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The natural beauty of this favourite family location strikes a chord with writers, artists, foodies and adventurers.
Story: Peter Barrett. Photos: Anne Morley.
I almost walk straight past him. A furry, snuffling ball of herbivorous determination, munching around some fern roots by the edge of the car park. I call the kids and we pull out our phones to capture the moment: our first Wilsons Prom wombat.
I’ll never forget the time my parents took me to Wilsons Promontory. I was about 10 and it was like visiting another world: Wombats, emus, swamp wallabies and a vast, 50,000-hectare national park playground forming the southern-most tip of mainland Australia.
Wilsons Promontory is the kind of place that gets under your skin and becomes part of your family’s folklore.
More than 30 years later I’ve returned with my own children.
Wilsons Promontory – affectionately known as The Prom – is home to traditional owners the Gunaikurnai and it’s the kind of place that gets under your skin and becomes a part of your family’s folklore.
Wombat at Wilsons Prom.
Emu crossing the road.
Children’s book author Roland Harvey hard at work.
It happened to much-loved author and former Australian Children’s Laureate Alison Lester. She was born and raised on a cattle farm overlooking the Prom in nearby Foster. “When I was a kid I thought it was mine,” she says. “Because when I was really small my father and uncle used to lease the southern part of the Prom to run cattle on. There’s a very strong family connection there.”
These days the award-winning creator of classics such as Magic Beach, Are We There Yet? and Noni The Pony lives in Nar Nar Goon North, but she has inherited a patch of the old farm where she regularly catches up with her three children, their partners and seven grandchildren. Four years ago Alison opened a bookshop in Fish Creek, just north of the Prom. It’s been a great success, and last year she convinced friend and fellow children’s book author Roland Harvey to set up shop too.
Roland, an author of award-winning picture books including My Place In Space, Islands In My Garden and On The River, already had a connection with the Prom. His family had a timeshare plot of land near Yanakie in the 1980s. “We had 10 acres looking out over the water and we used to just camp on it,” he says from his kitchen in Falls Road, in the centre of town. “We loved it and got to know Sandy Point and the Prom, of course.”
The arrival of Alison and Roland strengthens an established creative arts scene, which includes contemporary art gallery Gecko Studio, Andrew McPherson’s Ride the Wild Goat gallery and workshop, and the exquisite botanical art of Celia Rosser.
Alison Lester's Magic Beach.
You’ll travel along back roads that offer breathtaking views: from stunning green rolling hills and herds of grazing cattle to stands of native forest.
Nearby towns such as Meeniyan are attracting visitors too, with good food (such as Trulli Woodfire Pizzeria), great op shops and free wifi for tourists. Pubs such as the art deco-styled Fish Creek Hotel, laconically draped with a giant mullet, offer a cosy fireplace in cooler months and decent food all year round. Known by most simply as the Fishy Pub, it’s been a meeting place for locals since 1939.
Driving in the area is a treat. Turning off the South Gippsland Highway you’ll travel along back roads that offer breathtaking views: from stunning green rolling hills and herds of grazing cattle to stands of native forest replanted by landowners. And, if you feel like taking in the sights more actively, the Great Southern Rail Trail winds its way for 74 kilometres from Leongatha to Port Welshpool (bikes are available for hire from Leongatha, Meeniyan or Foster).
If you prefer coastal country, you won’t be disappointed either. Alison’s favourite beach is in Walkerville South, a fascinating spot for the historic lime kilns that dot the cliffs like Roman ruins (although these date back to a mere 1878).
Entering the prom has a Jurassic Park feel to it.
“There’s a little beach there called Second Beach,” Alison says, adding that this was the inspiration for her much-loved story Magic Beach, (currently being made into a film by Paper Planes creator Robert Connolly). “When the tide comes in it becomes a tiny little beach and no one ever stays there, so you feel like you’re in your own little castle.”
Tidal River sunrise.
Whisky Bay at sunset.
Our road-trip pilgrimage takes us to the expansive beach and emerald waters of Waratah Bay (the setting for Alison’s Noni The Pony books) and from there it’s less than an hour’s drive to Tidal River in the heart of Wilsons Promontory.
More than 30 years on, entering The Prom has a Jurassic Park feel to it – especially after we encounter two pairs of emus grazing prehistorically in a clearing by the side of the road. We spend a couple of hours at Whisky Bay, a stunning surf beach with giant marble-like granite boulders that are perfect for exploring and climbing. And then we drive on to a place I remember vividly from childhood: Squeaky Beach.
Named after the sound its fine white sand emits underfoot, today it’s less squeaky than I remember it (perhaps due to recent rain). But watching my children play hide and seek among the rocks and jump the neighbouring freshwater creek feels like a circle completed.
It’s as we’re leaving Squeaky Beach car park that we spot our wombat. But it doesn’t take him long to tire of the attention and disappear into the undergrowth. Perhaps my kids will come back one day to look for him.
Fish Creek Hotel.
Where is it: This 50,000-hectare peninsula national park forms the southern-most tip of mainland Australia. It’s a 145-kilometre, two-hour drive from Traralgon to the north and a 226-kilometre, three-hour drive from Melbourne. It’s part of South Gippsland, known for its bucolic rolling hills, farmland, dairy cows and art trails.
Trip notes: The most direct access from Melbourne is via the South Gippsland Highway but we enjoyed some beautiful landscapes by turning off at Bena and driving along windy, elevated back roads to Inverloch.
Pie stop:Paul The Pieman, 5 A’Beckett Street, Inverloch. This old-school pastry shop is open seven days and bakes classics including beef bourguignon pie, its best-seller.
Coffee break: Get your caffeine hit at Olive, 38 Victoria Road, Loch, then peruse the cafe’s homewares and gifts or drop into one of the village’s several other cute shops.
Window shopping: Meeniyan hosts weekly markets and events in warmer months (last Sunday of the month in winter and the Meeniyan Garlic Festival in February) to showcase the area’s local art, craft and produce.
View: If you’re a fan of rolling green hills, cows and picturesque farmland you’ll love driving anywhere in South Gippsland. But for sheer natural beauty you can’t beat the stunning combination of granite boulders, beach and surf at Whisky Bay, Wilsons Promontory.
SAVE: Enjoy RACV Inverloch Resort with Resort Rooms from $149 per night*. To book call (03) 5674 0000 or visit racv.com.au/inverloch * RACV member rate, subject to availability