Last Thursday we drove the two and half hours from Melbourne to Foster, to stay the night before a three day expedition around Wilson’s Promontory. Luana surprised me the month prior, as a birthday present, with a Deuter 50L hiking pack, Suunto compass, aircraft-grade aluminium cutlery, dry bag and hiking map for The Prom. She had also organised a night at the Wilson’s Promontory Lighthouse for the Saturday the twentieth of August. Exciting!
So, after a week of unseasonable winter warmth (21 degrees!), and a few trips to Bogong Outdoor Equipment for essential camping supplies, we were spending our Friday night at an AirBNB packing our packs. I did the boy / Alexander thing, and focussed exclusively on packing my bag, drawing on my Air Force and military memory banks , trying to recall what was helpful, necessary, and unused on these sorts of trips, and the optimal packing arrangement. This left poor Luana to work her pack out on her own. Eek.
The forecast was dismal. This weekend would see the end of the warmth, and the last surge of winter, with rain scheduled all weekend and temperatures dropping to the single digits. That added to the air of anticipation, and slight nerves, that we both felt. After a hearty breakfast with Noel at his Bed and Breakfast, and some words of encouragement mixed with warnings, we were on our way to Tidal River, after a brief last espresso coffee at the Yanakie General Store.
Thirty minutes later we checked in at the Tidal River Ranger Station, with more nerves building, and were reassured by the kind ranger who didn’t seem phased by the weather forecast. We were presented with two options for the trek to the Lighthouse; inland or the coastal route. We chose the coastal route, as it sounded more scenic and interesting, and because it involved a river crossing. The ranger did express some concern about our choice, ‘Have you checked the tide charts?’ She asked. ‘No. Why?’ To which she checked the charts, noted that high tide was in about four hours, and advised that it’s best not to cross within an hour of high tide. Luana and I shared a slightly worried glance, and telepathically communicated that we needed to get a move on! After receiving the final confirmation and print-outs from the ranger, she wished us well, and we were back outside saddling up
Pack secure. Garmin on! And, we were off on our hike. Wait… a toilet stop. Then off again! We took a selfie photo at the start, to see if we would still be smiling at the end (I was confident we would be). The track was relatively easy, and we could see the ocean before long. The trail followed the coastline to Oberon Bay, where we hiked on sand for a few hundred metres, and then back to the trail before reaching the river crossing at exactly an hour before high tide. We realised we couldn’t go around it after some back and forth, so looked for the narrowest crossing. With my longer (uninjured) legs, I realised I could leap the sandbanks and cross the stream that was rapidly rising. The first time I took my pack across, and the second I carried Luana’s, while she removed her boots and crossed barefoot. As soon as she reached the other side, with wet feet, the rain started. Heavily. I rapidly put my rain shell on (thanks Mum!) and didn’t get any wetter. From this point, the hike got progressively harder. We continued in the cold rain. All uphill, mostly on dirt road, to Halfway Hut. There was actually a little hut there about two or three hours along which provided some shelter, where we had tinned tuna lunch, and froze. It was pretty miserable, but we knew we only had ten kilometres or so to go; two hours!
As we trudged uphill, there was a junction where we could continue on the dirt road, or take the walking track, which was 1.7 kilometres shorter. Easy decision, the eight-to-go was suddenly only six! But… we very quickly learned that longer isn’t always worse, and shorter isn’t always better. Those first two kilometres of the walking trail were tight, steep, undulating terrain, and very hard work. As Luana told me, ‘you tried to be the hare,’ in a truth is stranger than fiction fable and revelation.
At the half-marathon distance we could see the lighthouse through the wind and fog and rain. We knew we didn’t have far to go, but were also wary of the dire warning we’d received from two people, that ‘the last 400 metres are Hell.’ Trying to understand what that meant, we spent two kilometres speculating whether we would have a steep uphill section, before I confidently declared that I didn’t believe it. I ate my words from kilometres 22.8 to 23.4 as we climbed a monstrous path consisting of 68 vertical metres. Each step brought us closer to the lighthouse as the light was fading and the clouds and fogs thickening. As we ended our climb and I pondered where to go among the lighthouse ‘village,’ Luana pointed in the right direction and we entered the rangers’ cabin behind the wombat. Renata and Noel greeted us excitedly and warmly. Both were checking to see if Luana was alive under her rain shell, hood and listing backpack. Renata rushed us to our cabin, turned the heater on, said we could tour the lighthouse tomorrow, and let us be to warm up!
