Leaving Melbourne on the M1 freeway we headed for Phillip Island. The island is about 100 km2 (40 sq mi) in area and is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. It is a very popular holiday destination for Melbourne residents and tourist destination for those wanting to experience the Penguin Parade where the little penguins species come ashore in groups at dusk.
The beaches on the southern ocean side are surfing meccas and were designated Victoria’s first National Surfing Reserve
There is also a motor cycle Grand Prix and car racing circuit.
Cowes is the main town but being Victorian school holidays we avoided this area and, after excellent coffee at Smith's Beach with the surfing crowd, we ended up at the far end of the island at The Nobbies and Seal Rocks. This was surprisingly uncrowded so we enjoyed sitting in the warm sunshine looking out over the ocean. About 1.5 km offshore on a rocky outcrop is the largest colony of fur seals in Australia, up to 16,000.
Back on the mainland, and after lunch at Wonthaggi (ex coal mining town now site of a large wind farm), we stocked up on a couple of days supplies at Leongatha to tide us over for a two night stay at the very comfortable self catering Buln Buln cabins.
Next morning we drove into the Wilsons Promontory National Park which was first reserved in 1898.
It covers 505km2 including offshore islands and is renowned for great views, wild beaches, cool fern gullies, spectacular rock formations and abundant wildlife.
It is home to more than 700 native plant species, 30 kinds of mammal (kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, seals & bats) and approximately 180 species of birds.
First stop was Squeaky Beach so named for the quartz sand that squeaks when walked on. All our beaches at home squeak when you walk on them too so that is not such a big deal. But it's the rock formations and the wildness of the place that is so impressive.
Next stop was the Lilly Pilly Gully walk.This 6km round trip on a well formed track provides a glimpse into the Prom’s forested interior, traversing heathland, eucalypt forest ending up at boardwalk loop through warm temperate rain forest.
It was here we came across a small bronze plaque commemorating the life of an obviously young boy.
Later investigation established that Paddy Hildebrand was with his family on this walk back in 1987, ran ahead around a bend and was never seen again. Hundreds of people searched for 5 days and found nothing. One of Australia's missing persons mysteries. The whole story is here.
Then it was onto Tidal River the park's only settlement. This is where the holidays makers are and it was crowded. I used to come here as a child camping with my parents for holidays and then it was a remote destination. Not any more.
And this is about as far south on the Australian mainland you can go by road. It is a 3 day return walk to the tip of the Prom and the lighthouse from here.
Heading back towards Yanakie we came across a pizza shack in a tiny settlement which was pretty new judging by the furniture and had a nice late lunch with many other hungry travellers.
Then it was chill out time on the veranda of the cabin looking over the rolling hills and gearing ourselves up for the long trip home.
Next day was an 8 hour drive to the fishing port of Eden with stops in Sale (coffee), Bairnsdale (quilt shop) and Orbost (lunch and quilt shop). Much of the coastal highway, Route 1, is two lane, hilly and winding with just a few overtaking lanes. Big Double B trucks, petrol tankers and timber jinkers can hold you up doing 40km/hr up hills and 120km/hr down with no chance to get past. It makes for a slow trip. Little wonder there are so many accidents due to the frustration factor.
There are a lot of roadworks going on however and things will improve over the next years. This is the second major road between Sydney and Melbourne so it definitely needs upgrading.
An early dinner at the local pub and on the road at 7:30am next morning for the 3 hour trip home with a couple of stops for breakfast and a coffee.
It was a great trip but it was good to be back.