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Victoria's Gippsland

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Wilsons Promontory (Photo: Tourism Victoria / Mark Watson)
Wilsons Promontory — 'the Prom' — is one of the most popular national parks in all of Australia.
Page 1 of 3: South Gippsland

Gippsland sprawls across the southeastern corner of Australia and is packed full of national parks, lakes, deserted coastline and some of the most diverse wilderness, scenery and wildlife on the continent. The western part is divided into the Latrobe Valley, a coal-mining and electricity-generating centre, and South Gippsland, which includes the beautiful Wilsons Promontory National Park. East Gippsland, backed by the wild forests of the Great Dividing Range, includes the Lakes District and the Wilderness Coast.

Getting there and away

The two major routes are the Princes Hwy/M1 and the South Gippsland Hwy. Many places of interest, such as Mallacoota, Marlo, Cape Conran and Bemm River, are off the Princes Hwy.

Most minor roads are unsealed and some roads in state parks are closed during the wetter winter months. Check road conditions and seasonal closures with Parks Victoria (13 19 63; www.parkweb.vic.gov.au) and keep an eye out for logging trucks.

Buses
V/Line (13 61 96) has daily bus services along the Princes Hwy (A1) from Bairnsdale to Narooma in NSW and also Lakes Entrance via Lake Tyers. Another service, which runs twice a week, follows the Princes Hwy as far as Cann River, then proceeds north to Canberra in the ACT. Premier (13 34 10; www.premierms.com.au) has two daily services from Melbourne via the Princes Hwy to Sydney, stopping at towns along the way.

There are also regular V/Line buses from Traralgon to Sale via Maffra; Melbourne to Yarram, which stop along the South Gippsland Hwy; and Melbourne to Inverloch, which stop along the Bass Hwy.

Omeo Buslines (03-5159 4231) runs between Bairnsdale and Omeo ($31) on weekdays.

Trains
Bairnsdale is the end of the V/Line train link from Melbourne. Daily services from Melbourne to Bairnsdale ($44, 3½ hours) stop at all major towns along the Princes Hwy.

South Gippsland

From Melbourne, the South Gippsland Hwy passes through the beautiful 'blue' rounded hills of the Strzelecki Ranges and is the quickest route to Wilsons Promontory. An alternative coastal route is even more scenic, with some stunning ocean views.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

With more than 80km of walking tracks, wonderful beaches and abundant wildlife, 'the Prom' is one of the most popular national parks in all of Australia. The wildlife around Tidal River is very tame: kookaburras and rosellas lurk expectantly (but you're not supposed to feed them), and wombats waddle out of the undergrowth seemingly oblivious to the campers and day-trippers.

Wilsons Promontory was an important area for the Kurnai and Boonwurrung Aborigines, and middens have been found in many places, including Cotters and Darby Beaches, and Oberon Bay. The southern-most part of mainland Australia, the Prom once formed a land bridge that allowed people to walk to Tasmania.

The only access road leads to Tidal River on the western coast, which has the Parks Victoria office and education centre, a petrol station, general store (with internet access), open-air cinema (summer only), camp sites, cabins, lodges and facilities.

Information

Parks Victoria (1800 350 552, 03-5680 9555; www.parkweb.vic.gov.au; Tidal River; 8am-4.30pm) Takes accommodation reservations and issues camping permits for outside the Tidal River area. Day entry to the park is $10, which is included in camping fees.

Activities

Bushwalking
The Prom's diverse walking tracks will take you through swamps, forests, marshes, valleys of tree ferns and long beaches lined with sand dunes. The park office has details of walks, from 15-minute strolls to overnight and longer hikes. For some serious exploration, buy a copy of Discovering the Prom ($15).

The northern area of the park is much less visited. Most walks in this 'wilderness zone' are overnight or longer, and mainly for experienced bushwalkers. Wood fires are not permitted anywhere in the park.

Surfing
There's excellent surfing at Tidal River and even a Wilsons Prom Surf School (03-5680 8512) affiliated with the general store. Experienced surfers can get waves at Squeaky Beach, Darby Bay and elsewhere, but these are unpatrolled areas with strong currents, and potentially very dangerous.

