Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit (VIC)


Overview

One of Victoria's most loved National Parks, Wilsons Promontory - or the Prom, as it is known to locals - features some of the best coastal scenery in eastern Australia, and is extremely popular in the Summer months with car campers having to go into a ballot for placed. In spite of its popularity, the vast southern section of the park can only be explored on foot via network of trails. While these trails can be combined in a number of ways, the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit is the best known and classic way of exploring the Prom, and is regarded as one of Australia's best coastal walks. 



Along its route, the Southern Circuit passes through a diversity of landscapes. While nominally a coastal walk, most of the section between Tidal River and Sealers Cove runs through beautiful rainforests and intriguing swamps, with pockets of forest being found on every day of the circuit. This adds to the diversity of scenery along the walk, with numerous forest and vegetation types giving the walk a great sense of variety. 



Many of these forests have been badly burnt by bushfires in the recent past, and coupled with landslips due to heavy rains the Prom has suffered its fair share of natural disasters. In spite of this, the park has recovered quite well, with Parks Victoria having done a commendable job with what would have been some fairly difficult track work. 



While the forests provide excellent walking, it is the secluded beaches of the Prom that are the main attraction, and these are rightly held up as some of Australia's most beautiful. Coming from Western Australia, I'm pretty much used to beaches being almost uniformly world class, however I was nevertheless impressed by the bays and coves along the Southern Circuit. While some beaches shared the bleach white sands common to beaches on in WA's South West, the yellow sand coves had their own beauty, with forests growing right to the beach. This gave the area even more diversity and each beach a distinctive appearance. 



The campsites had been well sited, with most being located near beaches and built to sensitively blend in with the environment. Facilities include large square tables, an Overland Track or Bibbulmun Track quality toilet and a water source that is usually from a nearby creek. Sealers Cove campsite is arguably the pick of the bunch, being located within a lovely stand of tall forest and just metres from the beach. While lacking in huts, it does add to the remote and wild feeling of the track - particularly since vehicle access is very limited. 



While the course of the circuit itself is excellent, the highlight of the circuit is a side trip to South Point - the southernmost point of the Australia mainland. An outstanding and rugged walk along granite slabs and through valleys, the view of South Point and the islands just off the coast make this a side trip that should not be missed. 


Don and Zach's date to the Prom (2018)

With Alissa busy with work, this would be my first multi-day walk without her since we've been together. Not wanting to walk alone in a remote area I'm unfamiliar with, I was glad to have the company of my friend Zachary, who was my housemate while I was living and working in South East Queensland. We started the trail on 22nd May and completed the circuit on the 25th. As with most multi-day hikes we've covered on the blog to date, the itinerary and route were taken from a John Chapman book, time time being Bushwalking in Australia, written with Monica Chapman. This is the best written guide to undertake the walk with, although most hikers seem to walk the Southern Circuit in a counter-clockwise direction instead of the clockwise direction outlined in the book, which has not been updated since 2003. 

The circuit is not well marked as the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit as the trail network can be walked in a number of ways, however the circuit itinerary is fairly easy to follow as long as you know the names of the campsites where you are overnighting. All track junctions are very clearly marked, so as long as you have the guidebook or any of the online itineraries, it should be fairly easy to follow without getting lost. 

A less than ideal aspect of the walk is that all campsites need to be booked in advanced, meaning you cannot deviate from an initial itinerary. This is done due to the limited number of hiking permits that are given out per day as the park can be extremely full in Summer. While this is understandable, it also means that if you find a day easier than expected, you can't push through to the next campsite. This is a major flaw of the booking system for campsites in Victoria, and it would be great if a more flexible solution could be offered in the future - especially for hikers doing a long thru-hike like the Grampians Peak Trail when it is finally completed. Please note that this area has been badly burnt by fires in the past, and no fire pits are provided at any of the campsites. This is a fuel stove only area, so please respect the environment and refrain from lighting campfires. 

