Day 2 – Wilsons Prom, lighting up history

Day 1 I wrote about the journey from Telegraph Saddle to Roaring Meg creek and our experience at the most southerly point of the Australian mainland, you can read about it here, Wilsons Prom, a bucket list destination .

Rising early, I plan a dip in the creek and am pleasantly surprised that there has been no dew overnight and the tent has stayed dried. We have another big day ahead of us and waste no time packing up and getting on our way.

The valley rises steeply on the ocean side as we make our way out from roaring Meg to the lighthouse and then onto our final destination Little Waterloo Bay. In and out of micro climates the weather is unsettled and while not raining there is a lot of cloud and some of it is quite low. The first 2kms is up and down as we escape the lowlands with their moist creek refuges for the higher exposed areas. Gang-gangs can be heard in the trees and soon enough we spot them, their bright red heads a give away in an otherwise green and mottled landscape.

The Gang-gang is part of the cockatoo family and inhabits the cool wet forests and woodlands of south eastern Australia. The male has a red head and crest, while the female has a small fluffy grey crest. It is easily identified by its distinctive call, which sounds alot like a cork being popped out of a bottle. The Gang-gang is the faunal emblem of the Australian Capital Territory.

The cloud comes in low and we find our selves walking in the mist. There is always something fascinating and mystical about walking in the clouds, it is as though flying even though you know you cannot. Shortly after we intersect the telegraph track, completing our detour. The pace pick ups on the wide open road but it’s not long before we dart into the forest once more for the final 3.8km to the lighthouse.

The ocean breaks out before us once again as we stand atop an exposed granite outcrop, the cloud is still low but showing signs of clearing. We should be able to see the lighthouse from here but it is still completely encapsulated in the mist, in a strange phenomenon that looks like the mountain is smoking. My best guess is the prevailing wind is pushing moist air in the valley up over the peaks causing it condensate as it cools, sinking down over the lighthouse and out to sea; where it looks like the plume of a steam ship muddying the ocean horizon with the sky. Something that truly needs to be seen to be appreciated.
Whatever it is it’s spectacular and adds yet another dimension to this bucket list experience. We loiter awhile taking in the peculiar site before pushing on for the lighthouse.

The sun is getting higher and with the cloud thinning, the lighthouse, our lunch destination is clearly in sight, revealed like the opening scene of a theater performance from behind the heavy dark curtains that once hid it. Bloggers have mentioned the cruel walk to the lighthouse proper and they’ve not overplayed it. After walking past what is known as skull rock, named by people with a better imagination than mine, it’s a steep incline straight up, no switch backs to rest your legs on here.

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Chimney cloud over Bass Strait

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The lighthouse in view

The skull as it is known is a contorted tortured looking set of boulders, beaten and defaced by the merciless and relentless wind and rain over the ages. While in some places it looks grotesque in others it is beautifully sculpted and you can just imagine a mini set of water falls, as the rain pools in the baths carved out by the brutal weather served up by Bass Strait. None of that today thankfully.

Gasping for air we make it to the top of the lighthouse grounds, welcomed by the wearied and rusted remains of the winch line which used to haul goods from the small jetty at the base of the cliff to the lighthouse. The lighthouse still functions but is fully automated, the grounds once used as an army barracks in world war 2 have long been converted into accommodation for weary hikers and those that want to experience the harsh and beautiful environment of the Wilsons Prom southern end in full creature comfort.

The lighthouse first started operation in 1859, but it wasn’t until 1873 that it was connected to the outside world via the telegraph to Port Albert. The telegraph was a single galvanised wire capable of sending Morse code. It failed on its first day with a tree falling on the line, one of many interruptions. The Telegraph was upgraded to four lines during World War 2 and in 1971 was replaced with a radio link via Mount Oberon.

The lighthouse was services by ships that would dock at the eastern landing between the late 1800’s and 1978. Cargo would be craned off the boats and loaded on a flying fox for the 100m elevation journey up the hill.

In 1939 a war signals station was established at the lighthouse, part of this was the RAAF’s secret radar station to monitor ships and aircraft movements. 31 military personnel called the lighthouse home and while protection of the country was on their mind so was protection from the elements. Steel cables secured the basic service huts to the granite outcrop to stop them blowing away in the howling gales.

In 1951 a fierce fire swept the the park as south as the lighthouse, destroying a number of the building including the RAAF barracks, flying fox and general storeroom. By 1993 the light had been converted to solar power and in 1995 the land was transferred to Parks Victoria, with the cottages open to visitors the year after.

We make a bee line for the toilet, it’s flushable, whoever thought we would get excited about that! There was a dead scorpion caught in the web of a spider, not sure which one is worse and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come. The toilet is adjacent to two small rooms and I peak through the window to find them laden with pictures, information and artifacts of the lighthouse and it’s stories. Oh if only it could talk.

I gingerly try the door handle and it opens, there is no one around and no signs saying don’t enter so we make our way in, what a treasure trove of information. Shortly after the ranger appears out of no where. Catching us in the make shift museum, he boldly walks up to me, Claire’s concerned we’re going to cop it, but he offers a hand to shake and we get talking about his role, the museum and the lighthouse. He tells me they have been working on the museum for some time and have yet more to add as they sift through all the items that were there or have been donated.

