Wilsons Prom northern circuit
Posted by Patrick Melon
3-4 day hike
Wilson’s Promontory northern circuit (anticlockwise) 60 km.
This past winter has been cold and wet in Melbourne and not conducive to overnight hiking, so I was looking for a window of about three days reasonable weather. The BOM predicted there was such a one from 24 October to the 26th. Rang the Wilsons Prom office at Tidal river and arranged for a permit to hike this section of the park.
Day 1: 5 mile Car Park to 5 mile Beach campground.
Arrived at 5 mile car park at around midday and left the booking permit on the dashboard for the park rangers.
The first section of the hike is on a 4WD management track. Hard on the feet if you are wearing hiking boots and not really interesting. You will be glad to get to the beach. The road passes beneath the Vereker Range to the right and through stands of Saw Banksia.
First stop at Barry Creek Campground. Dropped the pack here and went down 50 metres to look at the campsites. Not a salubrious spot to choose to overnight except from necessity.
The rest of the walk passed uneventfully. Met two management vehicles and from the quad bike tracks on 5 mile beach it looked as if at least one of the Rangers had been inspecting the campground. The other seem to have been doing track maintenance work in one low lying section that had become flooded and muddy. Some good views to the south.
At 5 mile beach, you turn north and walk the last kilometre up to the campsite where Miranda Creek which you have already crossed once emerges again from the scrub.
The tide was coming in and waves were pushing back the freshwater up the creek. Dropped the pack and decided to wade across before high tide to see if there were any campsites on the far side. By the time I had crossed back again the tide was really pushing in and the water was waist deep. An hour later all the rocks were submerged and you would be almost out of depth. Since there were no suitable campsites on the far side, and since high tide the next day was about 8 AM the following morning an early start was required. The campsite itself is very pleasant tucked in the trees between Miranda Creek and the beach. I was the only one there.
While I set up camp, a couple of Sea Eagles soaring on the thermals watched with interest from above.
Day 2: 5 mile Beach to Tin Mine Cove.
Up around 5:30 AM and walked down to the beach to check the tide. It was beginning to push in, so I quickly threw everything into the rucksack, stripped down and waded the creek. The alternative was a wait of several hours for the tide to recede again. Scrambled 50 m upstream to where a small creek emerges into Miranda Creek to collect drinking water for a long day (2 litres). After breakfast on the track re-packed and headed out over the headland toward Johnny Souey Cove. This path is well marked, easy to follow and pleasant walking. Occasionally there is an unnecessary pink tape marker. I think the path from 5 mile beach to Johnny Souey Cove may have been recently upgraded.
20 minutes out from Miranda Creek, I met a party of two young men coming south from Johnny Souey Cove. They recounted getting lost in the Chinaman Swamp area and how difficult the navigation is on that part of the walk. They were the only people I met that day.
Johnny Souey Cove is a nice campsite and there are a couple of creeks to cross. The tide was full. When the waves came in the creeks were flooded to knee level. But as the waves receded all the water rushed out and it was possible by timing well to run across without getting wet feet at all.
From Johnny Souey Cove a beach walk northwards brings you to a headland. Here the trail over the headland is easy to follow and well marked by pink tape. I thought I would get to the next beach in good time. This was not to be. Whoever cut the trail brought it down onto the rocks several hundred metres short of the next beach. I began to scramble along the rocks but with the full tide waves were continually spilling over the rocks and made progress difficult. In the end I decided climb through the scrub back onto the headland itself. There is no trail but the bush is open and progress can be easily made. It was easier than scrambling along rocks with a rucksack on a full tide.
The next beach leads north to a small rocky headland. Passage through the scrub to the next beach is short and easy and even had the occasional pink tape marker. From here there is a long beach northward to the lighthouse. The walking was made easier in the cool breeze and the morning sun.
Having become averse to rock scrambling, I missed the small V shaped gully from the beach to the lighthouse which is the correct exit off the beach. Instead I subjected myself to another fight through thick scrub to get to the lighthouse and lost a glove in the process. Stopped behind the Lighthouse for lunch.
