Sometimes 24 hours is all you need. A nice sunset and sunrise, some time to soak up the relaxing sea vibes, drop a few dollars into the local community and then continue the journey. That was our intention for our overnighter. Of course, if you’re travelling between Gippsland and Melbourne and have more time you can prolong your stay but Port Albert warrants at least one night.
Port Albert was once known as the Golden Port. It was established in 1841 for the early land settlement of Gippsland and was transformed into a bustling port in the 1850s by the discovery of gold. Would be prospectors, supplies and machinery flowed in and over a thousand ounces of gold a week was shipped out. By the late 1860s better roads from Gippsland to Melbourne and increased activity through Lakes Entrance into the Gippsland Lakes led to a steady decline of Port Albert.
Today this sleepy fishing village along the South Gippsland Highway relies strongly on tourism and the picturesque wharf is undoubtedly its gem.
We rolled into town early on the Saturday morning underneath a grey and colourless sky. Nevertheless, the ambience and welcome from locals was warm as we made our way into the free camping parking area, right on the wharf. This area is designated for self-contained rigs.
There are only six official parking and camping sites for RVs but the locals don’t seem to mind if there’s an overflow. That was us, unintentionally, parking our Journey in a spot just slightly outside the designated area. We didn’t realise until much later but the locals aren’t too fussed, so long as you don’t encroach on them launching their boats into the water.
Fishing is one of the main pastimes out here and, whether you have a rod or not, it’s a sure-fire way of enjoying the bounty of the area. And, as you’d expect by the sea, there’s some decent seafood to be enjoyed here.
The most well-known place is the Wharf, situated right on the tip and with sweeping views across the headland. Aside from the takeaway fish and chips there’s also an eat in option next door at Wildfish Restaurant for those who want to sit down in a stylish setting and take in the views with a glass of wine.
Our choice for lunch however was Castim by the Jetty, a waterfront kiosk barely fifty metres from where our van was parked. The Boat Hire and Kiosk is owned by super friendly couple Carol and Andrew who took over the former Winch House at the Slip Jetty in September 2019 and made it their own.
Carol told me they used to come to Port Albert for 26 years and had always dreamed of starting a business here. Finally in 2019 they took the plunge and bought the former Winch House transforming it into this great little spot right on the Slip Jetty. After a flourishing start their dream venture was forced to shut down twice in 2020, because of Covid, but now appears to be thriving again. Their passion and love of what they’re doing is evident and they’re clearly committed to constantly improving the service they provide. One of the most recent is their new buzzer system that allows you to pre-order and wander the wharf while waiting for your food. Or, if it’s windy which it often is here, you can wait in your car.
I can vouch that their prawn twisters are delicious and the gummy burgers the freshest I’ve ever eaten. Caz told me they caught it literally hours before, so it doesn’t get much fresher than that. They do a fabulous lunch pack for $15 which includes a bit of everything, chips, gummy shark, mini potato cake, prawn twister all with a tangy tartare sauce on the side. Our lunch was topped off with a great coffee and they also do homemade cakes.
Nearby there are picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy your lunch while the kids have a swim. If you’re keen, you can hire a boat from the jetty and try and catch your own squid or fish of the day. For us it was a relaxing lunch and catch up with a good friend who came to meet us from nearby Woodside.
With appetites appeased there are plenty of ways to walk off lunch. In town the highlight is the beautiful wharf area and a visit to the historic maritime museum. If you want a longer walk, the 11.3km Old Port Trail is an easy and picturesque trail passing mangroves and waterways with plenty of birdlife along the way, from the centre of town to Seabank, the former site of the town. You can start at either Stockyard Point, Port Albert or Seabank (Old Port Rd, Lansborough). It’s here you’ll find a rather humble looking caravan park.
Barely five minutes up the road is another free camp option if all the camping places at the wharf are full. The Port Albert Racecourse and Recreation area is off Racecourse Road in Lansborough, just out of town. It’s a peaceful reserve with buildings from the racing days including shelter sheds, horse yards and an old racing tower. Currently the reserve, which is managed by a local committee and the Friends of Port Albert, is closed due to maintenance however it should be open again in early 2021. You can check their Facebook page for updates if you’re planning on travelling through here.
