It was bitterly cold, fiercely windy and spitting rain as we sat perched in careful formation high atop the dam wall at Eildon weir.
A convoy of 13 caravans – large, small and everything in between, hitched to just about every conceivable type of tow vehicle – and their occupants waited patiently (in most cases) for the squawk of the CB, the rumble of the engine in front, or the roar of a helicopter overhead which would signal our convoy forwards. We were waiting for a break in the weather, which no one had promised would come, to roll our cavalcade over the dam wall under the watchful eyes and lenses of the photographers in the helicopter above.
Suddenly, the clouds parted slightly and the sun beamed through a piece of blue sky no one expected. “Standby, the helicopter is in the air,” we heard. Then came the words we’d been waiting for. “The sun is out. Go, go, go.”
On we rolled, one after another – from a $30,000 pop-top to a $100,000-plus offroad mega-van – as the stealthy black helicopter ducked and swooped like a bird stalking its prey.
From their vantage point high overhead, CW photographer Ellen Dewar and Best Aussie Vans director and videographer Paul Burfitt had a birds-eye view of Lake Eildon, the mighty Goulburn River, the sheer dam wall, and the rolling green hills of the country around it.
For three days day before, we’d enjoyed beautifully clear, sunny days beneath a cloudless sky – the contrast was a typical welcome to Victoria for those out-of-towners among our ranks.
The Best Aussie Vans crew gathered in Eildon numbered into the 20s, including the CW editorial team, judges, photographers, videographers, manufacturers, their representatives, families, the chef, Discover Downunder’s Tim Smith and Brooke Hanson – and our team mascot, BJ the border collie.
BLUEGUMS RIVERSIDE HOLIDAY PARK
We’d spread ourselves along the rear section of the Bluegums Riverside Holiday Park on Back Eildon Road, right on the river. Many were lucky enough to park their van or pitch their tent so close to the Goulburn that they could hear the burbling brook at night and, from their annexe, watch the platypuses play in the mornings.
The park’s direct access to the Goulburn is its standout feature – you could literally cast a line from your van window if the mood struck you. And the proximity is equally good for early morning strolls along the river, kayaking, and swimming. The section of river between the Eildon pondage to the caravan park is one of the most popular river sections in Victoria for canoe and kayak paddlers wanting to tackle rapids.
With its luscious green grass and plentiful tall gum trees spread over 20 acres, Bluegums was the perfect location for the many photos shoots that took place that week. Until, that is, the weather turned on Thursday (otherwise known as Helicopter Day) and several trees came crashing down, with several near misses involving cars, a camper trailer, and even a person!
ABOUT LAKE EILDON
It might be 76km by road (or much closer, as the crow flies) but Eildon is not a million miles away from Bonnie Doon and the infamous ‘serenity’ found by Darryl Kerrigan and his family in the iconic Australian movie The Castle.
The view, in fact, is very similar, with beautiful Lake Eildon providing the spectacular background to both. It is the largest man-made inland lake in Victoria, with more than 500km of coastline. The brilliant blue lake, now gloriously full of water – actually, it’s 95 per cent full – is bordered on all sides by lush green farmland, rolling hills, and paddock of cows and sheep. This really is country Victoria at its best.
Lake Eildon is the lifeblood of this region, providing irrigation for farms, and water supplies for nearby towns. At capacity, the lake can hold six times as much water as Sydney Harbour. But things didn’t always look this good for Eildon.
Shortly after the turn of the last century (which wasn’t as long ago as it sounds), drought rendered Lake Eildon impotent and the great waterway more closely resembled a Martian landscape than a life-giving water source at just eight per cent of capacity. After a brief recovery, it dropped to five per cent in 2007.
But a few years of above-average rainfall saw the dam given a new lease on life. The lake is now the major tourist attraction in the area, drawing visitors keen to explore its borders and its depths on craft from houseboats and speed boats to kayaks, canoes and waterskis.
FISHING AT LAKE EILDON
The lake, along with the pondage, the Goulburn River, and its tributaries and streams, also lends itself to Eildon’s other main attraction: fishing. With so much water around, it’s the absolute perfect place to cast or flick a line and catch yourself some dinner.
While I didn’t get have the opportunity to fish this time around, some of the BAV crew did and I hear the results were impressive – and delicious! The team dropped their lines at Eildon Trout Farm in nearby Thornton (7km south-west of Eildon).
On a previous trip to the district, staying in nearby Alexandra (24km west of Eildon), I wet a line at the (allegedly) trout-stocked lake where we stayed. I say allegedly because, despite our best efforts over a couple of hours – and a tub of corn, which I’m assured is a trout’s dinner of choice – luck was not on our side and we left empty-handed.
For that reason, somewhere like Eildon Trout Farm, which caters for beginners and the experienced, is ideal. They have five ponds, each with different challenges and different-sized fish in each pond. And once you’ve caught your fill, you can have it cleaned while you head to the produce shop to stock up on some other local delicacies, including a drop of local wine!
But if you forget to fill your Esky before you leave town, stop in at the Buxton Trout Farm (36km south of Eildon) on the way to Melbourne and get it there. And because you won’t be able to cook it on the run, you’ll need to drop by the Igloo Road House – home of the famous Buxton Burger – for lunch or dinner.
This unassuming little roadhouse has created something of a legend with its 20cm-tall Cathedral Burger, comprising three layers of meat, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, cheese, bacon, onion, egg, and pineapple. For the less ambitious, there’s also the 12cm-high Buxton Burger and the smaller Burger with the Lot.
TRAVELLING TO LAKE EILDON
Coming from Melbourne, there are a couple of ways to get to Eildon, but the most direct will see you crossing the Black Spur (Maroondah Highway) created by the Great Dividing Range between Healesville and Narbethong. The hairpin bends, twists and turns may seem a daunting prospect for those towing a van, especially at night, with wombats and other nocturnal critters to contend with, but its eminently doable by daylight, as more than a dozen Best Aussie Vanners proved.
Eildon is 140km and about two hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne, via Healsville and Buxton (and the Black Spur) on the Maroondah Highway. An alternative route along the Melba Highway via Yea and Alexandra is about 170km.
WHAT TO DO IN EILDON
Fishing: Visit a local trout farm or, if you’d rather go it alone, drop a line into a river or stream, including the well-stocked pondage.
Lake Eildon National Park: The park has some great walking tracks and lakeside camping areas with
4WDing: The tracks around the lake and pondage is ideal for 4WD enthusiasts who want to get their vehicles dirty.
Watersports: With this much water at your disposal, you’d be mad not to hit the water. Hire a houseboat, strap on your waterskis, drag out the kayak, or jump in a canoe and see what all the fuss is about.
INFORMATION ABOUT LAKE EILDON
Eildon Tourist Visitor Information Centre: Opposite the Eildon Shopping Village in Main Street,
(03) 5774 2909.
Eildon Trout Farm: 460 Back Eildon Road, Thornton, (03) 5773 2377, www.eildontroutfarm.com.au
Buxton Trout Farm: 2118 Maroondah Highway, Buxton, (03) 5774 7370, www.buxtontrout.com.au
Igloo Road House: 2220 Maroondah Highway, Buxton, (03) 5774 7451
Originally published in Caravan World #520, November/December 2013