Tim the Yowie Man: Wild Green Cape captivates

Driving along the sandy road, we catch our first glimpse of the Green Cape Lighthouse poking just above the sea of tea trees. The closer we get, the larger the grand old tower looms. It stands like a giant gravestone to the pre-GPS era, when ships relied upon ''a highway of lighthouses'' to guide them past the rocky perils of our east coast.

Just as we round the last bend in the road, the top of the copper-domed lighthouse starts to glow a deep orange. It can't be, can it? Apart from the occasional ceremonial lighting, the Green Cape light has not been illuminated since it was decommissioned in 1994 and replaced by an automatic beam erected below the iconic tower. Could the resident ghost be up to its old tricks again?

The view alone from the top is worth the clamber up the 100-odd stairs, although I'm not sure I would like the job of cleaning the windows.

However, any thoughts that paranormal forces are at play soon fade as the setting sun drops behind a bank of cloud on the western horizon, and with it vanishes the mysterious glow, no doubt caused by the sun reflecting off the tower's window panes.

With the steady tide of day trippers having already left for their lodgings, we arrive to a deserted car park. We have the cape all to ourselves. Sarah and Emily jump out of the car in glee. They have been boasting to their friends at school for weeks of their impending ''sleepover in a lighthouse''. We won't be sleeping in the light tower, but we are doing the next best thing, bunking down in one of the original assistant lighthouse keepers' cottages.

After the obligatory up-close inspection of the tower, under a cloak of growing darkness, the kids scurry inside to claim their beds, which come complete with mozzie nets hung from the high ceiling. Exhausted from the long drive and sense of anticipation, to the metronomic sounds of the Tasman Sea gently rolling on the rocks below, the girls are snoring in next to no time.

While Mrs Yowie pours a well-earned nightcap (four hours in a car with a six-year-old and three-year-old equates to a lot of ''Are we there yet?''), it's time for me to start snooping around.

A flick through the guestbook reveals several accounts of a phantom sailor lurking in the cottage's hallways. I had been tipped off about this wandering seaman by this column's regular far-south-coast correspondent, Kevin Mulcahy, in a pre-trip email.

''It's friendly though,'' assured Mulcahy.

I'm not sure if it's the unusually warm night which fails to coax the spirits out (they thrive on cold, dreary conditions, don't they?), and with Mrs Yowie joining the kids in the land of nod, I grab a torch and wander outside and into the shadows.

Just past the old Telegraph Station, resplendent in the artwork of past head keeper Mark Sheriff, is a stand of tea trees. Their overlapping canopy forms a natural tunnel, which leads me to a lonely cemetery.

It's the final resting place for a number of victims of the Ly-ee-Moon, which steamed onto the rocks near the lighthouse on a winter's night in 1886. Although 71 people lost their lives, only 24 bodies were recovered from the sea, and they are buried in unidentified graves marked by white painted rocks.

The cause of the shipwreck remains a mystery and, at the time, it was New South Wales' second-biggest maritime disaster, the biggest being 121 lives lost when the Dunbar was wrecked off Sydney Heads in 1857. It's such a peaceful and serene place, in stark contrast with the way they lost their lives.

A scruffy-looking wombat blocks the path further ahead. It stands its ground, as if to stay: ''This is my patch. What are you doing here?''

Not wanting to leave the yowie clan unattended for too long (Mrs Yowie would be none too impressed if she woke to find I had vanished, it being a haunted house and all), I scamper back along the track and slip quietly and, more importantly, unnoticed into bed. I fall asleep with one eye half open, hoping to be roused in the dead of the night by a benevolent spirit or wandering poltergeist. Unfortunately, neither transpires.

Morning breaks early with the sun streaming in our east-facing windows (close the curtains if you want to sleep in). With the lighthouse precinct perched on the edge of Ben Boyd National Park, there's so much to explore, but at the same time, we are overcome with a strong desire to stay put. It's not every day you get to hang out at a lighthouse, so why roam too far afield? So after breakfast, instead of strapping on the backpack and venturing into the vast realms of the national park, we linger on the verandah.

