Gippsland’s the perfect stopping point along the 1200km-plus scenic drive between Sydney and Melbourne. Full of dramatic landscapes where long dreamy beaches meet the crisp mountain air of the Australian Alpine region. Taking the Princes Highway Drive, leading through East Gippsland gives you the opportunity to explore some of the most spectacular surrounds that are surprisingly not all that far from the highway.
With so many natural attractions in abundance, East Gippsland has more must-see stops than you might imagine. The region’s covered by National Parks aplenty and, with charming coastal towns such as Nowa Nowa, Orbost, Bairnsdale, Mallacoota and Lakes Entrance, you’ll find activities for thrill seekers as well as those keen to kick back and take it easy.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Called Australia’s rooftop, the Australian Alps cover one territory, two states and 16 national parks. The views, as you might expect, are nothing short of spectacular. Take a leisurely drive down the Great Alpine Road and wind your way through the Victorian Alps as the panoramic views unfold, and you’ll see exactly what we mean. There’s plenty to do all year round, especially for adventure lovers, as Alpine National Park is the largest national park in Victoria at more than 646,000 hectares, and joining up national parks in NSW and the ACT. Packed with wild rivers, wild horses, snow gum forests and expansive grasslands, here you’ll find 10 of the 11 highest mountains in Victoria.
No matter what time of year you drive through, this region offers plenty of outdoor activities including skiing and snowboarding in winter as well as bushwalking, horseback riding, fly-fishing for trout, white water rafting and four-wheel driving with Snowy River Drive.
While in this part of East Gippsland, the gateway into the Alpine region, it’s well worth exploring the Snowy River region beginning in NSW’s Kosciuszko National Park and covering more than 350km south to the sea in Marlo, East Gippsland. Explorers can meander for a day or two along the Snowy River Country Trail taking in all the natural attractions, but it’s worth knowing that this road is fine for cars all year round, not so much for caravans. Once you’ve found your camping spot and have settled in, hop in the car and go.
Snowy River National Park is also home to Little River Gorge and Little River Falls, but don’t let the name mislead you, it’s Victoria's deepest gorge with a 600m-high waterfall. Take the time to also explore some other nearby walks including Tulloch Ard Gorge Walk and the Raymond Creek Falls Walk.
Towns along the Snowy River are all about country hospitality and one must-do attraction is Buchan Caves.
Go underground and explore the incredible tangle of 300-million-year-old stalagmites and stalactites, the winding rivers that flow between them and the formations they have created.
The Caves are fully lit with walkways to get around with ease and guided tours are available daily. They’re also a constant 17C, making them the perfect spot to visit on a hot summer’s day. If you do find yourself there on a steaming day, take a dip at the Caves' outdoor swimming pool, likely the coldest one in Australia for a speedy cooldown.
Visitors can stay at The Buchan Caves Reserve where there’s camping areas as well as cabins frequently visited by local kangaroos and plenty of birdlife. It’s just a short stroll from town and a great place for a pub stop at The Caves Hotel. A few years ago, the hotel was destroyed by fire, leaving the locals without a local.
In a fine example of community spirit, a crowdfunding campaign collected substantial funds to resurrect the popular watering hole. Aided by months of hard work and plenty of volunteer labour, the new Buchan Caves Hotel is back pouring pints.
While you’re in Snowy River Country, stop to recharge in the artsy town of Orbost. You can spend the afternoon exploring the town’s shops and cafes, art galleries and a historical Slab Hut, an original pioneer hut from 1872 relocated from the upper Snowy River. Today the hut serves as the tourist information centre.
The Orbost Club Hotel offers locally brewed beer on tap and the Cape Conran Coastal Park is a top spot for swimming, surfing, boating, fishing and the like. The area is also rich indigenous history, in particular along the Bataluk Cultural Trail.
Visitors can also set up camp at Orbost Caravan Park as a central location into the Snowy River region, Cape Conran and Erinunda national park.
From the underground of the caves, visitors can put on their hiking boots and hit the hiking trails in Bruthen. The walking trails here wander through state forest and the entrance is easily located via signage off the Great Alpine Road as you approach Bruthen. A variety of tracks varying in difficulty are available with the simplest track being fairly flat and running a little more than half a kilometre.
A NATURAL WONDERLAND
East Gippsland’s Croajingolong National Park with its healthy population of native species and an abundance of birdlife is certainly worth exploring. The bird population here represents nearly 30 per cent of Australia’s total number of bird species.
Just near Croajingolong National Park, Cape Howe meets the Nadgee Nature Reserve area, forming an area that UNESCO has deemed a biosphere reserve with the largest unmodified coastal landscape in southeast Australia.
The National Park offers plenty of quiet coastal camping spots that make an ideal home base for day trips, beach walks, boating and fishing on the Mallacoota Lakes, visiting the enormous sand dunes at Thurra River or venturing out to the lighthouses at Gabo Island with its resident penguin colony and Point Hicks light station located deep within the park.
