Week 6 – Wilson’s Promontory National Park

We acknowledge the Traditional owners of these lands, the Gunaikurnai People and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

I started off with good intentions for Wilsons Prom as I am quite a way behind on my entries and am wary of forgetting details when not writing the recaps til weeks after.  However, like most things I do, my good intentions were soon abandoned for eating, sleeping and drinking and I now find myself once again trying to recount an adventure from almost 2 months ago.

Never mind – I took about 500 photos during my time in Wilsons Prom and when flicking through them I am instantly transported back.  Wilson’s Prom was the chosen destination for the weekend (8th– 9th February) as it was the annual RMIT Underwater Club February trip to Wilsons Prom.  We always go there over Melbourne Cup Weekend, but due to work I usually can’t make it.  In February the weather is more reliable, the water slightly warmer and the days longer.  I know I’m not alone in loving Wilson’s Prom – it’s hard to not leave its mark on you after spending time here.

After a frustrating few days at work (long story!) I dashed home after work, ready to be picked up by fellow club member Justin.  Justin is one of those guys that drives around and picks everyone up from their house before heading away for a weekend, even though it means him driving across town several times in peak hour.  In return, I was committed to being an A+ passenger, so cracked my first beer on the Eastern to ensure lively company.  The drive east was pretty uneventful, except for a fish & chip stopover in Leongatha which we ate from the bonnet under a stunning, vivid sunset.  The final hour to Tidal River was slow as the sun had set and the wombats and wallabies were roaming.  We were amongst the last to arrive and despite my reputation amongst the club for loving a beer, I said a quick hello before retiring quickly to bed.  It was already 11pm and I was mentally preparing for a big day ahead.  The campsite was a dustbowl – I’d never seen it so dry.  A super fine layer of dust soon enveloped every crevice of gear, clothing and body.  As I lay in my tent, I could feel fine particles of dust fluttering into my mouth.  Not ideal.  I was sleeping ‘upside down’ in my mummy shaped tent and realised if I rotated 180 degrees I had solid fabric over my head, not mesh.  This realization meant I could finally get to sleep and stop crunching dust in my mouth.

All night, the wind howled and (I thought) the rain fell.  It was a fitful sleep as I was concerned about not brining a raincoat suitable to run in.  At 6.30am I awoke, instantly checking the radar to see the rain had passed.  Little did I know there wasn’t any rain overnight – my anxiety had manifested the rain sounds, and the campsite remained a dustbowl.   As I got up and started getting my gear together, I was surprised to see the other club members rising slowly – usually everyone was asleep til the dive captain roused everyone to get moving.  I asked the always generous Justin to give me a lift to Telegraph Saddle Carpark – I had been prepared to run the extra few kilometres but preferred to save my legs the 4.4k uphill slog.    

I set off from Telegraph Saddle at about 8am, loaded up with heaps of food, including the recently concocted ‘Sinches’ – DIY gel recipes passed onto me from David Bain from running camp.  Usually I’m pretty terrible at fuelling for runs and this 40km loop would be my longest run to date.  I was determined to eat little and eat often, so did my best to eat either a muesli bar, nuts or a suck on a sinchie every 30 min.  A thick cloud enveloped Tidal River and I set of east, which made the lush, green gullies along the way even more misty and beautiful.  I passed a few other hikers who were loaded up with heavy packs.  Having done the 3 day / 2 night hike myself a couple of times, I knew their discomfort and always gave them an overly enthusiastic ‘Good Morning!’.  I was very sensitive to the fact I was  ‘that’ person (aka trail runner) on a track that was for hiking… While doing the Cradle Mountain hike years ago, I looked at the ultra-runners doing the 4-day hike in 1 go and proclaimed them ‘crazy’.  I was acutely aware that I was becoming ‘crazy’ and didn’t want to give hikers any reason for distain. During all my encounters throughout the day I slowed down to pass, moved off the path when possible and always welcomed conversation.  These small moments of connection were the highlights of my day.