Tours

Bunyip Tours (03-9531 0840; www.bunyiptours.com; 2-day tour $225) All-inclusive guided hiking tours based at Tidal River with return transfers from Melbourne. ISIC and YHA members receive discounts.

Hiking Plus (03-9431 1050; www.hikingplus.com; 4-day tour $750) Offers a range of all-inclusive overnight hiking tours of the Prom that also include spa and massage treatments at the operator's Eight Acres Guesthouse in Foster.

Getting there and away

There's no direct public transport between Melbourne and the Prom, though Prom Coast Backpackers in Foster, about 60km north of Tidal River, can usually organise transfers to the Prom for between $15 and $20.

West Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley

From Melbourne, the Princes Hwy follows the power lines past dairy country to their source in the Latrobe Valley. The region between Moe and Traralgon contains one of the world's largest deposits of brown coal, which is consumed by power stations at Yallourn, Morwell and Loy Yang.

Yarragon

If you stop to shop anywhere along the highway, make it Yarragon. The town has reinvented itself into a Gippsland centre for quality art and gifts, and gourmet produce, and the area wears the moniker of Gippsland Gourmet Deli Country (www.gourmetgippsland.com).

Walhalla

Tiny Walhalla, 46km north of Moe, was one of Victoria's great gold-mining towns in the 19th century. Today just 18 people live in this picturesque town (www.walhalla.org.au) — less than 0.5% of the 5000 residents of the area in its gold-era heyday. Despite the inevitable heritage décor (the sepia-photo salesman has evidently been in town), it remains one of the most scenic of Victoria's historic towns. The December 2006 fires came perilously close to Walhalla, burning out much of the surrounding bushland.

Sights and activities
Take the circuit walk anticlockwise from the information shelter as you enter town. This passes the main sights before climbing the hill to follow the old timber tramway and heading back down to the car park. The tramway also leads to the Australian Alps Walking Track (www.australianalps.deh.gov.au/parks/walktrack), which goes to Canberra. There are other walks to Thomson Bridge, Poverty Point or on to the Baw Baw Plateau.

Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine (5165 6259; adult/child/family $9/7/27), off Walhalla-Beardmore Rd, produced 13.7 tonnes of gold (more than $50 million in today's money). Guided tours run at 1.30pm weekdays and noon, 2pm and 3pm on Saturday, Sunday and school holidays.

You can also take a 25-minute ride into Walhalla on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway (5126 4201, recorded-info line 9513 3969; www.walhallarail.com; adult/child/family return $17/12/37). Trains depart at 11.30am, 1.20pm and 3.10pm from Thomson Bridge on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and school holidays. The December 2006 fires destroyed one of the railway bridges. Copper Mine Adventure (5134 6875; www.mountaintopexperience.com; tour $18) operates rugged 1½-hour 4WD trips along old coach roads to a disused mine, on Wednesday and most weekends.

The Lakes District

The Gippsland Lakes comprise the largest inland waterway system in Australia. There are three main lakes that interconnect: Lake King, Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington. The 'lakes' are lagoons, separated from the ocean by a narrow strip of sand dunes known as Ninety Mile Beach. The dunes were artificially breached at Lakes Entrance in 1889 to allow ocean-going fishing boats to shelter in the placid waters. Despite nearby Bairnsdale and the Princess Hwy, the 600-sq-km Lakes area is remote, with just a half-dozen access points including Metung, Paynesville, Loch Sport and Lakes Entrance. Only those with a boat can truly appreciate this wonderful lakes system. The Lakes National Park protects 2400 hectares of native habitat.

Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety miles (144km) of pristine and seamless sandy beach is backed by dunes, swamplands and lagoons, stretching from Seaspray to Lakes Entrance. The beach is great for surf fishing and walking but can be dangerous for swimming, except at Seaspray, where it's patrolled.

Mitchell River National Park

About 42km northwest of Bairnsdale, this park has some beautiful green valleys, camping areas and lovely hiking, including the two-day, 18km Mitchell River Walking Track. Its best-known feature is the Den of Nargun, a small cave that, according to Aboriginal stories, is haunted by a strange, half-stone creature, the Nargun.

