The Gippsland Lakes is a perfect destination to spend time on the water near Melbourne. Known for being the largest inland waterways in the southern hemisphere, it may even be one of Australia’s best spots for recreational boating. Sailing Gippsland Lakes was my favourite way to explore the region, but there are many other things to do in Gippsland Lakes if you aren’t a sailor!
There are different ways to explore the waters at Gippsland Lakes that will suit all budgets and levels of boating experience.
This article is focused on ways to explore Gippsland Lakes from the water. If you want to stick to land activities, you may find Gippsland Lakes relaxing but overrated. It’s a lovely place, but the cruise opportunities make it special. There are better coastal places near Melbourne to explore by foot or by car, such as the Mornington Peninsula or Wilsons Promontory.
In three days, we were able to sail on Lake Victoria and Lake King, with a few stops to enjoy the coast. The Gippsland Lakes is a good area to gain sailing experience as it’s easy to navigate and hard to get in bad situations: there are no hidden rocks and we could quite easily see the shallow areas.
Visiting Gippsland Lakes after the 2020 bushfire disaster
Unfortunately, the East Gippsland region became famous for other reasons than its beautiful landscapes. The entire world talked about how Australia was on fire. Although the bushfires were tragic and destructive, it wasn’t quite right to say that the entire country was hit by the disaster.
The bushfires did affect Gippsland Lakes: there was a lot of smoke, and holidaymakers were asked to leave the area because of the high fire dangers. However, Gippsland Lakes didn’t burn and it looked lovely when we visited late January 2020. There was sometimes a bit of haze, but nothing too bad that would justify not going. The road was open – but most of the roads further east were still closed.
The bushfires happened during the peak tourist season. Local businesses need tourists to come back to the region and support the economy. If you’re hesitating: check the roads are open, check there’s no warning… and book your trip! You’ll have a great time.
Different options to explore Gippsland Lakes
See Gippsland Lakes on a sailing boat
Those who follow my blog regularly won’t be surprised that I chose a sailing adventure to explore the Gippsland Lakes. We are always on the lookout for sailing holidays and bareboat charters in Australia. For me, sailing is a fantastic way to connect with nature. Plus, one of the good things about sailing is that it’s also fun when the weather isn’t that good – as long as there’s a bit of wind! Considering the weather forecast isn’t often sunny in Gippsland Lakes, that’s something to consider.
We hired a sailing boat from Riviera Nautic in Metung and spent our first night in Bunga Arm and the second night in Harper’s Bight (see map at the end of the article).
Responsible travel tip: Sailing holidays are eco-friendly as you limit your use of resources. Using the sails and a small motor reduce fuel use and water onboard is limited.
See Gippsland Lake on a motorboat
It’s also easy to hire a motorboat to explore Gippsland Lakes, even without a licence.
Stay in a villa or room with a view and explore the lakes on a small boat
If you don’t like the idea to spend the night on the boat, or prefer to do a day trip, you can easily hire small day boats. Staying in a villa on the lake could be an excellent option. Check out these ones that have a jetty:
Airbnb lists many accommodations with lake views*.
If you are a big group, check out Fraser Island Retreat*.
Responsible travel tip: Although sailing holidays are more eco-friendly, staying on land and going to cafes and restaurants is a better way to support the local economy.
Go camping with a small boat
If a villa is out of your budget and you only have a small boat, you may want to have a look at camping. Bunga Arm campground has seven scenic campgrounds that are only accessible by boat. You’ll need to book in advance.
The Gippsland Lakes system is huge, so you’d only see a small part of it when kayaking for a day. Still, it’s a fun way to be on the water and explore some places that are only accessible via the water.
Join a tour
If you want to fish or try to spot dolphins without going through the hassle of hiring a boat, you can simply join a tour. Most of them leave from Lakes Entrance. Going on a tour is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the region and spot wildlife. The locals always have a better eye and know what to look for!
Things to do in Gippsland Lakes when boating or sailing
At the end of the article, you’ll find a map of the things I recommend and our itinerary.
If like us you’re lucky with the weather when you go sailing Gippsland Lakes, you may want to refresh with a dip. A lot of jellyfish were floating around the lake which wasn’t appealing for jumping out of the boat. But they weren’t at the few spots reputed for swimming: in Duck Arm (at the start of the Banksia Peninsula) and Barrier Landing. As it’s close to the entrance where the lake system connects with the ocean, the water at Barrier Landing is clearer than anywhere else in the lake system which makes it the most popular swimming spot in Gippsland Lakes. It’s also a short walk away from Ninety Mile Beach, on the ocean side.
Responsible travel tip: Use the poles on the beach or anchor in the sand rather than using trees to secure your boat.
Ninety Mile Beach
Ninety Mile Beach is one of the longest stretches of sand in the world. Wherever you stop on the lakeside and walk to the ocean, you end up on Ninety Mile Beach. And it’s so long that you don’t see the end of it.
Except for the length, I didn’t find it particularly special and preferred staying on the other side, enjoying being on the boat more than on a beach.
