Gippsland Lakes in a Tinny






We’ve done it a couple of times, and it’s always fun to spend a couple of days in the boat.


The Gippsland Lakes complex covers over 400 square kilometres. Think about that! That’s a lot of water!

Seven major rivers flow into the lakes, The Tambo, Nicholson and Mitchell in the east, the Avon, Latrobe, Macalister and the Thomson in the west. Most of these rivers have their headwaters in the high country to the north.

The main lakes themselves are known as Lake King, Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington. Just over the sand dunes, is Bass Straight and the Ninety Mile Beach. Lake Reeve is a shallow body of water. Lake Tyers, and Lake Bunga to the east are not classed as part of the lakes system.


Let’s have a look at our trip on the lakes. We travel from Lakes Entrance, all the way to Sale, in our Tinny!

First up, check the fuel, and the safety gear, leave our plan of travel on the fridge and tell the kids where we are going… it’s a long way![The maps we use can be downloaded from Gippsland Ports here.

We start our journey at Lakes Entrance, launching the green tinny at Apex Park. Before we leave, we are able to check the conditions in Lakes Entrance on the Gippsland Ports webcam, and also any notices to mariners that might affect our journey. In olden days, Lakes Entrance was known firstly as Carpentertown, then as Cunninghame and was a boom town of the late 1800s. The entrance is artificial, and built in the later years of the 19th century to provide safer access to the Lakes for vessels arriving to service the pastoral and mining areas to the north.

There’s a new fuel jetty at Bullock Island, which caters for vessels from small tinnies to  the largest vessels in the lakes. We fill up here, the easy “self-serve” facility has us quickly on our way.

We head across the Reeve channel and towards the Barrier Landing on the Boole Poole Peninsula. The Barrier Landing is part of the coastal park, so no dogs allowed…. Zip has to stay in the boat.There are a couple of seals floating on their backs, and plenty of cormorants.

We continue down Hopetoun Channel, right to the end of Rigby Island. The lake looks great ahead, and it’s temping to keep going straight west. instead of turning into Rigby Channel.  This is the dilemma. Do we go the long short way, or the short long way? We know that the area ahead is very shallow, and we will run aground, so we do turn into Rigby Channel, and head towards Nyerimilang.

Around Fraser Island, a much smaller cousin of the famous sand island in Queensland, and we can open the throttle and head towards Nungurner. Here’s a story about the sawmill in Nungurner from “back in the day”

“NOTES FROM BELL’S POINT. Thursday, December 4. What might have been a serious accident occurred at Bell’s Point sawmills on Tuesday, the 2nd inst. Bell’s Point is situated two and a half miles by water and nine miles by land from Metung, and the only means of getting the mail is by boat. There is a very ingenious individual at the sawmills, who hails from La Belle France and who devotes his leisure hours to building quite a flotilla of what he calls “Trombro,” but what we term French coffins, and as there is no boat at the saw mills for the convenience of the workmen they have no other alternative but borrow one of these coffins to pull to Metung for the mail. On Tuesday evening two of the sawmill hands furnished themselves with one of these constructions and went for the mail. As they were returning, and were within 150 yards of the pier, one of the men was steering and the other was in the act of taking down the apology for a sail when a puff of wind came and turned the whole concern upside down. Fortunately both the occupants were good swimmers, and one of them immediately struck out for the shore, which he reached in a few minutes none the worse for his ducking. His companion in trouble managed to struggle crossways on the bottom of the boat, and after resting for a few minutes to draw breath, he also struck out for the shore, towing the unfortunate coffin behind him. As for the Ages, Advertisers, letters, etc., they had to undergo the precess of toasting before they were readable: This accident ought to prove a warning to all amateur boatmen and non-swimmers that in future whenever they are inclined for aquatic exercises never to employ French coffins.” Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle, Tuesday 9 December 1884

Around Bell’s Point we can see the slipway of Bury’s Shipyard. Old Pete Bury has lived here forever, and is a wealth of information and stories of boating and days gone by.  He’s one of our favourite people to chat with about the boats on the lakes. As we motor past the slipway, the tiny houses of Metung come into view. These little treasures always bring a smile was we go past, they are so intricate and detailed.

Zooming over to Chinaman’s Creek, we can see the fleet operated by Riviera Nautic. Lucky people have just spent a few days holidaying on their vessels.Work on the new marina in front of the yacht club is coming along…. the sea wall is nearly done. There’s not so many boats moored there at present, but it will be humming once complete.

We see the seal, it seems to be a fixture in Bancroft Bay, but this year has a pup with it. It’s not fazed by the boats… and the pup has made itself at home on the furniture outside the Metung Hotel. That’s pretty cute. Zip needs to stretch her legs, we do too, so we tie up at the public jetty, and look for a coffee.

