The relaxed and serene environment of Bairnsdale in East Gippsland, Vic, was Caravan World’s HQ during the Best Aussie Vans (BAV) event. Located near the junction of the Great Alpine Road and the Princes Highway, Bairnsdale provides easy access to the alpine villages of Omeo, Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham. And it’s also a gateway to the tranquil Gippsland Lakes; in fact, the Mitchell River flows through the centre of Bairnsdale before opening out into the lakes just to the south.
The Gippsland Lakes – Australia’s largest inland waterways – are an idyllic playground for boating, fishing and water sports enthusiasts, as well as wildlife devotees. The natural diversity of the area is simply gobsmacking, comprising networks of rivers, lakes, lagoons, marshes, ocean and forest.
The three primary lakes are Lake King, Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington, and all are linked and supported by seven rivers: Latrobe, Avon, Nicholson, Tambo, Mitchell, Macalister and Thomson. They contain a number of internationally significant wetlands and support a diverse range of flora and fauna, with the region home to around 400 indigenous plant species and 300 native wildlife species. The lakes are internationally recognised as a feeding ground for migratory birds that travel from as far away as Siberia and the Arctic Circle.
Two lush national parks – Lakes National Park and Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park – border the lakes and are noted for camping and bush walking. The Lakes National Park offers some great sightseeing opportunities and it’s worth exploring Point Wilson, Sperm Whale Head, Lake Reeve Lookout, Emu Bight and Rotamah Island – accessible only by boat and inhabited by birdlife, kangaroos, wallabies and other native mammals – while you’re there.
Where to stay
The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park is a camping mecca in the region, with Paradise Beach, Red Bluff and Spoon Bay all offering caravan-friendly campsites, with boat access only to the campground at Bunga Arm.
The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park and the Lakes National Park are the traditional country of the Gunaikurnai people, who have a joint management partnership with Parks Victoria.
The Gippsland Lakes are separated from Bass Strait by the coastal dunes of Ninety Mile Beach, which is a vista of endless sand and a popular surf fishing location. Recognised as one of the longest uninterrupted beaches in the world, Ninety Mile Beach extends from Port Albert to Lakes Entrance and is a beautifully unspoilt setting for spotting dolphins and whales during their annual migration.
The Ninety Mile Beach Marine National Park, adjacent to the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park, covers 5km of coastline and is home to prolific marine life, providing refuge for a diverse range of species.
Lakes Entrance, Metung and Paynesville are favourite holiday destinations in the Gippsland Lakes region. Not surprisingly, a variety of water activities are the most popular pastimes in these tourist hot spots.
Picturesque Lakes Entrance is situated between Bairnsdale and Orbost at a man-made channel that links Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea with the Gippsland Lakes. Lakes Entrance is also the base of one of Australia’s largest fishing fleets and is, understandably, renowned as a seafood capital due to the large number of fishing trawlers operating in the area. However, for those who prefer to catch their own, you can explore the inland network of waterways and fish to your heart’s content.
Families often travel the lakes by paddleboat, kayak, or by hiring a boat, which makes for a fun day out. The iconic footbridge, which crosses Cunninghame Arm, connects the town with the rugged coastline of Bass Strait, and the surf beach here is patrolled by lifesavers in the summer season.
Lakes Entrance has plenty of scenic coastline and Flagstaff Lookout provides a spectacular vista over the man-made entrance into the Gippsland Lakes. The Esplanade’s marinas, foreshore, shops and restaurants are invariably a hive of activity, and the wooden sculptures lining it represent images of Australia at war. A drive along Seaview Parade is a good way to see the town, marinas, Cunninghame Arm and down to Ninety Mile Beach.
There is romanticism about beautiful Metung – a serene location on the lakes. Steeped in boating and fishing tradition, Metung’s relaxed lifestyle is ideal for boat lovers and water skiers, and also offers excellent fishing.
A must-do is watching the feeding of the pelicans outside the Metung Hotel at noon daily, and also popular is a barbecue or picnic on the shores of Lake King. You can also launch a boat at the ramp on Shaving Point, or take a cruise or hire a yacht to explore the Gippsland Lakes. Sitting back and watching the sailing boats is a local sunset tradition that is worthy of partaking in.
There is certainly no shortage of waterfront restaurants and cafes, and for the more artistically-inclined there are local galleries and studios showcasing jewellery, paintings and sculptures.
Dubbed the region’s boating capital, Paynesville has numerous canals and inlets providing sheltered moorings for boats. With easy access to both Lake King and Lake Victoria, it’s a haven for water skiers, jet skiers, windsurfers and anglers. In fact, Paynesville was originally called Toonalook, supposedly an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of many fish’. Fishing for mullet, flathead and black bream is the perfect way to while away the hours here, and if you’re lucky you might spot lake dolphins, often seen in McMillan Strait.
From Paynesville you can take the ferry across the strait to Raymond Island, home to a large koala colony. This is a great place to bring the kids, where you can spend time walking or hire a Surrey bike to explore the Koala Trail, spotting koalas along the way.
Meanwhile, panoramic views can be obtained from Eagle Point Bluff, where the unusual Mitchell River Silt Jetties are a geographical marvel. These naturally formed, narrow banks of silt extend out for a number of kilometres into Lake King, providing a home for many native birds and animals.
TIME TO DINE
Once you’ve tired of exploring the waterways and have worked up an appetite, you can turn your attention to the array of local produce on offer. East Gippsland is revered for its fresh produce, including quality beef, lamb and seafood, not to mention fruit and vegetables, premium wines, micro-brewed beer, fresh berries and stone fruit, relishes and sauces, olives, chocolate and local condiments.
The Twin Rivers Farm, Food and Wine Trail is a good starting point for exploring this veritable food bowl. It takes in a number of local producers, where you can taste and purchase the goods, allowing you to put together your own picnic of local delights.
ON TWO WHEELS
This diverse region can also be experienced on bicycle, with the East Gippsland Rail Trail extending 96km one-way from Bairnsdale to Newmerella near Orbost. The four-stage trail also takes in Nicholson and Nowa Nowa where you’ll pass through grazing land, ruins of old railway stations, wooden trestle bridges and eucalypt forest. There are also enjoyable views of the Nicholson River, Slaughterhouse Creek Valley, the Colquhoun Forest and Gippsland Lakes before arriving in Snowy River Country.
On the other hand, if a ‘good walk spoiled’ is more your thing, there are some excellent golf courses in the Gippsland Lakes region, including Bairnsdale, Goose Gully, King’s Cove and Lakes Entrance.
The Gippsland Lakes region is in Victoria’s north-east. Beginning at Sale (214km from Melbourne) on the Thomson River, there are three main lakes: Lake King, Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington. This region also takes in several charming townships including Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Metung and Paynesville.