At six hours out of both Melbourne and Sydney, Croajingolong is pushing it for a weekend trip, but the remote untarnished landscape easily justifies the hours on the road.
My partner and I have gotten into a groove. After working all week, we pack our bags on Friday night and, abandoning our Saturday morning sleep-in, drive to a beautiful outdoor location.
We started out visiting nearby places, like the Dandenong Ranges and Mornington Peninsula. Then, we ventured further afield to the likes of the Grampians and Wilsons Promontory. Now, we’re heading out into the middle of nowhere, some 500km away to Croajingolong National Park.
That’s 1,000km over two days – a lot to travel when you’re going in blind. There’s next to nothing about Croajingolong online. 80 per cent of posts are written by people who haven’t been, who throw around a bunch of meaningless adjectives to cover the sparsity of information. But then, that just means there’s an opportunity to discover the place by yourself.
We routed our drive to pass through Cape Conran (itself five hours away from Melbourne), which I would definitely recommend as a minor detour. Those who have been to Byron Bay will see the resemblance: big surf, rocks in the shallows, headlands butting out to enclose the beach, and ample plant life close to the shore.
We followed East Cape Road to the end, then walked over the thick strands of storm-produced seaweed, to make our way around the headland separating the eastern and western beaches. Much of this track is along a boardwalk, but this doesn’t detract from the wildness of this coast. Waves of 15 or so small birds, including blue wrens, shifted in front of us as we walked along.
After making it back to the highway, you turn off for Croajingolong National Park at the quiet town of Cann River, where we surprisingly had 4G reception. The road soon becomes narrow and weaves through forest showing evidence of industry (such as machinery and felled wood), before becoming unsealed. This stretch, particularly post-rain, will demand your full attention in a 2WD, due to the corrugations and the water channels carved in the road.
About 30 minutes later, you arrive at the 46 sites of the Thurra River campgrounds. These sites are, mostly, spread along the course of the road. On our left, we passed a few empty ones that were partially submerged (unlucky number 13 being one of them), but our own site, number 22, was fine. Despite being near two other sites, it still managed to feel secluded.
There are facilities nearby – camp tables, fire pits, and basic drop toilets – should you need to use these. $29.80 was fine for one night, but if I was staying for longer that figure could become a little questionable.
We ventured along the Dunes Walk, which departs from near campsite 14. The track winds 2km before reaching the dunes. Most of the way, it’s sheltered by overhanging trees; having to climb over several fallen ones made it that little bit more exciting. Persist despite any doubts you’re still on the right track and the ground will become sandy, before the trees clear and reveal a vista of enormous dunes ahead.
Here, the path turns right, descending soft sand for about 20 metres before spitting you out into the openness. We continued in the direction of the path, up the steepest slope, venturing to the right of a shrubby prominence at the top. Following the curving treeline around to the right, we arrived at an incredible vantage point. From here, you can see Thurra River curling through the bush and the ocean in the distance.
Our next destination was the Point Hicks Lighthouse. We drove further along the road from our campsite until we reached an empty car park (on the way, be careful of the black rubber tubing crossing the road, if you have low clearance). Despite the track actually being a road, we couldn’t continue any further by car because of a locked fence.
During the walk, views of lush-blue ocean and washed coastal granite broke through gaps in the honeysuckle. Upon reaching the lighthouse, we were baffled to see approximately 15 cars parked there. Little had we known that people could stay at various lighthouse cottages. This disputably ruins the secluded vibe, but we were too distracted by the sunset over the ocean to care. The sun was breaking through clouds shaped in tortured detail, foregrounded by a monument, coastal rushes, and tumbles of rock.
In the morning, we headed back out to Cann River, and then 50km further east towards Genoa Peak. By this point the miserable weather had arrived, undone its belt, and settled in for the day. After a short unsealed detour off the highway, we parked and hiked 1.5 steep kilometres over the beaten track and mossy rocks, to arrive firstly at a lookout and secondly at the peak. The peak itself, the highest point on a stack of rocky monoliths, can only be reached with the help of several metal ladders. On top, we couldn’t see a thing. Anything more than 20 metres away was completely obscured by fog.
Driving back to the highway, we spotted a dog with black and brown kelpie-like colouration, sniffing around in the middle of the road. By the time we’d processed what we’d seen, the dog had sprinted off into the bushes. My first thought was, where’s his owner? But when no owner appeared, I realised that he could indeed be a dingo.
We pulled over and I walked into the bushes and whistled a few times, to no avail. Later, I discovered that other people have found evidence of dingoes in the park; either they’ve spotted them, seen footprints, or heard howling. It’s startling they are so far south – in a misty, wet environment no less – but then, they basically covered Australia before European settlement. On a separate note, the lack of sun kept the reptiles inactive, and we unfortunately didn’t encounter any local snakes or goannas.
With reptiles, you’re bound to have better luck in better weather. And indeed, I can’t wait to spend a weekend back here in improved conditions. But even in miserable, overcast conditions, Croajingolong beats anything we could have done in the suburbs or at home. I’m just worried the success of this trip will further solidify the idea ‘further is better’... Next weekend we could be jetting off to spend ten minutes in Madagascar.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 January/February issue of Outdoor Magazine. Subscribe today to keep up to date with all the latest outdoor adventures, travel news and inspiration.