Steve Smith takes a trek through the most Southerly tip of mainland Australia
(This first appeared in The Over The Hill Club Magazine and won their writer of the year award 2006)
Where does one begin to describe a hike like none ever taken before? Where kookaburras, wallabies, lorikeets, lizards and paper bark trees adorn ones path. Where the magpies have evolved into what their European cousins would run and hide from. Where previously unseen species of trees and plants appear so abundantly one feels like a modest collector stumbling over the lifetimes work of an expert. For this is a small description of the wonder of Wilsons Promontory. The most southerly tip of mainland Australia.
Taking the 30km park road we camped at Tidal River and took the short hike round to Squeaky Beach. An excursion to pass an afternoon. The trail cut through the dense undergrowth of this national park, founded 1898. Unlike the National Parks of the UK this is untouched, not a means to preserve what has already been changed but this is an area truly never cultivated or abused. Our aboriginal predecessors were good custodians of Australia and this one area shows what we could have done if only we’d followed the wise ways of the ancient people.
Typical path scene
We climbed steadily and easily, signposts guiding us and the vegetations shading us from the brutal Australian sun. A wallaby munched on a tree and allowed us to video him, unphased by our presence. A kangaroo in miniature he reached for the tasty high pickings, intent on filling his belly before loping off onto higher ground.
Navigating a headland from our high vantage point we took in the splendid views of the vegetation covered land spilling into the sea. On squeaky beach we discover its apt name. Grains of granite make up a nearly white beach, every footstep making a satisfying squeak as we made our way across.
Back at Tidal River we made supper, camping amongst the new smells and noises. The kookaburras laughing at our every move. The vicious bullants loping their way around looking for a camper to sink their hot ember of a bite into. The irritating march flies leaving their calling cards of red blotches. We join in the laughs of the kookaburras as one swoops down and thieves the burger filling from the bun held by an American. Cries of “Gee, did you see that?” were soon added to with “It’s done it again,” as another American fell victim.
The following morning we set off on our three day trail. With the car left at Telegraph Saddle we headed for Sealers Cove. The high vegetation shading us, grasses one would only ever see in a garden centre saying what might be rare to one is common to another. Black bulbous stems with a shock of grass protruding as a head doing space battles with tee trees and eucalyptus. And hairy trees too - Australia is so butch even the trees are hairy! Areas blackened by bush fires, part of the cycle here with some species only germinating after a fire.
So much plant species are only found in Australia and Tasmania. Once connected to a greater continent this is a time trap of a world forgotten elsewhere. The land bridge to Tasmania, broken some 15,000 years ago, allow so much to be shared – trees, animals and people. The aboriginal peoples a further testament to this once isolated continent. People’s who for buildings, money and ownership mean little. Broken away many tens of thousands of years they, like the flora and fauna, are a living testament to the world as it once was.
It took three hours to reach Sealers Cove, named after earlier seal hunting settlers attracted by its fresh water supply. But I was unprepared, we broke off the path onto the white sands of the beach and I was struck by the beauty. A perfect horseshoe cove with tree covered hills folding down towards it. Clear blue sea lapping against the shore, rocks the size of buses. Truly one of the most beautiful places on the earth. For me it outdid Scotland and that takes a lot of beating.
We paused a few hours, swimming in the sea before setting off for Refuge Cove. On the trail we came across a echidna, a spiky ant eater egg laying mammal. Proof of the reptilian past of mammals and like so many Australian species the females nurture their young by way of a pouch.
We camped at Refuge Cove, making use of the excellent toilet facilities, and woke to the chorus of bird cries, squawks and calls never heard before. Water could be got from a short walk and here we discovered the only piece of graffiti on the entire prom – “Yeah but, No but” added to a sign advising all to carry their rubbish out. In a country inhabited by the British even the sayings of Little Britain made it this far.
The following day was dull making the walk to Little Waterloo Bay easier yet still testing with all the ups and downs as the narrow path found the line of least resistance. A brief stroll out to Kersop Peak gave a high view of route to come and the many little islands guarding the coast.
I woke early on our final day, long before dawn – the quarter moon picking our tent out from amongst the tress. I strolled onto the beach at Little Waterloo Bay and walked up and down soaking in the mood and the stars. So hot I did not need a shirt I let the breeze air my body. Gazing up the Milky Way glowed as centre stage. The Southern Cross distinct and unique to south of the equator as The Plough is distinct to our northern hemisphere.
Regeneration after bush fire
We watched the sunrise, a red glow and the orb breaking the horizon then packed and set off inland back to the car at Telegraph Saddle. My body, used to the northern climate, did not take well to the thirty plus degree temperatures. What should have taken four hours (the park route guide is that informative) takes us six. Heat exhaustion grabs me for the last hours, desperate for shade and copious water. Yet both are in short supply as we survey the damage of an accidental bush fire that in 2005 wiped many square miles of bush. We admire the vegetation regenerating, the bullish determination of nature. We press on but have to rest often, the heat is too much and I’m pleased to reach the car. To the final laugh of a Kookaburra I’m bitten by a Bullant and am left poleaxed and writhing on the ground as the hot ember of the bite sinks into me.
© Steve Smith
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