During our second night at Harper’s Bight, the bioluminescent zooplankton was spectacular and without a doubt my biggest surprise and highlight during this sailing trip. It looked like fairy dust!
I am unsure of how common it is to see this when sailing Gippsland Lakes. But we had all the ingredients for it: there was a lot of rain a few days before our visit, and we were visiting during the warm season.
I’ve seen beautiful photos of the bioluminescence in Gippsland Lakes taken after a series of bushfires in 2008 when ash and nitrogen-rich soil washed up in Gippsland Lakes and attracted the bioluminescent zooplankton. We visited when a part of Victoria, including a part of East Gippsland, was declared as a disaster zone because of the terrible bushfires, which might be the reason why we got to see incredible bioluminescent zooplankton in Gippsland Lakes.
I highly recommend moving the water once it’s all dark. Maybe nothing will happen. But maybe it will be magic!
Unfortunately, being on a rocking sailing boat didn’t allow us to take long-exposure photos and capture the stunning bioluminescence.
Bird watching in Gippsland Lakes was fantastic.
Have you heard of the black swan theory? It’s based on the fact that Europeans believed for a long time that black swans did not exist. It was a symbol of something impossible like we’d say nowadays chickens with teeth or flying pigs. Black swans are actually widespread in Australia, but they’re still a rare sight for Europeans. In Gippsland Lakes, they are everywhere, mixing with a few pelicans and cormorants.
We also saw white-belly sea eagles and many terns.
There aren’t many places in Australia where you can sail in beautiful nature from one pub to another. We weren’t ready for a pub crawl during our weekend, but it sounds fun to go to the pub straight from the boat. It can also be very convenient if you haven’t organised food in advance.
Spotting wild koalas
If you haven’t had a chance yet to spot a koala in the wild, then don’t miss Raymond Island. More than 200 koalas live in residential streets around the island, between houses and in inhabitants’ gardens. The koala trail gives you an opportunity to learn more about the marsupial during the 1.2km walk.
To reach Raymon Island, you’ll have to take a short ferry ride from Paynesville. It’s free for pedestrians.
As we had many times the opportunity to see koalas in the wild (on the Great Ocean Road, on Stradbroke Island and on Magnetic Island), we skipped Raymond Island to escape to more natural areas on Gippsland Lakes.
Internet research describes Gippsland Lakes as a popular fishing destination. With Australia’s largest fishing port located in Lakes Entrance, some even say it’s Australia’s fishing capital.
From our experience, don’t rely on fishing for your meals. You may have more luck than we did if you try fishing on the ocean side. Although white breams and flathead were mentioned by a few locals, we didn’t even see one fish in the lake system.
Spotting dolphins and seals
We weren’t lucky enough to see dolphins or seals during our sailing trip in Gippsland Lakes. The endangered Burrunan dolphins live in the bay, and there are tours organised to spot them.
While sailing Gippsland Lakes, we saw many locals having fun water-skiing.
How many days do you need for boating or sailing Gippsland Lakes?
We used a three-day long weekend for our sailing adventure in Gippsland Lakes. It was a good length, although we wouldn’t have minded staying one more day to visit a few more spots and take more time sailing.
If you live in Melbourne and can travel to Gippsland Lakes on Friday night, it could be worth going even just for a weekend. We could arrive the night before to stay on our sailing boat at no extra cost.
Things to bring for your Gippsland Lakes sailing/boating trip
Warm clothes and shorts
Even during summer, the nights were cold on the lake. If you’re lucky during your sailing trip, you’ll have a bit of wind. It also means more risks of being cold! We had lovely weather during our summer weekend in Gippsland Lakes, but we all put on a jacket when the wind picked up one afternoon to more than 20 knots!
Even during the colder months, you want to pack shorts. In many places, we had to beach our sailing boat to access land. Most jetties are private or too busy. We were going off the boat from the front, with a ladder. The water wasn’t too high, but we’d still get wet to the knees.
I never go sailing or boating without a rain jacket. Even if it doesn’t rain, it can be used as a wind stopper and keep me warm.
When you’re on the water, it’s important to apply sunscreen regularly – even when it’s cloudy.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know your sunscreen can pollute the water and harm animals? The best way to protect your body from the sun is to cover it with long sleeves and pants. If you do have to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one (like zinc) to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here) and apply it at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
Some parts of the Gippsland Lakes look a lot more beautiful when you’re wearing polarised sunglasses. These types of sunglasses are also excellent for spotting better shallow areas.
Have you been to Gippsland Lakes? Share your experience in the comments below!
Gippsland Lakes map
The map above is a summary of the places I recommend in the article, and of our itinerary during our three-day sailing adventure in Gippsland Lakes. While sailing, we used this map. It was also useful to have a phone app to help with navigation as our sailing boat didn’t have a GPS.
We hired our boat in Metung, and it took four hours to drive there from Melbourne. We flew to Melbourne on Friday night after work and drove to Gippsland Lakes early on Saturday morning. With the time difference in summer, we could fly back to Brisbane on Tuesday morning and still arrive on time for work.