Gippsland Lakes (Vic)

Sale

Following our short Murray River cruise, we left Waikerie in SA and drove east to Mildura before turning south along the Sunraysia Hwy to Ballarat. This route had been recommended to us by a Victorian truckie but I think he was off the ball because we cursed the road many times, pitching and rolling on a wide but very uneven surface. We overnighted in a tiny town called Woomelang, which boasts a wonderful free caravan park complete with hot showers and two power outlets. A wonderful idea. Crossing Melbourne on the M1 was nerve racking, made more so because we got caught in traffic and were forced to exit into South Melbourne. Luckily, we managed to turn around and find our way back to an on-ramp to resume our journey.  The M1 led us eastwards, through Warragul, Moe, Morwell, Traralgon to Sale. On reaching Sale, we headed 20kms out to the small town of Maffra and found the beautiful property of Trailersailerplace.com member Paul.

Paul had very generously offered to let us store Sandpiper and act as a guide to the Gippsland area and he and his lovely family were the consummate hosts. Paul gave us a detailed guide to sailing the lakes and lots of invaluable tips to jetties, beaches and “must do” walks. It is so much better to get first hand experience than sift through endless maps and recommendations.

We dropped off Sandpiper and headed off on the train for a weekend in Melbourne for our much needed fix of AFL football and to catch up with a good friend. Then it was back to Maffra to prepare Sandpiper for exploring the Lakes. The trailer had developed a problem with the hydraulic brakes, with a big leak in the main line so a day in Sale was called for, with the boat off the trailer to allow maximum excess. Paul had given us great tip to launch at “Port of Sale” the tiny port on a canal cut into the Thompson River. An excellent ramp gives access to a number of public jetties that allowed us to tie up for the day while having the trailer worked on. Victoria has a terrific system of colour coding public access jetties and we tied up to a “white” jetty, giving us a potential 48 hours of access with the ability to leave the boat unattended.

The people at McKay Automotives rang several times throughout the day, to report some issues with bearings and some sticking calliper pistons. We decided that the brakes needed a good service so authorised further work, meaning that we would stay overnight in Port of Sale. In the end, the work exposed a few more issues with bearings so it was after 3pm when we got the trailer back and we decided to stay the night in Port of Sale and pull out in the morning.

Paynesville

The retrieval went well and we enjoyed a pleasant drive to Paynesville, thoroughly enjoying the mix of green pastures and lovely woodlands. The roads were reasonable by Victorian standards, which we have generally found to be rather poor compared to WA and SA.

We parked at the King St boat ramp to rig, have lunch and enjoy a hot shower at the public toilets. The showers were interesting, running very hot unless any attempt was made to moderate the temperature with the cold tap, at which point the hot cut out.

Ready to launch at the King St ramp, Paynesville

The launch at the excellent three lane ramp went without drama and we slowly motored down McMillan Strait towards Lake King. All was going well until we tried to motor faster than 3 knots. The engine would run on higher revs for a bit then die. Each time it happened, the motor got harder to start. The fuel primer bulb was full, yet clearly it was being starved of fuel. For a near new motor, this one is certainly giving us the sh@#$%s.

We turned around and motored slowly to dock on a jetty right opposite the Old Paynesville Pub and other assorted shops. We contacted a couple of outboard mechanics, needing more than my dubious expertise, and found Bluewater Marine willing to tackle the problem the next day. Even better, they said it was possible to haul out mast up at King St ramp and tow it the short distance down the road to them without lowering the gear.

What we can see of the fabled Gippsland Lakes looks to live up to expectations but for now we are limited to sitting on a dock watching the Raymond Island ferry cross back and forth with its load of vehicular commuters.

The next morning we had a nerve racking motor trip back the short distance to the King St ramp. The motor would only run at idle speed, with any attempt to run it at higher revs resulting in it being starve of fuel and cutting out. Eventually we made the ramp and hauled out. With about 30cm to go, the power winch suddenly jammed solid, not even allowing hand winching. We have a supplementary hand winch but it is really only meant as a securing downhaul winch and is loaded with fairly light spectra. We tried to use the hand winch but broke the spectra at least 5 times, gaining only a few centimetres each time. Christine went over the road to Bluewater Marine and got some help in the form of a young man with a tractor and power winch. This got the boat secured and we drove it to their workshop, mast up. There I found that the clutch on the winch was jammed up too tight (why?) and when I finally undid it with some wrenches, the winch returned to working condition.

