our endeavours.
We check in at the Visitors Centre at Tidal River on Day 1. This where we have our hiking permits checked, and are quizzed on whether we’ve hiked here before, do we know the emergency evacuation procedures and do we know the tide times for Sealers Cove (presumably so that we don’t fully submerge ourselves in the rising waters of Bass Strait before reaching the camping area.) It is the only formal check-in we have had on our hiking adventures so far, and considering the type of terrain we will cover it seems somewhat overly bureaucratic. Non the less, we are on our way.
Day 1: Telegraph Saddle Carpark to Sealers Cove (3 hours):
We arrive at the carpark around 1pm, and are disappointed to find it relatively full. So much for our delusional thoughts about it being quiet mid-week! A few mini-buses complete the picture, and our minds conjure up teams of school kids cutting through the silence of the bush as they run riot through the undergrowth. Our idea of hiking is to venture far from the madding crowds, not head directly into them. We groan at the thought, while we don our packs and take our first steps into the wilderness.
Our boots crunch loudly on the gravel, as we begin to find our rhythm on the track. It is both well defined, and well maintained. We head steadily uphill as the track winds its way around the contours of the mountains. The evidence of previous landslides is still very apparent in places, where huge boulders coursed their way down the mountains leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The floods of 2011 caused massive damage to sections of this track, and rendered it impassable for many months while the painstaking task of reconstructing it was in progress.
We reach Windy Saddle (elevation 320m) just on the allocated 1 hour mark. Above us the summit of Mt. Ramsay is just visible through the tree-line. With 2 hours to go we push on, as we are keen to get to Sealers Cove and set up camp for the night. The vegetation begins to change as we gradually descend to lower elevations, and we find ourselves stepping through time into an ancient wonderland that conjures up visions of ‘Lord of the Rings’.
Hazel Pomaderris erupt through moss-covered granite boulders. Their trunks are alight with random splashes of white lichen. The gnarly forms of Blanket Leaf twist their way up to reach the light, the pale underside of their leaves feel soft and downy when I reach up to caress them with my fingers. Lush ferns punctuate the undergrowth, their lacy fronds adding to the forest ephemera. I get the feeling that time has disappeared here, swallowed up beneath the thick carpet of moss that hugs the forest floor. The earth is damp and smells like the moist air that wafts out of caves, heavily laiden with secrets accumulated from eons ago. All around us the essence of mystery snakes it way deep into the forest, luring us forward like the sirens of the sea.
Huge boulders cascade down through the gullies, catching tree-trunks in their wake. Fountains of green erupt from the pockets of earth trapped in crevices formed by this once-moving landscape in the throes of a land-slide. It seems bound together by the velvety covering of mosses and lichen that cling tenaciously to every surface they touch. The scenery is achingly beautiful but I find it hard to take in. I am light-headed with wonder as I immerse myself in this pristine pocket of forest, and I am grateful for the weight of my pack that anchors me firmly to the ground.
As we wind our way down into a gully, the sound of water trickling over rocks cuts through the silence with an almost spiritual clarity. We cross a stream by stepping over huge flat boulders placed like stepping stones in the crystal-clear water that snakes its way effortlessly towards an unseen destination. Silent and trusting it both emanates from the source, and becomes the source; the source that sustains all life on this planet. I gaze in reverence at these pure waters and cast a silent prayer of gratitude into the fast-flowing current.
Stone steps wind upwards and further into the forest. The air here is infused with the intoxicating aroma of moist earth and crushed eucalyptus leaves. I inhale deeply and fill my lungs with this raw, untamed scent that emanates from deep within the earth’s core. I feel magnetised to this place; drawn effortlessly into the underbelly of this lush primal landscape. I imagine I could slip quietly off the track and walk in through the layers of soft foliage as though emerging through a portal into an enchanted world. Time stands still here, and the silence is sharper than the crack of a whip.
A boardwalk unravels through the ferny glade. It courses its way along the forest floor in fluid curves that disappear as mysteriously as they arise. Walking is as easy as being on a travelator that snakes its way through this ancient land. Secrets are revealed at every turn, and I fancy days could turn into weeks if I stayed here long enough to try and capture a lasting imprint of every scene that captivated my imagination.
We near the end of the boardwalk. And emerge from the thick canopy of Lilly Pilly, Blackwood and Muttonwood, into the more sparsely-wooded riparian scrubland. Swamp Paperbarks rise from the boggy soil of Sealers Swamp, their skinny trunks shedding white papery bark in long strips that look like cast-off pencil shavings. Tall sedges line the path, their leaves spilling over the track in a fountain of brilliant green. My legs brush the sedges as I walk by, and it sounds like strands of tinsel rustling eerily in the wind.
