With nothing scheduled for the day and my friend Bec’s Ducati at my disposal, this was one of those deliciously serendipitous times when the elements for an outstanding adventure seem to materialize out of thin air. Sunday night I got home and thought about where I could go as a destination. After a brief moment of consideration it came to me: Wilsons Prom! I checked the distance – 130 miles one way; a bit of a trek, but I was looking for an excuse to drive, after all. I text Bec to see if she was okay with that significant a mileage going on the bike, and she responded with “Not at all!! Go your hardest.” Weather check: predicted a bit cooler than ideal, but dry at least. Let’s do it!
It was now around 9PM and I knew I had to get to bed soon if I was going to be up and on the road early. I hurriedly went to the TripAdvisor page for Wilsons Prom, and learned that at a perfect five stars, Wilsons Promontory National Park is the “#1 of 7 things to do in Wilsons Promontory National Park.” With this affirming but rather unhelpful information, I dug deeper on that and a few other sites and identified what seemed to emerge as the agreed-upon top points of interest in the park. A loose itinerary seemed to fit the milieu of this endeavor, so satisfied with what I found I threw together some snacks, made sure my camera battery was charged, laid out my clothes, and started the process of allowing my bubbling excitement to be overcome by drowsiness.
What I had ahead of me was nothing short of a drive to the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. Below that there’s the island state of Tasmania, then nothing but open ocean for about three thousand miles til you hit Antarctica. Australians have a fierce love of shortening names and streamlining words, presumably for efficiency of speech: ‘breakfast’ becomes ‘brekkie,’ ‘afternoon’ becomes ‘arvo,’ and ‘flip-flops’ become [confusingly] ‘thongs.’ Wilsons Promontory is typically shortened to ‘Wilsons Prom,’ or just ‘The Prom.’ I’d heard of it from multiple friends as being one of the most beautiful places in Victoria; “Like Jurassic Park” somebody had once said in describing it to me. Everything I found online agreed with this glowing appraisal, so once the logistics were worked out the decision of this as my destination was an easy one.
By 7:45AM the next morning I was layered up against the chill the sun was still burning away and on the road. I’ve discovered that headphones combined with Google Maps prompts make a good hands-free navigation solution, so with those jammed each ear I received intermittent instructions on when to turn. The first part of the drive wasn’t quite as cruisy as I’d hoped: it seemed like I couldn’t go more than a few k’s before it was around another roundabout...another traffic light...merging into another freeway. I’d get on a sizeable road and think “Finally: now surely I’ll get to open up the throttle and put some distance between me and Melbourne,” when the disembodied voice would reach my ears with, “In 800 meters, turn left.” Eventually, though, the countryside grew more and more scenic, and the eucalyptus branches arched closer to the road I was driving on.
The land grew hilly, and in the increasingly bright sun I was greeted with stretching panoramas of idyllic farms and pastures. The Monster growled eagerly through every corner, and the guttural exhale and subsequent roar when I let off the throttle to downshift sent shivers down my spine. I’d happened upon a scenic route detour in my hasty planning research the night before, and that course through Arawata rewarded me with tiny serpentine roads that wound along ridges of cow pasture and through valleys past red gum trees six feet across.
When I reached the gate of the park I realized I still had about 15 miles to go before I got to anything noteworthy. The sun had become somewhat obscured by haze and cloud cover, and I was a bit discouraged when the terrain in the park took a turn for the less-exciting: the topography flattened and dense, uniform, scrub on either side of the road obscured my view. I passed signs which cautioned ad nauseum to watch out for wildlife, but I couldn’t spot any furry marsupials along the roadside. As I got further into the park the road got friskier in its twists and turns, and shifted weight in the saddle from side to side as I leaned into the divinely banked corners. I crested a ridge and suddenly the temperature dropped by probably ten degrees. Around the next corner I caught my breath at the view before me: vivid aquamarine edges of ocean fading to deep dusty blue past glittering beaches. Distant islands rose massive and atmospherically obscured from the horizon.