We left the boat with them and drove into the main town, seeking solace at the bakery in the form of a hot chocolate and sausage roll. The calories finally gave us the guilts so we parked up and got the folding bicycles out of the car. We enjoyed a lovely ride in perfect conditions across the ferry to Raymond Island to count koalas in the trees. Then it was back across the ferry and down along the foreshore of Newlands Arm, a very beautiful stretch of water.

 The rest of the day was spent reading, resting, watching, doing puzzles and generally just waiting. Finally, on checking with the guys at Bluewater Marine, we found the problem still not resolved, despite many variables having been eliminated. Most things have been tried. With the light fading, we got them to drop the boat back into the car park at the ramp and we resigned ourselves to another night “on the hard”.

The next day, we delivered Sandpiper back to Bluewater Marine, confident of a speedy resolution to the engine problem. We set off to explore Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance by road.

Bairnsdale proved to be a very resourceful rural town, with most facilities and shops one could want. We did several slow walking tours of the CBD and making a few frivolous purchases before setting out on the 33km drive to Lakes Entrance. The drive into the town affords a glorious view of the lake system, all the better for a well positioned lookout parking area. It is amazing to be able to see the shear extent of the system and made us itchy to have the motor problems resolved so we could access the potential laid out before us.

In the town itself, we wandered along the main street until a sign outside a local hotel advertising $10 fish, chips and salad as a Senior’s Special drew us in. I’ll be recognised as a senior any day for a $10 meal. It did not disappoint, with a lovely piece of lakes Entrance Gummy Shark going down very well with a small beer.

Back at Paynesville, things had only just progressed but the motor was at least starting to behave. After another couple of hours of trials, retrials and fine tuning, it was clear that we were not going far today. By the time the motor was declared “done”, we had barely enough day light to get a few things transferred from the car, launch and motor (successfully) across McMillan Strait to Raymond Island to pick up a public berth near the ferry crossing. It has been a long haul, but it will take a lot of good times to have my faith in the motor restored.

The next morning we slept very late, due to the 5 degrees or so outside. The condensation on the roof of the V-berth was so heavy it created droplets that fell on us occasionally, making it best to snuggle well under the blankets. When we finally rose, we found a beautiful sunny day with absolutely no sign of any wind. The downside was the large slick of diesel smelling oil coating the water over most of the jetty area where we were anchored. An old chap in a large boat said it had also appeared several days ago. The water birds were still diving and feeding through the slick but it couldn’t be good for them.

We crossed as pedestrians on the ferry to pick up a few things from the supermarket, having had to scratch to have sugar in the morning cuppa. Then it was off back to the King St ramp to the car to retrieve the warm clothing we’d left there before motoring down to the fuel jetty to fill up. All the way, the motor performed perfectly, a rare treat.


Lake Victoria

With everything finally in place, we set off to motor the length of Lake Victoria. It was peaceful (despite the drone of the motor) and the scenery, if not spectacular, was at least restful and pleasant. The sun warmed us and at one point we were both actually in shirts and shorts. We stopped for lunch near Pelican Point and I waded along the shore in icy waters to collect a few crabs for bream bait later. Then it was on to Holland’s landing, where we decided to ease around into the lovely little cove at Blonde Bay, a perfect anchorage for the night. I tried fishing but didn’t even manage a bite. However, the spectacular sunset almost made up for the lack of action. It is so good to be back on the water and away from the crowds. The next step is to get the sails up again. They haven’t been used since Port Lincoln, way back in March.

Lake Wellington

It was a very peaceful night, with only the honking of swans and the occasional cry of a plover to remind us we were on the water. However, it was cold, well down in the single figures somewhere and we didn’t bother attempting to rise until after 8am. When I did, I stuck my head outside and found that I could barely see the stern of the boat and certainly no sign of land, which I knew to be less than 100m away. What a pea-souper. We settled down to breakfast, noting that there was a very light NW breeze blowing that, hopefully, would blow the fog away. Alas, it seemed to bring more fog.


