Seven day high

By Justin Walker 17 February 2016
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From the majestic High Country to the coast’s wild, remote beaches, Victoria’s East Gippsland is a dreamy adventure road trip.

IT SITS SNUG on this continent’s south-east corner, a seemingly unobtrusive part of Victoria, but East Gippsland is probably one of Australia’s premier adventure road trip destinations. It is easy to access from Melbourne – or Sydney – and offers the chance for adventurous families to explore any number of unique regions (and the adventures contained within) over the course of a week.

East Gippsland is also the perfect excuse to pack all that outdoor gear you have in your shed, simply due to the wide range of activities on offer: pack your bikes for the famous East Gippsland Rail Trail; your canoe (or kayak) for that paddle on the Snowy River (or jump on a guided rafting trip); fishing rods for the sublime fresh- and saltwater angling on offer; your camping gear; and your hiking boots for the many walking trails in the Alpine, Snowy River and Croajingalong national parks.

Whether you’re a couple or a young family, there is plenty of outdoor fun to keep you busy over the course of a week or more. For us at Australian Geographic Adventure, a week-long loop, starting and finishing at the beautiful coastal resort town of Lakes Entrance, is enough to sample a taste of what this region has to offer, as well as showing us what else we could tackle on a return trip.

The High Country makes you high on life

It is one of this country’s – indeed, the world’s – famous rivers. Even though now dammed as part of the amazing engineering feat that is the Snowy Hydro Scheme, the Snowy River still offers adventurers plenty of excitement, whether it is aboard a raft in its upper sections or in a kayak or canoe on its lower, more tame, sections. The national park of the same name also offers plenty of vehicle-borne, hiking and wildlife experiences. And, best of all, it is easily accessed from Lakes Entrance, driving north.

Firstly, before you reach the park boundary, you will pass through the small township of Buchan. Do yourself a favour and check out the Buchan Caves. After that little adventure, continue north along the Gelantipy Road until you reach Seldom Seen, before turning right onto the dirt (and steep in parts) McKillops Road, which will take you via the spectacular Little River Gorge Lookout (make sure you stop here) to the famous McKillops Bridge that spans the Snowy River.

The campsite on the northern side of the bridge is a great overnight stop, and it also means you will have easy/direct access to the Snowy River for your canoe put-in the following morning. You could, of course, then paddle for a few days all the way down the river to its flow-out at Marlo, into Bass Strait. That adventure, however, might have to wait for another day. But, even spending just a few hours paddling the river in the McKillops Bridge region is a great way to experience the Snowy and while away a day before continuing your drive.

From McKillops Bridge campground you have two options: if you have a 4WD, and are relatively experienced, the Deddick Trail beckons. This trail takes you up high on to the ridges of this steep country but beware it is just that: steep! For those slightly less adventurous, the preferred option is to drive a little way along the Deddick Trail until you reach the cool Silver Mine Walking Track which is definitely worth a look, then doubling back and rejoining McKillops Bridge Road and looping back south along it until you reach the small settlement of Bonang.

From here you are very close to the northern borders of Errinundra National Park. We’d opt to overnight at the Delegate River campground, just east of Bonang, via the Bonang Road, and then Bendoc-Orbost Road. The Delegate River is quiet and beautiful and, if you’re into fly fishing, you might get a chance for trout here. Also keep an eye out for the reclusive platypus that are prevalent along this river.

The next morning you can backtrack south along Bendoc-Orbost Road and then loop left onto Errinundra Road to arrive at the Errinundra Saddle Rainforest Walk. On this short, 40-minute walk, you’ll be surrounded by cool-temperature rainforest that includes black olive berry and southern sassafras, as well as some massive mountain plum pines. You will also see plenty of shining gum and other alpine eucalypt variants.

East Gippsland’s dreamy hidden coast

The rest of this day can be devoted to road tripping in the literal sense; you will be following a number of national park and forestry roads east until you hit the Monaro Highway. Joining this main road, you barrel south to the small town of Cann River for refuelling and resupply, before turning east on the Princes Highway and making for the pretty holiday resort town of Mallacoota, nestled on the inlet of the same name, which feeds into the wild Southern Ocean.

There is an abundance of adventure at Mallacoota: you can spend a day in a canoe or kayak exploring the huge Mallacoota Inlet, jump aboard a chartered fishing boat and try your luck off the coast, explore some of the town’s many short walks, or tackle part of the famous Wilderness Coast Walk (WCW) over the length of a day, heading either south to Shipwreck Creek or north to Cape Howe with views to Gabo Island.

Or you can walk the Mallacoota Coastal Walk, which covers some of the WCW south of Mallacoota. It is well worth spending a couple of days in Mallacoota to explore and, even then, you still won’t have really done it justice.

The East Gippsland Rail Trail by bike

It will be hard to leave Mallacoota but more adventure awaits you as you start the return journey to Lakes Entrance. You can drive the entire way, but we reckon there’s one very good reason why you should stop at Orbost and ditch your vehicle: the East Gippsland Rail Trail (EGRT).

This fantastic bicycle ride makes for a great adventure on its own. However, with a bit of pre-planning (i.e. a vehicle shuttle; local operators can assist with this) we’d definitely recommend this as a must-do. The trail itself is 96km in length and runs between Orbost and Bairnsdale, taking riders through a variety of landscapes and up and over some small hills, but we’d put a twist in the trail (so to speak).

Using Nowa Nowa as the overnight halfway point (there are plenty of accommodation options here, ranging from campsites to hotel/motel), we’d then continue along the EGRT until we reached the turn-off to the Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail, a shorter (25km) rail trail that cuts directly south, down to Lakes Entrance.

After that couple of days’ pedalling, some options for your last day and night in East Gippsland would be to sample some of the Lakes Entrance fishing fleet’s fresh catch (or try to catch your own), head out on a guided boat tour of the lakes themselves, and then, to finish off on an adventurous high, camp at the boat-access-only Bunga Arm campground.

Like we said, a week in East Gippsland is barely enough to experience what this region can offer outdoor-oriented visitors but, at least by spending seven days here you will have spotted plenty of other options for your next jaunt to this amazing part of the Garden State.

The essentials

Getting there: Lakes Entrance is 319km east of Melbourne, via the Princes Highway. The northern point of Mallacoota is a further 202km. Mallacoota is 560km south of Sydney, via the Princes Highway (you can also go via Canberra/Monaro Highway, which is longer but slightly quicker). The road-trip route as described here is suitable for all-wheel-drive and 4WD vehicles. If you skip the Snowy River NP section, you will only need a 2WD vehicle.

Best time to go: Spring, summer and autumn are the best seasons to visit East Gippsland, with the region’s mild climate offering warm days and pleasant nights. The summer holidays and Easter period are very busy, but there’s plenty of space here for everyone. Winter can be a great time to visit as well, but just be aware that most alpine 4WD routes in the national parks are closed during this season.

Accommodation: You will find everything from bush campsites in national parks through to luxury digs in the resort towns dotted through the region.

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