Mountains, beaches, rivers and lakes; Gippsland is a wilderness region with something to satisfy all microadventuring vagabonds. Partnering with Visit Victoria, we sent three of our Explorers (Matt, Ben and Kel) on an EPIC 4-day road trip mission to drain every ounce of adventure out of it. Here’s Matt’s account of what went down…
Images by Matt Horspool and Kel Morales
Travel, that thing many of us do when the gap between our “real life” and our ideal life becomes much wider than we had anticipated. Some of us embark on an adventure to search for who we are, others just do it for the sheer thrills.
The We Are Explorers tribe is something special. An eclectic group of likeminded explorers, travelers and weekend bandits. Rest assured that if you’re keen for some outdoor exploring, there is a fellow adventurer down to join.
When the opportunity arose to band together a small team of Australia’s finest explorers and content creators, I had no choice but to raise my hand.
The brief was simple…
Squeeze in as many experiences as possible over 4 days, across the most stunning and lesser-known regions that Gippsland, Victoria has to offer.
The regions that locals have frequented for 25 odd years, unwilling to brag of its wonder to passersby and fearful that a sudden influx of tourists would turn their special place into the next national hot spot. Throw in a cheeky heli’ ride at Wilsons Prom and we had ourselves an adventure.
Check out Ben’s wrap-up vid of. the experience…
Day 0 – Destination: Mallacoota
Assembling The Crew
The dreaded thought of an 8 hour + drive from Sydney to Mallacoota in Friday traffic was quickly overshadowed once the car was loaded full of the 5 cameras, three drones, 100 cables, a healthy supply of junk food and three eager content warriors ready to tackle anything the south-eastern state could throw at us.
Kel and I have been shooting together for some time, but neither of us knew Ben, apart from receiving a handful of excited messenger texts from the tall man. In true photographer style, we got along like a house on fire, rambling of the quadruple luma fade transitions and ultra- slow motion movies that were to eventuate over the coming days.
Our destination was Mallacoota – a quaint little town on the shores of East Gippsland, surrounded by the wild Croajingolong National Park and riddled with endless jetties and inlets feeding into Cape Howe Marine National Park. Arriving at Mallacoota Foreshore Holiday Park at 9:30pm, knackered and heavy-eyed, we hit the sack, ready for an early rise.
Day 1 – Sunsets, Sandunes and Lighthouses
The forecast was for rain, rain and oh yeah.. more rain. It appeared Mother Nature was not going to make our start easy. However, we awoke to find nothing but dew on the tents, sleep in our eyes and conditions primed for a colourful sunrise.
Our resident weatherman Kel ‘Bailey’ Morales had situated us in prime viewing of the impending sun along a collection of jetties we mapped on Google Earth. It turns out we weren’t the only people who had scouted this location, bumping into fellow landscape photographer Brett Wood, who we ended up sharing a jetty with. Word is, that during holiday periods the population can grow from around 1000 to 8000, so visits avoiding holiday periods are strongly advised.
Kayaking In Mallacoota
Chuffed with our shots, it was time to grab a feed, pack the tents and head onto the next activity, kayaking. We’d formulated some wild ideas for how we would approach this part of the trip in terms of footage, but hadn’t factored in the rain and heavy fog that rolled in.
Terry at Mallacoota Equipment Hire set us up with three killer kayaks and a handful of dry bags and cases to carry our beloved electronics. I’m all onboard for intense whitewater rapid action, but there is nothing quite like drifting slowly through endless fog, listening to the patter of rain on the river and an occasional fisherman’s lure dropping in the distance. Serenity at its finest.
Surrounded by a wall of saturated green forests, we paddled through the Mallacoota Narrows into a tiny bay featuring an equally tiny jetty. Perfect to launch the drone and achieve some moody footage. I highly recommend spending a day or two exploring these Narrows as there’s beauty around every bend.
After drying off, we restored some much-needed blood back to our limbs and sat down for mass noodle bowls at the famous Lucy’s Homemade Noodle House. The place was bustling, warm and featured power points… a luxury we came to greatly appreciate over the coming days.
Insider’s Tip: Betka Beach
Feeling a little uneasy about the current weather situation and lacking the luxury of time, we hit Google Earth again to check out the Mallacoota Coastal Walk. The walk takes in a multitude of deserted beaches and inlets and in reality, would require many days to explore in full.
However, we still managed to hit a handful of locations and were surprised by the sheer lack of people around. The Polar opposite of anything you’ll find north of Sydney. A standout spot to check out if you are in the area is Betka Beach. The beach is scattered with rich red boulders washed onto the shore, with little to suggest where they came from.
