Wilsons Promontory National Park is the Australian mainland’s most southern point and Victoria's largest coastal wilderness area. Affectionately known as the Prom, it consists of a cherished labyrinth of hiking trails and bushwalks, white sandy beaches and rugged granite mountains teeming with native wildlife.
At 50,000 hectares, the Prom is threaded with travel itineraries to suit a diverse range of interests and abilities. It’s a three-hour drive from Melbourne, so we begin with the road trip down south.
Olive at Loch
Visitors can almost get lost in the country charm at this double-fronted café and homewares store in the tiny town of Loch. It’s a treasure trove of gifts, books, preserves, ceramics and tin trays, and owners Sandra and Rob Gawn (parents of AFL star Max) offer up cosy cups of Supreme roasted coffee, plus kombucha and smoothies. There are also in-house bites – Sandra and her team make just about everything in the display cabinet on the premises. While Broadsheet was there, Sandra was pouring fresh brews from neighbouring Loch Brewery & Distillery into a pot to make the beef filling for the cafe’s hearty pies. There’s also homemade sausage rolls, frittatas and bagels served with mixed salads, and sweets including white chocolate scones with jam and cream, brownies, slices and yo-yos to go.
Allow time for a stroll to explore the other gems on Victoria Road, particularly Udder & Hoe, which opened its Loch site in 2018 after establishing in Kilcunda.
Thirty minutes further along the South Gippsland Highway lies Koonwarra. On a sunny day the store’s courtyard garden is an idyllic setting to taste one of its prized items – the Gippsland regional produce paddle or cheese board. They’re loaded with local goods such as Nicolas Estate olives, cheeses, breads, terrine and pates, relishes and marmalades. This is no ad-hoc deal – owner Melissa Burge has been co-director of Regional Farmers Markets since 2016.
Other favourites include battered fish of the day (flathead tails during my visit) served with shoestring fries, seasonal salad and lime aioli. The Koonie Burger is another signature dish, loaded with beef, cheddar, bacon and free-range eggs all from the region.
Trulli Woodfire Pizzeria
Francesco Laera is not a chef. He trained as a vet but was raised a farmer, and it’s this deep connection to the region that distinguishes his Italian restaurant in Meeniyan.
Growing up poor in a family of six on a masseria (Italian farmhouse) in Puglia, Italy, the Laeras’ livelihood depended on working with the land and seasons. To make bread, they’d start with wheat – milling it, kneading the dough and baking loaves in bulk for efficiency. They made their own wine, olive oil and mozzarella from fresh milk, butchered their own meat and utilised as much of the animal as they could.
Many of these practices continue at Trulli, which Francesco runs with his brother Marco and wife, Rhia. You’ll find traditional Italian pizza – see the bianca-base pizza with burrata, capocollo (pork neck), basil and semi-dried tomato – and dishes like slow-cooked lamb pappardelle and smoked Cherry Tree organic beef. To try a dish from Francesca’s upbringing, go for la frisella, a Pugliese-style bruschetta which repurposes stale bread with a soak in water before it’s served with tomato, basil, pancetta, cheese, rocket and red onion.
The restaurant accommodates up to 70 people undercover and 150 including the picnic area and courtyard. Tip: it’s a well-known rule at Trulli that unsatisfied customers who give honest feedback don’t have to pay.
Next door to Trulli is Gusto: Laera’s Italian pastry shop and gelato bar. Pastry chef, Luca De Bellis, is in charge here and, in collaboration with local wine producers Dirty Three, he’s created a dessert worth stopping for: a raspberry pinot noir sorbet.
The Yanakie House & Cabins
This property, located at the gate to Wilsons Promontory, is surrounded by farmland. Yanakie is a Koori name from the Gunai language, which translates to “between the waters”, and references the cabin’s location between Waratah Bay (to the west) and Port Franklin (to the east).
A verandah wraps around the house, granting spectacular views of the Prom and Corner Inlet in the distance. With landscaped gardens and an outdoor deck area that begs for a giant feast on a balmy night, you can picture families combining to hire this four-bedroom, eight-person holiday home (or the entire venue for up to 16 guests). It’s not surprising to learn that owner Wendy Nettle is an architect – and this is her personal project.
Three smaller, self-sufficient cabins – Wattle, Bluegum and Banksia – sleep between two and four people each and can be booked separately. They also overlook the same stunning view of the Prom. At sundown, a pack of galahs and cockatoos regularly gather on the grass and, if you’re lucky, you might spy a wombat, wallaby or echidna.
The Royal Standard Hotel
A 30 minute drive from the Wilsons Promontory gateway is Toora, and at the end of its main street lies The Royal Standard Hotel. With a backdrop of beautiful green hills and 12 wind turbines, the historic 1889 pub is a true gem in the region.
