Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip – Lighthouses.

Lighthouses! I like ‘em and it would seem that many others do too. I will blame my fondness  on epi-genetics. Somewhere in my relatively recent history one of my ancestors was involved in building lighthouses in Australia. In particular the Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney’s Watson’s Bay. I have written about lighthouses in my home town of Wollongong, Scotland and Maine, USA in previous posts.

In this post I am not planning on going into any detail about the lighthouses themselves but rather quick anecdotes about my visits and some photos. There are plenty of other websites which have lots of information and maps. Check out Lighthouses of Australia  and Wikipedia

Lighthouses on the Bucket List.

My bucket list includes a very ambitious and totally impractical goal of photographing every lighthouse in Australia. No mean feat given there are around 350 of them and over 25,000 km of coastline! My more realistic 60 before 60 list (60 things to do before I turn 60) has an item “to see at least 15 new lighthouses” as one of the things to tick off before May 2021.  I am pleased to say that this item is in fact done and dusted after checking out ten new lighthouses on my recent Great Southern Road Trip to add to the five others I had already recorded. Unfortunately, due to a COVID lockdown in Victoria I missed several that I had planned to see including staying overnight at the Wilson’s Promontory Lightstation

New South Wales Lighthouses  

Crookhaven Heads

This small, sad lighthouse is no longer in service and has been damaged by graffiti and vandalism. It is at the end of a short but pleasant stroll from the car park. 

The light has been removed
The stairwell shows some of the damage

Cape St George

There is an amazing story about this sandstone lighthouse and reading the information boards is enough to make the visit special. The location for the light was very contentious. The people with the money advocating for one location and the people with the maritime expertise declaring it should be in another. Money won. Ships became confused and wrecks continued. The lighthouse is very near Wreck Bay, so called because of the number of wrecks that occurred there.. The Lighthouse is in the Booderee National Park which is strictly not in NSW but rather part of the Australian Capital Territory. It is managed by the local indigenous people and you need a valid visitor pass to enter. You can get this easily from the website. You also can catch a glimpse of the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular in the distance.

Boyd’s Tower

Boyd’s Tower was never actually used as a  lighthouse and served as a whale watching station. There is an excellent 33 km walk from the tower to Green Cape Lighthouse. There are several camping spots along the way. I did the two ends of the walk but not the middle section. You can read my Light the Light Walk post for more information. The tower is in Green Cape National Park and you need a valid pass.

Green Cape Lighthouse

Green Cape is  managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. You are able to stay at the lighthouse in the various cottages. I stayed overnight in the assistant keeper’s cottage. It is big enough to accommodate 6 people very comfortably and I was rattling around on my own in such a large space! I had actually booked the much smaller Telegraph Station but due to a maintenance issue, I was upgraded! The grounds are home to some enormous wombats and tiny pademelons.

There is an onsite manager who keeps a very low profile. If you book ahead you can organise a tour of the lighthouse itself. The lighthouse is in the southern portion of Green Cape National Park and once again you must have a valid pass. It is also at the end of a long dirt road. I was fine in my AWD Subaru but it looked a bit hairy for those in two wheel drives.

Tasmanian Lighthouses

Bluff Hill Point Lighthouse

Killer bees and asbestos! If you don’t mind a bit of dirt driving this lighthouse is well worth a visit. It is situated a little north of the small township of Arthur River on Tasmania’s wild west coast. I had a fabulous time photographing wild seas and craggy rocks. 

Rocky Cape 

Rocky Cape Lighthouse is also at the end of a dirt road. The closest town is Stanley on Tasmania’s northern coast. Apart from the lighthouse there are several very good hikes in the area. I began the walk to Sisters Beach but abandoned the idea because the very strong wind nearly blew me off the steep, narrow track.

Rocky Cape Lighthouse
The view from Rocky Cape Lighthouse – a rocky cape!
From the Sister’s Beach Walk.

Table Cape

I went to Table Cape Lighthouse in the wrong season! This lighthouse is surrounded by tulip farms and if you went in spring you would be able to see the mass plantings of tulips and the lighthouse. Have a look at this video from Discover Tasmania to get a hint at what you can see at the right time of year. Having said that the road is narrow and winding. The traffic must be horrendous with budding Instagrammers!

Low Head

If you don’t visit any other lighthouses in Tasmania or you’re not really a lighthouse enthusiast, make sure you do visit this one! In addition to the pretty little lighthouse with red stripes, there is a Pilot Station nearby which has a small maritime museum. The museum has an interesting collection and is run by volunteers. If that still is not your cup of tea, have a real cup of tea at the lovely little cafe! If it’s still on the menu don’t miss out on the Eton Mess! (I had it for lunch! Kicking the nutrition goals!) Once again there is accommodation at the lighthouse and at the pilot station. 

Seen from a distance!

