A journey through Victoria’s south-east takes in wild landscapes, unspoilt beaches, historic villages and stunning national parks
Our family road trip to Gippsland starts on the winding Great Alpine Road which travels past rolling vineyards, through Victoria’s High Country, over Mt Hotham, down plunging valleys, and into lush forests. However, before we hit the shimmering waterways of the Gippsland coast we take a detour to the quiet rural township of Buchan.
Arriving in the late afternoon my first port of call (as always) is the local pub. It seems every country pub is steeped in history or has an interesting story but the Buchan caves Hotel takes the cake. It’s is an absolute ripper!
I order a beer and get chatting to the owner Greg “Brickie” Brick who proceeds to tell me the remarkable story.
In April 2014 fire destroyed the pub, and the community was left without its local watering hole. Built in 1881, the pub has always been the heart and soul of the town and a meeting place for locals who had survived floods, bushfires and droughts over the years.
Residents were left to drown their sorrows at a temporary replacement – the local football clubrooms. Brickie says when the pub was razed by fire he did not think it would be rebuilt. Then came one of Australia’s biggest and most successful crowd-funding campaigns, which brought in $600,000 of funding used to build the new hotel. Under the crowd-funding agreement, pub profits will be returned to the town, including the footy club, bush nursing, Country Fire Authority and school.
I bet you’ve told that story a few times over the past few years” I ask.
“Yeah, just a couple” he replies. “But it’s a great story and goes to show what can be achieved when people work together. “It was months of hard work, lots of voluntary labour, and a total community effort”.
Brickie gets back to work and over the next hour I meet the local policeman, park ranger, teacher and a farmer. The Buchan locals sure are a friendly bunch!
Situated in a picturesque valley, Buchan is best known for its spectacular network of limestone caves and rock formations. The limestone rock at Buchan was laid down during the Devonian period about 300 – 400 million years ago making it one of the oldest Ice Age cave sites in southeast Australia. At the time, the sea covered this area of East Gippsland which was alive with shellfish and coral. Their remains were deposited in layers and over the years compacted to form limestone.
Originally named Bukan-Mungie, meaning ‘the place of rocks with holes in them’, the area was one of Victoria’s earliest European settlements. Artefacts of Aboriginal occupation from 18,000 years ago are still visible in the caves.
Guided cave tours operate into the Royal and Fairy caves every day (except Christmas day). Royal Cave features calcite-rimmed pools and Fairy Cave features elaborate stalactites and stalagmites. Both caves are lit, have walkways and have a constant temperature of 17 °C making it a comfortable temperature all year round.
Buchan Caves Reserve is home to many native animals including the Eastern Grey Kangaroo. More than 60 species of birds have been sighted in the reserve. There is also access to short and long walks in the surrounding bushland and the nearby Snowy River National Park.
The Reserve has a swimming pool, playground, picnic ground, toilets, and Visitor Information and Interpretation Centre. Accommodation options include powered and unpowered campsites, self-contained cabins and the newly renovated ‘Caves House’.
From Buchan we head south east through Orbost and Marlo before arriving at Cape Conran Coastal Park. Consisting of 11,700 hectares of coastal wilderness with expansive heathlands and banksia woodlands, the park also fronts onto 60 kilometres of remote sandy beaches. The Bidawal, Gunaikurnai and Nindi-Ngudjam Ngarigu Monero people are the traditional owners of this protected Park and have inhabited the area for tens of thousands of years.
Many of the local walking trails have interpretive signs which provide an insight into the culture, history and way of life of these indigenous people. There’s also plenty of lookouts with spectacular views out to the ocean. If you’re lucky you might even spot whales and seals off the coast or dolphins surfing in the waves during May to October.
Our next destination is Lakes Entrance, situated on the edge of the famous Ninety Mile Beach where the Gippsland Lakes meet the Southern Ocean. The Gippsland lakes system is a vast network of rivers, lakes, lagoons and islands and consists of three magnificent lakes – Wellington, Victoria and King. The area is a haven for all kinds of watersports including fishing, boating, sailing, swimming, water skiing, surfing, scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding.