On reaching the boardwalk section I knew Sealers Cove wasn’t too far away and was feeling fit and fresh as I pounded along the easy, flat boardwalk.  I utilized the toilet at Sealers Cove, only to realised I’d failed to bring toilet paper, which was non-existent in every toilet I encountered that day! Thankfully at this stage it was only number 1’s – more on that later….!

I set off along the sand of Sealers Cove, with the dense band of cloud slowly disbanding.  In previous encounters the river crossing involved removing all shoes and socks, but with my lightweight and quick-drying Salomon Sense Ride 2’s meant I was straight into the water, attempting to impress the couple that were re-socking post crossing.  I sheepishly backtracked into the water to get a quick photo; instantly forgoing any cred I’d garnered.  The campsite was full of campers enjoying breakfast and packing up to head out for the day. 

I continued up the hill, keen to get a bit of distance between us so I could enjoy the solitude.  After the climb out of Sealers, a quick photo stop at the top was in order before pushing on.  The clouds were seriously moody and gave me a whole new perspective and experience of Wilsons Prom.  I’d been lucky on previous visits to have blue skies, which made for sweaty backs and turquoise waters, however seeing the landscape shrouded in cloud allowed me to experience a whole new personality of the Prom.  The section between Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove is one of my favourites, with expansive views out to the East and beautiful secluded coves, surrounded by curvaceous, granite boulders.  I passed quite a few hikers, still growing accustom to the surprised and strange looks they threw my way.  Part of me relished it, as not only was I a trail runner (surprise!) but I was also a woman (surprise surprise) and most surprisingly, doing it solo! (surprise, surprise, surprise!) I’m not sure if the people I passed thought this also, but it certainly was on my mind and gave me an extra pep in my step, determined to live up to the assumption of being a super fit, capable trail runner) despite my regular bouts of walking).

Refuge Cove was just as idyllic as I remembered – after passing the driftwood graveyard I detoured along the beach, soaking up the serenity. Following the river took me in the campsite, which was almost empty – it was 10am so all the hikers had already headed off. I stopped for morning tea on the granite ‘balcony’ overlooking Refuge Cove, as I tried the first of my Sinches. ‘Sinchie’ refers to the reusable squishy packet and this particular concoction was Choc-Banana. Apart from the texture resembling toothpaste, it was super tasty and almost instantly I could feel the calories boosting my energy. Heading onwards and upwards, I detoured to Kersops Peak which was completely shrouded in cloud with fierce winds. On the way down a group of men who I’d passed previously who were keen for a chat. These little moments of interaction gave me as much energy as the mouthful of calories I’d just consumed. North Waterloo Bay marked the 21km mark and despite the cloud and wind, I was feeling positive and fresh. I stopped to appreciate the breaking waves crashing over the granite boulders along the shoreline; these rock formations epitomise the Prom for me, whether it is above or below water. At the Little Waterloo Bay campsite I refilled my water and utilized the bathroom facilities. Foreseeing a lack of toilet paper, I picked the largest leaves I could find from a bush which although not being ideal, did the job. A quick chat with a couple heading to Oberon Bay provided a ray of sunshine amongst the gloomy weather. Before reaching the second beach section of Waterloo Bay I took a minute on a large, granite ‘balcony’ to have a quick sit and enjoy a few lollies. After hop-crossing over the river, it was time to say farewell to the east coast and head inland across the Promontory.

By this time, it was midday and I was hanging out for some lunch. Queue my next Sinchie flavour – sweet potato. Despite tasting 100% like pumpkin (and not containing a scrap of pumpkin) it was pretty tasty – like a soup which was a nice change from all of the sweet food I’d been consuming. Once again, the effects were instant and I managed to keep the legs moving forward, stopping only to pick up rubbish, queue the next podcast or take a photo. The cloud was clearing by now however the wind remained steadfast. The sandy track was a bit tough and made me question my decision to do this route again, instead of heading south to the Lighthouse. I haven’t ventured there yet, but despite being roughly the same distance I’d been warned against it as most of the trails are sandy.

