A spectacular bird’s-eye view of Lakes Entrance
Whether your preferred outdoors past-time is cycling, fishing, hiking,bushwalking or boating, Victoria’s East Gippsland region is bursting to show you a good time.
Stretching from just past Stratford in the east to the NSW border at its western end, from the high country to the coast, East Gippsland is just a three-hour drive from Melbourne, but it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Boasting the famed Gippsland Lakes, Australia’s largest network of inland waterways along the coast, to undulating rail trails right up to the chilly alpine regions, East Gippsland is a natural wonder.
Orbost local Liz Mitchell, a former veterinarian who now owns local cycling tour and hire company Snowy River Cycling, says the region is blessed with natural attractions, which is why she and her family moved here 20 years ago.
“East Gippsland is really special because its natural environment is one of the very few places, if not the only place, in Australia where you can go from the wild uninhabited coastline up the Snowy River right up to the alpine areas and travel all that way through a reasonably untouched landscape,” she says.
“Most of the environment here is quite wild and that is very unique.”
Here are just some great ways to see all that this nature-rich region has to offer.
Cycling is predominantly off-road in picturesque settings
GET ON YOUR BIKE
There are numerous historic rail trails to follow in East Gippsland, where bike tracks meander along the curves of abandoned railway lines once used in the area’s timber industry. The most famous is the East Gippsland Rail Trail stretching nearly 100km east to west between Bairnsdale and Orbost.
Mitchell, who runs regular guided tours, rents out bikes and offers self-guided options for those with their own wheels, says the rail trails are very popular with interstate visitors because they are gentle, easy riding for cyclists of all ages and fitness levels.
“The trails are attractive because they are off-road, they are safe, they are pretty, they have towns alongside them and no really big hills,” she says.
They pass through several small towns such as Bruthen with its quirky antique shops and Nowa Nowa on the banks of Lake Tyers waterway that you could easily miss if you were whizzing past on the highway.
“It’s one of the things that makes rail trails such an important asset — they are creating reason for people to visit small country towns and to stay there,” Mitchell says. “If you were in a car, you would probably just drive through. But Nowa Nowa is such a cute little town on the back end of Lake Tyers.”
Many RVers base themselves at different towns along the rail trail and explore it one way one day, and the other the next. About 6-7km west of Nowa Nowa is the magnificent old timber Stony Creek Trestle Bridge and the same distance east is O’Grady’s Trestle Bridge at Wairewa — both will make for a perfect ‘Kodak moment’ (or selfie, whatever your bag).
Nowa Nowa has another claim to fame: it is home to the 149th entry on the list of Australia’s Biggest Things: The Big Tree Root! It’s the root system of a Messmate – Eucaluptus obliuqa — and is part of the J.E (Jack) Ramsdell collection of exotic Australian timbers and polished gemstones on display at Mingling Waters Caravan Park. Ramsdell ran the Nowa Nowa sawmill from the early 1950s as well as his gallery.
Opportunities to explore East Gippsland’s waterways are endless
EXPLORE BY KAYAK
The opportunities to explore East Gippsland’s waterways are seemingly endless. One of the more popular spots is the Entrance itself. The front ‘lake’ is Cunningham Arm dominated by recreational vessels and commercial fishing boats bringing in regular hauls. The waterway spins northward to form what is known as North Arm, a picturesque stretch that takes in waterfront properties but gradually becomes farmland and forest.
Sarah Carlisle is the owner of Venture Out Australia, a kayak, stand-up paddle board and cycling tour operator and hire outlet on The Esplanade in Lakes Entrance. She says the area is suitable for people of all ages to kayak, from absolute beginners to experienced paddlers, and offers a diversity of experiences.
“I usually send people down to have a look at the Entrance and pull in at Flagstaff Jetty and pull the kayak on the beach and see if they can spot seals or dolphins,” she says. “We have our own species of dolphin in the lake and that’s a massive highlight. Winter is the best time to see them. We have had dolphins come up and swim next to us on our sunset tours and it is just magical.”
Lake Tyers, a 10-minute drive away, is also a top spot to explore by kayak for those who rent one for the day or bring their own. Carlisle recommends setting off on the top end of the lake system from Nowa Nowa and following its twists and turns as it heads towards the coast. She says the area is a magic place to be as one with nature.
“It is really quiet, very still,” she says. “You feel like you are gliding along really sheltered sections of the lake. There are eagles, kingfishers — you can feel as though you are quite alone with nature. It is pretty special.”
Lake Tyers is a popular place for anglers to land a flathead, crab, a few prawns and bream.
South-east of here, the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park is where seven rivers connect and is very popular with boaties and kayakers too. Of course, there are plenty of great places for a dip here too, and East Gippsland’s swimming beaches in the park and along Ninety Mile Beach are great for cooling off in warm weather.
CRUISE WITH THE WILDLIFE
Several boating day trip operators are based in Lakes Entrance and offer nature-based cruises for travellers.