Bags, boots and wet clothes off. Straight into the shower to warm up. It was AMAZING. Heat steaming away our cold and warming our core. This was camping! I got out first, dried off and put on toasty warm clothes. As I was hanging up some wet clothes in front of the heater, I heard, ‘ARGGGHHHH! Alexander! Eeeeeeeeeee.’ I slowly said, ‘What is it Honey?’ expecting a spider. No answer, except more distressed squeals, and as I entered the bathroom where Luana was drying herself, I spotted a leech on the basin. A tiny, black slug, squirming away. I gingerly trapped him in a soapbox and threw him away, while for the rest of the evening Luana was on leech spotting alert. I had to check her hair, body, clothes, bag, etc. as she looked for leeches. At one point as we sat on the couch, I noticed blood on my finger. Curious as to where it came from, as I thought and searched for a leech incognito without Luana noticing, a happy fat one dropped off my calf onto the carpet in front of us as we sat on the couch. Realising Luana would not only freak out, but that she was correct in her hypothesis of ‘where there is one leech there are two,’ I did the old <pretend to stretch> in order to pick the leech up unawares, and then guiltily stood up to throw leech number two away. Amazingly, Luana didn’t notice. I wondered whether to tell her, and when I asked her, ‘So, if there were two leeches does that mean there would be three?’ as a possible segue, to which she replied, ‘Yes!’ I opted to keep my secret to myself.
Hot coffee, red wine, cup-of-noodles and hot sauce and we were feeling great. We’d wandered outside during the brief lull in the weather to watch the sunset, say hello to to the wombats, and admire stark location we were at. The two local wombats have a burrow in the garden, and they keep the grass perfectly manicured to about five millimetres (the distance their teeth can reach). They were very tame, too, both the younger male and the grey, older female. The young male continued to chomp and chew as Luana went close, and patted him. She encouraged me to do the same, but Alexander the Emu was a little scared and deflected it by saying ‘one shouldn’t touch wildlife.’ Luana was too smart for this, ‘But you want to.’ she said. Hmm, she had me on that. I crept in close, reached my hand out, and patted him. He hissed at me, and I retreated!
That night we enjoyed hearing the bullets of wind and the pelting rain on the windows, as the living room fogged up and the clouds soupened. We went to bed early, a little sore and stiff, and enjoyed our last night in a bed and with walls and a roof. At some point in the night, I woke up and saw the moon shining through the window. I leapt out of bed to enjoy the view, and was astonished to see the waves breaking on the cliffs below as the moon lit the waves on the now-clear night. I woke Honey up, who was less than impressed, telling her that she had to see the night view.
The cabin was incredible, by the way. There are about three options at the lighthouse; the big house, with bunkbeds, the private cabin, or the smaller cabin. We had the private cabin, which is a standalone house on top of a cliff. The views from the living room look out onto the cliffs, along the southern coast of the Prom, while the bedroom looks to the east. The cabin has a bathroom, shower, king bed, living room and full kitchen and is more than enough after a +20 km hike.
We then woke just before sunrise. The sun was ten minutes below the horizon, turning the clouds pink and purple, and the sky orange. Our lighthouse tour was less than an hour from now, and we were determined to enjoy hot coffee beforehand.
Renata and Noel greeted us at 8am by the lighthouse as the wind buffeted us on the point. The weather was remarkably clear, and the forecast of downpours today seemed unrealistic. Renata took us inside the weather recording station and told us all sorts of fascinating facts and trivia about the lighthouse, such as:
- This is the southernmost settlement in mainland Australia.
- We are closer to Tasmania than Melbourne (240 km v ~270 km). Redondo Island is only 7km away, and is considered Tasmanian waters.
- The lighthouse is electronically operated and rangers don’t have access. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) visits annually for maintenance, and they usually change a lightbulb. The bulbs are tiny! Fresnel lensing efficiently magnifies the light emitted.
- The AMSA team are too lazy to climb the steep path at the base of the lighthouse village, so they land their helicopter on the rocky outcrop next to the lighthouse!
- AMSA manages a network of about 500 navigational aids, including traditional lighthouses.
- The winds and waters at the base of the lighthouse are wild; mixing currents, easterly and southerly winds, all make this rather treacherous.