We cross the bridge over the swirling brown waters of Sealers Creek. It is stained the colour of tea from the tannins leached by decomposing vegetation. Swamp Paperbarks reach out eagerly from each side of the bank, their branches touching in the centre to form an avenue of honour for the tidal waters below. We leave the swamp enclave behind us and step out into the brilliant sunshine that spreads generously across the shallow waters of Sealers Cove. Our footsteps sink gently into the golden sand that lines the beach, then sweeps away under the lapping water that caresses the shoreline.
We have arrived at the lowest tide level for the day. After I remove my boots and socks, it is an easy crossing of the cool waters of Sealers Creek. As we navigate the tracks carved into the bank on the south side of the cove we are quick to discern that the busloads of school kids have their tents spread thickly through the ferny undergrowth of the camping area. Armed with a hot tip from a fellow hiker we passed earlier in the day, we head through the forest of tents towards the Rangers Hut. With just enough flat ground behind the hut to pitch the tent we set up camp, making good use of the verandah and picnic table to make ourselves at home.
A dense thatching of Austral Bracken Fern surrounds our site. The lacy fronds overlapping to weave a network of tiered layers that provide refuge to the tiny creatures of the forest. Grey Fantails cling to the pencil-straight stalks, their flight path altered in the split second before I walk by. An Eastern Yellow Robin peeks out curiously from behind the branch of a nearby Messmate Stringybark, its’ chest awash with deep shade of cadmium yellow.
Our glass of wine goes down just as smoothly as the sun. The hills around the cove are bathed in a glorious shade of coral pink, that stretches out across the water. The night creeps in almost without warning, and the dark-velvety sky is covered with pinpricks of brilliant light. I walk a short distance into the forest and feel the darkness pressing against me, as all traces of daylight are covered by the blanket of night. I have a sudden urge to take flight with long feathered wings, and join in the dance of the forest in the silent night-time hours.
Sleep stays at arms-length away as the night slowly unravels outside the walls of the tent. A furry intruders’ arrival is announced by the rustling a plastic bag of rubbish we left tied up on a tree branch. The Southern Boobook Owl’s unmistakable call echoes deep into the forest as I toss and turn in the small hours of the morning. Sleep finally creeps in like a late-night party goer in the greyness of pre-dawn light. I manage a few hours rest before the soulful call of the Pied Currawong cuts through the stillness of the morning, piercing a hole in my bubble of sleep.
Day 2: Sealers Cove to Refuge Cove (2 hours):
We pack up camp in a leisurely manner. We are disappointed to see a couple of the school groups head out before us, and in the same direction we are going. We are, however, armed with another hot tip for camping at Refuge Cove; the boat camping area is separate to the overnight-hikers camping area, so we plan to camp there if it keeps us away from the schoolie crowd.
We walk in an easterly direction as we hug the contours of the coastline towards Horn Point. The rocky granite outcrops provide breathtaking vistas back toward Sealers Cove and to the south, Smiths Cove and Hobbs Point. The long green spikes of Grass Trees sway elegantly in the breeze, their grey skirts bunched tightly at the waist before tapering in a shapely manner to cover their thick knobbly trunks. Common Correa compliments the green colour palette with its tubular bell flowers hanging in a soft shade of pastel mint.
The vegetation is ever-changing. We zig-zag in and out from coastline granite cliffs, to heavily shaded forest woodlands. Rough Tree Ferns re-emerge along side Muttonwood and Blanket Leaf as the track follows the inland contours west of Smiths Cove. Tendrils of sunlight snake their way through the forest canopy, latching on tightly to the long sprays of Tree Fern fronds reaching up to the light. Yellow-flowered Hop Goodenia fight their way through the tangled undergrowth, while the occasional Hyacinth Orchid throws up a burst of vivid magenta.
The azure waters of Refuge Cove sparkle like cut-diamonds in the morning sun. We are lured out of the forest and onto the sharp sand of Nth Refuge Beach. We walk a short distance in the warming rays of the sun as we follow the waters edge. The track turns inland again before dropping back out onto the sand, and we find our slice of Paradise on a flat sandy platform a few metres above the waterline. We pitch the tent in a shady nook and while I make lunch Peter has already hit the waters edge, fishing rod at the ready. I sit back and drink in the view, scarcely believing my eyes as they dance across the water and scour the lusty curves of the coastline, neatly bordered with granite boulders and fringed with glistening white sand.