Lakes Entrance

In season, Lakes Entrance is a packed-out tourist town with a graceless strip of motels, caravan parks, minigolf courses and souvenir shops lining the Esplanade. Its saving grace is its picturesque location on the gentle waters of Cunninghame Arm, backed by sand dunes and fishing boats.

Information
Hai Q (5155 4247; cnr Myer St & the Esplanade) Internet at $5 for a half-hour.

Lakes Entrance visitor information centre (1800 637 060, 5155 1966; www.lakes-entrance.com; cnr Princes Hwy & Marine Pde) Has plenty of information and books accommodation.

Activities
A footbridge crosses the Cunninghame Arm inlet from the east of town to the ocean and Ninety Mile Beach. From December to Easter paddle boats, canoes and sailboats can be hired by the footbridge. Guided walks to spot nocturnal wildlife, in the company of an experienced naturalist, are run by Wildlife at Night (5156 5863; Wyungara Nature Sanctuary; adult/child/family $22/13/55).

Several outfits organise cruises:

Corque (5155 1508) Popular 4½-hour lunch cruise to Wyanga Park Winery (adult $45, child under/over six years $5/20), dinner cruises and Sunday brunch.

Mulloway Fishing Charters (0427-943 154, 5155 3304) Three-hour fishing cruises ($40) on the lake from the jetty opposite 66 Marine Pde.

Peels Tourist & Ferry Services (5155 1246; Post Office Jetty) Daily two-hour cruises at 2pm (adult/child $30/15) and daily four-hour cruise to Metung (adult/child $44/13 including lunch) at 11am.

East Gippsland and the Wilderness Coast

Much of this region wasn't cleared for agriculture and contains some of the most remote and spectacular national parks in the state, making logging in these ancient forests a hot issue.

Unexciting Orbost is the major town and gateway to the Snowy River and Errinundra National Parks, and the Wilderness Coast. The magnificent coastal areas of Cape Conran, Mallacoota and Croajingolong are all uncrowded, unspoiled and undeveloped.

Buchan

Buchan, a beautiful town in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, is famous for its spectacular limestone cave system that's been open to visitors since 1913.

Sights and activities
Guided tours, alternating between Royal Cave and Fairy Cave, are run by Parks Victoria (5162 1900; adult/child/family $13/7/32). The rangers also offer hard-hat guided tours to Federal Cave during the high season.

Snowy River Expeditions (5155 9353; www.karoondapark.com; Gelantipy) runs one-, two- or four-day rafting trips on the Snowy (from $135 per day all inclusive), abseiling and caving trips.

Snowy River National Park

Dominated by gorges carved by the Snowy River, this is one of Victoria's most isolated and spectacular parks.

The main access roads are Buchan-Jindabyne Rd from Buchan and Bonang Rd (C612) from Orbost, and they are joined by McKillops Rd in the north, crossing the Snowy River at McKillops Bridge.

About 25km before the bridge, on the Gelantipy Rd, are Little River Falls and Little River Gorge lookouts. The latter, a 500m-deep gorge, is the deepest in Victoria.

Bushwalking and canoeing are popular but be prepared as conditions can change suddenly. The classic canoe or raft trip down the Snowy River, from McKillops Bridge to a finish point near Buchan, takes at least four days.

Either side of McKillops Bridge are camp sites, toilets, fireplaces and sandy river beaches.

For information contact the park offices at Buchan (03-5162 1900), Orbost (03-5161 1222) or Bairnsdale (03-5152 0600).

Karoonda Park (03-5155 0220; www.karoondapark.com; Gelantipy Rd, Gelantipy; dm/d/cabins incl breakfast $24/58/95) is a working sheep-and-cattle property 40km north of Buchan. Fully catered packages are available (three-course meals $14) and the owners may have work going. Snowy River Expeditions are based here, offering activities like abseiling, horse riding, caving and rafting.

