Wide open beaches, tiny coves and rocky headlands make up the 100 km Wilderness Coast Walk, from Sydenham Inlet in Victoria’s south-east to Wonboyn on the New South Wales south coast.
Those not up to the 100-kilometre challenge can take on short sections of the walk via return trips or car shuffles. This section covers the 10 km (20 km return) between Wingan Inlet and River Road.
The Inlet is perfect for kayaking. From the mouth of the river, you can paddle 6.5 km upstream before reaching the rapids where the fresh water flows in. The river in between the rapids and the mouth is tidal and brackish with good amounts of fish present. It’s not uncommon to see seals working their way up the inlet at any time of the year.
Access to the beach from the campground is via a 1.8 km walking track that follows the western edge of the inlet. Wet areas are covered by boardwalks and the only short, steep section right after you leave the campground has stairs.
We have been camping at Wingan for many years. The long walk to the beach limits its popularity for our kids, so it is mainly visited for my solo kayaking and fishing trips. There are a number of good walks in the area including the Lake Elusive track which comes off the West Wingan Road, Rapids Walking Track off Boundary Track (which is the only way to access the upstream rapids without a boat), and the Rame Head walk from the campground. All of these are relatively short, albeit steep in sections.
On my recent trip, I had come to the area to walk the Thurra River dunes and get some coffee-related photos for my website. That part of the trip was a total success and a very surreal camping and brewing experience. The other half of the trip was planned for Wingan with the intent of walking a section of the Wilderness Coast Walk from Wingan to Red River. This is only a 10 km (each way) section of the trail and one that I have done a couple times before.
Planning one of our many Wingan fishing trips, Dad and I had seen Red River on a map and he had always wanted to get there as it looked totally remote and untouched. With no road access, and with Wingan being the nearest camping ground, not many people make the effort to get there. Dad’s health never allowed him to make it, but I did a recon visit there for him to check it out and fell in love with the place.
The only sign of people passing through is a very small cleared area tucked up in the melaleuca scrub with room for maybe two small tents and some old washed-up timber propped up as makeshift benches. Other than that you’d think nobody else knew about the place.
The river system is very healthy with no shortage of fish. I have caught good sized Estuary Perch and Bream on fly during every trip. Like many of the rivers in Croajingolong, the water is a deep red colour from the tannins it absorbs on its flow through the forests upstream.
As the walk starts on the western side of Wingan River, you have two options to get to the other side and link up with the Easby Creek track – boat or swim. Usually when we visit we have the kayaks with us so getting across is easy (even easier if you have a motor). On this trip, I didn’t have the kayak and there was no one around with a boat to give me a lift to the other side, so swimming it was.
To get to the mouth of the Wingan River, you follow the walking track from the campground and head east at the beach, away from Rame Head. This section of coast is stunning. There is a group of rocks 500m offshore that is home to a large colony of fur seals. At night you can hear them even from up at camp. After breeding season, it’s not uncommon to see seal pups on the beach or rocks along the walk.
To cross the river via swimming you’ll need to time your crossing with either the peak of high or low tide. Any other time is dangerous as the massive volume of water moving through the mouth creates very strong currents. To avoid currents even at the tide change, it’s best to cross about 500m up from the mouth, directly across from where you can see the sign for the Easby Creek Track.
I had planned to cross at high tide which puts the river at about 200m wide. Half of this can be waded, with the other half too deep and you’ll need to swim. I bagged up my hiking pack in plastic bags and floated it across without too much trouble. The tide was just starting to run out so there was a bit of flow but nothing unmanageable.
The next section of track is a semi-maintained bush trail called Easby Creek Track. This cuts up through the bush above the rocks and comes out at a small beach about 1 km later. This beach is only about 100m long before you hit the rocks. The rock sections of this walk are not marked as tracks, so you need to pick your own path across them depending on tide levels.
The rocks from here to Easby Creek are probably the trickiest of the walk. There are a few large boulders to navigate which can be difficult when carrying a heavy pack. At one point there is a drop of about 3 metres which is unavoidable. The same old length of thick shipping rope has been tied to the rocks above this drop since the first time I came through 6 years ago. The safest way to get down is to lower your pack down on the rope then climb down after it. This is the only real technical part of the trip, the rest of the rocks being somewhat easier to traverse. Depending on the height of the tide, many options will be inaccessible or very slippery. Be mindful of rolled ankles and shifting boulders.
After Easby, it’s 1.6 km of beach walking until the next rock section. This rocky part it a lot longer than the first and can be slow going depending on tides. Once you’re past this, you’re on the home straight and it’s only a bit over 2 km of beach walking until you get to Red River. You can use the dunes of Sandpatch Point that are visible as a marker of how far you have to go.
With hardly any recent rain, this was the first time I’ve been to Red River and found the mouth closed. The river level was so high that the banks were all under water and the river went all the way up to the dunes that skirt the edge. I ended up wading 500m of the river to meet the small track that rises to the only area available to camp. If the banks are underwater and you don’t want to get your feet wet, the only other way to reach the camp is to follow the beach about 200m past the mouth until you see the sign for Red River Track. This brings you up over the back of the dunes before dropping back down to the camp.
The next morning was dismal and raining. This made the walk back treacherous over the rocks, and as the tide was very high, many of the paths I’d taken on the way in were now under water. There were a few sections where I had to time crossings between waves which made me realise that in wild weather you wouldn’t have a hope of getting through some parts at high tide.
Back on the Easby Creek Track, I ran into an older gentleman who had kayaked over the inlet to do some photography on the trail. We stood and chatted in the torrential rain for a bit and he looked a bit dubious when I told him I had to get going to catch the tide as I was swimming back. He called out as I was heading down the trail “my kayak better still be there when I get back!” I debated hiding it around the corner from where he left it but thought better of it in the end…
By the time I reached the inlet I was soaked to the core and well and truly over hiking on wet rocks and sand. Rather than stripping down again before swimming back I just bagged up my pack and swam over boots and all. I figured my clothes were wet enough anyway.
The swim was very refreshing and gave me a good boost. The water was surprisingly warm and it was a nice break from trudging through wet sand. I reached the other side and figured I’d earned a coffee.
The coffee went down a treat after the hike and I spent some time fly fishing in the mouth of the river before walking the last 2.5 km back to the car.
Need to Know
Time: 6 – 7 hours (can be done over two days, camping at Red River as I did)
Grade: Difficult / Grade 4 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Park: Croajingolong National Park
Closest Town: Cann River (52 km)
Trail conditions: Approximately 3 km of bushwalking tracks, a 200 m river crossing, 5 km of beach walking and 2 km of rock hopping / scrambling (each way). Rock sections can be difficult.
Car Access: Wingan Inlet is reached via the West Wingan Rd. This road heads south off the Princes Hwy approximately 20 km east of Cann River. Track conditions vary greatly throughout the year; 4WD may be required after periods of heavy rain. 2WD is generally ok. Visit Parks Vic website for updated track conditions.
Further Info: Bookings are required for overnight hiking along this trail. See the Parks Victoria website for details. There are no reliable sources for drinking water along this route. Bring more than you think you’ll need. Snakes are common along the route. Tides and weather are critical – many sections of the walk will be impassable or dangerous during wild weather or high tides.
Have you visited Croajingalong National Park? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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