The Lakes have their own colonies of seals, and during winter the rare species of Burrunan Dolphin come up from Tasmania to mate. Other wildlife you may see include migratory whales in the winter, but year-round you can spot dolphins, sea eagles and kangaroos on land as you pass along the banks.
Trips to nearby Metung, Reeves Channel, Bancroft Bay, Metung, Lake King, the housing canals of Paynesville and Lake Victoria are very popular, and because they are cruising inland waters and not the open ocean, are much ‘cruisier’ — good news for anyone who experiences seasickness.
Peels Cruises and Lonsdale Eco Cruises are two companies which offer these tours, and both are based in Lakes Entrance.
SNOWY RIVER COUNTRY
Mitchell is based in Orbost and says it is a pretty little town that acts as a “gateway” to the rail trail, but also the mighty Snowy River. She recommends taking a stroll or bike ride out of town to see the old Snowy River Rail Bridge, and further on to the Grand View Lookout via the old coach road.
The small coastal town of Marlo, located at the point where the Snowy River feeds into the sea, is just 10 minutes’ drive away. Here you can meander along the Snowy River Coastal Walk and the French Narrows Coastal Walk to admire the river’s series of estuaries.
Not far from here is Cape Conran, which marks the end of Ninety Mile Beach in dramatic fashion.
“Around Lakes Entrance it is continuous, unbroken beach whereas at Cape Conran it is the end and the Cape headland breaks up the landscape and provides weather protection,” says Mitchell.
“You might spot migrating whales at the right time of year.”
The Cape is also rich in its Indigenous history, especially along the Bataluk Cultural Trail where you can be guided to middens (ancient meeting places) some of which date back 10,000 years.
Wyanga Park Winery does a fabulous lunch
TOP SPOTS TO ‘REFUEL’
All this activity is guaranteed to take it out of you, so some refreshments along the way, whether you’re on your bike, kayak or taking a leisurely drive, are imperative.
The Waterwheel Beach Tavern in Lake Tyers offers a lakeside locale with a fabulous deck overlooking the water. Favoured among locals and visitors alike, here you can grab a refreshing ale, old-school pub lunch or dinner. Come on the right night and you could take part in trivia or enjoy a live band.
If you’re kayaking up North Arm, make a beeline for Wyanga Park Winery which does a fabulous lunch (Venture Out offers paddle and dining packages). Also in the Lakes Entrance vicinity is Tambo Wines, Nicholson River Winery and Lightfoot & Sons cellar door. Surely you’ll be hankering after some prawns while in this coastal patch — Off the Wharf offers fresh seafood on the pier at Bullock Island.
Tags: Gippsland VIC Victoria Orborst Melbourne Beach Trail Bairnsdale Mitchell Snowy River Nowa Nowa
Written: Fri 01 Nov 2019
Printed: November, 2019
WHERE TO STAY:
There are several caravan parks in Lakes Entrance and surrounds, and also in smaller towns along the East Gippsland Rail Trail.
Nowa Nowa has two fuss-free and quirky caravan parks. Mingling Waters Caravan Park and Cafe offers a lakeside locale, on-site cafe and gallery and powered and unpowered sites.
Nowa Nowa Caravan Park is next to picturesque Boggy Creek Gorge and has several vintage caravans on-site that are well worth a look. Powered and unpowered sites are $30pn.
The Greg Ridsdale Memorial Caravan & Camping Park in Bruthen is another simple, quiet park located on the Tambo River.
There are two RV Friendly Destinations in the area. The Tostaree Cottages and Tavern is only 500m off the Princes Highway just 20 minutes from Lakes Entrance. There’s bushwalking tracks, a tavern for happy hour and it’s right on the East Gippsland Rail Trail. Unpowered sites $10pn and $20pn for powered.
The second is an RVFD, Orbost Club Hotel in Orbost which offers parking for self-contained up to 72 hours free of charge.
There is so much to see and do in East Gippsland, that the locals say you shouldn’t underestimate its attractions.
“There are quite a lot of undiscovered things that you can explore in a real back-to-nature way — you don’t have to be driving everywhere,” says Carlisle. “Every time people come here they say they only have one or two days and they realised there is so much to do here, so stay longer than you plan to.”
Stretching from just past Stratford in the east to the NSW border at its western end, from the high country to the coast, the border of East Gippsland is just a three-hour drive from Melbourne. The M1 and A1 highways via Warragul, Traralgon and Stratford are the most expedient option, but once you reach Bairnsdale, take a turn off the main roads and explore the smaller townships of Bruthen, Nowa Nowa before heading to Lakes Entrance and then to Orbost.
Tourism info: visitgippsland.com.au
Snowy River Cycling: www.snowyrivercycling.com.au
Venture Out Australia: https://ventureout.com.au/
Waterwheel Tavern: https://thewaterwheel.com.au/
Peels Cruises: www.peelscruises.com.au
Lonsdale Eco Cruises: www.lonsdalecruises.com.au/
Orbost Club Hotel: www.orbostclubhotel.com.au/
Tostaree Cottages and Tavern: (03) 5155 7254