In partnership with Tourism Australia
When the summer fires cut off the East Gippsland town of Mallacoota, stranding many on the foreshore, the images went viral.
The sky turning dark in daylight, families and friends in tinnies on the lake, and Navy ships arriving to provide aid.
Months on, that atmosphere of panic and loss has morphed into one of calm and serenity, which locals say is what has always defined Mallacoota.
It’s one-road-in, one-road-out locale may have caused headaches during the fires, but means it’s remained more laid-back — and underdeveloped — than other beachside hot spots.
With its unspoilt beaches, expansive lake systems and adjacent coastal national parks and nature reserves, Mallacoota is a peaceful place, and perfect for getting outdoors.
“It’s still a nice, sleepy little village,” says Dale Winward, owner of Mallacoota Cruises.
“The waterway itself is probably Mallacoota’s biggest asset. The bush is coming back, the birds are starting to tweet, the koalas are sitting in the trees. It’s a good sign.”
Nadgee Nature Reserve sits to the north of Mallacoota and is one of two impressive parks to visit. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
EXPLORE BY BOAT
Mallacoota has two main inlets and both are ideal for swimming, boating, kayaking and fishing.
Apart from a few farm frontages, the entire foreshore is steeped in bushland, Croajingolong National Park to the south and Nadgee Nature Reserve to the north.
Winward runs tours from Mallacoota with his circa 1910 wooden ferry, MV Loch-Ard, and from Gipsy Point on the Gypsy Princess, along the Genoa and Wallagaraugh rivers, where you might also spot a magnificent sea eagle.
“There’s a nest that has been there as long as I can remember as a kid living here, and I’m 50,” he says.
“The female was up there feeding her chicks, and I threw out a fish and she jumped off the edge of the nest to come flying down.”
Dale Winard’s circa 1910 wooden ferry MV Loch-Ard which is part of Mallacoota Cruises’ small fleet. Picture: SuppliedSource:NCA NewsWire
Visitors can also explore the lake by hiring a canoe, paddle board, small powerboat or even a houseboat.
Grant Cockburn, owner of Mallacoota Hireboats, says many people visit to experience the water’s calming influence.
“People that come here love skiing and bring motorboats and spend most of their nights out there on the lake,” he says. “Because the lake itself is surrounded by a national park, it’s not going to change for the most part.”
Visitors can fish for bream and flathead (drop in and ask Cockburn for his hot tips), tie up at one of the jetties and make use of the Parks Victoria facilities.
Goanna Bay, so named for resident goannas, is a top spot.
For offshore action, Mallacoota Fishing Charters and Tours runs half and full-day adventures so you can land a fat flathead, or see the colony of Australian fur seals at Gabo Island and spend the night in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
There are also stunning beaches, including the popular and patrolled Betka Beach, the rugged Quarry Beach to the south and nearby serene Secret Beach.
Jo Grant, curator of the Mallacoota WWII Operations Bunker Museum, one of several local attractions. Picture: SuppliedSource:News Limited
Croajingolong National Park, listed by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve, is a hiker’s delight.
Hugging the coastline for 100 kilometres, it has walking trails through rainforests, across streams, up and down sand dunes and past historic lighthouses.
While much of the park is still inaccessible (check the Parks Victoria website for current information), wildlife is showing signs of recovery.
“We had a really big population of koalas here and they’ve just slowly showed their heads back again,” Cockburn says.
Dinner at the local golf club will also yield a parade of resident kangaroos which have adopted the greens as their own private sanctuary.
Mallacoota offers a range of other things to do besides nature adventures.
Admire the work of local artists at Lakeside Studio Gallery and Mallacoota Arts Space, or visit the WWII Bunker Museum.
Karbeethong Lodge on Schnapper Point Drive, Mallacoota is a great place to stayover. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
A PLACE TO CHILL
Although some accommodation was lost in the fires, there are still plenty of caravan parks, apartments and B & Bs. Many who come want to be immersed in nature, step back from busy lives and chill, says Graeme Mitchell, owner of historic guesthouse Karbeethong Lodge.
“Mallacoota’s the sort of place that’s instantly relaxing,” he says.
“The vibe is that this is a place to come and wind down.”
Mitchell embraces this vibe by making his accommodation screen-free.
Built in 1902, it offers individual rooms, a communal kitchen and lounge room with a library, and lovely gardens.
Karbeethong Lodge, Mallacoota was built in 1902 and a wonderful place to put your feet up and relax. Picture: Supplied.Source:News Limited
“It’s interesting that people find other things to do when there’s no TV and radio,” he says.
“It’s a place where people get to talk to each other again; not like a hotel where everyone spends their time in their room.”
Mitchell is keen to see visitors return to help the community recover, but also to enjoy a holiday in the beautiful spot that locals are so proud of.
“When people from Melbourne and Sydney, and even rural Victoria come to visit, everyone’s amazed at how beautiful the place is,” he says.
“And it’s like, ‘Yep. That’s exactly why we came’.”
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