Thurra River Sand Dunes – Croanjingolong National Park
When NSW explorers think sand dunes, Stockton usually comes to mind. And to be honest, none of us had heard of the Thurra River Sand Dunes, nor had any influencers apart from Ben Leo Davis, ventured as far afield. The drive in was fun, an hour or so worth of snaking dirt road nestled deep in the Croanjingolong National Park. Colin McRae would have a field day racing this road, yet it is still achievable in the dry for any reasonable 2WD.
The unpowered Thurra River Campground begins at the mouth of the river and follows adjacent to the ocean for around 1km. The individual allotted campsites arterially feed off the road, giving the sense you are the only humans on earth. By the time we had arrived light was fading fast and a highlight hot spot was 3km up the road.
Point Hicks Lighthouse
We were desperate to make sunset (if there was any). We quickly set up camp, watched Ben triumph with his tent and sped down the road to Point Hicks Lighthouse. We had originally planned on staying the night here however there is a minimum 2- night stay. I highly recommend you do this if possible as there is an epic spiral staircase running down the centre of the building that has unique photographic potential.
The approximately 2km walk up consists of a compacted dirt road and a steady gradient. Thankfully, we were picked up by the ranger mid-way, saving much-needed energy and time. For anyone who grew up watching Round the Twist, you would know that lighthouses can either be fun or downright terrifying.
The aura around Pt Hicks gives you that feeling, especially with gale force winds and doomsday clouds battering the headland. To the north stretched untouched beaches yet the south produced some alien-like rock formations.
Was this real?
Unfortunately, the clouds didn’t break and sunset was a no-show. Though to be honest, I actually preferred the moody weather. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
Wind burnt and cold, we headed back to replenish and refuel with a gourmet packet of freeze dried goodness. It was around this time (9pm) that signs of fatigue began hitting camp. Kel had begun pacing aimlessly and attempted to enter his tent feet first whilst it was zipped up. Ben’s dodgy knee had reduced him to eating dinner lying down and I couldn’t figure out what charging cables went where. It was time for bed.
Day 2 – Look Left; Large Dune. Look Right; Large Dune…
The 2km walk was dark and eerie, the pace brisk. First light was beginning to glow in the distance and we were arriving blind to the whereabouts of the best location to shoot. A pair of old timers back at the campground suggested the larger dunes in the distance were the primo vantage point and would take an extra 20 minutes if we powered.
Trouble is, look left; large dune. Look right; large dune. Ben and I opted for the direct route up to the right to see if we could map the terrain. The Thurra River could be seen nestled to the left of where we were positioned and fed out into the ocean.
Perched up high and to the right of the river we found a solid vantage point for sunrise, however composition wise, the river was not in an ideal position. We should have walked left as the large dune in the distance stood at the base of the river, creating a leading line out to the ocean and into the impending sunrise.
It was here that our drones began to play up. Not only did I lose signal and nearly lose it completely, but the gimbal refused to straighten. Kel managed to bump a propeller into his leg, sending the Mavic into the sand.
Fortunately, between us we salvaged a handful of shots, called it a day and placed the dunes on our ‘must return’ list.
Next Stop: Metung
The boys were hungry and not particularly looking forward to driving another 183km. We packed up camp and chowed down multi packs of Kellogg’s cereal with UHT milk. Our next stop was Metung, a sleepy and picturesque little town situated along a thin sandy peninsula surrounded by the expansive and ultra-blue Gippsland Lakes.
With a population just shy of 1200, it was one of those … blink and you’ll miss it scenarios.
A hire boat had been organised for the afternoon for us to explore the lakes at our own leisure. Of course, Mother Nature wasn’t having this and hit the area with winds strong enough to flip any small vessel should it venture beyond the jetty. The guys at Riviera Nautic kindly suggested we return early the next day when conditions were calmer.
Our accommodation was a welcome sight for sore eyes, rears and backs. The picturesque Moorings at Metung are located a few hundred metres from the end of the peninsula with waterfront views adorning either side. We used this free time as an opportunity to dump the day’s footage onto hard drives, charge the cameras and clean the sand from every nook and cranny.
Note: sand combined with sea water ruins most tripods if not cleaned. The sea spray from Point Hicks was enough to leave a thin film of salt on everything. TAKE CARE OF YOUR GEAR.
Sunset was an easy 50m walk from our room onto the western foreshore, which sported an iconic long jetty and a variety of other interesting landmarks. As the sun dipped below the horizon, Kel whipped out his signature prop, the crystal ball. Time to add some creativity to the mix.
Day 3 – Exploring Gippsland Lakes
We decided it would be best to split up again and maximise cover of the eastern peninsula. Kel remained in the town centre as Ben and I drove north along the coast about 1km to a set of private jetties. The water was glass-like, a single wisp of clouds streaked the sky and we knew there would be some amazing reflections.