 

A lapse in concentration, a prominent root and my weary legs were the perfect recipe for me to eat sand; which is precisely what I did. While deeply engrained in the Humans of Ultrarunning podcast with Lucy Bartholomew, I went down face first, thankfully onto sand. My right need copped a few rocks and was soon bleeding. Any attempts to clean it just resulted in more bleeding, so I left it be and pressed on. The sun was out in full force by the time I reached Telegraph Saddle at 1pm. The 4×4 track was a low point, with tough, sandy ground underfoot and wide, uninspiring tracks for kilometres. This was brightened up by a flurry of activity as a bunch of enormous crows disrupted a flock of black cockatoos, causing quite a ruckus. I was overjoyed to arrive at Oberon Bay Camp with my joy quickly dampened by the amount of rubbish caught in the trees and bushes surrounding the clearing. I added it to my stash and pushed on, feeling like I was finally on the home stretch.

The cloud continued to roll in from the west, however the ocean didn’t look too rough and I kept an eye out for Shambles, our dive boat.  The tide was right out, so I made the most of the hard, flat sand.  Climbing up the other side of the beach offered amazing views over Oberon Bay, with the flat, consistent waves creating a silk like ripple all the way out to sea.  A couple stopped to ask me if I was okay – the graze on my knee looked worse than it was, as I had trails of blood running down my shin. I assured them I was okay and pressed on, realising that my goal of finishing in under 6 hours wasn’t going to happen.  There were more walkers about the closer I got to Tidal River which kept me pushing on, despite my legs pleading otherwise.  The short, sharp soft sand stint up Little Oberon Bay was a push and I kept on moving til I was around the corner and out of sight.  All day I had been walking the uphill’s and now wasn’t going to be any different! 

Despite my weariness, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the views from Norman Point Lookout.  As the track wound downhill I questioned my choices, only to get to the lookout to find I wasn’t alone.  I find it hard to appreciate these moments in the company of others, so didn’t stay long as headed back up the track against the constant stream of casual walkers, making me feel slightly overdressed in their thongs and eskies.  After re-joining the track I was stoked to find it was a consistent downhill to Norman Beach.  I drained my sweet potato Sinchie and bounded downhill, internally stressing about the durability of my knees and ankles while looking as cool as a cucumber on the outside.  Upon reaching Norman Beach I felt like I’d made it – but the end was still a long, beach run away.  The wind was whipping along the sand and I fought it, trying to keep up the pace as I passed surfers and families and people drinking beers.  I’d messaged Justin to let him know I wasn’t far away – he said he’d come down and take some photos of me if he could.  I hadn’t heard from him, so assumed they were out diving. There are few people I feel comfortable asking taking of me for the ‘gram – I’d fear endless ridicule from friends and family if I asked. However, the misfit band of friends I’ve made in the UWC are judgement free, and after all the years camping and diving together, they know me better than anyone.

I’d almost reached the invisible ‘finish line’, when I saw Justin snapping away with his epically massive lens.  Part exhaustion, part pride and mostly relief flooded my face as he congratulated me on a job well done. In total, it was a 41.1km round trip, with 1100 meters elevation gain in  6hrs 32min and a balmy 26 degrees.  I did a few quick laps to make sure he got the shot, before starting the walk back to camp.  It was 2.30pm by this stage and I was ready for a nap and a shower! I emptied my vest of the rubbish I’d collected along the way; a mixture of bottle caps, cigarette butts and facewipes.  It was hard to take a photo without it all blowing away – the wind had been unrelenting all day, and they’d only managed to scrape in one dive that morning before it was deemed too windy.