Though I hadn’t come across “Whisky Bay” in my cursory research, I was so eager to get to the magnificent ocean I’d just glimpsed, I swung into the parking lot and staggered stiffly the first few steps down the path until the blood started flowing again through my legs. Other than two girls further down to the right and a family who was arriving just as I was, I had the beach to myself, and scrambled up some jumbled boulders to enjoy lunch in total seclusion.
Fed, and fully in the heart of the park now, my next stop was hiking Mt. Oberon. ‘Hike’ is a bit of a generous term: while a fairly strenuous grade for 2 miles one way, the path is a gravel road for all but the last series of switchbacks up to the exposed summit. Of the Australian hikes I’ve done, this was the most ‘Adirondacky’: different flora and a view of the ocean, yes, but similar in the feel of the forest walking up, and in the rounded granite of the top. I did a bit of off piste exploring, until it dawned on me that this was prime run-into-something-that-might-kill-you territory, and lost no time in getting back to an established trail. Snapped a few selfies; admired the view; ate some muesli & chocolate; and started the hike (read: ‘stroll’) back down.
On my way out I made a stop first at the info center for some postcards, then someplace I was very curious to see for myself after having read about, and did not disappoint: Squeaky Beach. When I read the name “Squeaky Beach” and glanced at a few vacuous but enthusiastic reviews (“This beach actually does squeak!!”), I envisioned a sort of wet sand with give that would squeak perhaps like a dog toy when one stepped down into it. When I popped out of the woods after a brief 200 meter approach, I was staring wide-eyed at the whitest sand I have ever seen. I quickly slipped off my shoes and tentatively took a few steps...no squeak. I looked around: most people were doing nothing out-of-the-ordinary to engage with the sand; then I saw a teenager in front of me scuff the surface with their foot, as if kicking an invisible soccer ball. I moved closer to the pure sand of the beach – it felt like walking in corn starch – and gave the sand a hearty kick. The resulting sound is hard to describe and without ready analogy, but I’ll do my best: it was high-pitched and quick, but not very loud. It was like a cross between sneaker rubber on a basketball court, a needle being dropped on a record, and a match being struck. Just stepping on the sand produced no sound; I had to get some velocity behind my foot. Smacking a handful of sand with my other free hand also yielded no response. I would love to make a compilation video of dorks like myself interacting with Squeaky Beach for the first time. Coming across a natural substance that’s behaving in a way you’ve never observed before is a refreshingly childlike experience. I think in our tendency to place value on the objective newness of a thing (“Oh, I’ve hiked that mountain before”), we’ve lost touch with our role in cultivating wonder. Viz. it’s hard to be fully present and appreciate something in a new way if, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking through whether to classify it as the same ol’ or as novel. Instead, something I’ve tried to do recently and I admire in people who’ve made it second nature is to actively capture the spirit of first experiencing a thing in every instance: the first time doing a yoga sequence, the first drawing from life I’ve ever done, tasting froyo for the first time… It makes things better. Try it.
As much as I wanted to continue experimentation with the sand – whacking it with different objects and seeing if I could get a squeak, etc. – it was now after 3PM, and if I wanted to get back to Melbourne before dark I had to hustle. I donned again all my layers, snapped one last photo of the beach, and strapped on my helmet.
I still hadn’t tired of working the Monster through the many twists of Victoria’s rural roads, but the sun was now gone behind clouds, and I regretted not having worn more clothing. I stopped in a small town to fill up on petrol, went in and drank a hot cup of water and ran my hands under hot water to try to fend off the slicing wind. This brought a warm glow to my core briefly, but soon I was again clenching my jaw against the cold.
The sun reemerged, which if nothing else made me feel warmer. Driving on the Monash Freeway I made an “Emergency Stop” to get this photo of the spectacular sunset I was driving into. The wide expanses perfectly set the base for the sinking glow, and I wiped away the bug splatters on my visor to better appreciate every second of it. Once the focal point of the sun slipped below the horizon, the sky seemed to expand and include subtler peaches and pinks from overhead clouds. Any earlier back and I have spent this sunset in the tinted, stale, cabin of a train. As it was, I was able to enjoy this display, then views of scintillating Melbourne City as dusk settled and transitioned into night, AND get back in time to hot-shower away the chill.