There is something so many of us love about holidays by the water. Whether it be the coast, a lake or a river, many of us travel each year to spend our days getting wet – in the most fun of ways.
The Gippsland Lakes and the town of Lakes Entrance in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are one of the most ideal locations for a holiday by the water. The largest network of inland waterways in Australia, the Gippsland Lakes are made up of four lakes -Victoria, King, Wellington and Reeve and are over 400 square kilometres in size, fed by the Mitchell, Tambo and Nicholson Rivers. They meet the open ocean of Bass Strait at the town of Lakes Entrance, so visitors have direct access to both the lakes and spectacular 90 Mile Beach.
This is a region where you can swim, fish, boat, sail, canoe, kayak, surf, paddleboard and more on the endless waterways, and the pristine wilderness and charming waterside towns that surround it are just as exciting.
It is also a region that keeps you coming back and on this visit we were keen to try a few new things. We began of course, with a walk over the Cunningham Arm of the lake via the famous Lakes Entrance footbridge that takes you straight to the beach. From the main Esplanade in town, you can literally grab an ice-cream and walk over the bridge to the beach where you are instantly ankle deep in pristine sand with the turquoise ocean in front of you.
In the summer holidays this precinct is buzzing, and camel rides, carnivals, paddleboats and more entertain the whole family. But the simple pleasure of just walking on the beach, letting the kids run and cartwheel to their hearts content and gazing at the seemingly endless stretch of sand is absolutely enough.
Of course, with so much water comes a bounty of seafood and Lakes Entrance is one of the busiest ports in Australia for fishing trawlers. We turned up to the Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Coop fish shop ‘Off the Wharf’ for a taste of what had been caught that day. At Off the Wharf, you can literally walk around the back of the shop to the dock where the daily catch is unloaded, sorted, weighed and iced in front of you. We headed into the shop to stock up on prawns that we could take back to the BIG4 Whiters Holiday Village for dinner.
Happy holiday makers at the park had similar ideas. Fresh fish was being cooked by fellow guests on the communal barbecues and kids played blissfully in the pools, on the playground, in the Games Room and on the pedal karts.
We enjoyed our prawns on the verandah of our family villa, enjoying the sounds of the holiday park and peaceful beachside town around us, and even the ocean which was only a few minute’s walk away.
There are so many ways to explore the lakes and every option shows a new and unique side to this beautiful environment.
One of the most peaceful ways to enjoy the water under your own steam is on a stand-up paddleboard and Sarah from Venture Out tours made it super easy. We joined her for a relaxing paddle on the north arm of the lake to The Entrance where they often spot dolphins. We kept our eyes peeled as we glided along the water on sturdy, inflatable boards. Sarah likened it to ‘the closest thing to walking on water’ and she was right. It was a beautiful way to see the water and its surroundings from this angle and we couldn’t have ended our adventure in a more perfect way than some (attempted!) yoga on the paddleboards at the end!
Metung is one of the charming villages on the Gippsland Lakes. The well-known pub sits directly on the water, pelicans relax on the jetty pilings, and the township is quaint and full of chic cafes, galleries and boutiques. It is a beautiful place to spend some time and enjoy lunch, dinner or just a coffee as well as the views.
We met Sascha and Cam from Riviera Nautic where one of their spectacular yachts was moored along the banks of the lake on the way into Metung. Like so many others, Sascha and Cam had been lured from the city by the beauty of the Gippsland Lakes and had set up their Yacht and Motor Cruiser Charter business in Metung, responding to the demand from visitors wanting to experience the lakes. Guests can charter a yacht, cruiser, kayak, day boat or speed boat for a day or a week and no experience or licences are necessary – the Gippsland Lakes offer calm and sheltered conditions to sail, with an area ten times the size of Sydney Harbour to discover.
We jumped on board and before we knew it, Cam and Sascha had us sailing the yacht on the wide open water, surrounded by a pristine environment. We were heading for Barrier Landing where the lakes meet Bass Strait, and hoping to spot some of the rare Burrunan Dolphins who permanently reside in the lakes. This is also a birdwatchers paradise, covered by the international RAMSAR convention for the protection of internationally significant wetlands.
It was easy to settle into life on the water, and without having to deal with tides, swell or other conditions, it was a relaxing journey. We could easily imagine spending more than a few days on board, filling our time fishing, swimming and exploring the corners and coves of the lakes that held so much beauty.
We moored on Barrier Landing where we enjoyed a picnic on 90 Mile Beach and soaked in the endless views. It was truly a serene day.
The Gippsland Lakes are also home to another kind of population – resident koalas are thriving on Raymond Island which is just a short (and free) ferry ride of around 200 metres from the lakeside town of Paynesville, around an hour’s drive from Lakes Entrance.
In 1953 16 male and 26 female koalas were relocated from Phillip Island to Raymond Island to try and replenish their dwindling numbers and the experiment worked with the population growing ever since. As soon as you step foot off the ferry, you can start spotting them in the gumtrees around you where the 1.2km ‘koala trail’ begins.
A small island around 6km x 2km with a population of about 540 who rely on Paynesville for shops and services, the idyllic Raymond Island is easily navigated and one of the best ways is via a surrey bike from Ride the Koalas. We met Vicky who started the bike hire business with her husband Victor after they moved to Raymond Island in 2013 after visiting annually for 15 years. It was the ideal way to travel the koala trail around the island, especially with kids, and we all jumped on board and started pedalling.
The only thing to remember here is to keep one eye on the path you are pedalling and one eye up in the trees. It is easy to spot the koalas, and just as easy to be distracted by them! Our journey was full of cries of ‘There’s one! There’s another one’ and we were charmed by the sleepy marsupials that didn’t seem to mind us pointing our cameras at them as they relaxed in the gum trees.
Not only is it a thrill to spot the native wildlife (which also includes kangaroos, kookaburras, echidna’s and all kinds of birdlife) but the views across the lakes from the end where we chose to sit down and have our picnic lunch were the perfect accompaniment to the day.
We also recommend the following in and around Lakes Entrance, the Gippsland Lakes and East Gippsland: