Please dad, can we do it again just one more time. We’ll eat all our vegies, honest! C’mon. Please, please, pleeeese…” My ears were bombarded with this plaintive plea each and every day we ventured onto the water from our apartment at Paynesville’s Captain’s Cove resort, on the Gippsland Lakes in south-eastern Victoria.
Personally, I believe the blame can be spread around between New World Honda, who supplied our shiny new Haines Hunter 640 Bowrider Sport, the people from Mercury Marine who loaned us some garishly colourful Quicksilver water toys and John and Janine Fay, who invited us to Captain’s Cove last December. Collectively, they were all to blame for the verbal assault that greeted me each time I announced that it was time to pack up the toys and head back to the apartment for a BBQ at the end of the day. With three adrenalin-charged youngsters hanging off the end of a ski rope, it was all I could do to cajole them back to the boat so we could be back at the jetty before sunset.
Then, just four months later, we returned to the Lakes for another perspective on an area that offers so many boating and holiday options. This time around, we went the bareboat charter route, climbing aboard a 40-foot motor cruiser supplied by Bull’s Cruisers in Paynesville. But the auditory assault continued unabated, albeit rescripted to the tune of: “Please dad, can we have another turn in the kayaks? We’ll eat all our vegies, honest! C’mon. Please, please, pleeeese…”
Pleading children aside, the appeal of the Gippsland Lakes is that the lake and river system offers so many destination and activity options. Stretching over a total area of 400sqkm, the three lakes, King, Victoria and Wellington, are all interconnected via navigable channels and waterways, while they are fed by various rivers, including the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo. Adding another perspective is the influence of the ocean, which connects to the lakes at Lakes Entrance. There is also the fact the waters are, for the most part, protected and relatively benign. The lakes can get a bit choppy and uncomfortable for smaller craft once the wind blows over 15 knots or so, but there is always somewhere nearby to nudge in for shelter. Likewise, you are never too far from a welcoming jetty or mooring, and there are plenty of islands, coves, walks and beaches to explore.
A comfortable three-hour drive east from Melbourne along the Princes Highway, the lakes are serviced by a number of towns and small settlements, including Bairnsdale, otherwise known as the ‘gateway to the lakes’, Lakes Entrance, Paynesville, Metung and Loch Sport.
There is a range of accommodation options available, from campgrounds and motels to apartments and houses to rent. The beauty of most is that they are all near or on the water. In the case of Captain’s Cove, the luxury two-storey units are built right on the Paynesville canals, and each has its own jetty. Access to the lakes and waterways is then simply a matter of strolling to the jetty and puttering up the canal and out into Lake King or McMillans Strait between Paynesville and Raymond Island.
Early December saw us descend on Captain’s Cove with an armada of water toys and an army of kids eager to give them a workout. Having called in on New World Honda on the way to Paynesville, we also had the Honda-powered Haines Hunter 640 Bowrider in tow (see P168).
Located an easy eight-minute stroll from local shops, each of the 18 architect-designed apartments at Captain’s Cove overlooks the picturesque canal that provides water access to the lakes. Developed originally by locally-based Riviera Properties, which is also working on a similar development at nearby Metung, each of Captain’s Cove’s air-conditioned apartments boasts three bedrooms, with sleeping for up to six, plus two bathrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen and laundry facilities. Each also has its own upstairs balcony and downstairs patio, with a BBQ for outdoor entertaining. There is also a heated indoor pool and tennis courts, should you tire of water sports.
Rates range from $130 per night for two people during off-peak season, to $245 per night during seasonal peaks. Handily for those bringing their own boats, there is also a large boat trailer parking area on the premises, so parking and security is not a problem. And for those who don’t have a boat, there is even a new Catalina 32 available for a spot of cruising. The in-survey sailor can take up to 12 and is available for skippered charter direct from Captain’s Cove.
Hosts John and Janine were most welcoming and had plenty of local knowledge to impart on recommended eateries and other local attractions and boating destinations, so it was simply a matter of checking in, visiting the local shops for a spot of provisioning, launching the boat, tying up at our jetty, inflating the ‘toys’ and hitting the water.
The following days were spent bouncing the kids around on various waterways and water toys, and exploring the lakes and rivers. We were blessed with some great pre-Xmas weather and mostly flat water, which allowed us to make the most of the open-plan Haines Hunter 640. We roamed from centrally-placed Paynesville west to Loch Sport and east to Lakes Entrance, making sure to keep a keen eye out for the many channel and cardinal markers that are spread around the lakes.
For the most part navigation is relatively simple, with some good local maps available, but there are also large areas of shallow water that need to be treated with caution, so for safety’s sake we tended to give them a wide berth.
One great aspect of Gippsland Lakes boating is that, typically, making landfall is simply a matter of gliding up onto the many soft sandy beaches, throwing the pick onto the sand and jumping off for a spot of beachcombing or hiking through the many trails that criss-cross the area’s islands, arms and national parks. The kids, in particular, appreciated going on safari on Rotamah Island, where their wildlife spotting was rewarded with a few ’roos, an emu, a couple of lizards and even a surprised, though somewhat annoyed scorpion. Rotamah is also one of a few access points to Ninety Mile Beach, which acts as a sandy barrier to the waters of Bass Strait.
But the best thing was that virtually everywhere we went we had the place to ourselves. It was a great way to enjoy some quality time with the family, with nothing but Mother Nature and a boat to occupy the kids’ time.