The rainforest area at Erinundra National Park is a gorgeous walk under the canopy of towering trees and thick oversized ferns. It’s a relatively easy walk and the majority of the trek is over a flat boardwalk designed to protect the rainforest grounds below. You’ll find camping up at Frosty Hollow in the national park that’s quite secluded and off the radar of most tourists.
But if it’s excitement you’re seeking, Lakes Entrance is easily one of Victoria’s holiday hotspots for weekenders and family holidays. Much loved for its beautiful beaches, waterfront cafes and boutiques and plenty of spots for fishing and water sports, the area sits at the edge of Ninety Mile Beach where Gippsland Lakes and the ocean meet. There’s a much-used foreshore cycling track and guided boat tours where you can admire the coastal scenery from Kalimna Lookout.
In the Gippsland Lakes region, a visit to Bairnsdale, in particular the iconic St Marys Church is a pleasant surprise to most visitors. Catholic or not, it’s difficult to not be impressed by the murals covering the walls and ceiling. From depicting the saints to scenes from heaven, hell and purgatory, the 1930s artist, Francesco Floreani has created something truly impressive.
The story goes that the artist was looking for work when the local parish priest offered him the job of painting the interior. Remarkably, nearly 90 years later, the church still attracts up to 80,000 visitors from near and far. The church itself is an imposing structure and architecturally impressive. The church doors are always open throughout the day for those keen to take a look inside and marvel.
In Bairnsdale, you can stay at the NRMA Bairnsdale Riverside Caravan Park, a great place to make your home base. Choose from a self-contained cabin, or you can set yourself up on a spacious powered or unpowered site.
Bairnsdale offers easy access to visit Raymond Island, a tiny island reached only by boat that’s home to Victoria’s largest koala population. Arrive by ferry and wander the island by foot or bicycle as you spot them sleeping and snacking from the treetops.
Foodies will be spoilt for choice in Gippsland with some of the best cool-climate wines, fresh produce as well as an array of gourmet produce specialists (think olive oils, chocolates and preserves.) Seafood lovers will find some of the finest in Australia as well as high-quality beef and local produce. Depending on the season, you can also eat apples from the farm, pick your own strawberries and meet the growers.
Most recently, food lovers have been flocking to The Long Paddock, a once historic bakery has been transformed into a restaurant in East Gippsland’s Lindenow. Owned by chefs and couple Tanya Bertino and Anton Eisenmenger the menu is a true reflection of the region’s finest, focusing on the fresh produce available in the region. The property overlooks the Mitchell River and if you’re keen to treat yourself, the view is just as spectacular as the food.
When to Visit
Planning your upcoming adventure to the East Gippsland region? Stop in and stay when the area is in full swing for a festival or event or visit at a time when it’s quieter. Here are just a few of the more popular events happening over the next few months:
- Rivendell Spring Garden Soirée: September 28
- Great East Rail Trail Ride: October 4- 7
- X-Marathon 60h Expedition Adventure Race: November 1-4
- The Bairnsdale Show: November 9
- Alpine Rally: November 29
Where to stay
- Stay at the beautiful reserve of Cape Conran Coastal Park, 420km east of Melbourne, with a range of water activities, walking trails and a number of camping and cabin facilities for accommodation.
- Orbost Caravan Park offers travellers both powered and unpowered sites starting from $26p/n as well as cabin accommodation starting from $85p/n (discounted at a weekly rate). It’s a great place to stay to access the surrounding Buchan Caves, plenty of walking trails and Raymond Creek Falls.
- NRMA Bairnsdale Riverside Caravan Park also has plenty of accommodation options and facilities for families, just minutes from Bairnsdale’s town centre and residing on the banks of the Mitchell River.
Love to cycle? Just 15 minutes from Lakes Entrance the Nowa Nowa Rail trail runs from Bairnsdale to Newmeralla just near Orbst (but you can pick it up at a variety of locations along the way.)
Back in 1888 when the railway came to Bairnsdale, it was notable for its many long trestle bridges. While the rail line didn’t reach Orbost until 1916, the line was finally closed in 1987.
Today it serves as a recreational trail that’s much loved by cyclists and pedestrians alike. The entire cycling trail runs the 94km passing through a variety of forests and towns as well as huge timber bridges and views of the Gippsland Lakes.
The section from Bairnsdale to Nicholson, roughly 8km long, is a popular section with its fully sealed pathways and the fully restored (and rather remarkable Nicholson Trestle Bridge towering over the Nicholson River.
Along the west side of the trail there’s also plenty of space to stop off for a picnic or visit the local town of Nicholson.
There are large portions of the trail without facilities or towns along the way, particularly on the longest section from Nowa Nowa to Newmeralla, so do your research if you head out for a full day of adventure.
The 36km section between Nowa Nowa and Newmeralla is wide enough for three cycles and plenty of shade making summer riding an easier option.
While in Nowa Nowa, campers and caravanners alike can stay at Mingling Waters, a caravan park offering homestead accommodation as well as powered and unpowered sites. It also has a cafe onsite to grab your morning coffee!