At the Lakes

29 November to 7 December 2019

Cowes to Lakes Entrance, 315km

to Paynesville, 52km

to Woodside Beach, 143km

We don’t want to come over all whinging Pom or conform to national stereotypes but we have been moaning a lot about the weather. We just wanted to visit Wilson’s Prom but there had been 50 knot winds and rain battering the peninsula for what seemed like weeks and they weren’t stopping anytime soon so we needed to find somewhere to explore while we waited. Everyone agreed that the weather was unseasonal even for Victoria with temperatures at least 10 degrees cooler than normal.

With heavy rain forecast for the night we retreated to the solid roof of an Air BnB in Inverell whilst we worked out where to go next. This coast is clearly used to being windswept. The erosion of the dunes and driftwood all along the shore told us it took the brunt of the southerly winds.

The wind and water had left their mark on the flat bed of rock. The patterns almost looked like Aboriginal art designs. If the air was a little cold at least the local dogs were very friendly!

In the dry of our accommodation we considered our options and decided to head east to the Gippsland Lakes. It is a popular holiday spot and if nothing else there were lots of caravan parks with cabins we could shelter in for the coming days of rain.

By the time you read this you will probably have heard of the East Gippsland area of Victoria. You probably hadn’t before. We hadn’t. But now you will probably have seen the terrible fires that have raged through the area and the 3000 people stranded on the beach and subsequently evacuated by the Navy to safety on the Mornington Peninsula. We will write more about our feelings about the fires, so many in places we have travelled through, but for now we recall visiting the Gippsland Lakes in the rain and we only wish it would rain again for them and hard.

We spent at least two days sheltering from the rain in a cabin at the Echo Beach Caravan Park in Lakes Entrance enjoying the home comforts of a sofa and a TV, going out only to visit the excellent local swimming pool and stock up at Woolworths. A break in the weather enabled us to just about stay dry for a walk across the lake to 90 mile beach. Inadvertently we found ourselves at another iconic Australian film location, the one about which Crocodile Dundee famously said “that is not a beach, this is a beach”!

Another day, when the rain had stopped, we were able to do the longer walk to the entrance of the lake, where the Mitchell River reaches the sea. The sign halfway tickled us, demonstrating that classic Australian literalism in place names.

Emerging from the tea tree tunnel the strong winds were reeking havoc at the mouth of the river. It was the kind of dramatic sea we were very glad not to be out in.

The seals however didn’t seem to care at all and we watched families playing around in the crashing waves.

We extended our stay for an extra couple of nights and by the time we climbed back out of the town to head west again things looked a lot calmer over the lake. Despite the weather we liked the area and decided to spend another few days beside the lakes at Paynesville. We stopped on the way at Bairnsdale at the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place to learn more about the traditional owners of this area. We heard stories of a decade, between 1839 and 1849, when the local Kurnai were massacred in large numbers but also the destruction brought by the diseases, displacement and alcohol brought by the European Settlers. The keeping place was part of a development of dedicated spaces and services for the local indigenous population and they were, in spite of history, very welcoming and friendly.

It’s fair to say that we were starting to go a little bit crazy waiting for the weather to change. The Jumping Pillow is an Australian caravan park essential designed to entertain children. however, finding one in the park at Paynesville, Stefan could not help burn up a bit of pent up energy after we had put the tent back up for the first time in nearly a week.

Paynesville is a small, sleepy kind of place where boats bob on the lake and where it was starting to look a bit like Christmas. It is also where we had some of the best fish and chips we’ve had.

But mostly tourists flock to Paynesville for its proximity to Raymond Island, home of a group of koalas relocated from Philip Island. Raymond Island is so close to the mainland that you could swim the distance easily and the free chain link ferry takes just a couple of minutes to make the journey.

Given our experience of koala spotting (or lack of it) we didn’t dream we would find one in the first tree we passed getting off the ferry. A school teacher had to point it out to us sleeping quietly in the branches.

She or he (we couldn’t tell) was sensibly curled up in a ball against the still strong winds and was very easily missed.

Our walk around the island’s koala trail yielded two more sightings bringing our koalas in the wild total to a whopping 4. All of these were asleep and uncooperative for the camera!

Looking up into the trees did however yield sightings of birds – we think these were corellas – and the walk along the shore’s boardwalks brought us within spitting distance of more black swans. (It’s going to be strange seeing white ones again!)

From Paynesville, with the weather looking better for a trip to Wilson’s Prom, we started to make our way west again and broke our journey for the night further up 90 Mile Beach at Woodside Beach.

It seems incredible that this stretch of sand continues uninterrupted all the way to Lakes Entrance and beyond and up almost as far as Wilson’s Prom where we had high hopes for an encounter with another Australian animal…