Working a week on and a week off, I ask if he is helicoptered in, which is met with great lighter and a response of no. We drive the trail and walk the last 4kms just like you did, he responds. The helicopter visits twice a year to provide fuel and remove the empty gas tanks. Wow it could be lonely out here, but imagine the spectacular storms you’d see and experience. We conclude our viewing and choose a table and chair looking out over Bass Straight for lunch, I think I just morphed into gliking (glamour hiking) and could get used it. Rested and refueled I’m feeling good about the 9km walk around to Little Waterloo Bay.

The track starts off relatively easy but feels much longer than expected and after running close to the coast for a awhile dips away, making for a hot and humid walk. About half way we find respite in a small creek and stop for a drink, dousing ourselves in the little stream to cool the engine. The remainder of the walk is uneventful up for gullies and down for ridges. A sliver of gold appears between the trees, it a beach Little Waterloo I hope. As we draw closer, the sounds of waves lapping the rocks fills our ears. I can clearly see the beach and in the distance a large peak. That’s high I think to myself, thankfully we don’t need to negotiate that one till tomorrow.

The track winds towards and away from the beach, teasing us both with its direction and length. I can taste the cool of the ocean and I just want to run down the side of the hill; but it’s too steep, high and forested, it feels like the path will never end. We’re back in the granitic soils which is like walking on marbles so our progress is slowed even further. When will we ever put feet on the beach! One more turn and we’re there, a beautiful white sandy beach, that runs for miles and not a soul on it, the sun is high in the sky the cloud long burnt off and I can no longer resist the urge to savour the sweet refresh of the crystal clear ocean waves as they crash on the beach, calling to me to be one with them.

I sprint down and dive in, the water lapping at me, caressing sore muscles and tried feet. A good half hour passes, me in the water and Claire sunning on the beach, it’s time we head to the other end and make camp. As we return I spot a crow perched on top of my pack. His beak is in the zip hole of the side pocket and he’s frantically working to open it up. I scare him away but he doesn’t go far, sheltering under a tree a few feet away. He remains there for the rest of the time, waiting for another opportunity to score a sweet juicy snack.

Other bloggers have mentioned befalling the crafty crows and losing some if not all their food supply, we’d been vigilant for this and it wasn’t in the clear on a beach that I thought this would happen. Halfway along a trail appears that leads into the valley, it’s the junction trail we had crossed the day before. Immediately behind the dunes is another smaller trail that runs parallel to the ocean.Originally made of chain and wooden slats to protect the vegetation most have weathered away or been buried by the encroaching sand. Now at the far end of the beach, I’m puzzled to where the camp ground is. A check of the map reveals we are at Growlers creek and my heart sinks as the realisation sets in we have further to walk today, thankfully it’s only a kilometre over the headland.

The camping at Little Waterloo Bay is dispersed with large sites greeting us first followed by a central area around the toilets before a number of smaller sites and open shaded camping, the campground is buzzing, it’s a popular place given it’s beautiful beaches and easy access from Telegraph Junction. Like all the southern circuit camp grounds it has running water, tapped from a spring deep below, which avoids the need to use the creek water or filter it for large particulate matter, you still need to treat for possible nasties you cannot see.

With a campsite selected we pitch up and head to the beach, just the other side of the dune. Little Waterloo Bay as it’s name suggest is a much smaller beach, maybe a 100m but no less pretty and while busy didn’t feel crowded. It’s book ended by small head lands that create a great place to snorkel and see some of the fish life.

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More hikers are arriving and since we’ve pitched on the main trail we get to meet a lot of them, a bit unusual for us, given out solitary style, but it’s fun sharing stories and in particular getting to know the international visitors. A little way away from us I see a familiar face it’s our Swiss friend we met at the very start of the journey, we knew we’d cross paths somewhere on trail and this was it.

The previous night we’d overlooked the opportunity to have dinner at the most southern point of the mainland looking out over the islands and Bass Strait, we weren’t going to make the same mistake twice. While most of the camp ground settled down for dinner in their patch or with friends, we headed to the beach. A great flat rock spotted earlier would make an excellent dining room with even better views, the sun setting over the mountains and Bass Strait like glass to the horizon. Over our time we have experienced some amazing dinner locations, the summit of Mt Bogong in the cloud, Mt Townsend watching the sunset through the bushfire smoke in western Victoria and Mt Feathertop looking back at the main range lit up by the setting sun. This would be another post card location for dinner.

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Making dinner

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Eating Dinner

Later that night with cloud cleared over the ocean, we lay on the beach and breathed in the spectacular night sky reaching down to touch us as eyes adjust to the darkness. Hikers abandon the beach for the comfort of sleeping bags while a great light show is put on for us, the Milky Way running north south directly overhead. Satellites buzz across the sky keeping the billions of us connected across the globe, but there is just the two of us.
The night has one more surprise for us, making our way to the toilet before turning in. I’m barefoot seeing something move in the dim torch-light ( I really need to replace the batteries). It’s a scorpion, of the same species and size of the one seen earlier at the lighthouse, I give it a wide berth  and we both leave each alone to get on with our business. Extra check of the tent tonight before dozing off to sleep…

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