by Peter Jung •
The East Gippsland Lakes system is the largest lakes system in Australia and its final destination before entering the Pacific Ocean is Lakes Entrance.
For those in the know, Lakes Entrance has probably been their holiday destination for generations. There are numerous reasons for this and in many cases the variety in fishing options plays a big part in the choice, however Lakes hasn’t become the hub of East Gippsland purely on being a multifaceted fishery. There are plenty of activities for everybody in the family, fun things to do, great food to be eaten and most of all, an amazing array of accommodation options from unpowered campsites to private island living.
Lakes Entrance is 4-4.5 hours from Melbourne with the majority of the trip on multilane motorway roads. The appeal of Lakes becomes immediately apparent when you first start your descent into town. The views of the Lakes Entrance Bar and Ninety-Mile Beach are the first things you see and you can almost feel holiday mode kick in. It’s time to explore what Lakes has to offer.
The waterways, whether it’s the lake system itself, Ninety-Mile Beach or either Lake Tyers or Lake Bunga, are a big part of the appeal of the area and there are numerous ways to explore them. First and foremost there are a number of cruises available for you to take in this amazing waterway. They cover everything from the history of the lake system, winery cruises, lunch, dinner and sunset cruises, to taking in the amazing wildlife that calls the Gippsland Lakes home. Many include a meal and all provide you with a clear picture of how large the system is and the beauty of the area.
Although cruising the area is a very civilized way of exploring, for those with a bit more energy and a sense of adventure, a kayak or paddleboard can give you a different perspective. These craft allow you to get into all the nooks and crannies that larger vessels can’t. Outside of the exercise component, there is just something about being close to the water. You almost feel that you are part of it and as you make very little noise, you blend into the environment and the wildlife just goes about its business. It is not uncommon to see deer, kangaroos, dolphins and a vast array of fish and birdlife on any outing. The lakes are also quite safe, as tidal flows are quite small, but always take into consideration the wind and be aware of other craft on the water.
You can hire a boat! There are three boat hire operators in Lakes. This again allows you to experience the various waterways at your own pace, or if you’re looking for something that is fun for the whole family, you can always try a paddle boat. This is great way to get the kids involved and also gives you a different look at the town from the water.
Walks around Lakes Entrance
There are a number of short walks around the town that are well worth doing and can be sandwiched between a meal or a coffee.
The Entrance walk
Cross the footbridge from town and then head along the foreshore of the Cunninghame Arm to a picnic area. Continue on to the Entrance wall past the sand pump house. You have great views of the ocean, Ninety-Mile Beach and the Lakes Entrance Bar. Then for a different perspective, walk back along the beach. The walk is approximately 3km.
This walk takes you along the main esplanade past the fishing fleet, the RSL wood sculptures (these honour the memory of those who gave their lives or were injured during the first world war) and then along the edge of North Arm with its boat ramps and jetties. This walk is approximately 3km.
This is a short 2km walk from the Kalimna Jetty picnic area. It takes you along the edge of the lake to North Arm and back. It is a popular walk to view the sunset and you are likely to encounter plenty of marine life.
Starting from Lions Park, this is another lovely stroll along Ninety-Mile Beach towards the footbridge, back to town and then along the north side of the Cunninghame Arm back to your starting point.
All the walks are family friendly and good for any age group. You can work off a meal or work up an appetite.
Lake Tyers and Lake Bunga offer safe swimming for young children. They are enclosed waters with sandy areas for the kids to wade, swim, build sand castles and generally run amuck without you worrying too much. Picnic areas are also situated at both Lakes so you can combine a bit of food into your outing.
Ninety-Mile Beach is the third largest uninterrupted beach in the world. It has a patrolled swimming area during the summer months and is a playground for all things surf. Board riders and kite surfers take advantage of this vast playground and families take advantage of the fact that they can have their very own little piece of sand.
Golf, mini golf and bowls
I think the best way to start this is to talk about the mini golf. There are four options for mini golf in Lakes Entrance. I would like to say that I went and experienced each one, but time didn’t allow (I wish it had). Mini golf is simply fun for the whole family and you can make it as competitive or as social as you like. Footbridge Mini Golf, Lolly Shop and Ice Cream Shack is the newest of the venues and will be a children’s favourite. What more could you want? Ice cream, lollies and hitting a ball around all in one place!
