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Hidden wonders down under: Croajingolong

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Croajingolong is a long, green, coastal national park in Victoria. On its southern side is the Pacific Ocean, on the western side the Bemm River and to the east is the town of Mallacoota. The northern side is dense bushland and low hills. It enjoys a landscape so pure and precious that in 1977 the United Nations named it Australia's first World Biosphere Reserve. It measures around 80 by 20 kilometres and the 100-kilometre Wilderness Coast Walk along beaches, heathland and extremely challenging rocky headlands is very rewarding.

Croajingolong has a wonderful diversity of landscapes — pure white sandy beaches, rocky coastal headlands, granite peaks, rambling heath, lush rainforest and scented eucalypt and bloodwood forests. It grows 1000 native plants and has 90 species of orchid and 300 bird species, more than one third of those known in Australia. Add to that 52 mammal species and you are somewhere very special.

When you see seals, whales and dolphins, along with the world's largest penguin colony on Gabo Island, migratory and wading birds on beaches and islands, waterfowl in the wetlands and birds of prey in the coastal woodlands, you know you are somewhere very special.

Point Hicks Lighthouse was built in 1887-88 on the western side of the park. The kerosene lamp and clock mechanism were upgraded to electric operation in 1965. More recently it was converted to solar power. It is 37 metres high and has an internal spiral staircase of 162 steps cantilevered from the walls. The view from the balcony is spectacular.

Honeymoon Bay, just five minutes away, is a beautiful beach which allows you to look back at the lighthouse. SS Saros sank during thick fog on Christmas Day 1937. Its hull washed onto rocks and remains there.

On the western side of the park is an obelisk marking the place first seen by Captain Cook in 1770.

Wingan Inlet has a bush camp set amongst a huge bloodwood forest. Most of the time you'll have it to yourself, except for giant goannas which live on the perimeter of the campsite. It's perfect for kayaking, canoeing and fishing and one of the few waterways in Australia free of feral species of fish.

The Wingan Nature Walk takes you through changing vegetation and birdlife, three kilometres return along boardwalks. A seal colony lives just off Wingan Beach, clearly visible and audible.

Canoeing upstream from the inlet takes you to Wingan Rapids, set in a lush rainforest valley. Fresh river water runs over smooth black granite and when it hits the cool estuary water, rising steam creates a fantastic atmosphere.

The paddle to the rapids goes through wet river forests of ferns, lichen and moss, home to water dragons, lyrebirds, colourful kingfishers and giant goannas.

Mt Everard Lookout has 360-degree views of the wilderness — out to the ocean, the Thurra Sand dunes, the peaks of Errinundra and Coopracambra National Parks and beyond to New South Wales. It takes around 35 minutes to walk to the lookout.

The 4WD Cicada Trail is steep and offers challenging driving through rainforest, five-metre tree ferns and thick woodlands rising to 60 metres.

The Wilderness Coast stretches more than 100 kilometres from Sydenham Inlet in Cape Conran just west of Croajingolong to Wonboyn in New South Wales. Walkers can enjoy secluded beaches, rocky outcrops, coastal forests and heath. The most scenic strip is between Wingan Inlet and Mallacoota. Camping permits must be obtained for those doing large sections as there is a strict limit on numbers.

Mallacoota is a small fishing village, completely surrounded by Croajingolong, making it the perfect base for exploring the park. It is on a massive inland lake system and offers a relaxed atmosphere. In the early 20th century it attracted painters, poets and writers and has changed little in decades. It is popular year round for those who love nature. Fox's Foodworks supermarket rents out little scooters if you want to buzz around town and the surrounds.

Karbeethong Lodge was built in 1903, restored in the 1920s and since then has operated as a guesthouse. CJ Dennis stayed here in 1932 and wrote: "If heaven can compare with this, we won't fret much up there". The charming accommodation is on Mallacoota Inlet and is close to restaurants or guests can self-cater in the well-equipped kitchen.

There are five double rooms, one twin and two family rooms, all with ensuite. There are also one double and two twins with no ensuite. The guest lounge has an open fire, games and books and there is a dining room.

Large groups can rent the whole house for a discounted rate.

Location

Halfway between Sydney and Melbourne.

Cost

Wingan camping starts at $11.50 a site per night for up to six people.

Point Hicks Lighthouse tours are $7 for adults and $4 for children.

Karbeethong Lodge rooms start at $75 a couple a night. Prices correct as of August 7, 2008.

For more information

Fox's Foodworks
50 Maurice Avenue
Mallacoota
Ph: (03) 5158 0244

Point Hicks Lighthouse
PO Box 122
Cann River 3890
Ph: (03) 5158 4268 (10am-3pm weekdays)
Fax: (03) 5158 4268
Website: www.pointhicks.com.au

Karbeethong Lodge
16 Schnapper Point Drive
Mallacoota 3892
Ph: (03) 5158 0411
Fax: (03) 5158 0081
Website: www.karbeethonglodge.com.au
Email: admin@karbeethonglodge.com.au

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