Covering over 600 square kilometres, the Gippsland Lakes are Australia’s largest and most beautiful inland waterways
What is the best way to communicate with a fish?
Drop it a line.
Apologies for starting with a bad joke, but I think it’s appropriate given this story involves a coastal town with a rich fishing history. Everywhere I go around Lakes Entrance people are fishing.They are casting surf rods off beaches, lobbing lures into estuaries, angling from jetties and trawling their boats around the many Gippsland Lakes waterways. To say the locals love fishing is stating the bleeding obvious!
For example, while strolling around a jetty along the esplanade I pass a teenager dropping a line around the moored yachts.
“How are they biting mate” I ask.
“Got a couple but just lost a monster. It was huge” he replies.
It seems the young lad has already embraced the ‘one that got away story’. His dad would be so proud.
Further along the Esplanade I bump into a mate, Bluey (from my hometown in Albury) who is visiting family and friends. Bluey was raised in Lakes Entrance and worked as a professional fisherman from the age of thirteen until he moved 20 years ago. We get chatting (about fishing of course) and he invites me to go fishing with him the following day. I jump at the chance.
The next morning I meet Bluey and his cousin Ronny at the boat ramp. Both are fifth generation commercial fishermen so I’m in good company.
They take me to a ‘secret location’ past the Kalimna jetty. We hop off the boat and wade into the shallow water and begin to cast out a few soft plastic lures amongst the weed beds.
Bluey and Ronny no longer fish professionally and they both agree that fishing is enjoyable again. “There’s no pressure to catch fish for a livelihood. It’s all for fun now,” says Ronny.
It doesn’t take long for Bluey to hook up and land a nice flathead. I get ready for a strike.
“Just reel the lure a little slower” Bluey suggests.
I take his advice and sure enough the next cast I hook a nice 55cm flatty.
There’s plenty of action over the next half an hour but then it goes quiet.
“The flatties have moved into deeper water now,” Bluey says. “Try a silver wobbler – we should get onto a few salmon”.
Once again I take his advice and sure enough within a few minutes we are catching salmon.
I can’t believe it! These blokes really know how to fish!
Between us we land a good feed of fish but the rain sets in and we decide to call it a day.
Not surprisingly Lakes Entrance is renowned as the region’s seafood capital due to the large number of fishing trawlers operating in the area. There’s a good selection of seafood shops around town but when in Rome head to the wharf like the locals. Here you’ll find a number of trawlers that fish throughout the night and then sell straight off the boat during the day.
Later that afternoon I notice a steady flow of customers buying from a big old trawler named Karumba Gulf. I consider it a good sign. I introduce myself to the vessel’s owner Labros and learn that he has fished the local waters for 35 years. Labros looks like a tough weathered sea captain who has battled many a stormy sea. And I’m sure he has plenty of fishing stories to tell.
We load up with prawns and bugs and head home for a big seafood cook up along with the freshly caught flathead. The meal is to die for!
However, I’m not the first to enjoy the local food. The Gunaikurnai people are the traditional owners of Gippsland with estimates of up to 40,000 years of occupation. The Gippsland Lakes area provided the aboriginal inhabitants with a richness of fish and game. Shellfish were also an important food source and the remains of these meals are found today in midden sites around the waterways. Lakeside areas were also full of ‘bush tucker’ and medicinal plants.
Okay – enough about catching and eating fish. Believe it or not there’s plenty more to see and do around Lakes Entrance.
The main thoroughfare of the Esplanade proceeds alongside the shoreline of the Cunninghame Arm inlet, with marinas and foreshore gardens on one side, and a variety of shops, restaurants and accommodation options on the other side. An interesting feature along the foreshore is the gallery of war carvings. Trunks of six of the trees that originally formed the ‘Avenue of Honour’ have been preserved and turned into monuments signifying scenes from WW1.
The sculptures represent images of Australia at war and include a soldier, a nurse, a wounded soldier with a donkey, a family waiting for their father and the Gallipoli hero Simpson helping two wounded soldiers.
