March 22, 2019 / By Caroline Duncan
The Gippsland Lakes are an incredible natural playground around 3.5 hours drive east of Melbourne. The lakes have developed over thousands of years from the confluence of many of Gippsland’s major rivers - the Latrobe, the Thomson, the Macalister, the Nicholson, the Mitchell and the Tambo among them. The lakes sit behind Ninety Mile Beach, a long, narrow sand spit that separates the fresh waters of the lakes from Bass Strait. If you think Sydney Harbour is big, think again - the Gippsland Lakes are seven times larger!
Left to nature, the lakes open and close depending on local conditions, but a dredge at Lakes Entrance keeps the gap between the lakes and the sea open to keep ports within the lakes system operating. Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance and Sale are the major towns in this natural paradise, but to really escape for the weekend I suggest heading to Paynesville (above), a town with a super relaxed and friendly feel. While the whole region is geared for tourism - great roads, amazing facilities and so much to do - here are my top picks for a great weekend away.
Enjoy the water
The lakes are a water lover’s playground. Their vast expanse means plenty of fun can be had canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding. The Mitchell River alone offers canoeists and kayakers everything from tranquil padding to grade three and four rapids, perfect for adventurers of all kinds. You can explore the river as it meanders from Bairnsdale to Paynesville, or take a longer tour and follow the river from the alpine country high in the Great Dividing Range down to the Gippsland Lakes.
Bring your own gear, or hire it from one of the many aquatic equipment shops in the region. And make sure to check in with the locals, who’ll be happy to share their favourite spots and the tricks to making the most of the lakes. You can even hire powerboats or aqua-bikes to have your own fun on the water. Check with the hire company before you head down as some open only during school holidays in the cooler months.
The Gippsland Lakes are a haven for boaties. Enormous stretches of open water within the lakes system make it an ideal place for sailing, power boating, water skiing or tubing. There are dozens of easily accessible boat ramps to choose from if you wish to bring your own craft. If you’re between boats right now, you can hire anything from a row boat to a yacht, a catamaran to a fishing vessel. There are also areas near Paynesville that are designated especially for skiers. Check that your boat hirer is open before you head down, and don't forget your boating licence.
Dangle a line
A fishing holiday to the Gippsland Lakes will be one to remember. Bream, mullet and snapper are among the common species that crowd the Gippsland Lakes. Tackle shops and boat hire operators abound across the lakes, so there’s plenty of great advice available from locals who know all the best fishing spots. Or head to the beach and fish in the surf for salmon, flathead, tailor, whiting and a variety of shark species.
Hit the beach
Ninety Mile Beach is a surfer’s paradise, but without the Gold Coast high-rise and glitzy tourist vibe. The swell that rolls out of Bass Strait is at least as good as the more famous Surf Coast in western Victoria, and the westerly/south-westerly winds that built the sand bar at Ninety Mile Beach also create the ideal conditions for windsurfing and paragliding. There are also plenty of patrolled surf beaches, as well as spots in the more sedate lakes, to take a cooling dip on a warm day. Check here for the best beach destinations.
More than just water
If you’ve taking a break from water-based activities, there’s still plenty left to do. Take the ferry from Paynesville to Raymond Island for the Raymond Island Koala Walk. The ferry is free for cyclists and pedestrians, with a small fee payable for motorists. The walk around the island is well marked and takes about 30 minutes, but you'll probably take longer as you and the kids spot all those furry friends in the tree tops. The island is a sanctuary for koalas where a dedicated team also nurse sick and injured marsupials mates back to health. It’s a Gippsland Lakes “must see” experience.
Finally, Gippsland is blessed with a wide variety of cycling trails where riders can enjoy the stunning bush and the topography. The Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail includes a variety of tracks, the longest a track that traverses 65km of stunning countryside between Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance.
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