To the east of Melbourne lies “the Prom”, one of the first National Parks in Victoria, reserved in 1898. Kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, emus and rosellas freely wander through an incredible array of habitats from coastal heathlands to fern-strewn rainforests. Melbournianites have only to travel two hours out of the CBD to visit the best of the continent’s south. Nearly half of all the birds in Victoria are found here, including the most rare. It’s Victoria’s Garden of Eden and people revere it as such. The guide book cautions: “The Gunnai and the Boonerwrung people have always held the Prom in great awe, and treated it with uncommon respect. We should tread lightly here.”
In just seven hours we covered the “first tier” of tourism at the Park, and enjoyed a 12 km hike.
Stop 1: Tidal River, Normandy Bay
Traveling through the park, you are driving on the 1942 road; first built to access the Prom’s southern beaches and train commandos in secret. You arrive to the base buildings now used as a visitor centre and continue on to the beach at Norman Bay. This beach is known as one of Victoria’s most beautiful, and a good source of shell fish and fishing grounds. In one of the last Ice Ages, the sea level was nearly 150m below today’s levels, and Wilson’s Prom and Tasmania were linked by a land bridge. Over time, wind swept sand from the exposed ocean bottom built up and formed the plateau through which Tidal River now flows. Today, some of the plants on the Prom are only also found in Tassie.
Stop 2: Squeaky Beach
Here on Squeaky Beach, 380 million year old granite formations break down and form the beach. If you get the friction just right you can hear the squeak of pure quartz crystals rubbing against each other. Tidal River and Squeaky beach actually represent a divide between white sandy (quartz) beaches to the east and yellow shelly (calcareous) beaches to the west. You can also notice a brown tinge to the water, a tannin leached from the nearby swamp paperbarks. Fish use the calm waters to lay eggs and wombats, possums, gliders and bats live like kings among the coastal scrub and messmate forests (a type of stringy bark).
Stop 3: Hike from Darby Saddle to Tongue Point
I will now call this “the hike with views that get better and better”. This walk starts at Darby Saddle, a previous watering hole for early 1900 visitors, meanders up to Spark’s lookout. A park ranger for many years, I imagine this was one of his favourite spots, lending an amazing view of the rocky islands and Tongue Point. One more “up” to Lookout Rocks and then you descend to a coastal heathland. Wombat lairs line the seldom used trail (for Prom standards) and looking back on the Prom gives a rare view of the coastline. After dead-ending at a tiny rock protrusion, I continued back to the main trail, but went a little further to visit Fairy Cove. This tiny beach had a late afternoon visitor, which made the return climb back up to Darby Saddle (300m straight up) worth the trip.
Stop 4: Sunset over Bonsai Mangroves
An easy 2km walk bring you in close counter with wallabies in messmate forests, opening out on to Miller’s landing. Here, lies the southernmost mangroves in the world. Tracks are easy to spot in the soft sand and mud and it’s supposedly a good place for bird watching. When we arrived the beach seemed deserted, but the sunset was a pleasant end to the day.