I take off my boots and socks and walk bare-foot around the camp. I feel each footstep fall on a bed of soft sandy earth beneath me. A carpet of leaves cushions the ground as I turn and walk up through the forest, their smooth texture cool against the tender skin of my feet that are not yet trusting of this new experience. As I gain confidence in the placement of each foot I embrace the naked contact I have with the earth, and I feel as though I am tapping into the heart of my inner primal being. I feel alive and centred, my soul expanding as it connects to the source.
Our afternoon unfolds effortlessly as we languish in the warm Autumn sunshine. We are content to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds that surround us in this postcard-perfect setting. Gentle waves ride in from the Tasman Sea, unfurling mysteries in a thousand tiny bubbles that race across the shore-line and burst upon the sand. I want to scoop them up and hold them in my hands, to savour the magic encapsulated within these tiny jewels that are gifted from the sea. My feet sink into the soft sand as the waves recede back out into the curvaceous body of the cove. The salt water rushes around my legs, its effervescence tingling my skin as I surrender to this moment of pure pleasure.
The light fades into dusky shades of grey as the sun slips behind the west face of the cove. We savour a glass of wine as we eat dinner in the growing darkness, and gaze out at the soft light held captive on the water, the surface rippling out in ever-widening arcs around the bay. The tide sneaks back in under cover of darkness, and the waves lapping the shore punctuate the silence with mesmerising regularity.
I am not yet ready for another night of tossing and turning. I slink again into the blackness of the forest and feel the silence beckoning and repelling me in equal measure. I stand alone under the canopy of Messmate Stringybark and will myself to keep the torch off to blend into the night. With eyes adjusting to night-vision mode, I make out the silhouette of near-by trees but the depths of the forest are engulfed in darkness. I relent and switch on my torch, the beam of light transecting the flight path of bat just meters above my head. I am hoping to catch a glimpse of an owl, but as the waves of tiredness course through my body, I turn and head for bed.
As I lie in the darkness my senses awaken and my ears tune in to the night-time forest frequency. Waves creep in stealthily through the wide-open space of night, rushing in to steal sleep from within the folds of my sleeping bag. I track the movements in the forest with unseeing eyes, my mind painting pictures of midnight’s magic hour. A Southern Boobook Owl’s boobook, boobook, boobook call sends ripples across the darkness that break the stillness of the night. A return call is served, and I lie in the darkness mesmerised by the volley of calls that bounce back and forth across the forest arena. As the match draws to a close the incoming tide offers a wave filled with sleep. As I reach out to take it I feel myself floating on the surface of the water, drifting further out to sea under a blanket of stars.
Day Three: Refuge Cove to Telegraph Saddle Carpark (5 hours):
Misty rain follows us out of the cove as we begin our journey back to Telegraph Saddle. Our pack raincoats protect our gear from the drizzle that thankfully disappears as quickly as it arrived. An easy 2 hour walk sees us back at Sealers Cove where we find the tidal creek level much deeper than our previous crossing. Removing boots and socks we pick a line through the water and wade thigh-deep through cool waters of the creek. I sit on the beach to dry my feet and dissolve into the pristine view before me. The wide open space seeps through every pore of my skin and permeates every corner of my mind. I feel mesmerised by this world that time forgets, caught up in the swirling flow of energy that leaves me dreamy in its wake.
The track to Telegraph Saddle is littered with hikers making their way to Sealers or Refuge Cove for the weekend. We learn that both sites are fully booked for the next 2 nights. Despite wishing we had the place to ourselves for the past few days, it seems were lucky to escape the burgeoning crowds. When we arrive back at the carpark we find it is full, and an overflow spills part way down the road.
As we drive back home I contemplate the luxury of a hot shower. This is one of the few things that will help my transition back into my ‘other world’ that is filled with the continuous cycle of routine. I find it hard to integrate back into the confines of civilisation after a foray into the wilderness, my connection to the natural world too strong to allow me to pull up anchor and leave it all behind. I remain gloriously adrift in a life of wild existence while simultaneously being pulled back to the shore.
I revisit the experience in vivid detail. As I scroll through my photos and write up this blog post, I savour the memories still fresh in my mind. Refreshed and inspired my thoughts turn to my next wild experience; The Overland Track in Tassie. There is much to plan and organise in just under five months. I begin to breathe life into the next dream.
Where: Sealers Cove & Refuge Cove, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria
Distance: Telegraph Saddle to Sealers Cove, 10.2km. Sealers Cove to Refuge Cove, 6.4km
Time: Telegraph Saddle to Sealers Cove, 3 hours. Sealers Cove to Refuge Cove, 2 hours.