I did not actually visit the next three lighthouses and only got glimpses from a distance.

Mersey Bluff.

Mersey Bluff is in Devonport.  You have to access it via a caravan park. It was my intention to try and catch it at sunrise but the boom gates, lack of signage and the dark, made me give up. I did not get to see it until the Spirit of Tasmania sailed past it as I was leaving Tasmania. This lighthouse has vertical red stripes, in contrast to the horizontal bands at nearby Low Head. Apparently a way for sailors to tell the difference in times of old…. 

From the deck of the Spirit of Tasmania

Goose Island Lighthouse

This lighthouse is on one of the small islands near Flinders Island. The closest I could get was through the telescopic lens of my camera from the top of Mt Strzelecki. Even then it is just a tiny speck!  

See that tiny white speck?

Entrance Island Lighthouse

This lighthouse is at the mouth of the Macqaurie Harbour near Strahan. I snapped this picture as I was cruising past on a Gordon River Cruise. As you can see the weather was not great!

Entrance Island Light

About Park Passes

If you are going to be doing any road tripping in Australia it is very worthwhile to invest in park passes. I bought an annual pass for Tasmania online even though I was only going to be there for a few weeks. The annual pass was MUCH cheaper and more flexible than buying individual day passes for each park. Incidentally, even if you are just hiking and not driving, you need a visitor pass which you are meant to carry with you. I already had an annual pass for NSW National Parks.

You can only buy day passes for Booderee. I could not find a similar system for Victoria parks. I’m not saying you don’t need one but I could not find it online.

Light to Light Walk.

The Light to Light walk is a 30 km (one way) route that hugs the coast in Ben Boyd National Park. The Park is on the very far south coast of NSW and near the town of Eden. Being less than 100km to the Victorian border, Eden is a “bubble town”, that is in these times of COVID, special rules apply because people in the area do business with both states. I was back in Eden unexpectedly as my Great Southern Road Trip plans were disrupted because of a COVID lockdown in Victoria. This meant I needed to scurry very quickly back to NSW or risk not being able to get into Tasmania.

Remnants of burnt trees at the Tower end

Start either end.

The walk can be tackled from either end. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service recommend it as a multi-day walk and there are several campsites along the route. They also offer a shuttle service so you can park at one end and start from the other. You can see their website for information about this.

A few days ago I did a 16 km there and back walk from the Green Cape Lighthouse to Bittangabee (Bit-tan-ga-bee) Camp Ground and today because of the change in circumstances, namely Victoria being in a 5 day snap lock down,  I did the a 20 km there and back walk from Boyds Tower. I have therefore done the two ends but not the middle sections in a pincer movement of sorts!

The walk is rated as a Grade 4 because of its length. The track is well made, mostly loose sandy soil but also some harder rocky sections. 

Green Cape Lighthouse

From Green Cape to Bitangabee

It was a cloudy, cool start to the day which was perfect for a longish walk. The goal was to get to Bitangabee and back before lunch time. With frequent photo stops, the return walk took me around 3½ hours.

Open Heathland near the Green Cape lighthouse

There are frequent waymarkers and the track map is also available on AllTrails,  although I could not find it on ViewRanger. 

From this end the track runs through coastal heath land with lots of twittering birds. I saw flashes of a greenish parrots which disappeared into the ground cover and I presume these were the vulnerable eastern ground parrot. Aside from this I also saw a small marsupial perhaps a potteroo, a wallaby, some lyrebirds, black cockatoos, bugs of various sorts and plenty of wildflowers. 

The track was a fair distance from the ocean and although there were a few ups and downs it was more or less level.

Boyds Tower to (just past) Mowarry Beach. 

On this leg, which came as an unexpected treat due to enforced changes to my holiday plans, I decided to do ten kilometres (or 3 hours whichever came first) out and then return. I was not really sure where this would get me but I thought 20 km was enough for one day. It was a much hotter day and the sky was mostly clear. 

Boyd’s Tower

Boyds Tower, built in 1847,  is a rather elegant sandstone structure that was never actually a lighthouse. Although built with the intention of being a lighthouse,  permission was never granted  and it ended up being a whale spotting tower instead. I guess Light to Light sounds much more poetic than Light to Whale Spotter! 

The track  is still relatively flat and sandy  but this area was devasted by the January 2020 fires and the ecology of the bush land, greatly changed. Catherdrals of tea-tree are burnt out remnants, weeds have taken over and there is very little shade for the first five kilometres. However on the bright side, if there could ever be a bright side to these climate change induced fires, is that the reduced vegetation has opened up expansive views of the ocean and the rocky foreshore. 