Bancroft Bites at Metung was still serving breakfast, and the local produce was too good to pass up. Fruit loaf with butter and triple berry jam…mmmmmm.

Metung – meaning bend in the lake in Kurnai language, has a been the seaside holiday home to city folk since the 1800s. It’s easier to get to now, in the old days, you caught a train to Sale, then a steamer to Metung.

We take a walk along the boardwalk, past fishermen, and see the Legend Rock. Stories told by the Gunai-Kurai people tell of traditional fishermen who did not share their catch with their doggies, even though they’d caught plenty. The women, who upheld social justice, turned the greedy fellas to stone. The Legend Rock, the only one of 3 rocks that’s left, is protected. The other two were destroyed by roadworks before their heritage value was understood. Past the mouth of the Tambo, and the lake is like glass, so smooth and silky. Past the mouth of the Nicholson River too, and across Jones bay to the silt jetties.

This is amazing. The Mitchell River flows into the lake, and natural levee banks along the sides extend the river right out into the lake. At 8 kilometres, they are the second longest in the world, behind the mighty Mississippi. Locals know and love them, some even make their homes there. In a car, you can drive right to the end on a bumpy road.

Across to the strait between Paynesville and Raymond Island, and we come across a pod of Burrunan dolphins feeding. There are about 20, circling with their young, obviously chasing a school of baitfish. They are such beautiful creatures, only recognised as a separate species in 2011. They head off in front of us, right up the strait, to the delight of kids playing along the shoreline.

We decide to take a walk at Raymond Island… after all there are lots of koalas there. We dodge the ferry and walk a bit. There must be 10 to 15 koala right amongst the houses! There’s a koala trail, which points to prime koala sites, in case you can’t spot any. However, we find them hard to miss, their tell-tale eucalyptus scented droppings are a real giveaway. It would be easy to assume the animals were indigenous to the area, there are plenty of photos of them on beacons, but 11 male and 31 female koalas were released there in 1953. This number had grown to about 300 in 2010… way too many for such a small area. Different methods of control have been tried over the years, including birth control measures and relocation, but the vegetation is clearly showing signs of stress.

Next stop, Loch Sport. Now we are out into Lake Victoria, a long body of water that sits behind the sand dunes of the Ninety Mile Beach. Loch Sport has Lake Victoria on one side, and Lake Reeve to the south. Like Lakes Entrance, it’s a real beach town. It was one of the last towns in Victoria to receive electricity, 1980- so it is pretty isolated! Access is by boat, or by car from Sale via Longford, a trip of almost 60km.

We head now towards Hollands Landing. There’s good access here, with boat ramps and jetties to tie to. Steven Holland was one of the early fishers on the lakes, and a school opened in 1910, just for his and a neighbour’s children. Talk about personal service!

Through the McLennans Strait. There’s a decent burn happening, to limit dangerous bushfires in the hot summer months. The Straits are just like a river, and deep too.

Coming out the other side we skip into Lake Wellington. From above, Lake Wellington is almost circular, and is shallow. It would be difficult to navigate a large vessel across here, and we note that Gippsland Ports have the following warning:

“Lake Wellington is relatively shallow and winds from the east or west can create a short choppy sea. Without a compass, a boat owner voyaging from Latrobe River entrance to McLennans Strait and vice versa can become disorientated, particularly in daytime, and fail to find the entrance/exit to Lake Wellington. However, there are a number of single pile beacons marking the route across the lake.” Gippsland Ports

In our little boat, we certainly had that difficulty. It wasn’t until we were past one beacon that we could get a line to the next one. The surrounding landscape is very flat, without many distinguishing landmarks. We find the mouth of the Avon River, which flows through Stratford, of course, but can’t get far upstream before it shallows. We return to find the mouth of the Latrobe River, and have to resort to using the GPS to find just where it is.

We motor along, 10knot limit here, up to the Swing Bridge at the junction with the Thompson River. Built in 1883, this iron bridge would swing open to allow the passage of steamers into and out of the Port of Sale. It would do this up to 20 times a day! Today, the Rubeena, is offering tourists cruises to the bridge.

Finally, we arrive at the Port of Sale. Not exactly the bustling port of the past, a handful of vessels are moored in the relative shelter here. We see the PT Boat owned by Captain Harry. This boat spends the summer in Lake Entrance and has a rich history from WWII.

It would have been an interesting trip on an old time steamer from Sale to Lakes Entrance.

As we return, the easterly has really sprung up. Lake Wellington lives up to its reputation of a short chop and we get pretty wet. The Strait provides some relief from the wet!

We’ll travel south of Raymond Island this time. As we pass Loch Sport, a seagull decides to fly along with us. We’re going as fast as our little boat can go, about 17km/h. The seagull keeps up, easily, and we only lose him as we pull into the boat ramp back at Lakes Entrance.

About the author, Azz Stroud Smith

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