There’s a spot east of the city where days are spent unhurried by the seaside, where kitchens thrive on quality local produce and wine producers are making some of the state’s best. In partnership with Destination Gippsland, here’s our guide on where to eat, drink and stay in East Gippsland.
From the pastoral plains of dairy country and mountains, to long stretches of undisturbed coastline and lake systems, East Gippsland is home to a bounty of idyllic terrain. Having survived the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020, the region welcomes the return of intrepid hikers and casual day-trekkers alike.
Red-gum forest, tea-tree scrub, fern-laden rainforest and coastal heathland are still flourishing in this easternmost corner of the state, and support a lot of native wildlife. A web of caves resides underground, and lakes offer fishing, diving, swimming and kayaking year round. With much of the region pure national park – the Snowy River, Errinundra and Croajingolong – there are hundreds of short, day and week-long trails to discover.
This lush environment attracted winegrowers and vegetable farmers lured by the prime conditions, mild climate and reliable rainfall. Chefs, brewers and baristas followed. Then there’s the seafood – fresh off the boat.
East Gippsland’s jumping-off point is 3.5 hours along the M1, before the A1 curves all the way to the New South Wales border. Here’s our guide to what to eat, drink, do and where to stay in the region.
Welcome to East Gippsland
East Gippsland is a veritable food bowl and has inspired top Melbourne chefs to break from the city’s shackles and set up shop at the source of quality ingredients.
It might be the quiet achiever of Victoria’s wine regions, but there are plenty of liquids being poured here among the cellar doors, breweries, restaurants and pubs.
Nicholson River Winery
East Gippsland doesn’t have as rich a wine history as other parts of Victoria – but Nicholson River Winer feels much older than a winery founded in the late ’70s. Part of that comes down to the wine: mainly low-yield French classics, produced traditionally with minimal intervention. The rest comes from the setting: a secluded, bucolic hilltop locale with sweeping views of the Nicholson River.
This expansive region is a nature-chaser’s paradise, lush with native flora and fauna and undisturbed land, sea and riverscapes.
Croajingolong National Park
The name Croajingolong is from the Krauatungalung dialect of the Gunaikurnai nation; galung means “belonging to” and kraua means “east”. The expansive (218,330-acre) park features eucalyptus forest, rainforest, heathland, granite outcrops, pristine lakes and beaches and was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1977. While areas of Croajingolong National Park are still closed after the bushfires, there’s plenty to explore. Travel by canoe, kayak or boat to Tamboon Inlet – a plum fishing spot – and bunk down for the night at Peachtree Creek Campground. The next day, you can explore the Point Hicks Lightstation. For an experience even more wild and remote, the Gabo Island Lighthouse Reserve is home to seabirds including penguins, and there are rock pools, ruins, an old cemetery, a radar station and the lighthouse itself to roam around.
Raymond Island is also known as Koala Island thanks to its protected population of furry friends. Victoria’s koala population was nearly wiped out in the 1920s, so in 1953 a small contingent of male and female koalas was relocated from Philip Island to Raymond Island, where they’d be safe to live (and breed) away from dogs, cars and disease. A ferry runs every 20 minutes across the 200 metres of water between Paynesville and the island, and is free for walkers and cyclists. Once you’ve disembarked, signs will lead you on the best trail for spotting the sleepy marsupials. The 1.2-kilometre trail only takes 20 minutes (photo-taking time not included), but you can duck and weave down extra streets as you please, and finish with a stroll along the boardwalk at the water’s edge. As well as koalas you can find echidnas, kangaroos and more than 140 bird species.
Off The Wharf
Each day small and large fishing vessels pull up to the two wharves at this retail outlet for the Lakes Entrance Fishermans Co-operative to unload their morning’s catch onto conveyor belts. From the viewing deck you can watch them weighed, sorted, scaled, filleted and packed. Gippsland Lake fishers bring in bream and school whiting each day, while deep-sea net trawlers arrive with their Bass Strait bounty two to three days per week. Depending on the season and the day, this means the shop is filled with tiger flathead, gummy shark, duck fish, ling, yellow-eye mullet, prawns, sardines, mussels and whitebait. It’s a hub for Victorian seafood, so collect some for dinner.
Beneath the peaceful countryside of Buchan lies a labyrinth of more than 1000 limestone caves. These caves formed around 400 million years ago when rivers and rainwater cut through the rock to dissolve the limestone. The result is calcite-rimmed pools, stalactites hanging from the roof and stalagmites growing from the floor. Just a handful of caves are open for the everyday adventurer to explore, including Royal Cave and Fairy Cave where tours run daily. They are well lit, sit at a naturally occurring 17 degrees and are considered some of the best in the world. There are short and long walks in the surrounding bushland, too, where you might encounter kangaroos, emus, echidnas and more than 60 species of birds.
Heritage sleeping quarters and sweeping vistas abound in this undulating pocket of Victoria.
A Road Trip Through East Gippsland
It’s easy to forget yourself when surrounded by nature so lush, but in East Gippsland there’s also a significant amount of impeccable food and wine to consume. Sleep in, pace yourself, and stroll the scenery in-between.
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Wake in boutique sleeping quarters and half commit to rising by going from the bath to a robe to making coffee. Then sneak back into bed for a spot of Netflix. Once properly awake, head downstairs for a continental breakfast on the terrace.