5 life lessons I learned hiking in Wilson's Prom

© Taryn Stenvei
By Taryn Stenvei
‘Busy’ is a word for the city, not the bush.
‘Relief’ didn’t quite cut it. No, I wanted a word devoted to the feeling of finally taking off my 15kg backpack and hiking boots after walking in them for days. It was euphoria, subdued by exhaustion. An intersection of pride and pain. Bliss, with blisters.
We’d driven into Wilson’s Promontory National Park, a coastal expanse of country stretching over the southernmost point of mainland Australia, four days earlier. Despite living in nearby Melbourne for five years, it was my first time visiting ‘the Prom’ (or Yiruk/Wamoon as it is known to its traditional owners). I’d seen photos, but the rugged country that rose up to greet me transcended whatever assumptions my mind had fabricated. It is an unimaginably wild place. Immersive. Stirring. To be honest, a little overwhelming.
Over three nights and four days on the Wilson’s Promontory Eastern Circuit, with five of us carrying everything we needed to survive on our backs, I came to a few conclusions; the type that only seem to come to you when you purposefully walk into the wilderness.

1. Overplanning > underplanning

Pack right
Pack right
The group messages started three weeks out. “This is really creeping up”, “Hey there’s a sale on camping stoves at Anaconda” and – finally, inevitably – “I started this Excel spreadsheet with every single thing we need”. While, in the lead up to the trip, messages like these seemed like a superfluous distraction from my regular scheduled programming, these were the foundations that made the difference between a good and a bad hike.
Underplan, and you end up bringing too much stuff, or worse – too little. Our group had a vegetarian, a Celiac and someone with a fructose allergy, and meticulous forethought meant stress-free mealtimes. Planning out all of our food, outfits, and who-was-bringing-what essentials before we left meant we could leave the surprises up to nature.
Pro tip: Leave a change of clothes and some wet wipes in the car for your return post-hike. You’re going to need them.

2. Stop and smell the sunrises (and sunsets)

I know, the tent needs setting up, dinner must be cooked and water has to be purified, but don’t fall into the trap of being too hard-pressed to catch the twice-daily free display of nature’s greatest light-show. ‘Busy’ is a word for the city, not the bush, so give yourself and your camping mates some grace time and set your indicators for the slow lane. We made extra effort to be on the beach to see the changing skies of each golden hour, and the results were nothing short of magical.
Pro tip: Not an early riser? A recent study has shown that camping is the most effective way to reset your body clock, so don’t worry if you think you won’t be up at dawn. You almost certainly will be. You’ll be in bed by 6:30pm, too.

3. Be in it

Take your time
Take your time
‘The moment’ can be a pretty elusive thing, but there’s no better time to try and get a handle on it than when you’re in the natural world you might’ve forgotten you’re a part of. Breathe deep, listen hard, borrow tricks from meditation if you have to, but try and let the gentle tread of nature unfold around you.
To be fair, half of the work is already done. Out there, away from phone reception and the sounds of the city, there’s little to hijack your attention. Putting a mental pane of glass between my thoughts and my surrounds allowed me space to feel the wind and sun on my face, to smell the sea, to notice the abrupt changes in vegetation, and pass through them with awe, as though they were new dimensions.
Pro tip: While the 40km Eastern Circuit hike could be completed in just one or two nights, we opted for three nights so that we could spend some carefree hours at Refuge Bay (night two) and Little Waterloo Bay (night three). Having time to play Uno on the beach after a ‘bush shower’ (a dip in the sea) is a pretty nice moment to be in.

4. Hiking is walking; just keep walking

Life's a beach!
Life's a beach!
To be fair, I don’t actually think this is true, but it is my hiking mantra, and the thing I repeat to myself when I’ve just about had enough – which is normally anywhere within the final two kilometres of the day. The last stretch, when you’re expecting the campsite to appear – seriously, any second now – is when the physical and mental challenge seem to take your brain hostage. But walking is the whole point; the parts of the Prom I loved best were so wild and beautiful and remote, you could only get there on foot. It’s OK to suffer when the rewards are so resplendent.
Pro tip: Hiking takes your body by surprise, so treat it kind. We took the time to do yoga on the beach and to tend to our aches and injuries (which involved extracting a scorpion stinger from a heel), and our bodies were greatly indebted.

5. There is so much to be grateful for

By the last uphill stretch on the final day, my hips had seized up, my right knee was sending a lightning rod up my leg with each step, and my shoulders were stiff and strained. But whenever the bad was in danger of outweighing the good, it helped to look around and get some perspective; what a wild privilege it is to be able-bodied, to rely on myself, to be safe, to walk freely into nature, to climb coastal mountains, my health intact and my heart fiercely rapping against my chest. I was thankful for every moment. Yes, even the final one that involved kicking off my boots and putting down my pack.
Find out more about the Wilson's Promontory Eastern Circuit on the Parks Victoria website.