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Islands of Wilsons Promontory




From its rugged mountains to gold and white beaches, tall rainforest to ever moving sand dunes, coffee coloured creeks and friendly wildlife there is little that Wilsons Promontory National Park does not offer. A significant part of its charm is its islands. A few of them are visible from the main road leading to Tidal River. They are Shellback Island, Norman Island and Glennie Group of Islands comprising Great Glennie, Dannevig, Citadel and McHugh Islands. Others can be seen from various vantage points along the walking tracks of the park. The latter four can be seen clearly from Norman Beach near Tidal River. Though they look close enough to swim out to, they are in fact some 8 km out to sea. The best vews of Cleft, Kanowna, Anser and Wattle Islands in the south are from the summit of Mt Oberon.

The mountainous spine of Wilsons Promontory is believed to have once been part of the high land that formed an isthmus extending in a south easterly direction, past South East Point, across what is now Bass Strait, through the Hogan, Curtis and Kent Groups of Islands, to Flinders Island, and Tasmania's north east. The islands which now dot the Promonotory were once part of this 'bridge'. The high mountainous ridge can be traced back to sometime in the Devonian Period, 395-350 million years ago, when molten rock pushed its way up into overlying rock deposits, where it cooled and solidified into granite. Over millions of years the overlying rocks were eroded exposing the granite mass. This in itself was eroded, although as happens with granite, it eroded unevenly. What was left is a spine of rugged granite peaks and islands of various shapes and sizes.

Since the end of the Tertiary Period, two million years ago, the sea has fallen and risen at least four times as World climates changed during the Ice Ages. The last major land connection was only some 12000 years ago. Some consider that Wilsons Promontory was an island about 4000 years ago, until the sand built up in the south west to form the Yanakie isthmus, thus joining 'The Prom" to the rest of Victoria. However, if this was the case, than the Aboriginal archaeological finds at Darby Bay, dating back 7500 years, make for considerable speculation.

All the islands close to 'The Prom'; Doughboy, Granite, Bennison, Rabbit, Rabbit Rock, Wattle, Norman, Shellback and the Anser and Glennie Groups are included in the Wilsons Promontory National Park. However, Rodondo Island and those islands further away fall within the State of Tasmania, as the Victorian State boundary extends only seven kilometres south of the tip of the Prom. Some of these incredible islands were considered as a site for a lighthouse back in 1850's.

Skull Rock, Vic



Skull Rock, also known as Cleft Island, gains its name from a huge cave on one side giving the impression of a human skull. The Rock is fascinating not only because of its appearance but also because it was proposed in 1853 as one of the sites for a lighthouse (another was Rodondo). Eventually common sense won and the lighthouse was built on the mainland at the less forbidding South East Point in 1859. A painting of the rock dating from the late 19th century, has a caption which declares that the west-facing cave has yet to be explored by man. Even today, few people have entered the island as there is no safe anchorage for vessels.



The Kanowna, once a hospital ship for wounded soldiers from Gallipoli, sank off Wilsons Promontory after striking Skull Rock in 1929. The wreck was found by a team of divers on Anzac weekend 2006. The 7105-tonne ship's location was unknown because she had drifted for hours before finally sinking, stern-first, on the morning of 18th February, 1929. The night before, the Kanowna had been steaming from Sydney to Melbourne when she hit Skull Rock at 8.39pm. Her recent discovery has brought to the surface speculation that this was no accident. It was supposedly a foggy night when the Kanowna suffered "a glancing blow". In a later court of inquiry, blame came to rest on the ship's master, who was told he should have slowed down. Survivors remember an almighty crash and the ship shuddering from end to end, then lurching. By 10pm the 141 passengers had abandoned ship, to be picked up by the nearby SS Mackarra. More than £200,000 of cargo, including three cars, settled with the ship on the bottom of Bass Strait. Divers found that the wreck was intact, an entire ship with all of its passenger belongings, cargo and fittings, a time capsule from 1929.

Boundary Islet

An islet about 60,000 square metres in size in the Hogan Group of islands and islets at latitude 39°12' S, south of the Wilson's Promontory. It straddles the border of the Australian states of Victoria and Tasmania. The boundary between the two states is a parallel similarly at latitude 39°12'; it is thus Tasmania's only land boundary, and at 85 metres long it is the shortest land border between any Australian states. Boundary Islet is also about 56 kilometres east of the southernmost point of mainland Victoria. The position of the island was surveyed in 1801 by Captain James Black, who erred in placing the islet further north than it is. It was later found that the border at 39°12' S actually passed through the islet.

Kanowna Island

Kanowna Island with Skull Rock behind it

Located off the southern tip of Wilson's Promontory, the island is one of the four breeding colonies of Australian fur seal. It is part of the Wilsons Promontory Islands Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for breeding seabirds. The island is named after the SS Kanowna, once a hospital ship for wounded soldiers from Gallipoli, sank off Wilsons Promontory after striking nearby Skull Rock in 1929.

Glennie Islands Group


Glennie Islands is a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary and in the mainly summer months short tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) and little penguins (Eudyptula minor) nest there in their many thousands. Great Glennie Island is covered in tussock grass and granite boulders with slabs on the seaward margins. Only occasionally are there patches of the dense teatree thickets for which the Prom is notorious. The nesting birds have fertilised the islands giving good soils which allow the tussock to flourish, which is again in contrast to the Prom. There is generally no surface water, though water does trickle down granite slabs into the sea from the southern end of the island after rain. The Glennie Group was named by British explorer William Grant in December 1800 in honour of George Glennie, friend of Capt. John Schank, after whom nearby Cape Schank was named.