The inland path , the Mount Margaret track, is an old four-wheel-drive track that has been reduced now by regrowth to a single file track. It is mostly easy to follow and brings you to the saddle between Mount Margaret and Mount Hunter. The saddle once crested the track becomes much easier to follow and leads gently down to Chinaman Long beach. A profusion of wild flowers this time of year.
Once the beach is reached you turn north for a few hundred metres and a sign points to Tin Mine Cove. This track is well-made and crests the headland overlooking the coast. Saw a small boat fishing near the headland.
After half an hour Tin Mine Cove comes into view.
There was plenty of water in the creek and the campsite on the headland is good. A search along the beach later revealed several campsites as well. Again I was the only camper that night.
Day 3: Tin Mine Cove to 5 mile Car Park.
I was not sure what this section would be like to navigate. The first hour and a half was easy enough along Chinaman Long beach to the southern end of Corner Inlet.
The path off the beach to lower Barry Creek campsite is clearly marked.
The initial path from the beach is not so much a path but rather an unfolding opening through the trees. Fairly easy to follow. Eventually you come out into heathland which is about waist high and wet underfoot. Here the path becomes almost invisible. I am reminded of Gandalf’s advice to the hobbit, “You must stay on the path, do not leave it. If you do, you’ll never find it again.” Looking down as well as looking up was helpful when navigating. Looking down because, yes, that ankle-deep channel of water that you been trying to avoid may be the path, and looking up to see where the next track marker has been placed (and because of vegetation growth some of these are not visible or difficult to see). The markers can be poles or pink tape markers attached to trees. The numerous tall flowering grass trees are sometimes mistaken for poles, so I had to look carefully.
There’s no guarantee that just because you been following a straight line of pink markers that the next marker is in a straight line. At several points the next marker may be off to the left or to the right. I decided to waymark the last significant pink tape marker with the GPS so that I could return to it easily if I completely lost my way. I have reproduced the gpx points below as a download (use GPS Babel to convert to suitable format). I kept losing the track in this section which made the going slow. The terrain is flat and the pink tape (invisible in places) does not follow the marked path on the Vic 1:25000 map (see map).
The waist high bush gives way to knee-high heathland and dryer sections. These are easier to navigate. Eventually I came to the Chinaman creek/ swamp crossings. Earlier reports this year suggested it was dry. It is no longer. The first swamp crossing was waist deep and about 40 or 50 m long. Another 100 metres brings you to a longer and wider swamp to wade through. Here I undid the buckles of my rucksack and used hiking poles to feel my way forward. The section I waded through had no deep holes and the bottom was quite an even depth. It was a little surreal to be wading through a swamp surrounded by Melaleuca in the middle of nowhere. The beginning and end of these wet crossings have been marked with a pole for your encouragment!
From here the navigation becomes gradually easier and the path more well-defined. Initially the track rises to higher ground which is marked by the first contour line on the map. The track again does not follow the marked track on the 1:25,000 series Victorian maps. (I was also carrying a 1:50,000 scale map which I have never been able to navigate off except in the most general way). The last section is through Saw Banksia forest and grass trees.
Lower Barry Creek campsite came into view 3 1/2 hours after leaving the beach at Corner Inlet. It was about midday and even though I had booked to stay the night I decided, because there was plenty of time and because of the number of mosquitoes, to press on and walk out to the car.
From Barry Creek to the management road, the path crosses a series of ridges, one of which is bare granite. Here the track is marked by stone cairns. The walking is easy and occasionally swampy. I also encountered my first snake.
The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. By the time I had reached the management road the rain started. It was an uneventful walk out to the car. Here I met a someone walking to 5 mile beach with an umbrella! He was planning to do some beachcombing over the Melbourne Cup long weekend.
I enjoyed this walk. It was all that I expected it would be. Even though challenging in terms of fitness and navigation it shows off some of the best features of Wilson’s Promontory.