Annie Stevens walks to an isolated corner of the state in search of a grand beacon.
There's something about the loneliness of lighthouses that is both romantic and spooky. And the Wilsons Promontory lighthouse is about as remote and isolated as you can get. To get there - the southernmost occupied point of the mainland - takes a 19-kilometre trek. The return walk is 23 km if you take the more scenic coastal route.
The night before the big walk we stay at the Bear Gully Coastal Cottages, overlooking Waratah Bay. In hindsight, however, our enormous cottage, with its luxury fitout and view to the rough-hewn beach, is somewhere we should have stayed on our return. It is difficult to pull oneself away from a state of bliss to begin a six-hour trek.
With two blocks of chocolate (very important) in our backpack, we set off from the Telegraph Saddle car park bolstered mostly by naive enthusiasm. For much of the first part there is a gravel road that is fairly flat. Soon, though, we discover that the interesting thing about this walk is the changing landscape - from scorched and blackened trees, a reminder of bushfires, to lush, damp rainforests with overgrown ferns. We hike up muddy mountains, rest on moss-covered logs and catch fleeting glimpses of choppy blue as we inch closer to the waters the Wilsons Prom lighthouse stands above. On the return walk, it is worth the extra kilometres just to see Waterloo Bay, with its squeaky white sand and clear water.
The lighthouse sits on a rocky finger of land that juts into the wild Bass Strait. The first sighting of it, from our lookout on a big, smooth rock, renders us speechless.
The final driveway to reach the neat little settlement is practically vertical.
The lighthouse was finished in 1859. While the hardy types who took the lonely job of lighthouse keeper no longer man lighthouses - technology has taken care of that - two Victorian park rangers still live here full time. On a tour, Steve, who is filling in for the two full-timers, tells us of the RAAF platoon stationed here during World War II, which used radio-signal technology to secure the country's coastline. There is a little museum, filled with brass bits that were once part of the lighthouse and photos of young men squinting into the sun.
Apart from lighthouse technology, little else has changed in the tiny settlement atop the rock. There is shared accommodation in three renovated cottages with bunk beds. The lounge room, with an open fire and piles of books, is a highlight, as is sharing dinner with new-found hiking friends.
Our chatter competes with the wind while the lighthouse illuminates the night. We are surrounded by sea and every aching muscle is worth it.
Annie Stevens was a guest of Tourism Victoria and Gippsland Tourism.
The only way to access the Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse is by hiking the 38-kilometre round trip. Wilsons Promontory is a three-hour drive south-east of Melbourne.
Bear Gully Coastal Cottages, two-bedroom cottage (sleeps four) from $255 low season (May 1 to September 30), see beargullycottages.com.au. The cottages at the Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse sleep up to 12 and cost between $47 and $87 a person depending on the season, see parkweb.vic.gov.au.