We caught up to the couple from Melbourne at the end of the track, while they stretched their muscles and pondered the trail map.
We had just walked for three hours through bushland and forest on the narrow neck of the peninsula known as Wilson’s Promontory (or “the Prom”), seeing no one on the trail but the two of them.
We had ambled to Miller’s Landing, a placid marshy bay dotted with black swans and masked lapwings and bordered by a rock-strewn coast teeming with nearly invisible tiny soldier crabs that vanished into the stubbly, pock-marked mud if we took a step.
Later, a pair of both kangaroos and emus, along with a sandy echidna and yellow robin, marked the start of our gradual climb up 350 meters to the rocky top of Vereker Outlook.
While we feasted on an exhilarating view of Miller’s Landing, other bays on both sides of the neck and the mainland coast beyond, the only other humans around were the couple, occupying a nearby companion peak for a late lunch.
Back down at trail’s end, the couple told us they were regulars here at the national park, but they still shared our novice excitement with the place. As they started to leave, they cautioned us to drive out slowly on the dirt road as kangaroos tended to gather near it. (Shortly, we would confirm this: we eased by a couple of dozen ‘roos placidly enjoying their evening feast.) And then they added, ”It’s a shame hardly any of those we know bother to come out here. And it’s just a few hours from the city!”
We were astonished for we had heard that tens of thousands visit the Prom each year. But that leaves a lot of Melbourne residents out, particularly if those that come are tourists like us or regulars like the friendly couple. Ironically, the Melbourne Zoo within the city (click here for our post) dedicates a large amount of space to displaying animals of the Australian outback, i.e. captive kangaroos, emus and echidnas…the same animals we had seen in the wild just a few hours after arriving here. Why don’t Melburnians come here instead?
We’ve often seen how locals ignore the delights that travelers from afar want to experience. In Dallas, few residents visit the Sixth Floor Museum, the Book Depository from which JFK was shot, unless they are hosting guests from out of town. A woman we met who has lived in Melbourne for six years hasn’t even tried to explore beyond the city.
For those who do come to the Prom, many are avid backpackers and trekkers who relish the options for reaching secluded coastal areas and doing strenuous multi-day hikes. Otherwise, it seems the wilderness and the wildlife are hardly the biggest attractions: the next day we found most of the visitors at two of the best known beaches among the many scalloped coves of the Prom. Many stayed overnight at the camping center adjacent to one of these, Norman Beach at the estuary of Tidal River, the very end of the 30 kilometer road through the park. The area at Tidal River is now reviving after a fierce flood destroyed the access bridge two years ago and forced a helicopter rescue of visitors. Cars were stuck there, in whatever condition the flood left them, for over six months while the road was repaired. We wondered how insurance handled that one.
Other visitors like us and the Melbourne couple stay at the diverse cottages or cabins outside the park. Just a few minutes north of the entrance, we occupied a sizable farmhouse amid ranchland, raucous birds, and pesky gnats.
So we did not bother with busy Norman Beach. We had seen enough of it from afar after our earlier 350 meter climb atop Mt. Oberon, with a resplendent view of Norman, the entire peninsula and the inviting coastline, along with an obtrusive radio tower, our modern form of celestial communication. Back at sea level, we did visit the other popular spot, Squeaky Beach, whose sand of white rounded quartz particles reputedly squeak as you walk on them. Like a pair of tourists, we just had to try it. At the access point, we followed a rivulet through wooded dunes along a short path. That led to a widening wedge of sand defined by a pile of low boulders to the right and tall dunes to the left. As we crossed the wetter sand near the stream, then passed through the wedge, we were so disappointed! The sand made no noise,
But then the whole beach opened up, a kilometer or so of glistening bay. with the sharp blue of sea and sky, the crystalline white of surf and sand, all backed by the greens and browns of the scrub vegetation on the dunes. There were a lot of people here, but they become sparse just a few minutes walk along the shore. And we thought our joints were creaking. The dry grains began to squeak beneath our feet. Check out the video below.
After some noise-making in the sand, we chose to idle at nearby Whiskey Beach. There we again believed that too few Melburnians come to Wilson’s Prom. On the beach were…just us. Not a soul otherwise on the half kilometer shore, unless you consider a couple of gulls, between the tall boulders and headlands at each end. Not even a sandy squeak to distract from the whoosh of the waves. We lunched, lazed, cooled off from the intense sun in the water, then poked among the hollows between boulders where the waves also played and squirted. Our car was but ten minutes walk away, but we were virtual miles from anyone.
After a while, though, a pair of women came onto our beach tugging a trolley of supplies. But they quickly tucked themselves out of sight past a bend in the dunes. By then, we didn’t mind; they could have come from Melbourne.
(Also, for more pictures from Australia, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the Australia itinerary page.)