Welcome to Don’t Delay Your Stay, news.com.au’s campaign to support communities hard hit by this summer’s devastating bushfires. Many of these regions rely on tourism so one of the best ways to help is to visit and spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of our great country.
They’ve seen fire and they’ve seen rain, and now twhat the towns in Victoria’s East Gippsland really want to see are visitors returning to the region.
With its rugged alpine and coastal landscapes, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in the region but it’s struggling right now.
Renowned for its national parks, beaches and local food and wine, the region has suffered through some of Victoria’s most devastating fires, causing tourists and residents to desert its towns and costing it millions of dollars in lost revenue. More than 800,000 hectares of land was burnt and an unprecedented state of disaster was declared.
With the worst hopefully over, residents have returned to their homes and the region’s many attractions are ready to welcome visitors back.
Make no mistake: East Gippsland is back in business.
“The fires have not damaged our key attractions – the lakes, rivers, beaches and towns are all intact and as beautiful as ever,” said chief executive officer at Destination Gippsland, Terry Robinson.
And whether you’re taking a weekend away by car, boat or train, or hoping to stay a while longer, these towns and villages are ready for you now.
Four hours east of Melbourne, you’ll find the seaside town of Metung, stretched along a narrow sandy peninsula on the shores of the Gippsland Lakes.
Metung was not damaged by bushfires this summer but has been feeling the pain of the downturn in visitor numbers since the fires.
The tranquil village has long been a favourite for holiday-makers, with boat lovers and summer waterskiers drawn to its relaxed lifestyle. Join Riviera Scenic on a tranquil cruise or hire your own yacht from Riviera Nautic and explore the gentle waters of the Gippsland Lakes. Small runabouts and speedboats are also available for hire.
Anglers descend on the town all year round to make the most of its excellent fishing spots. Bust out the rod and reel and try your hand at hooking bream, tailor, flathead, King George whiting or catching prawns during the warmer months.
A day in Metung wouldn’t be complete without a stroll along the water’s edge at sunset to watch the sail boats glide by.
Find a sunny spot opposite the village green to enjoy a picnic, or grab a waterfront table and watch the pelican feeding at the Metung Hotel, winding up your day with fresh seafood and local wine.
Or, for a relaxed brunch, try Bancroft Bites, which serves rave-worthy coffee and a varied menu.
Artisans, photographers, jewellers and sculptors are inspired by the town’s natural beauty and there are plenty of farm studios, gardens and galleries to check out the locally-crafted sculptures, jewellery and paintings.
Learn more about Metung’s rich indigenous cultural history on the Bataluk Cultural Trail and take in Legend Rock, a meteorite entrenched in Gunaikurnai mythology.
After stocking up on fresh produce, cheese and gourmet meats at the Metung Village Store, spend the night at Edgewater Terraces, overlooking Chinaman’s Creek as it enters Bancroft Bay, about fifteen minute walk along a waterfront boardwalk to the village.
At the mouth of the Snowy River lies Marlo, a coastal town with a relaxed vibe about 90 minutes drive from Bairnsdale.
With wild ocean beaches and the sheltered expanse of the Snowy River estuaries, the town is fishing-primed and boating-perfect.
The region boasts some of the most beautiful and unspoilt waterways and beaches in Victoria, including Snowy Inlet, where the Snowy River meets the sea.
Sheltered waters at Marlo’s estuary allow fishing all year round, and the crystal waters produce some of the best perch and bream in Australia.
For surfers, Cape Conran is the ultimate haven and is an easy 15 minute drive away. There are camping and cabin facilities at the Cape Conran Coastal Park so you can camp in a bush setting within walking distance of the beach.
Salmon Rocks is a 50 metre-long break where surfers will be sure to find a great wave.
West Cape Cabins Retreat has cabins looking onto forest on one side and farmland the other. Here, cattle and kangaroos graze along with a couple of ostriches – or sit in the spa and watch the king parrots come in for a feed.
At nearby Marlo Caravan Park, proprietor Mark Hadfield said things are slowly picking up again, with this time of year usually the busiest for tourists.
“We weren’t in danger of Marlo itself burning but all the authorities said get out,” Mr Hadfield said. “It’s slowly coming back now.”
Check out the Sweet Little Honey Shop, which, true to its name, is the sweetest – and arguably tiniest – farmgate, selling all things bee-produced.
If you prefer the land to the sea, the town is great for bushwalking, with the Snowy River Estuary Walk perfect for spotting birds and other inhabitants of Marlo’s backwaters and wetlands.
Watching the sun set over the Snowy River is one of life’s little joys and you can take in the view over the water of Lake Corringle from the deck of the Marlo Hotel, one of Australia’s best little hotels.
There are good reasons why Lakes Entrance has been at the top of the holiday destination charts for decades.
The family-friendly town on the eastern edge of Ninety Mile Beach, where the Gippsland Lakes break through to the Southern Ocean, has a popular beach that’s patrolled in summer, with pristine water and sand.
You can take a camel ride or explore the Gippsland Lakes in a kayak, join a boat cruise or hire a paddleboat.
Or get above it all with Lakes Entrance Helicopters and take in the views of the vast and unique inland waterways.
Back down on solid ground take a stroll along the lakeside Esplanade, with its parklands and plenty of places to eat, grab an ice cream or just watch the hundreds of boats bobbing gently in the marina.
