Have you ever seen a goanna before? I can tell you, they’re pretty scary when they’re up close and they think you have food.
I jump up on the picnic table when one of them makes a dash towards me. Its tongue is flicking out constantly (to help it smell) and its eyes have locked on to me.
It stops a few metres away, rock still, perhaps thinking that I won’t be able to see it while it’s not moving.
It is true that the pattern of its skin blends in with the background… but there’s no way I am taking my eye off it.
Clearly this area is often used for picnics and barbeques and the goanna has assumed that the presence of humans means the presence of food. I don’t have anything, though, so I just stand up on the wooden table as it gets on the move again and starts to circle around.
Eventually, the only escape is to make a run for it. The goanna makes no effort to follow me. Perhaps it’s bored now. Perhaps it realises I have nothing to feed it. I’m free!
It’s only later when I do some research that I find that it is extremely rare for a goanna to actually attack a human. It was all for show really, trying to scare me into dropping something tasty onto the ground. It would have worked!
Believe it or not, getting close to the wildlife is one of the highlights here at Croajingolong National Park in Victoria.
The park is not one of the most famous ones in Australia but it is one of the most interesting. It has been declared as one of only 12 World Biosphere Reserves in Australia because of the incredible biodiversity within its borders.
Croajingolong National Park is exactly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne on the coastal route and I’m stopping here for a night on my road trip between the two cities.
The park runs along about 100 kilometres of coastline, south from the border between New South Wales and Victoria.
I start my exploration of the area at Pebbly Beach, where the jagged brown rocks rise up from the golden sand. Thick bush comes right down to the beach and the waves are gentle today.
There are very few people here and I’m alone for most of the time that I walk along the sand and climb over the rocks to Quarry Beach. At one point I climb up to the track on the escarpment above the beach.
This is part of an official trail called the ‘Wilderness Coast Walk’. The trail is 100 kilometres long with spots set aside for camping. I make a mental note to add the walk to my to-do list.
Double Creek Nature Walk
There are a lot of walks you can do in Croajingolong National Park. On my way back from the beach, I stop to do a small one called Double Creek Nature Walk.
It’s not long or strenuous – but it is known in the area for being a place that koalas hang out. As I step along the path, I keep an eye on the tall trees, scanning the canopy, looking for animals. It’s only right at the end that I finally spot a koala high up one of the gums.
The park has a mixture of eucalyptus forest and rainforest and it can get quite humid in parts. There’s been very little commercial development in the park outside of the main settlement of Mallacoota, meaning thick foliage in most parts.
Luckily there’s another escape from the bush – the lakes!
The visitor infrastructure here at Croajingolong National Park is mainly based around a series of lakes and rivers that cut through the northern part of the park from the coast.
The town of Mallacoota is on the ‘Bottom Lake’ right near the entrance to the ocean and this is where you’ll find shops, hotels and the large campground (one of the biggest in Victoria with 650 sites).
As the evening approaches, I head out on the ‘Top Lake’, which is much quieter.
Going by boat, you can cruise between the small bays and along the rivers. There’s dense forest everywhere but I can see some small picnic spots on the shore sometimes.
Some you could get to by car, some by walking and some only by boat. Even during the peak season when the main parts of the park are quite busy, you can always find away to get away from the crowds and discover your own special spot.
I am staying the night just north of the Top Lake at a village called Gipsy Point, which has a population of only 200 people (compared to Mallacoota, which has a permanent population of about 1000 people and a ‘holiday’ population of about 8000).
It’s peaceful – still in the heart of the park but away from the heart of the action.
I would highly recommend staying here at the Gipsy Point Lakeside. Not only is the accommodation wonderful, but the wildlife comes to you.
Kangaroos hop along the grass at the front and stop for most of the day to graze. Birds fly down and perch just metres away. And there are kayaks you can borrow to explore the water and see the animals there.
Standing on the jetty the evening before I set off for the next leg of my road trip, I regret not being able to stay longer. But I say that at every stop.
This time, though, there’s a particular reason. I look across the water at the eastern side of Croajingolong National Park and wonder what it is like to explore over there.
This is where the road access is very limited, where the wildlife rules the bush, and the special biodiversity of the park is most evident. There are also, from all accounts, some pretty incredible sand dunes over there too, accessible only by foot.
Next time, I’ll have to check them out – and hope the goannas there leave me alone.