I used the camp laundry to cook up a late lunch – my new favorite of pre-roasted sweet potato & eggplant with quinoa and fresh lettuce, tomato, red onion and a huge dollop of hummus.  After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at a nap, the rest of the crew were getting restless, so we decided to pack the eskies in the car and walk to Squeaky Beach.  I was feeling pretty good so joined them as we set off towards Squeaky.  In typical UWC form, the guys were complaining about 10 minutes in about how far it was.  Despite scuba diving potentially being considered a sport, this bunch isn’t the most active club getting around. I managed to convince them the detour to Pillar Point was well worth it, which they didn’t deny, but still complained incessantly about how far it was!  The views towards The Glennies were well worth the walk, as the wind created a rippled silk effect over Bass Strait.  We had Squeaky Beach to ourselves and headed to the carpark to retrieve the esky from Justin’s car.  I helped Petey carry it to the beach – looking back I don’t know how I still had so much energy! On the beach, we set up camp behind a big boulder, trying to stay protected from the wind.  I cracked a beer and a packet of S&V chips and was promptly in heaven.  Unable to sit still, I did some improv yoga on the soft sand, feeling much more flexible and elegant in my head than I did in Qing’s photos.  After a quick dip, we returned the esky to the car and hitched a lift back to camp with Justin.  Dinner was a battle against the wind and dust, as I tried to pull together a veggie burger without eating dirt at the same time. I had a few more beers but was soon nodding off in my chair. It had been a massive day and I was hoping to go diving in the morning and from experience know that diving hungover is not enjoyable!

After a disappointingly fitful sleep I was up early to check on the conditions down at Norman Beach.  There were a few whitecaps out there, but the waves were pretty small so it would be possible to push Shambles out.  After breakfast we loaded all of the gear onto the boat; tanks, BCD’s, regulators, masks, fins, weight belts etc.  Unlike most places we go diving, getting the boat in the water here requires us physically pushing it in and then floating it off the trailer once it’s waist deep in the surf.  Large waves often prevent us from getting it in, however today the onshore breeze meant small waves.  I was pretty excited to get behind the wheel of Shambles – I may have lost my drivers licence, but my boat licence was still valid!  There is no better feeling of gunning it across the water, music up loud, with nothing but the horizon in front of you.  The choppy conditions made for a bit of a rough ride for everyone else – I was pretty comfortable  and dry under the cabin in the drivers seat! 

We did split dives at Eagles Beak, popular dive site at the back of the The Glennies.  Half of the divers went in and once we surfaced the remaining divers went down.  We avoid anchoring during dives; for safety reasons it’s good to have a driver on the boat at all times. This also means we can float while the divers are down (about 40 min in this case) which helps with the sea sickness as being on anchor makes for a very uncomfortable wait.  I hadn’t been diving since Easter 2019, so it was great to get back in the water and experience the beauty of Wilsons Prom.  The granite rocks tumble all the way to the ocean floor, which in this case was at about 50 meters.  There are heaps of caves, narrow gaps and swim-throughs to explore – compared to most dives, it’s much more physical and playful.  After about 40 minutes I was getting pretty chilly and went into deco, so started ascending with my dive buddy.  We did our safety stop as we watched the kelp sway in the current and was shivering by the time we surfaced.  By the time the second round of divers had gone, we were all ready to call it a day. 

 

The post-dive clean-up is time consuming, as all of the gear has to be cleaned in fresh water, the boat fully washed down and flushed out and all the tanks filled.  By the time we’d got back to shore and cleaned up, it 3pm and we were ready to head home.   Diving in cold water expends a lot of energy and we were all starving so stopped via the kiosk for a veggie burger & chips before hitting the road.  The drive back to Melbourne much more subdued after two activity filled days. Justin dropped us all back to our respective homes and the gear clean-up commenced.  With every single item coated in a fine layer of dust, everything had to be washed, including the bags themselves. The backyard was once again transformed into a drying room, with wetsuits, tents, hydration vests and clothes scattered near and far – the sign of a weekend well spent.

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