And every night we returned to Captain’s Cove, making sure we had a good supply of BBQ fodder and some produce from local wineries to enhance our enjoyment of the typically brilliant sunsets.
From a boating point of view, our stay had certainly high lighted how much the Gipps landLakes has to offer for families with trailer boats looking for somewhere new to explore. Reluctantly – and excruciatingly so as far as the kids were concerned – we returned to Melbourne, but at least in the knowledge we would soon be back to sample the Lakes from an alternative perspective.
Mid-autumn saw us return to Paynesville, this time at the invitation of the folks at Bull’s Cruisers, which has been in the business of providing charter boats to Lakes visitors for over 45 years. Bull’s offers a variety of craft, able to accommodate from four up to 11 people for overnighters. Their fleet consists of a total of 19, either older-style displacement cruisers or more modern planing craft, plus one sailing yacht. All are fully-equipped for overnight accommodation, including a full galley, single bunk and double sleeping arrangements, full shower and toilet facilities, entertainment features, including TV, DVD and stereo gear and BBQs. Bull’s can also supply bed linen and kayaks on request, the latter offering a welcome recreational option for our younger crew members.
Rates for the power boats depend on the craft and vary from $905 for two nights in the low season, from May 1 to September 30, up to $2557 for a minimum of three nights in the holiday season, from December 26 to January 28. Bull’s Cruisers manager, Tamara Cook advised that a new, luxuriously-appointed 35ft power catamaran will be completed soon and will be the “pride of the Bull’s fleet” when it comes online.
Upon our return to Paynesville, we mounted a provisioning raid on the local shops, cornering the market on lollies, snacks and assorted sugar-saturated drinks in the case of the kids, while the adults went in search of the more staple food items and a few tasty whites and reds. Then it was just a short drive down to the Bull’s Cruises marina, where we were met by Tamara and her helpful crew, who introduced us to our floating home for the next four days.
Challenger is a 40-foot steel cruiser and, like many in the fleet, was built at the now-closed Bull’s shipyard in Paynesville. It has sleeping room for up to eight, including a compact forward double vee-berth cabin. The dining area at the rear of the saloon also converts to a double berth, while the rest of the berths are single bunks. A fully-equipped galley is on the starboard rear side of the large, open saloon, which leads out to a spacious cockpit, off which the shower/head is accessed.
Challenger is a twin-helm vessel, with the lower helm located on the forward port side of the saloon, while the upper is located at the front of the sundeck. Speaking of which, the sundeck is a very spacious area that offers great views as well as being ideal for outdoor entertaining. It also has a large BBQ and plenty of seating. A genset in the stern gave us 240v power, which came in handy for the various computer paraphernalia now apparently compulsory for pre-teen life support.
After a thorough briefing on the boat and where to go, what to look for and – more importantly – what to look out for, we were underway. It soon became obvious that Challenger was a relatively docile and comfortable craft, albeit a little underpowered. Its small diesel engine was able to maintain a maximum speed of around 7 knots and was obviously governed down a little, as is common practice in the charter industry, which is legislated to a speed limit of 10 knots for in-survey vessels. Nevertheless, Challenger’s weight and displacement hull dealt easily with the one-metre chop that greeted us on Lake King and we were soon chugging down the northern side of Raymond Island to our first night’s destination.
As we nudged Challenger gently onto the small sandy beach at Box’s Creek, it occurred to me that there are not too many places in Australia where you can run a 40-foot cruiser up onto dry land, drop a ladder, tie off a couple of lines and simply sit back and enjoy the pristine surroundings. We were cocooned in a small U-shaped cove of protected water, tree-covered hills rising on three sides to provide complete shelter from the bluster that had accompanied our run down from Paynesville. Without the intrusion of civilisation, we could have been anywhere, the only man-made distractions being a couple of other boats that had chosen the same haven for overnight shelter, and a few rustic jetties that looked like they hadn’t seen a visitor in a while. It was perfect … well, almost. Once we’d secured the lines and broken out a couple of chilled whites, it was really perfect. With the kids happily exploring the surroundings on their kayaks, and with the final scarlet rays of sunset filtering through the trees, it occurred to me that bareboat chartering was certainly a gentle and relaxing way to enjoy the Lakes.
The remaining two days were spent exploring the channels, islands and rivers at a very leisurely pace. We meandered up to Metung on the second day, taking a walk around the small township and marina before aiming for the Tambo River. An hour or so up the river is the small settlement of Swan Reach, which happens to boast a very welcoming pub and not much else. A hearty counter meal and more samples of the local vineyards saw us happily in our bunks under a spectacular star-studded sky by midnight.
Duck Arm, at the western end of Lake King, provided welcome shelter from a south-easterly blow the next night. Barely had we motored up onto the beach, before the kids were off exploring the local waters on their kayaks. This was to be our last night on the Lakes and we took advantage of the balmy evening to fire up the barby for an outdoor feast. The sizzle of cooking steaks and the pop of corks provided a fitting soundtrack to the end of our final day.
There is a tranquil and rustic ambience to boating life on the Gippsland Lakes. From my own experience, there are not too many other places in Australia that offer the same sheltered waters, safe boating, easy access to surrounding bushland and wildlife, mooring options and such a variety of destinations within a day’s easy cruising. From a family point of view, in particular, there are any number of activities and options to keep kids of all ages entertained and occupied. Whether you BYO or charter a boat, if you’re after a relaxing boating experience close to nature and far from the crowds, the waters of the Gippsland Lakes await you.