If you love expanses of water, great local food and wine topped off with 90 miles of golden sand, the Gippsland Lakes region is the destination for you.
By Glenn Marshall
This adventure starts in Sale, gateway to Australia’s largest inland waterways, the Gippsland Lakes. Home to thriving bird and marine life such as lake dolphins and seals, the lakes also support a large portion of Victoria’s fishing fleet.
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To experience firsthand the Aboriginal Culture of the area, take a detour to the nearby Mitchell River National Park and walk the trail to the Den of Nargun. As foreboding as the name may sound, this magical place is a sacred site of cultural significance to the women of the Gunaikurnai people.
A beautiful waterfall awaits at the end of the trail, making the perfect place to sit peacefully, listening to the sounds of the bush. Be aware though, legend tells of Nargun as a fierce half-human, half-stone creature that drags unsuspecting travellers into its den.
If you are looking for a good spot for a hot cuppa, follow the signs on the Bairnsdale-Dargo Road to the hamlet of Lindenow. Central to the productive East Gippsland food bowl in the valley, the Long Paddock is ideal for a spot of lunch made from fresh, locally-sourced produce; can’t get much better than that.
Paynesville is a delightful village situated on the shores of Lake Victoria and a top destination to set up shop for a couple of days. The Resthaven Caravan Park is nice and clean with soft green grass, a generous camp kitchen, a barbecue area next to the swimming pool, playground and jumping pillow. It’s an easy walk into town from here, too.
Catch the ferry across to Raymond Island: free for pedestrians and cyclists, $12 return for vehicles. Walk the well-marked Koala Trail and keep your eyes peeled for the furry marsupials as they sleep or feed in the manna gums. You may also see eastern grey kangaroos, wombats and echidnas as you follow the 1.2km trail.
Once back on the mainland, head to nearby Eagle Point and explore the remarkable Mitchell River silt jetties, one of the longest naturally formed silt banks in the world. If you are looking for that better birds-eye view, make your way to the bluff lookout at Eagle Point for a simply divine view.
Catch a cruise, fish for bream or mullet or scan the water for dolphins at play before watching the sun set on another day at one of the restaurants or cafes along the Esplanade.
Lakes Entrance is the next destination to set up camp and enjoy a few days exploring the region. Home to Victoria’s largest fishing fleet it’s also the seafood capital of Victoria. Big4 Waters Edge Holiday Park is where I stayed, with nicely grassed powered sites, a large campers’ kitchen, clean amenities, pool and the kids will love the jumping pillow.
On your way to Lakes Entrance follow the signs from Nicholson to the Nicholson River Winery and enjoy a picnic overlooking the Nicholson River after tasting a range of award-winning wines. Ken and Juliet looked after me and I left happy with a bottle of cracking Sangiovese.
There are three main lakes; Lake Wellington, Lake Victoria and Lake King as well as marshes and lagoons covering more than 600km². Fed by seven rivers; Thompson, Mitchell, Tambo, Nicholson, Avon, Latrobe and Macalister, the lakes are separated from Bass Strait by the Ninety Mile Beach coastal dunes. The only access point to the ocean from the lakes is at Lakes Entrance. (Odd, that – Ed.)
Food, beer & wine
The drive to Bruthen via Swan Reach is a nice day trip from Lakes Entrance. On your way up the hill at Kalimna, be sure to pull over at the lookouts to check out the spectacular views across to the entrance and the Gippsland Lakes.
From Swan Reach, drive 5km along the Swan Reach Road before taking the turn-off on your left to Tambo Winery. This single vineyard winery produces some classic cool climate wines and Pam was the perfect host, explaining the complexities of each wine during the tasting. It costs $5 for tasting, but that was refunded when I walked out with some wooded Chardonnay and divine Pinot Noir.
At Bruthen, experience “beer with bite” at the Bullant Brewery. Relax on the deck while enjoying locally-sourced food matched perfectly with the boutique beers. Situated on the Great Alpine Road, Bruthen is a popular rest stop for RVers. From here, you can return to Lakes Entrance following the Tambo River to Swan Reach on the scenic Tambo Upper Road; a mix of bitumen and gravel makes for a nice return to base route.
Buchan is an easy 45-minute drive and is home to Victoria’s underground wonderland, Buchan Caves. Royal Cave and Fairy Cave can be explored on daily tours and if you choose to visit both caves as I did, the fee is reduced.
Part-time ranger Andrew was our tour leader as we followed tight passages and stooped very low in places before entering vast caverns. The masses of calcite formations are spectacular; from stalactites and stalagmites to helictites, bacon rind, soda straws and calcite-rimmed water pools.
On the return drive, keep an eye out for the sign to the historic Stony Creek trestle bridge. Erected in 1916, using red ironbark and grey box for construction, the bridge was in use up until 1988. In 1964, 11 rail trucks derailed on the bridge, four trucks have also toppled from the bridge. The bridge has since been closed off, however, there are two viewing areas that can be used, one at the base and one close to bridge height further up.
If you are looking to meet the locals over a beverage and hearty meal, the Waterwheel Tavern at Lake Tyers Beach is the place to be. The annual Groundswell Music Festival is hosted here and the view of the lake and ocean is simply breathtaking.
On the second Saturday of the month, you will discover the Metung Farmers’ Market on the Village Green at Metung Village. A showcase of all good things local, you will find fresh produce including organic fruit and vegetables, Gel’s Honey, Chocodence truffles and fudges, artisan sourdoughs from Dench Bakers and Forge Creek Lamb.
There are also local furniture makers, Uneek Soaps and the Rotary Club cooking up the snags. I feasted on fresh pork dumplings with a homemade ginger, coriander and soy dressing topped with fresh coriander and chilli from Uncle Wun’s Dim Sim & Dumpling Company; they certainly warmed me up.
Cruising the lakes
A cruise on the lakes is something you don’t want to miss and with a number of companies offering different options, I joined Tony and Mel on the Scenic Eco Cruise aboard the Lonsdale. This informative three-hour tour took us up into the entrance channel to view the seals feeding and playing on the rocks.
We then headed out along the shores of Lake King, past a number of islands to turn around upon reaching Metung. Here we were spoiled with homemade scones smothered with strawberry jam and cream before returning to Lakes Entrance.
Spy a sea eagle catching fish, a wedge-tailed eagle surfing the thermal currents, goats and eastern grey kangaroos roaming on Flannagans Island as well as swans, great egrets, cormorants, silver terns and pelicans. With luck you may even spot a pod of rare Burrunan dolphins. We saw all this and more on our cruise.
As I hitched-up my camper-trailer, I realised that I’d only scraped the tip of the iceberg during my week exploring Gippsland Lakes. There’s still mountain biking in Colquhoun Forest, kayaking, surfing, fishing, a tiger moth flight over the lakes, cycling the Gippsland Lake Discovery Track & Rail Trail or a round of golf. I will just have to come back and enjoy this region all over again.
REGION: East Gippsland
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: Any time is a good time
ACCOMMODATION: There are numerous caravan parks in Lakes Entrance with Big4 Waters Edge Holiday Park the largest and best for kids.