Haven for Geology Lovers

And oh what a foreshore! Geology nerds get down there! There are massive, varied colored layers of sedimentary rocks with easy-to-see folding,faulting and tilting. The base layer (or rather the lowest layer you can see) is a rich rust red with a lighter grey-green layer over it. The red is more friable than the greenish layer and there are deep cut outs where the waves have eroded the material. 

As part of the walk you cross several rocky beaches and a striking beach aptly called Red Sands Beach has small smooth red pebbles rather than sand. Mowarry Beach on the other hand has soft, squeaky white sand. The water by contrast is clear and either deep sapphire blue or ultramarine in areas where it has a white sandy bottom.

Mowarry Beach

I saw and heard fewer birds in this section of the walk but did see three large goannas and lots of locusts and dragonflies. 

There was a small asymmetrical daisy-like flower which was a haven for bees and butterflies and it seemed to be benefitting from the lack of tree cover. 

As this section had been so fire affected many of the waymarkers were missing or badly burnt and I needed to refer to the AllTrails map a few times to confirm the direction as there were some other criss crossing paths. 

Fees, toilets and that sort of stuff

Unless you already have an Annual NSW National Parks and Wildlife Park Pass, you will need to pay the park use fee of about $9 per day. If you intend on camping there are also fees for this and bookings are essential.

On the northern walk there were toilets at the Tower but no others along the route. From the south end there were toilets at the Lighthouse and then again at the campground at Bittangabee. You might want to think about carrying waste bags with you. 

You can stay at the Lighthouse (like I did) which is lovely for prices ranging from $125 – $400 per night.

There is no fresh water available for day use or campers so make sure you carry plenty. The National Park website is a good source of information.

If I had known I was going to have some extra time in this area I would have planned to do the whole walk. 

The views are certainly worth the effort!

The Great Southern Road Trip

I have spent the last few weeks settling on a destination for my next big adventure. I had been hatching a plan to do an extended road trip through Victoria. This plan has been on the drawing board for at least 3 years, when I set out my 60 for 60 plans (60 things to do before I turn 60). 

Border closures make things tricky

I had to reconsider my plan when  Victoria became Australia’s hot bed of COVID19 and strict lock down laws including a complete shut down of the border ensued and continued long after the other States had begun to loosen up. I thought I’d have to go north and began looking at a huge trip through Central Australia. Some of my sensible buddies talked me out of that given the time of year I was planning on going. Days and days of endless 40oC plus may not be a great idea!  

Too hot for this trip!

In the meantime, things were getting better in Victoria and I decided to take a punt and start booking a few critical bits of the itinerary. I crossed all my body parts in the fervent hope that by the end of February things would be open. 

And….they have! It seems that all Australian internal borders will be open from the end of November without the requirement to self-isolate. (Provided we don’t go backwards!!)*

The Great Southern Road Trip

With that good news I’m pleased to announce that the Great Southern Road Trip is going ahead! However, now that the borders ARE open there is the very real prospect of destinations being booked out because those Aussies who might normally be heading off for international destinations are “stuck” at home.  On top of this many towns near the NSW-Victorian border have still not recovered after the horrific bushfires which preceded COVID.

The Great Southern Road trip itinerary is shaping up well. The overarching plan is to follow the NSW and Victoria coast down to Melbourne then take the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to join the 6-day walking tour and then a few days in Flinders Island. After that I’ll spend another week exploring other parts of Tasmania.

So far I have booked one night’s accommodation in Victoria at a lighthouse because there was only one night available in the time frame I was planning on passing through. This sought after accommodation was already close to being completely booked out for the next 6 months!

After three weeks in Tasmania, I’ll head back to the mainland and ‘do’ regional Victoria concentrating on the western side of the state, then back up through the Highlands to home.

The Two Iains are looking forward to another adventure!

The itinerary shapes up

All up I’ll be away for 6 weeks.  While I’m tootling around in my trusty Subaru, I intend to knock off a few things from my 60 for 60 list including:

  1. Southernmost point of the Australian mainland and perhaps even most southern point of Tasmania.
  2. A hot air balloon ride.
  3. A cheese-making course in Melbourne (if it’s on!)
  4. A writing retreat. In a way, the whole trip will be a writing retreat!
  5. Astrophotography. I think there will be dark sky on Flinders Island and I might even get lucky and see the aurora in Tasmania, although I could be a bit early. It is apparently at it’s best from March – September.

Apart from the 6-day guided walking tour there will be at least one other overnight hike. I’ll be alternating between luxurious accommodation and camping to make my money spread a little further. Once my spending ban is over, I’ll be on the look out for a good second hand tent and camping gear. I have already jumped the gun and bought some maps!

I haven’t nutted it all out yet, but this is part of the plan.

I’m counting down already!

* The South Australian border has been closed again since I began drafting this post! 🙁

PPS: All the borders have closed again since a few days before Christmas. As of 16/1/21 I am investigating alternatives and will make up my mind on 23/1/21…sigh!