Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 26th 2019
Wonnie's Got You Covered
Do you feel like a getaway to nature but tents, rough tracks, mosquitos and leeches aren't your thing? Do you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city but you still want your creature comforts? No problem, Wonthaggi has you covered.
Wonthaggi is the largest town on Victoria's beautiful Bass Coast. It has all you could want for a comfortable escape from the city including a variety of fine food options. The jewels in the crown of this versatile town are the areas set aside for conservation with convenient pathways and an abundance of plant and wildlife. So pack your bags, grab your walking shoes and your cameras and come on down.
The following five options in Wonthaggi are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conservation areas, walks and trails on the Bass Coast. Wonthaggi is around an hour and three quarters from the Melbourne CBD along the South Gippsland and Bass Highways.
The 35 hectare Wonthaggi Wetlands Conservation Park in town near the Wonthaggi Plaza shopping centre is my favourite. Wonthaggi started out as a coal-mining town and between 1919 and 1928 this was the site of the Station Area coal mine. 1n the 1980's construction of the wetlands began with the assistance of an unemployment grant. This project was followed by others over the years providing the town with a wetlands and bush haven.
A wide path of compact gravel makes this trail suitable for prams and children. This is a shared path suitable for walkers, cyclists, wheelchairs, and prams. Dogs on a leash are welcome. Along the way, information signs describe wildlife and native flora are mounted on posts at the side of the path.
There are two small lakes on the South Dudley side of the reserve each with extensive reed beds. Nesting boxes were installed and water birds have been encouraged to make this their home. Black Pacific ducks can be seen here year-round. Purple swamp hens make their home in the reed beds. You might see chestnut teals, Eurasian coots, cormorants, egrets, darters and dusky moorhens.
On my walks here I have often spotted swamp wallabies, sometimes kangaroos and twice now echidnas. I'm a birdwatcher and over the last couple of years have seen over 50 species of birds. There are always fairy-wrens.
The path around is an easy and relatively flat 2.2 kilometre loop walk with some sidetracks. It will take around 45 minutes but only if you don't stop to take in the scenic surrounds and wildlife. There are six bench seats at intervals along the path giving ample opportunity for a rest.
The main car park is accessed from South Dudley Road, just north of Heron Drive. Pedestrian access points with limited parking are also available from South Dudley Road, the corner of Outlook Drive and Poplar Street, or the corner of Korumburra Road and Biggs Drive. Public toilets are available at the Wonthaggi Plaza Shopping Centre at 2 Biggs Road. There is a map of the park on boards at each of the entrances.
As the name suggests the wetlands were formerly a rifle range which has since been rehabilitated. The track here is compacted gravel and grass, mostly grass and is an easy walk. There is a small bird hide on a short side track about 200 metres along. Further on the massive mound of clay that once backed the targets now serves as Butt's Lookout and is accessed by wooden stairs. This overlooks a pond that is popular with small birds such as fairy-wrens and grey fantails.
Continue on after Butt's Lookout to the Wonthaggi Heathland Nature Conservation Reserve. This is a grass and sand track rated as moderate. It is undulating and is a little steep in a couple of places. The main track is a 6.7 kilometre loop but there are a number of side tracks.
The heathlands span an impressive 811 hectares and bordered by 10 kilometres of coastline. As the name suggests it is coastal heathland but also paperbark swamp with predominantly dense and low-lying vegetation. Prickly tea-tree is found here. The wildflowers can be pretty in the springtime.
The Rifle Range Wetlands are accessed at the end of Reed Crescent where there is a gravel carpark. It is a one-kilometre walk to Butts Lookout, and since this is not a loop walk, 2 kilometres return. There is a track linking this with the Heathlands but direct access to the heathlands is at the end of Chisolm Road, where there is a gravel carpark.
The Baxters Wetland trail is in parts mown grass, gravel, dirt and sand. It runs through regenerated bush and is gently undulating. The bird hide is around 300 metres along on a sidetrack. But if you are here for the walk this is a 5-kilometre loop track which takes around one and a half hours to traverse.
Large patches of ferns cover the ground and banksia grow amongst the eucalypt. Magpies and Wattlebirds are prevalent. Kangaroos are common here with sightings most likely at dawn and dusk.
The bird hide is at the bottom of a steep slope which may present a challenge to the elderly or unfit. A long fence of shade cloth shields walkers from the bird's view. The hide has a board seat and a footrest. It would comfortably seat two at once, perhaps even three. Alongside the hide, a short brush fence presents gaps through which the birds can be viewed.
At 225 hectares of reclaimed and rehabilitated land, the Victorian Desalination Ecological Reserve is impressive. 127 species of indigenous plants were reintroduced. It is hard to imagine this reserve was only created in 2012, so well has the vegetation grown.
There are many wide compacted gravel walking tracks and there are some boardwalks. A boardwalk near the parking lot leads to a high viewing platform overlooking the Desalination Plant. Another boardwalk winds through reed beds to a large and well set up bird hide.
There are a large variety of water birds on the wetlands here. I have many times seen black-shouldered kites hunting. Dusk is a great time to be here as flocks of birds come in for the night. It was here that I first witnessed birds flying in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. It was nearly dark and I was too far off to identify the birds but I suspect I have seen a murmuration of starlings. It was a marvellous sight.
I have seen eastern grey kangaroos here every time I have visited. There is evidence of wombats although I have not spied one myself; they are nocturnal. I have come across an echidna and there are plenty of rabbits about. Friends have reported seeing an emu here with chicks. Wouldn't that be special?
The trails are classified as easy with some moderate to difficult undulations. I have chosen to take the trails in a series of manageable sections and they are organised in such a way that this is easy to do. For the fit and experienced walkers the eight kilometres of trails should take between two to three hours to traverse. The trails are shared paths suitable for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.
The reserve is accessed from Lower Powlett Road. Take the signed turnoff to the Desalination Plant and drive a short way to a parking lot on the left just before you get to the plant itself. This is a marked bitumen carpark. There are public toilets, a drinking tap and shaded picnic tables.
Click here to download a detailed map of the trails.
The Bass Coast Rail Trail to the west of town is another of my favourite walks. It is part of the longer 23-kilometre trail that starts on the east side of town at Bent Street and moves through Kilcunda and Anderson to Woolamai.
If you're up to the 23 kilometres (one way) then hats off to you. I am impressed but I like to do things at a quieter pace and walk a couple of kilometres west from South Dudley Road. This part of the trail is compact gravel and is an easy flat walk beside farmlands although I frequently spot a mob of kangaroos.
There is a grove of pine trees not too far along, where in season, I find the amanita mushrooms. These are the red and white spotted ones often associated with fairies and gnomes although I confess to never having sighted either. There are wildflowers along the trail in season and plenty of birdlife to be seen.