Take A Trip To The Odd Island Dubbed Skull Rock Due To Its Unsettling Appearance

For 90 years, characters in King Kong movies have been searching for the mythic Skull Island, where the "eighth wonder of the world" dwells. Maybe they've been looking in the wrong place. Peter Jackson got a little warmer, filming his "King Kong" remake down in New Zealand, but he was still off, geographically. The Disney animated classic "Peter Pan" had the island's name right, at least, when it introduced the villainous Captain Hook's lair, Skull Rock, which is now recreated full-scale in Europe's most visited amusement park, Disneyland Paris. Yet, France isn't the only country where world travelers can see something of a real-life counterpart to these fictional islands. 

An actual island with the nickname Skull Rock exists, and unlike Peter Pan, you don't have to fly off to Never Land to find it — unless you mean the Never Never, as in, the Australian outback. All you really need to do is head down to the southernmost part of Australia and take a boat tour. Off the coast of Victoria, in the Prom (officially Wilson's Promontory Marine National Park), sits Cleft Island, a floating rock formation that might indeed feel like the eighth wonder of the world as you cruise toward it. No giant gorillas or pirates with hook hands have been sighted in the vicinity (that we know of), but there is a cave that's over 425 feet wide and nearly 200 feet deep, and from certain vantage points in the water, it does resemble a misshapen, half-submerged skull.

Visit Cleft Island, Australia's real Skull Rock

It's only in recent years that boats on wheels have begun shoving off (really, driving off) the beach into the Bass Strait, bound for Australia's Skull Rock. In 2019, when the tours opened up, local sources (via news.com.au) claimed that Cleft Island had received fewer visitors than even the moon with its 12 astronauts. Only nine people had managed to climb its steep granite face and survive. Underwater shipwrecks have been discovered around the island, and it's an equally treacherous place to try and dock.

You can't touch down on Cleft Island, but you can get close enough to see the cormorants that nest inside the skull. Forming either the mouth or eye socket, depending on how you look at it, the cave is said to be large enough to fit the Sydney Opera House inside it. Vague skull resemblance aside, the island's real name paints a more accurate picture of how waves long ago cleaved this immense cavern. Cannonballs, too, have been found inside, evidence that ships once conducted target practice here. You can almost imagine King Kong rising from its shadowy recesses to fend them off.

To see Cleft Island, you can take a 2.5-hour cruise with Wanderer Adventures (formerly Pennicott Wilderness Journeys) or a full-day, 8-hour cruise with Wildlife Coast Cruises. The latter, which leaves from Port Welshpool, will take you around and show you more of Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park.

The adventure continues in Wilsons Promontory

Before you reach Cleft Island on the 2.5-hour cruise of the Prom, you'll depart from Tidal River and sail down the tip of the Australian mainland, passing the end of it at South Point, then encountering other islands populated with penguins. Kanowna Island shares the name of one of the historical ships that sunk after it hit Skull Rock; it's now home to a colony of fur seals. You'll see them lounging on the rocks, and they're not the only marine mammals to be viewed. Dolphins and humpback whales can sometimes be spotted in the waters of the Bass Strait.

With the 8-hour cruise, you'll be able to do your best imitation of them and swim in the clear blue waters of Refuge Cove. On the boat, you can also enjoy lunch, tea breaks, and alcohol, along with sights like the Wilsons Promontory lighthouse, perched over 325 feet atop a rugged cliff along the coastline.

Riding up on Cleft Island, beholding this gaping cavern that's relatively untouched by human feet, you can leave the mainland behind and rediscover the mysteries of the natural world, all while crossing another hidden-gem destination off your Australia bucket list. Wilsons Promontory is about a 2.5-hour drive from Melbourne, and cruising to the island from there gives the whole trip another added layer of adventure.