The landmark footbridge, which crosses the inlet, connects the town centre with the sand dunes and windswept coastline of Bass Strait and the famous Ninety Mile Beach. Popular with surfers and swimmers, Main Beach is patrolled daily during the summer months by surf life savers.
From the footbridge a five kilometre trail (return) guides walkers along the narrow peninsula of land which divides the calm waters of Cunninghame Arm from the choppy waters of Bass Strait. The walk takes in some stunning scenic coastline and coastal bush and leads to the Flagstaff Lookout which provides good views over the man-made entrance into the Gippsland Lakes.
Seal and dolphin pods love to hang around this point and frolic in the tidal pulls at the entrance. It’s here I watch a playful seal repeatedly toss a fish in the air and then catch it again before enjoying the feed. Not too far away there’s many more seals relaxing and playing in the shallows. A little further out, a large pod of dolphins are surfing where the waves are breaking. The marine life is mesmerising – who needs Sea World!
I could have watched them for hours but after a while it’s time to leave so I make my way back along the shore of the inlet.
A number of lookouts provide panoramic views over Lakes Entrance and the surrounding waterways, with most located on or near the Princes Highway, just west of the town in the neighbouring community of Kalimna. However, some of the best views are from the aptly named Seaview Parade which offers unmatched vistas over the town centre, the entrance, marinas and the golden sands of Ninety Mile Beach.
Either side of Lakes Entrance is a number of interesting seaside villages. Heading west around the coast is Metung. We are lucky that it’s the second Saturday of the month as the famous Metung Farmers market is occurring on The Village Green. The market has a wide variety of produce and fresh food stalls. My wife Carly is happy as a dog with two tails and she hurries off to source some local treats. She appears soon after with an armful of cheese, bread, cider, sauces and gourmet meats.
We stroll along the water’s edge, observing the sailing boats gliding by and then watch the resident pelicans feeding. Next on the agenda is Bairnsdale for a quick drive around town before heading south to Paynesville.
This charismatic village is surrounded by lakes on three sides, with canals and inlets offering ample protected moorings for boats. Paynesville is the region’s boating hub. Anglers, windsurfers, jet skiers, and water skiers swarm to the town to take to the water.
A car and passenger ferry links the mainland with Raymond Island across McMillan Strait. The island is well known for its large koala population, originally introduced to the island in 1953. As you come off the ferry look for the Tourist Information Board in the park. This information will guide you through the Koala Trail, an easy 1.2 km walk starting in the ferry park. We are fortunate to spot a few koalas lounging in the trees. This island is also also home to over 60 bird species and many species of ground orchids and wildflowers.
The following day I take the opportunity to visit a couple of the local pubs.
The Kalimna Hotel takes in one of Australia’s most spectacular views over the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. These views can be enjoyed over a meal or drink from the main lounge or the enclosed verandah lounge. Behind the bar is Lance, who has operated the pub on and off since the 1960s. He has poured a few beers in his day so you are sure to receive a nice cold one.
The Water Wheel Beach Tavern located right on the shores of the picturesque Lake Tyers Beach is another iconic watering hole in the region. It’s literally a stone’s throw away from the beach. The Central Hotel situated in the heart of Lakes Entrance overlooks the front lake of Cunningham Arm from the Esplanade. The pubs are a great place to meet the locals and see what’s happening around town.
With an esky full of local seafood it’s finally time to hit the road and head home. But I promise not to finish with another bad joke….However, if you think of a good fish pun …..please let minnow!
Lakes entrance is situated 315km east of Melbourne – between Bairnsdale and Orbost.
Visitor Information Centre:
Address: Cnr Marine Parade and Princes Hwy, Lakes Entrance, Victoria 3909
Phone: (03) 5155 1966
Freecall: 1800 637 060
Caravan / Holiday Parks:
(03) 5155 1581
(03) 5155 1343
(03) 5155 1914
(03) 5155 1159
(03) 5155 2490
(03) 5155 1237
(03) 5155 2254
The Esplanade Resort & Spa
Offers hotel style accommodation or fully self contained apartments and deluxe and luxury suites.
Address: 1 The Esplanade, Lakes Entrance, Victoria, 3909
Phone: (03) 5155 3533