After a fascinating tour, we retreated to our heater, four wall and roof and watched the southern weather churn from windy to threatening rain to sunny, rinse, and repeat. We enjoyed another coffee and at ten am were in warm clothes, booted up, packs on and ready to go. Garmin on, bye to Renata and Noel and it was down the hill. Luana’s ankle was giving her some issues as the boots weren’t hers and constricted her ankle a little bit. Oh, and she had a torn bicep muscle. Oh, and her pack wasn’t hers – it was a hybrid backpack / luggage piece: definitely not a hiking pack. But, no blisters, and despite being in a lot of pain, she just kept going for the three days.
We knew today was going to be a little tough as it involved paths and hills. From Lighthouse to Refuge Cove, 848 metres vertically (the most of the three days, day one was 809m and day three 648m) and just over eighteen kilometres. Mentally, it was the toughest day. First, it was the inland and uphill segments to get away from the lighthouse. These segments were very slow, almost 22 minutes per kilometre for five clicks. Uphill and rocky and winding. We seemed to be making no progress as we caught glimpses of the same bays and inlets. Then it was downhill for two clicks to Waterloo and Little Waterloo Bays. Seven clicks of sand, flat, and getting lost, including another water crossing. This one was actually quite funny. It was a stream about two metres wide, with some rocks in it. We didn’t actually see the path beyond the stream and ended up backtracking along the beach for awhile, before Luana spotted it. I went across , leaping onto the stone. As I stood on the rock waiting to help her across, the sand she was standing on collapsed and her feet ended up under water. I started laughing, because it looked funny, not because of her predicament. Reminiscent of The Notebook when Ryan Gosling tells Rachel McAdams to ‘Get in the water!’ but in reverse in this instance, I encouraged her to jump to the rock to get out of the water. She leaped, somehow pulling me towards her while she nearly ended up face-first in the water. In what must have looked hilarious for anyone watching (there was no one watching), I somehow ended up leaping off the stone back to the original bank, without getting wet. While Luana giggled and laughed at our situation. We ended up crossing without issue after that, and we had about three kilometres to go until Refuge Cove.
Then the rain started, and we were going uphill. This wasn’t just a shower, but a heavy downpour of icy rain, that peaked in intensity as we climbed the 150 metres into the unsheltered summit. It was muddy, wet, slippery and cold, and we were hungry and Luana injured. Her ankle made downhill hiking very difficult and slow going, and I didn’t help by saying something along the lines of ‘we have 800 metres to go, which will take us 45 minutes at this pace.’ Oops, sorry Honey. As we entered the camping grounds, it started hailing. We found a clearing within sight of the entrance, checked there were no trees overhead, and quickly unpacked the tent.
‘Do you know how to put it up?’ Luana asked? ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Why didn’t they show you at the shop?’ Luana asked. ‘I didn’t ask them to.’ Pregnant pause. ‘I’m sure we’ll figure it out…’
And we did! It didn’t take long really. A groundsheet would have been nice, but we were still waterproof. We entered our dry shelter, got out of our wet clothes, and didn’t plan on leaving. I unpacked the Trangia cooker, and we prepared our meal for the evening. The red wine was opened and we were warming ourselves from the inside. Two minute noodles cooked quickly outside our tent, followed by mac and cheese. Delicious. The red wine went far too quickly, next time a quality cask-wine bag will be an excellent idea. Sleeping bags were in good order (Luana’s zip didn’t work…). At one point Luana spotted a wet leaf that she believed was a leech. It wasn’t. But she had spent the entire hike, and would again on day three, in an effective biohazard suit: socks tucked into leggings, rain jacket on all the time, hood shrouding face, sleeves watertight, and no skin exposed. All to avoid leeches.
A quick exit into the rain to put our rubbish bag away, and then back in bed and lights out. We awoke, or rather, I was awoken by Luana asking ‘What’s that noise?’ within an hour or two. I couldn’t hear anything, then after another prompt, heard it. A tin metal sound and scratching. Some wild animal was going through our rubbish bag! Torch on, which first revealed a tiny little mouse on the inner mesh of our tent. We called him Mikey, and he clearly enjoyed the dry, warm and safe haven he’d found and would crawl around the outside of the mesh for much of the night. There was also some rustling over by Luana’s side of the tent, outside, as well, where our packs were in the foyer. But we never figured that one out.
I went outside, chased away a possum who had torn open our garbage and was enjoying leftovers. And put the garbage away again somewhere more secure. Back into the tent, and off to sleep.