A movie on the laptop took up some time, along with doing dishes and other minor bits of housework, until the visibility reached the point that it was safe to proceed, around 11am. All hint of a breeze had gone and we motored in to Holland’s Landing in glassy conditions. There were a number of people perched along the wharf fishing but no one seemed to be catching anything. We chatted to one couple from Moe who were on a bit of a fishing holiday with little success. The shop at the caravan park was closed up and no one had seen the manager for some time so we abandoned hopes of getting a hot shower and cast off again to navigate the length of McClennans Strait to Lake Wellington. After only a mile or so, we stopped to fish and have some soup for lunch, to try and warm us up. It was getting colder by the minute and the wind was starting to pick up. It is the first wind we’ve seen on the Lakes but it was from the East and blowing around 15knots so any thought of sailing back through Lake Victoria to Loch Sport was squashed and we continued to motor the length of McClennans Strait to put our nose into Lake Wellington.

Motoring through McClennans Strait in cold and wet conditions

Lake Wellington really has little to interest us, unless we wanted to navigate some of the rivers on the far side and the sky had turned very black, with a lot of rain coming soon so we motored back to Seacombe Landing and tied up at the launching ramp. With only one car-trailer in the car park and the weather worsening all the time, we figured we wouldn’t be a nuisance tied up to one of the two landing jetties. A short while later, a couple of young guys in a Swiftcraft came roaring along the Straits and proceeded to try and “park” the boat alongside as though it was a sports car. Every manoeuvre was made with full throttle of the 140HP outboard and they made a complete hash of things. It was really quite entertaining watching their antics, all of which could have been avoided if they had just backed off the throttle and eased alongside.

Loch Sport

The next morning was once again foggy but with around 200 metres visibility we motored through McClennans Strait and across Lake Victoria to the small town of Loch Sport. There is a choice of accommodation here, because there is a marina with hotel or a new town jetty, with affording secure berths for all directions. In our case, we were the only ones at the jetty so we could choose our berth according to the wind direction. Good use has been made of baffle boarding so the wave motion from the 10-15 knot westerly was negated and we enjoyed a nice calm berth.

The jetty at Loch Sport

The day had set in for solid rain, with 20-40mm forecast and flood warnings out for the Gippsland Lakes. We went and saw the caravan park owners (just new) and organised a shower and gas bottle refill so we could keep running the heater. The ablutions are wonderful; clean and hot, so we immediately felt revitalised. After a Facetime linkup with the grandchildren back home, we walked under umbrellas down to the Loch Sport Supermarket to pick up a few odds and ends. They had a range of ex-rental DVDs for $3 each so we grabbed three and settled in for an afternoon of movie watching. The generator was set up because it has been several days since we saw any sun for the solar panels and the batteries were starting to suffer. I tried a little more fishing but it was cold and miserable outside and I didn’t get a bite so I gave up. I have seen one small bream caught on the lakes and had one bite myself so I’m not a fan of the place as a fishing location. We in the West are accustomed to better than that.

Just grin and bear it!

The night was a noisy one, but comfortable enough. The noise was caused by the slapping of the waves on the baffle boards on the jetty. They did their job well, creating a lovely calm enclosure despite the freshening North West wind. The morning showed little improvement on the previous day and the weather reports suggested that another 10 to 15 mm of rain could be expected on top of the 25 mm so far. Obviously, other parts of the Gippsland received a lot more, with flood warnings out for most of the local rivers.


Bunga Arm

By 10am, the sky at least showed some signs of breaking in patches so we set off and put up the headsail, our first sail raising since Port Lincoln. We ran before a 10-15 knot westerly eastwards along Lake Victoria and pulled in to Duck Arm in idyllic conditions. We hitched up to a mooring in Picnic Arm to make lunch and noted that the day was definitely looking up. Both Duck Arm and Picnic Arm are quite delightful, with beautiful little stands of picturesque bushlands and some gorgeous green farmlands.

