For Australia’s third smallest state, Victoria is a land of contrasting landscapes, from the arid desert of the north-west to the temperate forests of the east. The Gippsland region, sprawled along the coast from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to the New South Wales border, truly embodies this diverse and variable land – sandy beaches and lush temperate rainforest to quaint towns and snowy alpine wilderness, all within a day’s drive of Melbourne.
You can drive from the New South Wales border to Melbourne in a day. A lot of people do. A lot more take the Hume Highway and skip Gippsland entirely, but what they skip is a vibrantly scenic yet oddly quiet corner of the country.
Our trip earlier this year took us from the rugged coastal Croajingolong National Park down to Wilsons Promontory. I don’t usually relish travelling on such a tight timeframe, but with the ferry to Tasmania booked just down the road we made the best of what time we had. All within a week and a half, we had sunny warm weather, heavy storms, drizzling misty rains, howling gales and eventually ended up back at clear blue skies. Despite what the weather threw at us, there was still more than enough to keep us occupied as we travelled down the coast.
Gippsland is split into four regions; East, South, West and the Latrobe Valley. It’s a popular area, but while places like Wilsons Promontory and Gippsland Lakes can see a lot of traffic, especially around the holiday periods, places like Tarra Bulga, Cape Conran and Snowy River National Park can be a little more peaceful. The whole area is loaded with great free camps, too, making it a great destination for a quick getaway.
We based ourselves just south of the border at Genoa and Cann River, using them to explore Croajingolong. An unexpected storm cut our visit to Mallacoota Inlet short, but we made up for it with a climb up Genoa Peak, which hides some brilliant views of the surrounding wilderness, just off the highway. There’s remote bush camping at Shipwreck Creek, Wingan Inlet, Muellers Inlet and Thurra River, and although I can’t speak for the others, Thurra River seemed like a great place to spend a couple of days.
The river was beautiful for a swim, and while the pristine stretch of beach might have been just a little too cold, it was definitely one of the more scenic beaches out there. The white sand is piled with misshapen granite boulders splattered with vivid orange lichen that clashes with the turquoise water beyond.
There’s a nice walk to Point Hicks Lighthouse, and the rough track to the nearby dune field is pretty incredible too. You’d barely even know they were up there, until you stumble into the hidden valley of shifting white sands and windswept dunes.
From Croajingolong, we headed to Cape Conran Coastal Park. This is a little patch of coastal wilderness that doesn’t usually see a huge amount of visitors, depending on where you head. We had two nights of basic, peaceful bush-camping at Pearl Point by a secluded beach that looked like it had some good fishing.
Just north of the highway, Snowy River National Park is one of the more accessible regions of Victoria’s Alpine wilderness. Deep mountain valleys, spectacular lookouts and waterfalls, and plenty of remote camping along the icy river. We only managed a quick visit, but it’s one of those serene patches of the country that begs further exploration some day down the track. After this, we headed down towards Lake Tyers and weathered another passing thunderstorm with a good feed at the Waterwheel Tavern, before heading on to explore the Gippsland Lakes region.
Four hundred square kilometres of inland waterways make up the lakes, which are a popular holiday destination for Victorians. Fishing, swimming, kayaking and boating keep most people occupied, while it also seemed like one of those places to just relax and soak up the scenery. There’s a huge choice of caravan parks around the area, particularly at Lakes Entrance, and there’s some great bush campgrounds dotted along the water’s edge too. We headed for 90 Mile Beach, where there’s a string of free camps along the beach, as well as the remains of a shipwreck to check out.
Another day of howling wind and heavy rain drove us away from the historic coastal town of Port Albert and into the shelter of Tarra Bulga National Park. Tarra Bulga is a lush pocket of old growth temperate rainforest, and the larger Strzelecki Range it abuts is a great area for exploring. There’s a beautiful selection of tranquil waterfalls hidden around here too, for those who put the effort in. For those that don’t, Agnes Falls is just a short drive from the highway, and is definitely worth a quick stop.
The highlight for us, and likely for a lot of people who come this way, was Wilsons Promontory. Prom country, on the southern-most tip of mainland Australia and readily accessible from Melbourne, is a beautifully rugged peninsula of granite mountains, dense forest and great wilderness hiking. Be warned, the campground out here is one of the most expensive in the country, but at least the location is stunning enough that it makes the cost a little more bearable.
The nearby beach is spectacular, as are pretty much all of the beaches down here, with squeaky white sand, granite headlands and azure waters. As well as the longer, more-remote wilderness hikes over the peninsula, there’s a great choice of easier walks to take in, through banksia-dominated heathland and small pockets of coastal rainforest. There’s a few great views to be found throughout the park, but none quite as impressive as the summit of Mt Oberon. The track isn’t nearly as daunting as it may seem from down below, and the views are just out of this world.
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