Gippsland

 

A place of glistening lakes, fern gullies and pristine white beaches that curve beyond the realms of your imagination, Gippsland is a nature lover’s paradise. This large rural area in eastern Victoria is home to Australia’s largest expanse of inland waterways. Over 400 sq km of lakes, rivers and lagoons punctuate the landscape like shimmering arteries. Lush rainforests with towering mountain ash dominate the slopes of the Strzelecki Ranges, while wildflowers of magenta, white and yellow are sprinkled across Mt Baw Baw, the closest downhill ski area to Melbourne.

Gippsland also faces the ocean, with granite headlands and rocky outcrops studding the coastline at Wilsons Promontory. Whales and dolphins populate the water along Ninety Mile Beach, one of the country’s most pristine stretches of sand. And then there’s Lakes Entrance where you can sample an array of fresh seafood.

 

Be Inspired

One of the nature-based highlights of this region is the Inspiring Gippsland Walks, a selection of 40 iconic leg-stretchers that cater to every fitness level. Whether you’re up for a leisurely afternoon stroll over the Noojee Trestle Bridge, or fancy a wild overnight adventure such as the fully guided Great Walhalla Alpine Trail (a two-day sub-alpine walk that finishes in Walhalla), embarking on an Inspiring Walk is a chance to connect with your inner adventurer. It’s also a great opportunity to get up close to native wildlife, wander in untamed Australian bush and feel the sand between your toes on some of the world’s most pristine beaches. My picks for primo destinations in this region are Wilsons Promontory (a.k.a. The Prom) and the Gippsland Lakes.

 

The Prom is home to meandering coastline with granite headlands and crisp, white beaches with shimmering turquoise waters. Inland you can hike through mountains, forests and fern gullies. One of my favourite tramping tracks is much loved Lilly Pilly Gully Track (and not just because of its name) which is an easy two- to three-hour return walk where you may see koalas. For those with a little more lead in their pencils pack a tent on your back and embark on a three-day adventure along the 53-kilometre Great Prom Circuit Walk. En route you’ll trek through ferny glades, across white quartz beaches and over sand dunes. Bunyip Tours offers a fantastic tour of the Prom, available as a one day trip or as part of a package also including Phillip Island. For more info check out www.bunyiptours.com or call 1300 286 947.

 

Further to the east and accessed by the Sydney-Melbourne Coastal Drive is East Gippsland, home to the Gippsland Lakes and the iconic villages of Metung and Lakes Entrance. Rugged alpine slopes and secluded coastal landscapes are a feature of East Gippsland, not to mention the old growth forests and the Southern Hemisphere’s largest lake system. One of the most challenging walks in the region is the Wilderness Coastal Walk. The 45-kilometre trail takes three days (one way)and passes through small coves and expanses of beaches where the only other footprints will be those of sea birds.

 

Watch out for the free Inspiring Gippsland Walks iPhone application. The app features interactive maps, walking times and distances, as well as driving directions to all 40 of the Inspiring Walks. Log onto www.inspiringgippslandwalks.com.au for more information. For more information about the Gippsland region, log onto www.inspiredbygippsland.com.au.

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

Wilsons Prom is the southernmost point of the Australian mainland and only a three-hour drive from Melbourne. Take your tent and camp by the beach

alongside emus, wombats and kangaroos. The Prom is walking country and there are many trails which cater for all fitness levels. Some are a matter of metres while others are overnight hikes. For a short walk stroll along the white quartz sands of Squeaky Beach. Longer treks go to Sealers Cove, Waterloo Bay and the lighthouse. You can also go snorkelling, surfing or paddling. Call 13 19 63 (Parks Victoria) or log on to www.parkweb.vic.gov.au for more information.

 

Hiking Plus organises walking tours of the Prom and provides luxury camping where, at the end of the day, you can take a spa or have a massage. www.hikingplus.com

If you’re looking for a tour from Melbourne make sure to check out Bunyip tours. They offer one day return trips and the tour can be booked as a package including Phillip Island. Head to www.bunyiptours.com or call 1300 286 947.

For 1-Day Tours from Melbourne check out www.bunyiptours.com.au.

 

Walhalla, located on the southern edge of the Victorian Alps, was once a

thriving goldrush town. Today this remote mountain township has less than twenty residents and electricity was only connected in 1998. Nestled in rugged bush, this is a colonial taste of Australia. It’s also the start of one of Victoria’s best outdoor adventures: the Australian Alps Walking Track which, at over 650km (a six- to eight-week walk), scythes through alpine wilderness all the way to Canberra. The main interests in Walhalla are gold mine tours where you can explore one of Oz’s richest gold mines (www.walhallaboard.org.au) and also a ride on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway (www.walhallarail.com).

 

Mt Baw Baw is the destination for all you outdoor aficionados and has the

cheapest ski lift tickets in Victoria. There’s mountain biking, rafting, abseiling and hiking so you won’t be bor-bored. In winter the place caters for skiers and snowboarders with snow tubing, snow shoeing, tobogganing and cross country skiing. Check out the big air bag, an inflatable bag positioned behind a two-metre by three-and-a-half-metre high ramp so you can perform jumps without the fear of ending up in traction. There’s also the bungee-tramp (basically a trampoline) where you wear a harness and can do super high jumps, flicks and tricks. This resort doesn’t have the crowded conditions that plague the bigger resorts.

www.mountbawbaw.com.au

 

Once you’ve finished in the mountains, head down to Bunurong Marine and Coastal Park. Eagles Nest and Shack Bay are great snorkelling and dive sites and ancient dinosaur remains at The Caves. There’s also good surfing here.

 

At first glance Buchan appears to be a small country town like any other, but beneath the surface lurk limestone caves with formations that will make you think that you’ve been swal lowed by a gigantic dinosaur. The Royal and Fairy caves are the most spectacular. Call 13 19 63 (Parks Victoria) or email

buchanvisitorcentre@parks.vic.gov.au for more information.

Adjacent to Croajingolong National Park, Point Hicks Marine National Park not only has a wealth of marine life, it also has great coastal walks, including one to Point Hicks lighthouse, as well as snorkelling and diving. The multi-coloured reefs may sway with beauty but they were treacherous to sailors. Two known wrecks are located within the park and the area is one of the deepest marine areas in Victoria with the seafloor plummeting 90 metres from the shore.

 

If you prefer to be above water then perhaps a sailing tour will float your boat. The Nooramunga is a fifty-foot catamaran and embarks on half-, full- and multi-day trips from Port Albert (21 Wharf St; midway between Yarram and Welshpool). Longer trips cruise past the Bass Strait Islands and Wilsons Prom, and you’ll see a variety of marine life en route. www.nooramungasailingtours.com.au

 

After all that cruising you may be in the mood for some gentle exercise. The Rail Trail near Bairnsdale is a 100-kilometre cycling stretch from Howitt Park to Orbost. It may sound like quite a long way but the trail is mostly flat (eastgippslandrailtrail.com), as is the forty-nine kilometre saddle-blazer, namely the Great Southern Rail Trail, which starts in Leongatha and ends in Foster. The trail weaves through farmland and the Gippsland hills. www.railtrails.com.au

 

Ever fancied plummeting down an 18km-stretch of river between intricate rock formations while your adrenaline rushes like the water? The Mitta Mitta Gorge is the place to embark on a river adventure. Those looking for a challenge should head to Mystery Gorge which is the steepest and most technical continuous grade four whitewater rapid on the entire Mitta Mitta River. www.raftingaustralia.com/mitta-mitta-river; 1800 997 238

 

If the only exercise you’re into involves moving your arm in a forwards and backwards motion and then opening your mouth, head to Grand Ridge Brewery (Main St, Mirboo North) and sample one of their nine boutique beers. Dubbed ‘the monastery’ by locals (they’re religious about beer in these parts) my favourite is Moonshine, a strong malt beer made in the style of barley wine.

www.grand-ridge.com.au

 

Bullant Brewery, a newly opened microbrewery along the Great Alpine Rd in Bruthen. They brew ciders, stouts and pilsners and have yummy gourmet bar snacks. bullantbrewery.com

 

For more information on this region including web deals, packages and events, log onto http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Gippsland.aspx

 

Where to crash

 

Cambrai Hostel – 117 Johnston St, Maffra; Ph 1800 101 113

This place has a sociable front garden area, musical evenings and dinners where locals and visi tors can mix. There are seasonal work options from October to April. maffra.net.au/hostel/

 

Riviera Backpackers YHA – 669-671 Esp, Lakes Entrance; Ph 03 5155 2444

Adjacent to lake, this hostel is one kilometre from town and offers fishing rod hire.

www.yha.com.au

 

Tidal River – Wilsons Prom; Ph 13 19 63

There are over 450 camp spots situated near the beach and river, and also eleven remote walk-in sites. Be sure to register at the info centre if you are going for an overnight walk and ring ahead during peak times. A tsunami of people visits the park in summer and ballots have to be drawn to allocate sites between December 19 and January 26. www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

 

Point Hicks – Croajingolong National Park

Located five kilometres from an old historic lighthouse, there is humpback whale spotting nearby, towering sand dunes and campsites nestled amongst tea-trees and coastal mahogany. www.pointhicks.com.au

 

Foster Backpackers – Foster; Ph 1800 458 382

Nestled in native gardens, this private little place is near a creek and has all the mod-cons although it has a composting toilet and the toilet/bathroom is outside, off a covered front veranda so you won’t get wet if it’s raining.

 

Kilcunda Ocean View Caravan Park – 3560 Bass Highway, Kilcunda,

Ph (03) 5678 7260

Located on the foreshore between Phillip Island and Inverloch, this place is close to Kilcunda Trestle Bridge (from which you’ll get a panoramic view of the ocean), and across the road from Kilcunda Pub. www.kilcundacaravanpark.com.au

 

For free and low-cost camping in the Gippsland area, log onto

www.tourismwellington.com.au/yarram/attractions/item/free-and-low-cost-camping