- The Light to Light Walking Track passes through a spectacular coastal landscape of vivid rock formations, old sea caves, and banksia forests.
- The ecosystems found in the Croajingolong National Park are so valuable that UNESCO has proclaimed it a World Biosphere Reserve.
Secreted in the far eastern corner of Australia, straddling the New South Wales and Victorian state borders, lies one of the country’s most impressive wilderness areas.
Although Australia’s Coastal Wilderness may seem a world away, this land of warm temperate rainforests and rocky coastline is easily reached along the main highway that links Sydney to Melbourne.
About 450 kilometres from Melbourne you’ll find the standout icon in this diverse landscape and one of the most significant conservation reserves in Victoria, the Croajingolong National Park. The ecosystems found in this park are so valuable that UNESCO has proclaimed it a World Biosphere Reserve. It’s just one of the reasons that this area has been nominated as one of Australia’s National Landscapes.
Covering an astonishing 87,500 hectares and extending 100 kilometres along the coast of Victoria’s East Gippsland region, Croajingolong National Park is not only important as an environmental treasure; it is also steeped in Australian history. The park derives its name from one of the local Aboriginal tribes, the Krauatungalung, meaning ‘men of the east’, who inhabited the area for 40,000 years before Captain Cook arrived in 1770.
Point Hicks lies within the park and was the first piece of Australia sighted by Cook before he pushed forth to Botany Bay and Australia’s tallest lighthouse now marks this historic spot. Climb to the point for unrivalled coastal views and make sure to take your binoculars, as in winter, this is a perfect place to see humpback whales on their winter migration from Antarctica to the warmer waters off the Australian coast. If you book in advance, you can spend the night at the Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage and feel like you are part of Australia’s pioneering history.
If it’s wildlife encounters you’re looking for, you’ll certainly find them within this part of Australia’s Coastal Wilderness. More than 300 bird and animal species and over 1,000 native plant species call Croajingolong home – and ‘twitchers’ will be in heaven, as the bird species here represent about one-third of the total number found in Australia. White-bellied sea eagles can bee seen soaring over the granite cliff-faces, while offshore, a colony of little penguins has made its home under the shadow of windswept Gabo Island. Climb to the top of Genoa Peak for 360-degree views of the island and Bass Strait.
Thurra River is reached by 4WD along the narrow Cicada Trail or easily by 2WD from the highway at Cann River, and in summer you can scale its 100 metre-high sand dunes on the ‘Dunes Walk’. Experienced walkers may want to take a hike on the 100 kilometre Wilderness Coast Walk, which stretches from Bemm River in Victoria to the Nadgee Nature Reserve in New South Wales.
Commencing at Cape Howe, the Nagee Nature Reserve adds considerably to scale and majesty of this unspoilt corner of south-east Australia. Jagged headlands and trackless, sweeping beaches extend for mile after mile. Access to the Nadgee Nature Reserve is a picturesque one hour drive south from the fishing town of Eden, about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne along the Princes Highway.
Flanking Eden and the town of Twofold Bay is the Ben Boyd National Park, named after the prominent 19th century entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd. Boyds Tower at the entrance to Twofold Bay was built by Boyd for whale-spotting during the whaling days and another historic lighthouse, the Green Cape Light Station, keeps sentinel over the remains of an old whaling station. You can learn all about Australia’s whaling history at the Killer Whale Museum in Eden, and hear the extraordinary story of the killer whale called ‘Old Tom’ and his relationship with early whalers.
The Light to Light Walking Track from Boyds Tower to Green Cape makes it possible to hike between the two national parks. The track passes through a spectacular coastal landscape of vivid rock formations, old sea caves, and banksia forests. Keep a lookout for endangered species such as the ground parrot, yellow-bellied glider, and long-nosed potoroo. Traversing the wild coastline, you’ll see the evidence of Australia’s long and sometimes tragic maritime history. The strong winds and high seas that crash against the coast took their toll on many ships in the 18th and 19th centuries, their wrecks are dotted all along the coast.
The coastal towns of Merimbula and Mallacoota are great bases from which to explore these natural attractions and spend lazy day or two. Grab some fish and chips and watch the pelicans while they preen themselves beside the shores; or sit by the river and listen for the plop of the odd water dragon lizard as it nonchalantly drops from the trees into the water below.
Or you can easily make your own splash, with the multitude of choices of water-sports along the coast including surfing some of Australia’s best waves, to fishing, swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling, and sailboarding.
The unspoiled wetlands of Bournda National Park just outside Merimbula provide a valuable habitat for local and migratory water birds, including the endangered little tern. Follow the Kangarutha Track and listen to the bush erupt with the sounds of birds gathering their nesting material. These wetlands also play a vital role in sustaining the local fish and prawn nurseries.
Speaking of seafood, this landscape is not only known for its natural beauty, but for its local organic produce, so make sure to sample some of the excellent restaurants and gourmet outlets to be found here. The town of Bega, just 20 kilometres from the Bournda National Park on the Sapphire Coast Drive, is especially world-renowned for its cheeses.
A further hour’s drive north of Bega, nine kilometers offshore from the seaside town of Narooma is the Montague Island Nature Reserve. This breathtaking wildlife sanctuary is teeming with wildlife including seals, penguins and other seabirds. Award winning eco-tours and overnight accommodation are available on the island.
There’s also plenty of opportunity to learn about the Aboriginal traditions of the area at the number of cultural centres located throughout the region.
Local characters and communities and a rich Aboriginal culture personify the unspoiled forests, lakes and dramatic coastlines of Australia’s Coastal Wilderness. Take the time to explore it and you’re sure to find hidden treasures at every turn.
Author: Kris Madden on behalf of Tourism Australia. This article is copyright free and may be reproduced.