It's a wise choice, for we are treated to an extraordinary passing parade of wildlife. First a black wallaby hops by, then a sea eagle flies overhead and, just beyond the breakers, adolescent male fur seals feed on mackerel and pilchard shoals. The cape is a nature lover's nirvana and we feel a bit embarrassed to have all this to ourselves, at least until the day-trippers start arriving.

Although the spacious cottages are comfortable (the kids love the clawfoot bath) and are decorated with a distinctly nautical decor, they aren't five-star luxury, and they don't aspire to be. Outside, both cottages have a grassy area enclosed by a colonial-style picket fence, originally designed to give each keeper's family their own space in what would have been an otherwise incestuous environment. It's perfect for us, as it keeps the kids safe from the perils of the cliffs, which are just a short kick of a ball or toss of the frisbee away.

Beyond the picket fence are several short walking tracks, each a choose-your-own-adventure. One leads to a helipad where the kids make their own H by lying down next to each other and spreading out their arms. Another leads to a lookout at the tip of the cape where a rock scramble (or tumble, if you're not careful) takes you to the wreck of the Ly-ee Moon, best viewed at low tide. Another leads to a sublimely positioned picnic table overlooking Disaster Bay.

A stay at Green Cape also entitles you to an exclusive tour of the 29-metre-high lighthouse. It's a must-do, even if you aren't interested into the mechanics of revolving dioptric holophotal Fresnel prisms. (Who said this column wasn't educational?) The view alone from the top is worth the clamber up the 100-odd stairs, although I'm not sure I would like the job of cleaning the windows.

The Green Cape Lighthouse and cottages have withstood more than 130 years of howling winter southerlies and salt-laden summer northerlies, and the fact that they still stand strong is testimony to those who designed and built them, and those who have lovingly maintained them. Although the era of the traditional lighthouse keeper has now gone, through tours such as this one at Green Cape, their legacy lives on.

We leave late the next day, feeling as if we have been away from the rat race for weeks. We have enjoyed ideal weather for exploring every nook and cranny of the lighthouse precinct (don't miss the hidden beach on the southern side of the lighthouse), but I'm already planning a return trip midwinter.

I want to hear a howling gale rattle the picket fence and watch rain smash horizontally against the window panes. I want to light the fire and huddle in front of it with a good book and a bottle or two of red, and - who knows? - in such bleak conditions maybe, just maybe, a ghost or two might even show up.

Don't miss: Next week's column, for part two in my series on this part of Australia's Coastal Wilderness, when I uncover some of Green Cape's more natural secrets.


Getting there: Green Cape Lighthouse is in the southern portion of Ben Boyd National Park, 45 kilometres south-east of Eden. Allow for a four-hour drive from Canberra, including at least 50 minutes' drive from Eden (the last 21 kilometres is on a 2WD-accessible dirt road).

Lighthouse stay: Two beautifully restored fully self-contained cottages with cosy fire, dining area, large verandah and stunning coastal views. Each cottage sleeps up to six people. From $310 a night. Doubles with separate bathrooms in guesthouse also available from $220 a night. More: greencapelighthouse.com.au. Ph: 02 6495 5555.

Tim's tip: There's no television and very little, if any, mobile reception (try the lookout). It's a long drive to the nearest shop (and once at Green Cape, I guarantee you won't want to leave), so ensure you have all your supplies before you arrive.

Lighthouse tours: You don't have to bunk down overnight to check out the lighthouse. Guided 30-minute tours at 3pm Thursday-Monday. Adults $10, family $25.

Best time: June/July is best for spotting dolphins and June-December for migrating whales, but the best weather for exploring is January-May.

Did you know: One of the victims of the Ly-ee-moon was Flora MacKillop, mother of Australia's first saint, Mary MacKillop.

Don't forget: To check out the heavy canvas curtains at the top of the lighthouse which prevent bushfires starting from magnification of the sun through the lens.

Light-to-light walk: One of our region's premier multi-day walks is the 30-kilometre (one-way) coastal trek from Boyd's Tower to Green Cape. Starting in August, Auswide Services is offering four-day, fully catered guided walks along this track with accommodation each night in the Green Cape Lighthouse keepers' cottages. I expect places for this monthly trek to be snaffled up. You can register your interest by calling: 02 6495 5555.

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Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available on the Canberra Times website