This is such a picturesque area and whether you’re camped at the wharf or in the bush, it’s a peaceful spot to base yourself. Port Albert blows away those city cobwebs and just up the road is one of the biggest surprises of the area. For art lovers it’s an absolute treat.
Yarram – Heesco Town
Barely ten minutes from picturesque Port Albert is the town of Yarram, the closest town for supplies. It’s a worthwhile stop, not just for stocking up on fuel and supplies and walking through their attractive gardens but to experience some very unexpected art. Following the early bushfires of 2020 and the Covid 19 Pandemic this small Gippsland town and community was facing potential tourist downturn, depression and financial ruin however, as a result of the brain child of long-time resident Eric Greenaway and local artist and film maker Wayne Tindall, an extraordinary art project was born.
They enlisted world renowned street and silo artist, Heesco Khosnaran, to transform the town and that’s exactly what he’s done. Yarram may not have silos but there’s plenty of bare walls that were perfect canvases for his vibrant colourful works of art. These fifteen murals throughout Yarram have collectively become known as the Heesco Town project, depicting colourful scenes and traditions as well as some of the local characters that have shaped the history of this area. For example, on the rear wall of the Betta Home Living Store Heesco has painted a mural of Kara Healey, the first female park ranger of Tarra Valley.
Whilst some of the art is indoors, such as the colourful scenes inside the Bull Bar and Gallery, most of them can be enjoyed simply and strolling driving through town. A guide to the details and directions of the art can be picked up at various places such as at the entrance to the Ship Inn Motel.
From art to Tarra Bulga
Less than half hour away is Tarra Bulga National Park, one of Gippsland’s most-loved national parks. This is a place that takes me back to my youth, with paths straight out of a story book and a suspension bridge that was always so much fun as a little girl. This magic is timeless with towering mountain ash, waterfalls and giant tree ferns that make you feel you’ve stepped into a lush wonderland. Tarra Bulga National Park is a popular place to be immersed in this rainforest magic and on a hot day underneath the canopy of the forest it’s a cool respite. Keep an ear out for the shy but enchanting lyrebird. There are plenty of short and longer walking tracks, picnic facilities and an information centre where you can learn about the history of this beautiful national park.
Back in Port Albert that night we made use of the undercover barbecue facilities on the foreshore cooking up our steaks while overlooking the waters of Bass Strait. Afterwards we enjoyed a magical walk along the illuminated foreshore savouring the peace and the reflections of the boats, jetties and lights.
Those glassy still waters transformed during a rumbling night and by morning the sea and skyscape was spectacular but ominous. My early morning walk down to the wharf was quick but breathtaking in the dazzling light. The colours were beautiful but there was change in the air and storm clouds were moving in. By the time I returned the wind had picked up so breakfast was a quick affair as our thoughts turned to moving on. Pulling the top down on our poptop van in these gusty conditions proved to be a challenge. Such is the force of nature and the changeable weather by the coast.
Back on the road again, and heading towards Melbourne, there are plenty more stops and delights to enjoy along the way. Not far from Port Albert is Port Welshpool, home of the historic long jetty. This jetty stretches out for 800 metres over the waters of Corner Inlet and, on a calm day, is a photographers dream but the wind was blowing so fiercely that any attempts to walk it would have likely ended up with me being blown across to Bass Strait. Instead my other half opted for a coffee at the local store near the wharf.
Not far away in Toora you’ll pass the impressive site of the wind farms and if you detour slightly into the hills you can experience Agnes Falls which is Victoria’s highest single span waterfall. Further along the town of Menniyan offers loads of quirky and trendy stores and gourmet places to enjoy a coffee or more.
Then of course you get to the Phillip Island and Wilsons Prom turn offs, two of Victoria’s most iconic destinations. This area beckons with spectacular locations but alas for us, we’re homeward bound. Still, given it’s close proximity to Melbourne no doubt we’ll be back.