It’s funny how, as we grow up, things change perspective in our mind. I always thought my hometown was nice but not overly special. It was where I grew up, went to school, made friends and enjoyed a relatively normal upbringing. Today, as a traveller and writer, I can look back and appreciate fully the country town that my parents ultimately chose when they emigrated to Australia from Italy.
Sale is in Gippsland, roughly 213 kilometres from Melbourne and an easy three-hour drive along the Princes Highway. As you arrive into Sale there are hints that there’s something special here: signs to the lake, a series of bridges that lure you into town. It doesn’t take long to realise this is just the beginning.
Nestled behind this neat little country town are parks and waterways, picturesque lakes and wetlands with prolific birdlife. There’s been a lot of changes since I left here many years ago, not the least is the Port of Sale which has undergone a $14.6 million redevelopment. The hub now boasts a regional art gallery, a public library, a visitor information centre, cafés and much more. In many ways it’s considered the cultural heart of Gippsland. Behind it, the picturesque marina is home to small and large boats that take locals and visitors out on the lakes. Undercover picnic and barbeque facilities provide a peaceful spot to watch the goings on. Growing up though, it was just a place to hang out and ride our bikes.
Located at the western point of the Gippsland lakes the Port of Sale gives access to the entire lake system that connects to the ocean at Lakes Entrance. There’s plenty of opportunities for relaxing and getting out on the water.
For the first time to visitor to Sale, Lake Guthridge should be the first port of call. Grab some lunch, maybe something from the bakery in the main street or some fish and chips and enjoy the peaceful ambience of the lake. At any time of the day there’s people walking dogs and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. The black swan is the emblem of Sale and can often be seen swimming in the lake. In the warmer months you can hire a canoe or a paddle boat.
There’s also a circuit of fitness equipment and exercises that you can follow around the lake, culminating with a fun climbing wall and boardwalks to the nearby wetlands. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the perimeter but if you don’t want to walk the entire circuit a shorter 1.1 kilometre walk around Lake Guyatt leads to the Powder Magazine built in 1864. This is a great little spot tucked away between the Thomson River and Lake Guyatt, right on the edge of town.
The botanic gardens overlook Lake Guthridge and include a fantastic adventure playground for the kids. Peacocks saunter lazily in the gardens and there’s an abundance of birds and plenty of places to have a picnic or enjoy a walk. From here there are over four kilometers of trails to enjoy, incorporating an indigenous art trail. The gardens are next door to the extensive indoor and outdoor swimming pool complex and gym so there’s something for everyone.
The Sale Common and Wetlands area provides great opportunities to enjoy the prolific birdlife up close. Two of these wetland areas, Lake Guyatt and the Sale Common State Game Refuge are accessible via walking trails and extensive board walks. You’ll pass through woodlands and grasslands, along the Flooding Creek Track, and ending near the Latrobe River.
Just five kilometers out of Sale on the road to Longford, and at the junction of the La Trobe and Thomson Rivers, is the historic swing bridge, the last operational swing bridge in Australia. Growing up I remember driving this way to reach Seaspray and the Ninety Mile beach. We had to cross the one lane bridge with a red or green traffic light indicating when it was our turn to drive across.
These days there are two new bridges that divert traffic past the swing bridge towards Longford and the Ninety Mile Beach. The historic bridge is now only open to pedestrian and cyclists however you can drive to either side and watch the impressive sight as it opens every weekend. It’s fabulous to watch.
Built in 1883 across the La Trobe River, this bridge was the first movable bridge built in Victoria. It opened by pivoting horizontally on a set of central piers and the bridge keeper would be called, day or night, to open the bridge by the whistle of ships travelling along the Latrobe River. It’s a mighty structure and at its peak was opened to 20 times a day to allow boats to travel through with their passengers and goods from Sale to Melbourne. The swing bridge now opens every Saturday and Sunday between 3 and 4pm and is well worth checking out if you’re in the area. It’s a true marvel of engineering.
Golfers take note, Sale Golf Course Sale is one of Victoria’s most highly regarded courses. There are six other courses nearby as well as a 12-hole par-3 course near the Port of Sale. For those that like exploring on two wheels the roads here provide flat, easy and scenic cycling both in and out of town. One of my favorite memories growing up was a full day’s cycling to Lake Wellington at Marley Point.
Marley Point is around 20 kilometres northeast of Sale, with some hills along the way, so it was no mean feat to ride there on a gearless bike. Once there you can chill out and watch the wind surfers do their stuff on the water. Marley point is home to the Marley Point Overnight Yacht Race, the longest overnight inland yacht race in the world, held on the Labour Day weekend in March each year. We used to go late at night and watch it from inside the car. It was quite a spectacle. There’s a great free camp spot here, right on the shore of Lake Wellington with toilets and views looking onto the lake.
Back in town the Sale Mall with its clock tower takes centre stage in a pedestrian walkway filled with cafes, retail shops, restaurants and hotels. There’s all the camping supplies and services you’d expect from a major country town and everything is compacted in one easy shopping strip.
Sale is also home of the RAAF Officer Training School and on any given weekend you might be lucky enough to spot the precision flying Roulettes in training flying over the skies of the town. If you head out to the Base, you’ll see a Winjeel on display at the entrance.
As you’d expect there’s plenty of motels and places to stay. For campers the Sale Motor Village is a Top Tourist Park located just off the highway and not far from the port and cultural hub. There are plenty of drive-through ensuite sites for caravans and camper trailers, a well-equipped camp kitchen and a Par 3 Golf Course at the rear of the park. It’s a great position with the Port of Sale only 500 metres away. There’s also powered camping at the showgrounds on the other side of town, heading out of town towards Maffra and Briagolong.
Briagolong is about 30 minutes from Sale and boasts one of the most beautiful spots to swim at the Blue Pool, a pristine natural swimming spot. There’s loads of short day trips from Sale including Glenmaggie Weir, which resulted from the damming of the Macalister River. It’s not far from Sale and the place of many childhood family picnics. The weir was built primarily for irrigation but today it’s a popular spot for water skiing and speed boating. You can still walk across the mighty wall to view the spillway.
If you fancy the idea of having a stretch of beach to yourself a visit to Seaspray, Golden Beach or Paradise Beach is a must. The names alone conjure up images of peaceful and solitary sands and the best thing is, they’re only about half an hour away. Having grown up spending plenty of weekends enjoying long summer days sliding down sand dunes and frolicking in the waves, I can almost guarantee that you could still find a secluded spot, even today. But maybe I’d better not let the secret out.