South-west of Wilsons Promontory, a hulking monolith rises out of Bass Strait. Cleft Island, or Skull Rock as it is colloquially known, has long been an inaccessible geologic secret thanks to its remote position and unscalable physique. Until recently.
Pennicott Wilderness Journeys – which has built a reputation for its Tasmanian ecotours – devised its first foray into Victoria to admire this other-worldly granite formation. A colossal cavern, hollowed and smoothed by crashing waves, gives the island its name. This new cruise is possible care of a custom-built amphibious boat that rolls along Norman Beach on wheels before gliding into the ocean.
The 2.5-hour tour hugs the coastline, visiting South Point (the southernmost point of the mainland) and Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse, before leaving land behind to soak up Wattle, Anser, Citadel, McHugh, Dannevig, Great Glennie and Kanowna islands. Sightings of Australian fur seals are guaranteed, with the possibility of dolphins and whales during migratory seasons.
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Not to be confused with the Queensland island of the same name, Fraser Island in the Gippsland Lakes boasts Fraser Island Retreat, a private island available to book in its entirety, whether for a solo retreat or a party with up to 47 of your mates.
Guests arrive by private ferry and sleep in the 11-room Edwardian timber homestead, surrounded by 30 hectares to relax and explore. There’s a nine-hole golf course, two tennis courts, a pool table and table tennis as well as a private beach and swimming pool. No neighbours here, just plenty of pelicans, swans and sunset views.
At the eastern end of Gippsland Lakes, you can stroll, cycle, paddle or fly alongside the Mitchell River Silt Jetties. These naturally formed silt banks are the longest in the southern hemisphere and a site of international significance (they’re only second in size to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico). These unusually long, thin landforms stretch for more than eight kilometres, to the point where the Mitchell River empties into Gippsland Lakes. The southern bank is accessible by car from Eagle Point, but to really take in this spot, it’s best to walk, cycle, fish off the banks or quietly observe the native birdlife.
Tarra-Bulga National Park
This cool temperate rainforest offers a glimpse into the ancient vegetation that once blanketed the region. The 3760-acre Tarra-Bulga National Park on Brataualung wurruk (country) is jointly managed by Parks Victoria and the Gunaikurnai people. A botanically rich refuge, the park is home to wombats, swamp wallabies, gliders, echidnas and platypuses, and 130 species of birds including the lyrebird (we spotted two). Seven short walking tracks range from 680 metres (15 minutes) to 4.4 kilometres (1.5 hours). The Fern Gully Nature Walk traverses Corrigan Suspension Bridge with views of stunning fern crowns in the gully below. Pause at nearby Lyrebird Cafe in Balook for Danish meatballs and generously sized scones with house-made jam as a post-walk reward.
This remote island doesn’t receive too many visitors. The 380-acre island sits only 500 metres from the nearest point on the East Gippsland coastline, but it’s a 14-kilometre, often rocky boat ride from Mallacoota and access is occasionally restricted due to the characteristically wild weather in these parts. Despite the turbulent conditions, Gabo Island is home to a lighthouse, a small herd of cows, a handful of chickens and possibly the world’s largest colony of little penguins.
The assistant lighthouse keeper’s quarters sleeps up to eight travellers for short or long stays. You’ll need to BYO food, and all rubbish must be taken with you (though food scraps can be composted or fed to the chickens). Phone reception is minimal and the internet is patchy, but there’s plenty of swimming and walking to do instead. Dive the harbour, swim or snorkel in Santa Barbara Bay, and catch your dinner off one of the jetties. It’s a 47-metre climb (196 steps) to the top of the 158-year-old lighthouse for panoramic views of Croajingolong National Park and Tullaberga Island.
You’ll need to hire a boat or small plane to arrive, and there are various scenic tours for day-long adventures.
There are plentiful ways to engage with Gippsland’s indigenous Gunaikurnai history and culture throughout the region. The Gunaikurnai people comprise five clans – Brataualung, Brayakaulung, Brabralung, Krauatungalung and Tatungalung – and you’ll find their stories represented at significant sites along the Bataluk Cultural Trail stretching from Yarrem Yarrem (Yarram) to Kam (Cann River).
In Bairnsdale, stop by the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place. The museum space shares local First Nations knowledge and culture, encouraging the wider community to develop a sense of guardianship over this heritage. It exhibits traditional hunting tools, fishing spears, bark canoes, baskets and boomerangs, along with contemporary Gunaikurnai art. Traditional foods grow in the surrounding gardens, and there are guided tours and workshops.
In Kalimna West, Gunaikurnai chef Kevin Murray heads up the kitchen at the Bush Café, sharing his passion for native ingredients with dishes like kangaroo kebabs with bush tomato chutney, saltbush beef burgers, and lemon myrtle and wattleseed cookies. Chase lunch with a stroll through the adjoining contemporary art gallery.
Peppermint Ridge Farm
Julie Weatherhead and Anthony Hooper have been championing Australian native foods from their polyculture farm and cooking school in West Gippsland for more than 20 years. They relocated the former Nar Nar Goon North schoolhouse, built in 1928, to their 20-acre Tynong North property, and the beautiful heritage building now hosts classes of a different kind.
Take a guided tour of the native garden followed by a four-course lunch or cooking workshop incorporating the likes of mountain pepper, lemon and anise myrtle, strawberry gum and native mints, which are all grown on-site. Take home eucalyptus oil from the farm’s namesake peppermint eucalyptus trees, as well as seedlings like native tamarind, finger lime, Davidson plum, native oregano, midyim berry and rainbow parsley.
Lucy’s of Mallacoota
Central to a stay in Mallacoota is hustling for a table at Lucy’s each night. This longstanding Asian food joint gets incredibly busy for a sleepy town at the easternmost edge of Victoria.
Lucy Wood and family have been hand-folding dumplings and preparing house-made rice noodles with local abalone and sea urchin since 2007. The extensive menu is a mix of different ethnic and regional dishes to sate all appetites. If you’re struggling to choose between the Hokkien noodles, sweet-and-sour gummy shark, Mongolian lamb, Sichuan beef and Peking duck four ways, ask Lucy for her recommendation. Hint: it will usually involve her “special” dumplings.
There are veg options too, and diners are welcome to BYO beer or wine (the bottle shop at the pub opposite stocks beers from local craft brewery Sailors Grave). Arrive early, order and pay at the counter (cash only), and nab a table on the balcony.
Inverloch Glamping Co
A short drive from Inverloch, where the bush meets the ocean, you’ll find this small-footprint retreat featuring two tiny cabins and three bell tents designed with rustic opulence in mind. The property was named Rongatai by its former owner, a te reo Māori word meaning “hear, see, smell and taste the ocean”, and it delivers on its promise. The beach is a 20-minute stroll away, and guests can cook, enjoy local wine, huddle by a brazier and shower outside (privately), all with views of the ocean. The surrounding garden is lush, with owner Vanessa Bostock raising sheep, chickens and bees, and growing herbs, berries, fruits and vegetables – some of which find their way into the communal kitchen for guests’ evening feasts.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Visit Gippsland.