The Royal Standard has three boutique double rooms – which all combine modern styling and historical artefacts – bookable through Airbnb. The front bar doubles as reception, so it’s rather convenient to get a cold pint on arrival before heading upstairs to your room. Bathroom facilities are shared due to the building’s heritage status, but it’s part of the charm.
The Royal Standard Hotel is an ideal base from which to visit nearby Agnes Falls, Victoria’s highest single-span waterfall. Also be sure to see the view of the Prom from Toora’s Silcocks Hill Road.
Luxury Spa Cabin
If you’re travelling with a special someone, this four-star spot overlooking the Prom might be the place for some wild romance. This self-contained cabin sleeps two guests in a king-size bed, and there’s a giant spa bath that links the open kitchen, bedroom and living area with the undercover outdoor lounge.
The view from the spa looks out on 10 acres of forest across to the Prom, meaning you can stargaze while you bathe. In the morning watch the sun rise from bed, then feed grains to the resident alpacas and sheep or try to spot one of the regulars, a wombat called Bulldoze.
Superhosts Craig and Mark also have a plethora of tips and advice to share about the lesser known beaches nearby, where “you’re more likely to see a kangaroo or emu” than a crowd.
Waratah Hills Vineyard
Just a 40-minute drive from the gateway to Wilsons Prom is Waratah Hills Vineyard, a converted tractor shed and hotspot for long lunches and tastings at the cellar door. Head in for a tipple of their latest 2019 release – the pinot-rosé – or opt for a glass of the 2016 Blanc de Noir pinot noir, awarded a silver medal in Wine Gippsland’s 2019 wine awards. Produce is sourced from renowned Aherns Fruit Market, located just 15 minutes away in Foster, and cheeseboards feature a rotating selection of Gippsland’s finest. There’s also a shop selling ceramics, tea towels, soaps and wicker baskets.
In the warmer months here you can take in views of the vineyard, the Prom and the picturesque rolling hills. Explore the lavender garden or spread a picnic rug across the lawn and lose the rest of the afternoon (until close at 4pm). In the cooler months, a hot tub has been known to pop up between the vines.
Loch Brewery & Distillery
Just a few steps from Olive at Loch is a stunning, 100-year-old red-brick building. Formerly a bank and adjoining butcher’s shop, it’s now a brewery, distillery and cellar door operated by Craig Johnson and Melinda Davies. Here the pair distil gin, vodka and single-malt whisky, and brew traditional ales using barley grown in Australia and New Zealand (with English hop varieties for a traditional flavour). The bottling and cask-conditioning processes all happen on-site in hand-beaten alembic copper pot stills, all within view of the indoor seating and beer garden.
It’s only open on Fridays and weekends from 11am to 4pm, so be sure to work it into your itinerary on the road trip to the Prom or on the way home.
The Great Prom Walk
Countless walking trails await at the Prom, and the ones you pick will depend on how much time you have, the weather, and your level of experience.
The Great Prom Walk is an overnight hiking adventure that takes three to four days, so it’s best suited serious hikers. Choose between the 35.5 kilometre or 52.8 kilometre routes – you’ll climb peaks for coastal views, and amble around ferny glades and forests. Clamber over dunes and reward your tired body with a dip at Little Waterloo Bay.
Mount Oberon Summit Walk
If you’re keen to get amongst the stunning ocean views, but you’re looking for a hike that’s a little less intense, a climb up Mount Oberon might be for you.
Starting from Telegraph Saddle car park, this walk follows a maintenance-vehicle track up to the summit, so it’s mostly a steady incline up a wide gravel road. The 3.4-kilometre round trip takes two hours. In spring, the walk is wattle-scented. You’ll see unfurling fronds, red sap oozing from tree trunks, and white, yellow and the occasional red or purple flora blooming between moss-covered boulders. If you need, you can rest at one of a few benches along the route before the track narrows and the level of difficulty increases nearing the summit. Be careful at the lookout (especially on windy or cloudy days) as the granite boulders are unprotected. The view overlooking Tidal River, the coast and offshore islands is breathtaking and well worth the climb.
Squeaky Beach is one of the Prom’s most iconic beaches. Rounded grains of quartz make a squeaking sound as your feet press into the sand and you wander across the beach. The fun starts at the car park with a winding path of low ferns, a creek and then the reveal of Squeaky Beach with its distinctive grey and burnt-orange granite boulders. These colours contrast dramatically with the white sand and blue water and sky, so it can be quite a spectacle to take in.
The expansive white beach stretches approximately 500 metres. At the northern end is a great spot for rock climbing and exploring, with boulder formations creating maze-like tunnels. Head out to the northern point for a freestyle climb and you’ll get extraordinary views of the turquoise water back towards the mountains in the national park.
Squeaky Beach Walk, Wilsons Promontory
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Airbnb.