The Lakes Entrance waterfront is populated by the local fishing fleet, private yachts and boats plus two floating restaurants – Ferryman’s Seafood Cafe and The Floating Dragon Dockside Restaurant.
Nearby, Metung is tucked away like a picture-perfect village in a peaceful corner of the Gippsland Lakes. Steeped in a history of boats, fishing and relaxed lifestyles, its natural beauty also attracts many artists and painters. The Metung boardwalk follows the shores of Bancroft Bay from Chinamans Creek to the Village Green. Along the way we discover ‘Legend Rock’ at the marina opposite the yacht club. An important part of Gunaikurnai mythology, the Legend Rock story is about a group of greedy fishermen who were turned to stone.
On the edge of the bay, The Metung hotel has stunning waterfront views and is a great place for a meal or a drink. You can also watch pelicans feed at the front of the hotel at noon every day.
Our next stopover is at Hooked Inn Cottages, set on a peaceful wildflower farm near historic Port Albert. The property is dotted with banksias, isopogens proteas and leucadendrons which attract a number of animals including kangaroos, rosellas and kookaburras. The relatively new cottages are owned and run by Michael and Sue Glebov.
Like most ambitious projects, the development went over budget, over time and by the end Michael was over it. However, there was no turning back. And when considering a name “Hooked Inn” seemed appropriate. Port Albert is a famous fishing village and its locals have always been hooked on fishing, Michael was hooked on the project and they were also hoping to hook a few visitors. Makes sense to me!
Established in 1841 Port Albert is one of Victoria’s oldest sea ports. The town has a collection of historical buildings and an interesting museum that honours the area’s rich maritime past. Walking tracks and picnic areas line the coast around the wharf and jetty area which is shaded by Norfolk Pines. The fish and chip shop at the end of the wharf serves up some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted. So fresh and delicious!
From Port Albert we continue along the coast to Wilsons Promontory at the southern-most tip of mainland Australia. Affectionately known as ‘The Prom’ it is the state’s largest coastal wilderness areas. The coastline here is absolutely stunning with beautiful sandy beaches, granite mountains and cliffs with a backdrop of rugged picturesque offshore islands.
A network of bushwalks extend from under an hour to over three days. Visitors can camp, caravan or stay in huts, cabins, wilderness retreats or lodges at Tidal River where there is a general store, take-away food shop and information centre.
One of the Prom’s iconic locations, Squeaky Beach has round grains of quartz sand that ‘squeak’ when walked on − hence its name. At the northern end of the beach giant orange granite rock formations create a maze of passages to explore. Fishing is permitted on beach areas and there are also fishing platforms on the Loo-Errn boardwalk which protects the fragile Tidal River wetlands.
For our final night we decide to spoil ourselves with a bit of luxury at Vivere Retreat. Situated on 18 acres with breath-taking views towards the Baw Baw ranges the retreat is located near to the town of South Neerim. Its close proximity to Melbourne makes it the ideal base to explore Mt Baw Baw, local wineries, farmers markets and art galleries.
That evening we light the fire and watch the sun set while enjoying some local wine and cheese. After a week on the road it’s the perfect way to end our journey.
The quickest way to get to Gippsland from Melbourne by car is to travel south east along the Monash Freeway and then take the M1 (Princes Freeway).
The Great Alpine Road links Victoria’s north east with Gippsland. It is Australia’s highest year-round accessible sealed road.
If travelling along the southern NSW coast you will cross the border and reach Mallacoota in the far eastern corner of Gippsland.
Top Accommodation options:
Camping and caravanning:
- Cape Conran Coastal Park Cabins – www.conran.net.au
- Buchan Caves Reserve – www.parkweb.vic.gov.au
- Tidal River Campground (Wilsons Prom) – www.parkweb.vic.gov.au
- McMillans of Metung Resort – www.mcmillansofmetung.com.au
- Hooked Inn Cottages (Port Albert) – www.hookedinncottages.com.au
- Vivere Retreat (Neerim South) – www.vivereretreat.com.au