‘What’s that noise?’ She asked again. ‘What noise?’ He asked again. ‘Something is poking me in my back! There. What is that?’ And pointed at our packs. Something was on them, inside the foyer, just outside the inner mesh. Torch on, revealing a pink button nose and two cheeky black eyes. Perry the possum had returned, poked Luana in her back through the tent, had unzipped my pack, found the zip-lock bag filled with nuts, and was feasting. He wasn’t bothered by the torch light, nor by us and our gesticulations to scamper away. I unzipped, shoo’ed him away and thought about what to do. I exited the tent with the nut bag, walked a distance away, emptied the nuts for Perry to enjoy saying ‘Go away with your nuts’ or words to that effect. This time, back to the tent, into sleeping bag, and off to sleep for a third time.
We woke in the light. Luana was quite cold, and we gradually got up. We’d survived the night camping in the wild, and today we would be home. That was exciting in itself, but we had a pretty long walk today.
I prepared breakfast, knowing I’d be hungry and we’d need our energy. Luana didn’t eat nearly enough, grrr. I prepared water for the 1.5 litre bottle, but didn’t for the Camelpak. This meant we’d be thirsty about 13 kilometres into the final 18 today. Lesson learned. The creek water may have been clean enough, but you never know. As we packed and ate, these beautiful birds darted and sang around us. They were so curious about us, and so unafraid to come close. It was amazing; this beautiful bluebird sparrow, and his mate, and another yellow starling type. There was also a stunning red-breasted bird at the lighthouse with spectacular colours.
Packed and off at about ten am again, to which Luana would have preferred we had left at eight am, so we’d be home sooner. I agreed, but it was what it was. Today’s hike started off much like yesterday, inland hiking. Not as strenuous, but tiring after two days of it. Oh, and Luana’s shoe broke yesterday. The entire rubber sole was coming off at the toe. This caused it to be caught on rocks, sand and sticks. So we used her compression bandage at first, which was OK except for the ‘top knot’ which needed a hair tie to prevent it tripping her up. Today we used a sock over the shoe to help it. Quite ridiculous really!
As we left Refuge Cove via the other campsite entrance, we saw amazing camping spots by the water! We accepted that given our morale and the weather yesterday, not finding these campsites last night was not the worst thing. We had another river crossing today, which I didn’t know about, at Sealers Cove. This one was a proper estuarine inlet, about ten or twenty metres wide,and we were there at high tide. We agreed we’d eat lunch once we crossed. We couldn’t go over this one, or around it, so it looked like through it was necessary. I removed shoes and carried bags. Luana behind me, watching and laughing as I sank deeper and deeper up to my waist, and the crows and seagulls cackled. My only thought was ‘If I’m this deep, Luana will be in trouble.’ And she was, up to her midriff. We stripped on the other bank, as the rain started lightly. Lunch, and then a march home. More sand, some hills, an amazing kilometres-long boardwalk through the marsh and mangrove-esque landscape, before a BIG final hill. This hill was 230 metres up, extremely muddy, and slow-going. It was tough work, but we knew we would be reaching a proper vehicle track soon. The landscape quickly changed to higher-altitude, and there was plenty of evidence of past landslides and repairs on the trail. Chocolate, snakes and snacks kept us going. I felt Luana’s pain and am extremely impressed at her grittiness at just getting on with it. At Telegraph Junction, the vehicle path emerged and we were on the downhill. Then we reached a carpark and hit the bitumen, knowing we would be at Tiggy the VW Tiguan in four or five clicks. Luana’s ankle ached, she had to limp, but we had our pace close to 12 minute/kilometres and were speeding downhill. We’d had two other hikers at the carpark ask us if they could have a lift. ‘Sorry, we walked!’ We said. I had also learned my lesson that Luana is as stubborn as me. After offering to carry her pack as it would ease the load on her ankle, and her ongoing refusal, in a moment of weakness I grabbed her pack early on during this day’s walk as she removed it. I made it ten metres with her threatening a ‘Macy’s Moment’ tantrum and I had to give it back; her lopsided, heavy, wet, unsuitable hiking pack.
We continued down, getting closer and closer to Tidal River. We entered the overnight campers’ carpark, and Tiggy was there, tail wagging and happy to see us! We exclaimed, unlocked, hugged, kissed, and changed into dry clothes. Off we went, happy, tired, and very in love.
Over the next week, Luana recovered, and I was a bit stiff as well. Interestingly, we were hungry for the whole week. My theory is that our bodies enjoyed walking and hiking for eight to ten hours a day, and had adapted to use energy accordingly, meaning our intake needed to match or exceed our output. It was a slightly euphoric feeling, almost like a runner’s high. I likened the feeling on Monday of grogginess and achiness to the same as after a marathon or endurance event.
We can’t wait to do it again 🙂