Don’t miss the Griffiths Sea Shell Museum at the western end of town. It has one of Australia’s largest collections of sea life – from displays of coral reefs to rare fish and plenty of shells.
For indigenous flavours with a modern twist, pay a visit to the nearby Bush Cafe, under head chef Kevin Murray, a proud Gunaikurnai man, and take a walk through the Aboriginal Art Gallery in Kalimna West.
Start your day at Albert & Co, a standout brunch spot with modern, French-provincial decor and lakeside views.
You haven’t had the full Lakes Entrance experience until you’ve enjoyed the foreshore with some fish and chips.
If you’re looking for fresh seafood make sure Off the Wharf, the fishermen’s collective, is on your list. Or try Ferryman’s Seafood Cafe.
Be sure to stop for a drink at Red Bluff Brewers, Lake Entrance’s newest microbrewery. Their handcrafted ales are named for locals spots and you can pop by for a tasting in the retro-industrial fitted space.
After a long day kayaking, fishing or swimming, head to Waverley House Cottages, which offer a private and peaceful retreat among landscaped native gardens.
Known as the boating capital of Victoria, Paynesville is the perfect place for a getaway.
The seaside village has lakes on three sides and has unrivalled access to canals and inlets providing plenty of sheltered moorings for boats.
Explore these – but make sure you take the ferry across to Raymond Island, home to one the largest wild koala populations in Victoria. Walk or cycle the island’s Koala Trail and spot its furry residents.
Hit the local walking trails – Paynesville Sunset Cove Walking Track winds its way around the coast and once you’ve worked up an appetite head to Pier 70, or for great coffee and all-day breakfast, you could stop in at The Fig Cafe.
Within 12 months of opening their doors, SARDINE Eatery + Bar secured a chef’s hat, which they have retained this year. Under the direction of former Vue de Monde head chef Mark Briggs, the team take the very best local produce – especially seafood – and turn it into a work of art.
Anglers, windsurfers, jet skiers and water skiers flock to the town in the summer. Fish for black bream and mullet, waterski the lakes, or watch for dolphins playing in the water. Be sure to explore the Mitchell River silt jetties, the largest silt jetties in the world.
The Captain’s Cove Resort is considered one Gippsland Lake’s best spots to stay. Each apartment has its own private jetty and is only a short walk to the Raymond Island Ferry.
The gateway to the famous Gippsland Lakes, Bairnsdale is a laid-back country town close to scenic drives, and the perfect base for exploring the Mitchell River and surrounding forests.
The town has been surrounded by some of this bushfire season’s worst blazes and has been used as an evacuation centre for those in need – but it’s well and truly open for business.
Lightfoot & Sons Wines is the first stop along the East Gippsland Drinks Trail and what a spot – it has exceptional wines and views for days.
At the East Gippsland Art Gallery see works by local and visiting artists across a range of mediums, including paintings, drawings, mixed media, prints and 3D works.
Join a guided tour at Krowathunkoolong Keeping Place, a museum displaying the heritage of the Gunaikurnai people with hunting and fighting weapons, baskets, canoes and contemporary art on display.
The farm gate at Picnic Point Farm has cherries, stone fruits, apples and pears while the Bairnsdale Farmers Market on the first Saturday of each month also has local meats, goat’s milk and organic breads.
Or, find a little bit of the city in the town’s centre at Northern Ground, a renowned daytime cafe and evening restaurant.
Just across the river is Howitt Park – a scenic and shady reserve perfect for stretching your legs or for kids to play.
The Riversleigh is a good place to stay after a busy day exploring, where the warmth of a country hotel is combined with the luxury of contemporary boutique accommodation.
Be sure to leave time for a visit to St Mary’s, an impressive Romanesque church built at the beginning of the 19th century. Wander in and check out the murals by Italian artist Francesco Floreani, which attract some 80,000 visitors to the church every year.
Located at the junction of the Great Alpine Road and the Princes Highway, the town also provides easy access to the alpine villages of Omeo, Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham.
Mallacoota is one of Gippsland’s great escapes, surrounded by the wilderness of the Croajingolong National Park and set on the beautiful Mallacoota Inlet.
The town was in the path of the devastating bushfires – with residents and tourists forced to flee to the beach for safety, before being evacuated by the navy and taken to Melbourne.
The road into Mallacoota is still closed to all without a permit – with no indication of when it may re-open – but the main part of town was unscathed and people are being urged to book now and visit later.
Set on Victoria’s far eastern border, it’s one of the last towns on Gippsland’s border before crossing into New South Wales.
Once the town is back on its feet, for those driving the Melbourne to Sydney coastal drive it’s a fabulous place to stop along the route, explore the beaches, pitch a tent or use it as a base for exploring national parks and hikes.
As a commercial fishing town, Mallacoota attracts anglers, recreational fishers, boating enthusiasts and abalone divers for miles around.
Some of the town’s most-loved cafes – including Origami Coffee, Croajingolong Cafe and Lucy’s are open for business.
Origami Coffee is a dot of a shop, but boasts loads of seating in the garden where you can enjoy excellent coffee by skilled baristas. Croajingolong Cafe is the go-to breakfast joint, with a beautiful view of the lake, and Lucy’s is an institution, famed for its homemade rice noodles and Cantonese dumplings.
For those looking to book accommodation for the coming months, Silver Bream Motel and Units, The Mallacoota Hotel and Gipsy Point Lodge are unscathed and all taking bookings.