Lakes Entrance Golf course was nationally recognised in 2011 as one of Australia’s top public access courses by Golf Australia magazine. Although not overly long, it has plenty of water and sand to contend with and the prevailing wind adds their own natural element. Other than trying to make a birdie, there is also plenty of wildlife to be seen as you walk the course, so if your swing is a little off kilter you can always enjoy seeing the resident raptors, parrots and water birds.
Lakes Entrance Bowls Clubs is a bit of an institution in Lakes. It offers the usual gaming and food and beverage outlets, but as a closet lawn bowler, it is the artificial lawn greens that interested me. Recognised as world class and when first laid in 2009, an Australian first, it would be a new experience for most to bowl on an artificial surface. The club offers social and serious competition for visitors and is well worth a visit.
The entire area in and around Lakes Entrance is bike friendly. Many of the walking paths are shared by pedestrians and bikes, meaning you don’t have to compete with vehicles on the roads. It also means that a bike is a great means of transport. If you prefer a bit more of a challenge then the main roads from Lakes towards Bairnsdale or to Lake Tyers fit the bill. Lakes Entrance is also a component of the Rail Trail bike trails. The Lakes Entrance section of the trail runs from Colquhoun to Lakes Entrance. It is 17km long and is a mixture of compacted earth and road trails. It is suitable for most standards of rider.
I have been lucky enough to experience camel rides along Cable Beach in Broome WA and you too can experience the same thing in Lakes Entrance. It is seasonal, and I suggest you look up availability, but it is a unique experience and one for the whole family.
Playgrounds and parks
There are a couple of fantastic playgrounds and parks in Lakes that I have to mention. Both have toilets, electric BBQs, sheltered areas and big play areas for the kids.
Apex Park is opposite the visitors centre on Marine Parade and Lions Park is at Eastern Beach. If you have smaller children, there is no doubt that there is plenty to wear them out.
As you can imagine, fresh seafood is a big part of the Lakes Entrance experience. What I can guarantee is what you buy is fresh from the trawler. There is a large fleet of trawlers based out of Lakes and any fresh seafood you buy will come from one of these boats. One of the best places to buy and see the whole process is at the Fisherman’s Co-op on Bullock Island. There is a viewing platform for you to watch the day’s catch being unloaded and you can then buy it directly through the Off the Wharf shop. Other seafood outlets are Ferry Seafoods or some of the trawlers sell prawns direct to the public.
You have many options as far as dining opportunities go in Lakes. There are numerous cafés that offer a nice cup of coffee in a friendly atmosphere with a bit of a treat on the side or a lunch menu. Many of the cafés are based along the esplanade, so park your car and go for a walk. There are a couple of cafes that deserve special mention. They are Funky Monkey Bakery Café on Myer Street and Albert & Co in Kalimna. Both serve superb coffee and the food at Albert & Co is magnificent.
The same goes for dinner. Lakes is truly multicultural and you can have Mexican, Chinese, Thai or takeaway seafood and hamburgers. Freshly made pizzas are always a nice family treat and I have to recommend Pizza on Myer; it was one of the best pizzas I have had for quite a while. The RSL and Bowling Club also offer great value for money meals. If there is a special occasion or you really want to treat yourself, Miriams on the esplanade or Ferryman’s Seafood Café were the pick for me. A good menus, nice atmosphere, good service and reasonable pricing always make for a good night out.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Waterwheel Tavern at Lake Tyers. Recently refurbished, it has a well put together menu and having a meal with a cold beer on the deck looking at the view is something most people would enjoy.
We take a more in-depth look at the accommodation that is available in Lakes Entrance a little later in this feature, so I won’t go too far into it now. The main thing I want to mention is that pretty much any style of accommodation is available. There are bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels, resorts, caravan parks and cabins. The majority of them understand that fishing is a big part of why people come to Lakes and offer boat parking/storage and in many cases power to charge batteries and wash down areas to clean your boat. The things I have found with most of the providers is that they are proud of their town and want you to enjoy it as much as they do.
The thing that you will find out about Lakes Entrance is that although the fishing offers many opportunities, it’s not only the fishing that will keep you entertained. Whether you just want to chill out, need to keep the children amused or indulge yourself, with a little digging you will find something that fits the bill.
More than likely you will be like me and wish you had a few more days to explore it.