The pleasant weather was short lived and the rain set in again as we sailed on main and a half jib across Lake Victoria to pick up the markers for the winding channel into Bunga Arm. Actually, we missed the markers a bit in the heavy rain and were forced to raise the keel when the depth shallowed alarmingly. It rained the whole length of the channel to the Steamer Landing, where we tied up to seek some relief from the cold. There was a charter power boat tied up as well, with the occupants huddled inside. The continuing rain ruled out any idea of walking across the sand dunes to look at the Ninety Mile Beach, so that was postponed for tomorrow. Christine started making noises about giving up and moving on in our journey, specifically, heading for somewhere warmer.

A beautiful morning at Steamer Landing, Bunga Arm

The weather responded to her threats by turning on an absolutely lovely day, with the temperature reaching a warming 19 degrees and the sky being more blue than grey. Best of all, there was no rain and not a hint of wind. While the wind is good for sailing, it also produces a chill factor.

In these glorious conditions, we first took a short walk across the dunes that separate the Bunga Arm from the Tasman Sea to gaze down on the huge expanse of the Ninety Mile Beach. The sea was dead calm, but a large swell was producing a heavy surf break. Some wonderful fishy looking gutters made me wish I had packed some surf fishing gear.

Up and over the dunes to the Tasman Sea

The Ninety Mile Beach

Metung

Then it was off to negotiate the intricate winding channels back out into Lake Victoria to motor east to Metung. Sailing was certainly not an option, with the sea producing perfect mirror images of the sky and far off mountains. Along the way, we were entertained by the sight of a seal cavorting on the surface and a pod of four dolphins feeding on something. It couldn’t have been fish because I am convinced that there are no fish in the lakes system. We checked out the eastern side of Raymond Island and noted some lovely looking beaches and a public jetty, a great looing spot for an overnight stop.

Metung struck us as a quaint village that has been bought by the bored and idle rich, to be turned into a toy fishing hamlet with bling. The upside is that it is very well done and the perfect place to land, stroll, sit and drink coffee or even fish and chips with a beer. We elected for the latter, and enjoyed a very nice feed at the Gallery Fish and Chips. While strolling around the town, we were thrilled by the gorgeous crimson rosellas that were in abundance. The bird life on and around the lakes is quite amazing.

Metung Public Jetty

It was tempting to stay the night and indulge ourselves further, but the waist line saw sense and we motored off again to return to the eastern end of Raymond Island, where we had identified a good overnight stop. It proved a good choice, except for the fact that the jetty seemed to be a major tern roost and so took on a decidedly fishy smell. We avoided this by pulling Sandpiper along the jetty into the shallows. The surrounding bush is very beautiful. To us westerners, all the plants are familiar, yet not. That is, there are banksias, but not our species. None of the eucalypts look familiar and even the ground covers, weeds and grasses are somehow different in appearance. The combined effect is quite charming.

Resides Jetty on Raymond Is.

With our intention being to pull out in the morning, we spent some time organising sails, lines and fishing gear. It was a pleasure to be outside working in the warmth of the sunshine, but the forecasts were all for a return to the cold and wet weather so it is time to leave Gippsland.

We did not experience the Gippsland Lakes at their best from a weather point of view. It is simply too cold to be on the water. There are endless tracts of wetlands that would be worth exploring in the porta-bote but we didn’t even feel motivated to launch it because the thought of chugging through heavy fog, drizzle or, at times, driving rain, was not the least enticing. The bird life is certainly amazing but we had to leave the cabin to see it. The fishing for certainly species is legendary, but for us is might as well have been a legend because we failed to catch a single fish, despite quite a few hours trying. Never the less, we are glad we came and experienced this part of the country.  It is fascinating and warrants further attention.

We certainly would not have been able to have the experiences we did without the help and assistance of Paul and Tamsyn, from www.trailersailerplace.com.au (TSP). Paul was an invaluable resource and provided a wealth of information as well as lending us some excellent books and maps. Thanks Paul. I hope we can return the hospitality one day if you get over West.


 

 

 

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