While the Prom is most popular in the hot Summer months, Zach and I agreed that Summer would be hellishly hot for walking, and that the milder Autumn and Springtime are far better times for hiking. While late May was somewhat risky given that Winter was just around the corner, Zach and I were fortunate enough to have relatively fine weather with only our first day and second morning having any rain. With no shelters or huts, I can imagine this walk being a bit wet and miserable in the Winter months, however it would still be quite achievable at any time of the year. 

Unfortunately, the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit is not the easiest walk to get to as public transport only takes walkers as far as Fish Creek, and then a taxi has to be arranged for the remaining 50+ kilometres to Tidal River. Given the cost of a taxi and the long journey time by bus, I ended up hiring a car for the week as it was competitively priced and more convenient for Zach and I. Unfortunately, a cracked windscreen from a stone kicked up by a passing truck made this a bit more expensive a trip than initially budgeted, however I would definitely recommend car hire for non-Victorian residents or those without a vehicle. 

With most of my coastal walking experience being in Western Australia, my main point of reference for the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit was the Cape to Cape Track. While there are definite similarities, the two tracks are actually quite different in character. While the Cape to Cape Track passes through the spectacular Boranup Forest, it is more solidly a coastal walk, with a lot more time spent in open heath with coastal views (a positive) and some long stretches of beach walking (which can be a negative depending on your view). Wilsons Prom features a surprising amount of forest walking, which makes it more similar in character to the Bibbulmun Track between Walpole and Denmark which flips between coastal and forest views. 

The Cape to Cape Track is also not a true wilderness walk as it enters numerous towns along its route, while the Southern Circuit is almost entirely in an area that can only be visited on foot. This gives the Wilsons Promontory a greater sense of wilderness and remoteness, and it also means that the campsites are in the best locations rather than the more compromised nature of the official campsites of the Cape to Cape. The Cape to Cape has an edge over the Southern Circuit by being a lot more flexible in itinerary; the official campsites are free, and even the ones that need to be paid for do not necessarily need to be booked in advance. The Cape to Cape also offers opportunities for resupply along the route, which is useful for a track that is considerably longer than the Southern Circuit. 

Both are very enjoyable and exciting experiences that feature enough variety of scenery that by the time you're ready for something different, you'll round a corner and find yourself with a new vista to keep you interested. If I had to choose, I would have to put the Cape to Cape Track ahead of the Southern Circuit as the trail's 'narrative' of walking from one cape to the other is more clearly displayed and gives you a greater sense of the character of a particular region. Nevertheless, the Southern Circuit is an excellent trail that is worthy of its status as one of Australia's best coastal walks, and one that I would happily walk again sometime in the future.

The Sections


Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit (VIC) - Tidal River to Sealers Cove


Day one of a the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit, this day takes hikers from the visitors centre at Tidal River to the first campsite at Sealers Cove. Following the road to Telegraph Saddle, the walk trail heads through areas recovering from past bushfires and landslips before passing through spectacular rainforest and boardwalked swamps. Ending in the beautiful forests of Sealers Cove Campsite, this is a great first day...




Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit (VIC) - Sealers Cover to Little Waterloo Bay


Day two of a the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit, this day traverses the beautiful beaches between Sealers Cove and Little Waterloo Bay. The best beach-focused day of the track, walkers are taken to the beautiful beaches of Refuge Cove, Northern Waterloo Bay and Little Waterloo Bay, as well as the coastal views from Kersop Peak. Featuring some excellent forest walking as well, this is another excellent day on the circuit..

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The longest and hardest day of the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit, Little Waterloo Bay to Roaring Meg takes hikers up the biggest ascent of the walk. After walking the white sands of Waterloo Bay, the track rises up along the coastal ridge before descending to a side trip to the lighthouse at South East Point. Heading inland to Roaring Meg campsite, a side trip leads to South Point - the southernmost point of the Australia mainland...





The fourth and final day of the Wilsons Promontory Southern Circuit, Roaring Meg to Tidal River takes hikers from inland sections of the park to the western beaches. Initially heading through heath and forests, the circuit follows vehicle tracks to Oberon Beach for some outstanding coastal walking back to Tidal River. An excellent and fitting finale to one of Australia's best coastal walks...

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