Cleft Island, also known as Skull Rock, is a small, rugged, granite island in the Anser group of islands to the south-west of Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia.
It looks like something from a movie script; a large, stone, skull shaped rock rising halfway up from a deeply blue sea off an isolated stretch of coast. This isn’t some villain’s lair, however, but a famous rock off Wilson’s Promontory on Victoria’s southern coast. This rugged peninsula is the southernmost point on the entire Australian mainland, and when surfing, hiking, or camping on “the Prom,” Cleft Island silently looms like a haunting skull offshore.
To add to the rock’s mysterious allure, it’s believed that only a handful of people have set foot on the island or explored the cave. Those who have, reportedly discovered cannon balls inside the cave. The cliffs on all sides are dozens of feet high, and an enormous cave the size of a building consumes the center of the rock.
There are actually two large caves on the western side. The roof of the smaller cave is some 25 meters (82 ft) above the sea and forms the floor of the upper larger cave, and is covered with soil and vegetation on its surface. Ancient waves created the upper cave which is 130m (426ft) wide and 60m (197 ft) tall.
As foreboding as it appears on the surface, however, Skull Rock is a diver’s paradise on the granite walls below. There you can find colorful sponge gardens, groupers, and seadragons thriving in it’s chilly depths. Unless you’re a dedicated diver, however, the chances are that Cleft Island will be something you view from afar. Birds, particularly the Black-faced Cormorant, have taken advantage of Skull Rock’s isolation and inaccessibility to humans and promptly made the island their home.
As part of the Anser and Glennie Island groups, Cleft Island is in the middle of Wilson’s Promontory Marine National Park—where colorful sponge gardens, groupers, and seadragons all thrive in the chilly depths. Unless you’re a dedicated diver, however, chances are that Cleft Island will be something you view from afar—whether it’s lounging on sandy Norman Beach and playing in the crashing surf, or enjoying the backcountry bushwalking trails of Victoria’s southern coast.
Skull Rock is located 4.4km (3 miles) offshore of Tidal River The area is approximately 2.5 hours from Melbourne and 1.5 hours from Phillip’s Island, and has limited options for food and accommodations outside of camping in the park.
The island is within Wilsons Promontory National Park. The surrounding waters to the mean high-water mark are within Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park. It is part of the Wilsons Promontory Islands Important Bird Area, identified as such by BirdLife International because of its importance for breeding seabirds.
Skull Rock (Cleft island) features in 'Coast Australia'
In 2015 archaeologist, historian, journalist, author and Coast Australia presenter Neil Oliver visited Skull Rock. This untouched island showcased in the first episode that few Australians would ever have heard of — captured Oliver’s heart. He unreservedly describes it as
‘the most special place I’ve ever seen’.
Officially called Cleft Island, but known locally as Skull Rock, it sits 4.4km (3 miles) off the coast of Victoria.
“It looks from certain angles like a skull, and a huge cavern takes up one whole side of it,” Oliver says.
“You can’t climb up — it’s 50 metres (164 ft) of sheer cliff. You can’t land on its shore.
“Twelve people have been on the moon. On Skull Island, including us, I think it’s less than that number — probably since the Ice Age.”
Oliver and two scientists helicoptered to the top of the island, abseiled down to the cavern. And it took his breath away.
“The cave is 130m (426ft) wide and 60 metres (197ft) deep, the roof is 60 metres (197ft) above — you could fit the Sydney Opera House inside it,” he enthuses.
“It must have been cut by the sea when the sea levels were much higher, thousands of years ago. That, and the possibility nobody has ever been in it was amazing.
“It was like being on the set of King Kong, you expected prehistoric beasts. It sort of felt like nobody had ever been there and your footprints were maybe the first footprints.”
Skull Rock right in the middle of Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park
Wilsons Promontory’s striking granite headlands, boulders and islands continue underwater, forming sheer walls, caves and pinnacles — a unique wilderness beneath the waves.
It is the largest marine national park in Victoria, covering almost 16,000 hectares (39,536.8 acres).
It is a rare global example of adjoining marine and land parks with protected landscapes from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the sea.
Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park protects a diverse range of habitats including rocky reefs, sandy sea floors, kelp forests, sponge gardens, seagrass meadows and open sea. Its variety of marine life is impressive, including a wide range of reef and pelagic fish, invertebrates and marine mammals. Rays and harmless sharks cruise above the sandy seabed and giant Maori Octopuses venture out at night. Molluscs such as limpets and snails, anemones, brittlestars and seastars are also common in the intertidal reefs.
Some of Victoria’s most magnificent underwater seascapes are found in numerous dive sites around the Prom. Smooth-walled granite cliffs, boulders and caves harbor colourful ‘gardens’ of huge sponges, fan-shaped Gorgonian corals, sealace colonies, sea-tulips and sea whips. Brilliantly coloured fish can be seen, including Red Velvetfish, Wrasse, Eastern Blue Groper, and schools of Berber, Magpie and Butterfly Perch.
There are over 45 shipwrecks in the waters surrounding Wilsons Promontory, hence it provides a lasting record of our maritime history.
A number of offshore islands support colonies of Australian Fur Seals, as well as sea birds such as White-bellied Sea Eagles, Little Penguins, ShortTailed Shearwaters, Fairy Prions and Pacific Gulls.
Access to the islands is prohibited except for beach areas of Great Glennie and Rabbit Islands.
Aboriginal Traditional Owners
Parks Victoria acknowledges the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Victoria - including its parks and reserves. Through their cultural traditions, the Boon Wurrung, Bunurong and Gunai - Kurnai identify the Wilsons Promontory Marine Park as their Traditional Country.