Glennie Island is a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary and in the mainly summer months short tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris) and little penguins (Eudyptula minor) nest there in their many thousands. Consequently the Victorian National Parks service arent too keen on having people visiting at any time, but especially around nesting time.

Anser Islands Group
While many people now enjoy viewing seals in Victoria, it is only recently that their numbers have begun to recover from the decimation caused by sealing in the nineteenth century. There are four breeding colonies in Victoria. Two of these, Kanowna Island and Anser Island, are within Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park, along with the habitat and food sources of many other species of marine wildlife. Kanowna's colony is the world's third largest seal colony. The island is uninhabited.

The remains of an unidentified shipwreck are located on a steep slope from 3 to 35 metres on the south-west side of Anser Island. It appears the ship may have been a collier, and her timbers are indicative of shipbuilding in North America. The site is well scattered, with wreckage in the deep sloping gulliess of the island. Four anchors near the surface indicate she ran 'head-on' to the island. The Anser Islands were probably named after the Cape Barren Geese (Family Anserinae) that frequent this island by Lieutenant H. J. Stanley, who surveyed the islands west and south of Wilsons Promontory in 1868.

Citadel Island
Citadel Island is a small, rugged, granite island in the Glennie group of islands off the west coast of Wilsons Promontory; it has no public access. The only feature indicating habitation on the island is its lighthouse. When the original lighthouse was built in 1913 it was always meant to be automatic. There are still visible remains of a flying fox in the bushes on the island, a remant from the time when the building materials had to be hauled up to the top when the lighthouse was being built. The device may also have been used to get supplies up to the lonely keeper when he was stationed there for the first six months of the light's existence.

The original lighthouse has been restored by a group of enthusiasts from the Port Albert Maritime Museum. It was the first automatic acetylene light installed by the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. In 1982, it was removed and replaced by a GRP cabinet while the light was converted to solar power. The old lighthouse was stored at Port Albert, its fate uncertain, for a number of years until its restoration.

Wattle Island
The island was named by Lieut. John Murray on 21st March 1801 during his survey of the Port Phillip and Western Port area. Its name is desrcriptive of the vegetation found there. The island is located to the south-west of South Point.

Shellback Island


Shellback Island, an oceanic island, is approximately 4 kilometres northwest of Darby Bay, off Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Australia. It is proclaimed as a Remote and Natural Area under the National Parks Act. The island is part of the Wilsons Promontory Islands Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for breeding seabirds. The island is part of Wilsons Promontory National Park and the surrounding waters from the mean low water mark to 300 m offshore are part of Wilsons Promontory Marine Park.

Norman Island


Norman Island, an oceanic island, is located approximately 4 kilometres west of Picnic Point, Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Australia. It is proclaimed as a Remote and Natural Area under the National Parks Act. The island is part of the Wilsons Promontory Islands Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for breeding seabirds.

Bennison Island
An uninhabited granite island near the northern coast of Wilsons Promontory National Park.

Rodondo Island



A prominent pyramid lying well off the coast of Wilsons Promonotory, Rodondo Island is curiously part of Tasmania although it lies off the Victorian coast. Like the other granite islands off the Promonotry, Rodondo Island is covered with countless granite boulders that rise steeply from the waves. They are all sparsely vegetated, some have stunted trees but most of them lack even these, only salt resistant grasses struggling to survive in the harsh conditions.

Rodondo is ringed by steep cliffs up to 200 m high, has an area of 106 ha and a high point of 350 m. The island was named by British explorer William Grant in December 1800 for its resemblance Redonda Rock in the West Indies, which lies between the islands of Montserrat and Nevis. The first recorded landing was in January 1947 when a party led by John Bechervaise spent a week exploring the island and surveying its natural history.

Part of Tasmania s Rodondo Group, it lies in northern Bass Strait only 10 km south of Wilsons Promontory, and is the northernmost point of Tasmanian territory. The island is a nature reserve with a breeding colony of over one million mutton birds or short-tailed shearwaters. As well as the shearwaters, recorded breeding seabird and wader species include little penguin, fairy prion, Pacific gull and sooty oystercatcher. White-bellied sea-eagles have nested on the island. The island is part of the Wilsons Promontory Islands Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for breeding seabirds. Reptiles present include the metallic skink, White's skink and southern water skink, Rodondo being the only place the latter has been recorded on Tasmanian territory.

Gabo Island



Gabo Island is an untamed piece of pink granite, with a wild windswept coast and cliff top dunes. It is only 14 km from Mallacoota in Victoria's far east, but feels like it's a world away from the mainland. In spite of its relatively small size and plain appearance, there is plenty to see including historic buildings, the pink granite, beautiful beaches, the second tallest lighthouse in Australia and penguins. With 18,000 pairs of penguins and 20,000 pairs of white-faced storm petrels, Gabo Island is one of the world's largest known breeding colonies in the southern hemisphere for both birds.

Shipwrecks prompted the construction of Gabo Island Lightstation, which was completed in 1862. One of the worst wrecks was Monumental City, on nearby Tullaberga Island, with the loss of 30 lives in 1853. A memorial to those lost still exists on Gabo Island. This historic lighthouse, Australia's second tallest, was completed in 1862 and made from pink granite quarried from the island itself. The focal plane of the light is situated at 55 metres above sea level, the characteristic is a group of three flashes that occurs every twenty seconds. A keeper's house is occupied by a caretaker; another building may be rented for overnight stays.

Access to Gabo Island is by chartered aircraft and is dependent on the weather. Accommodation is available in the assistant lighthouse keeper's quarters, which sleeps up to eight people. The sunsets are beautiful and, if you're lucky, you might even see a whale breech. The only accommodation on Gabo Island is in the Assistant Lightkeeper's residence.






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