Cape Conran Coastal Park

Cape Conran is one of the most beautiful spots in the state. The 19km coastal route from Marlo to Cape Conran is especially pretty and there are some great beaches, including the safest surfing beach in the region. Be sure to stop at French's Narrows, a pretty system of lakes that's home to countless water birds.

A rough track 4km east leads from the cape to the mouth of the Yeerung River, which is another good spot for swimming, canoeing and fishing. There are no shops at Cape Conran — bring provisions and drinking water. There's good surfing at West Cape beach. Cabbage Tree Palms is a short detour off the road between Cape Conran and the Princess Hwy. This is Victoria's only stand of native palms — a tiny rainforest oasis.

Mallacoota

Laid-back Mallacoota, surrounded by the tumbling hills and beachside dunes of beautiful Croajingolong National Park, is our favourite place in Victoria. Its long empty ocean beaches, tidal rivermouths and vast Mallacoota Inlet are a paradise for swimmers, surfers, anglers and boaties. At Christmas and Easter it's a crowded family holiday spot, but most of the year it's pretty quiet.

Information
Mallacoota Information Shed (5158 0800; www.mallacoota.com; Main Wharf; 10am-4pm) On the wharf with trompe l'oeil fisherfolk, useful information, maps and advice.

Mallacoota Newsagent (5158 0888; Allen Dr) Internet at $3 for 15 minutes.

Parks Victoria (5161 9500; cnr Buckland & Allan Drs) Opposite the wharf.

Activities
The 300km shoreline of Mallacoota Inlet is backed by national park. There are plenty of great short walks (from 30 minutes to four hours) around town, the inlet and in the bush — maps are available from the Information Shed.

There's sometimes surf at Bastion Point and always excellent swimming at Betka Beach where the Betka rivermouth runs with the tide.

Hire a boat (no licence required) and travel up the inlet. Cut the engine, drop the anchor and listen for a moment to the quiet sounds of the birds and the breeze through the trees of the national park. Then dive in for the most delicious nudie swim. There are many public jetties where you can tie your boat up and come ashore for picnic tables and toilets.

A number of operators offer cruises and boat hire:

Mallacoota Hire Boats (0438-447 558; Main Wharf) Hires out canoes ($17 per hour) and motor boats (half-/full day $75/120).

Porkie Bess (0408-408 094, 5158 0109; 2hr cruise $30) A 1940s wooden boat offering fishing trips and cruises around the lakes, and ferry services for hikers ($10 per person, minimum four).

Wilderness Coast Ocean Charters (0418-553 809) Runs trips to Gabo Island ($70) and the Skerries ($120) to view the seal colony off Wingan Inlet. Whales are sometimes spotted between September and November.

Getting there and away
Mallacoota is 23km off the Princes Hwy. From Melbourne you can catch a daily V/line (13 61 96) train to Bairnsdale and coach to Genoa ($48 one way, 7½ hours), then get the Mallacoota-Genoa Bus Service (0408-315 615) which meets the V/line coach on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday ($5 one way, bookings essential). If, however, the coach from Bairnsdale is late, the Mallacoota bus will not wait, and you'll spend two days in Genoa waiting for the next one.

Croajingolong National Park

The coastal wilderness park of Croajingolong (87,500 hectares) is one of Australia's finest national parks. It stretches for about 100km from Bemm River to the NSW border and includes unspoiled beaches, inlets and forests. The 200m sand dunes at Thurra are the highest on the mainland. Mallacoota Inlet is the largest and most accessible area. There's plentiful wildlife in the park, including huge goannas.

Walkers must be suitably equipped for long-distance walking, with sufficient maps and information on conditions. Contact Parks Victoria (Cann River 03-5158 6351, Mallacoota 03-5158 0219) for information, camping permits and track notes. All access roads from the Princes Hwy, except Mallacoota Rd, are unsealed and can be very rough; check conditions with Parks Victoria.

The main camping areas are at Wingan Inlet, Shipwreck Creek, Thurra River and Mueller Inlet. You may need to bring water so check with Parks Victoria. You'll also need to book during the main holiday seasons; camping fees cost up to $21 a site.

Point Hicks was the first part of Australia to be spotted by Captain Cook in 1770.

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