In Australia’s Far East, this lovely area of Gippsland is famous for its natural lakes, forests, wildlife and relaxing ambiance.
We puttered along the wild shores of South Eastern Australia’s Mallacoota River for half an hour before we found… there it was! The furry teddy sitting up in the fork of a spindly green gum tree.
Koala bears look gingerbread cute with little round furry ears and big black triangular noses, but such sweetness can be deceptive. These bears have long sharp claws and are known to use them. Therefore they are perfect to look at from a distance, which is exactly where Simon Buckley and his little boat, the equally cutely named Porkie Bess, had placed us; close enough to look but not too close for mauling.
Wildlife along the rugged coast and wild forests of Far East Gippsland is abundant. Sparsely populated and blessed by a mildly cool climate, this large area making up the easternmost part of the southern mainland state of Victoria, has a diverse range of ecosystems; enough for a wide number of animals and birds to flourish.
The gateway to Far East Gippsland is a watery one. Lakes Entrance is a small town at the entrance to the sea where water flows to three large lakes, the largest inland water system in the Southern Hemisphere.
Exploring and Staying at The Lakes
If there is something puzzling to an 18 month-old, it is a lifelike statue. Along the foreshore of the busy holiday township of Lakes Entrance are a series of wooden carved statues marking Australia’s involvement in the wars of the 20th Century including a soldier called Simpson who carried the wounded off the battlefield on his donkey. My son Trent patted Simpson, then poked his donkey and watched for a response. None emerged, so with the blessed short attention span of a young child, he turned his excited curiosity to the boats coming in along the wharves. The Lakes fishing fleet is one of the largest in this part of the world and well worth a look. It became the reason we lived on fish, of the freshest kind, during the three days we spent there.
The best way to explore the Lakes is by boat. Our boat, The Director, a modern 12-meter (about 40 feet) catamaran with indoor and outdoor entertaining areas and fully stocked bar, picked us up at the jetty just outside our accommodation at the luxurious Moorings.
A dazzling find, The Moorings (+61 3 5156 2750) were a complex of apartments overlooking the pretty Metung Marina, a focus of the charming little lakeside village of Metung, which we found to be a quieter place to stay than the buzz at the Lakes Entrance Township. What is it about waterside accommodation that eventually finds one relaxing on a balcony with a glass of local wine, watching yachts bob up and down in calm water while gulls dance on the air waves?
The Director took us on a journey into the Lakes with history, nature and bird life vying for our attention– until the dolphins leapt alongside and everything else became secondary. The skipper, who had spent many years on the lakes and was full of stories, let kids, brimming with importance, take the wheel on the calmer stretches of water. Afternoon tea satisfied everyone and a walk across a spit of land to see the wild waters of Bass Strait and hear about an epic walk undertaken by shipwreck survivors to Sydney in the 1800s let our imaginations run wild.
Sadly leaving the Lakes area we headed along the highway to Orbost, a vibrant little place where walks, picnics spots and shops are the main attractions. The road from here goes through forests and over rivers– a magnificent drive though nature.We sighted wallabies (a small kangaroo), echidnas (similar to a porcupine), a blue-tongued lizard and plenty of birds.
Mallacoota is the farthest town in eastern Victoria and a remote outpost of several thousand people who welcome visitors warmly, but don’t look for them. The ‘coota view is that they live here for the peace and tranquillity, the beauty and natural attractions and the artistic flavor of the community. Being such a stunningly wild place, it is a magnet for artists and writers.
Trent made true and lasting friends with two retired potters who now run the Karbeethong Lodge (+61 3 5158 0411). Here we propped our feet on a chair on the Lodge’s long back porch and spent as much time as the kids would let us, gazing at the view. The shimmering blue waters of the Mallacoota Inlet are only metres away from the porch down a green lawn and around a few trees. Blue misty mountains carpeted with green forests line the horizon above the inlet.
Bruce Heggie and Julie Ford came here from a dry and dusty inland town to absorb the lush nature and peaceful lifestyle. The beauty of the region has even inspired them to take up painting. They bring a warmth emanating from caring personalities and, if children are gauges of authenticity, these two have it in busloads, for Trent tore himself away from them only under protest.
That night, around the open fire with the sun setting over a golden water vista through the large bay window, friends, visitors, Bruce, Julie and owners Rosemary Luker and Russell Freeman gathered for an evening of swapping life stories, local gossip, historic retellings and jokes. It was a cosy few hours of the sort that can’t be planned, but gracefully appeared to fall lovingly together out of the warm dark woods of the Edwardian décor, the open hearts of the people at the lodge and the tranquillity and beauty of the environment.
We explored the area the next day, taking an extended walk along a deserted beach where the waves swirled around rocks and slapped the shore in a rush of foam before running gently up the shell-pocked sand.
In late September whales appear along the coast as they make their way south to Antarctica. The coast here is rugged and a main attraction are visits to the historic old lighthouses, many of which still shine a light for ships. The walk continued along colorful heath land and then through stunted forests, the trees all windswept and twisted, but the ground soft underfoot.
As a treat on our last day, we waited on Karbeethong’s private jetty for a little boat to putter into view. Simon Buckley in the Porkie Bess picked us before taking us deep into the world-heritage listed Croajingolong National Park. It’s an 86,000-hectare (over 212,510 acres) UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve containing diverse and ancient ecosystems within its eucalypt forests, rainforests, heath lands, granite peaks, coastal headlands and sandy beaches. It was along here, just as Simon promised, that we saw the real live teddy and there was much gasping and sighing from the boat as we finally drifted away from it.
Our farewell in the town occurred at the grooviest live music event I have been to for a long time. Typically locals all gather at Café 54 once a week for resident musicians to rock the place with blues covers and a few locally inspired tunes. Kids were in 7th heaven with plenty of food, noise and attention from staff and eaters alike. It was a great send off from a jewel in a beautiful coastal wilderness, oozing with classic Aussie friendliness.
Far East Gippsland is four hours drive east of Melbourne in southeastern Australia. Perfect to explore during an extended trip to Australia/Melbourne or as a long weekend when driving from Melbourne to Sydney (or vice versa).
To book the Director boat trips call +61 3 5156 2750; to book Porkie Bess boat trips call +61 3 5158 0109. Make sure older children bring something to amuse themselves on the boat if they get tired of looking at the scenery.
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