Conditions were finally playing ball and we had the go-ahead for our boat. Ben had even managed to talk his way into an upsize, because bigger is ALWAYS better.
You really appreciate the size of the Gippsland Lakes when two hours is spent heading for a point in the distance and you only make it halfway. The light was harsh and the sky presented little texture, but wind conditions were perfect for aerial shots. Ben and I launched and landed our drones on the 1×1 metre box in the centre of the boat. A little nerve racking when the boat wouldn’t sit still.
In true Flo Rida style, minus the bikini-clad women, we sailed around the pristine waterways. Gathered some MTV worthy content then navigated back through the enormous hordes of jellyfish and past boats much grander than our own.
Lakes Entrance – North of Metung
15-minutes drive north of Metung stands Lakes Entrance, which is larger in size than Metung and features elevated views over the Gippsland lakes. The town stands at the end of the infamous Ninety Mile Beach and is a haven for water sport enthusiasts. Words cannot describe the colour of the water, so we were devastated the winds were too strong to shoot from the sky.
The Latrobe Valley
Onto the Latrobe Valley and it was time to get airborne, literally.
Traralgon, the largest city in the Latrobe Valley, lies 153km south-west of Metung. The city is home to most of the state’s power generation with plants scattered all around the region.
Arriving at the small airfield we were pleasantly surprised to witness three gun stunt planes engaged in synchronised acrobatics. The pilots were in town to practice for a major upcoming air show.
Whilst our flight was comparatively less Top Gun, Dave at Bandicoot Adventures ensured our experience was no less thrilling. It’s a big world we live in, and when viewed from altitude you gain perspective for what is around you.
I rode shotgun with the only openable window on the plane. For good reason in fact, as the strong wind was fighting the camera right out of my hands.
You Can’t Miss Wilsons Promontory
Wilsons Promontory, adventure playground and the southernmost tip of mainland Australia was our next location.
A rugged granite national park that has made a speedy recovery from the devastating 2005 & 2009 fires that ripped through two-thirds of the park.
I must admit we were all frothing at the bit to see this place, with images of Mt Oberon and the Big Drift frequented on many social feeds. We’d grabbed a glimpse of the Prom’ earlier during the plane ride but could not grasp the grandeur of the area until we were driving up through the park.
I’m certain Ben leaked a little with excitement in the back seat; if this was Jurassic Park, he was Tim, in awe of his first dinosaur sighting.
Northy, the name of our ranger’s hut was situated behind the Tidal River information building. Quite convenient as we performed some last-minute data dumping, charged our cameras and packed only the necessities, ready to summit Mt Oberon for what was sure to be a killer sunset.
Summiting Mount Oberon
The road leading up to the starting point of the walk is as spectacular as the walk itself. Winding lanes cut through the side of the mountain, allowing us humans to access the beauty that lies atop the summit. The trail itself is accessible to most adventurers, a slow but steady dirt road of multiple switchbacks and a handful of stairs.
Definitely pack extra water, some snacks for when you reach the summit and a windproof and waterproof layer as weather can change quickly in places like this.
It’s rare to find a place with such spectacular views in Australia that are in relatively easy walking distance from a carpark. The summit eventually flattened out, allowing us the freedom to explore the granite monoliths that protruded the ridgeline.
In most areas, there was a 270-degree view of the park, stretching to the vast ocean horizon and around to a set of rich pink peaks, fairy flossed with rolling clouds.
We explored the surrounding area, snapping a multitude of fun shots and laughing at each other’s expense. It was one of those moments shared with friends old and new that you can’t put a price on. It’s the reason why we do what we do.
Day 4 – Squeaky, Squeaky Beach Time
As it was not a geographically ideal sunrise location and with limited time before putting the icing on the cake, we decided to gift ourselves a half hour sleep in. With the car packed, we ventured down onward to Squeaky Beach hoping to catch some of the early morning haze that wafted the area.
I can happily report the place is epic and apart from one would be surfer, it was all ours.
Giant red boulders were strewn out to the right whilst pristine white sand stretched into the distance, mirrored with reflections of the sky above. Perfect.
Rocky Red Cliffs At Whiskey Bay
Ben and I then paid a quick visit to the adjacent Whiskey Bay, an area heavily photographed and famous for its rocky red cliffs. Being only 700m from the car park, it’s worth checking out.
By this time, we needed to make haste as we had a date with a helicopter in Yanakie, just outside of the park’s entrance.
Helicopter Date – Yanakie
We met up with Jarrod: pilot, fellow photographer, drone pilot and all round nice guy, to get our briefing of the day’s flight. Weather conditions could not have been more ideal.
Visibility was perfect, wind was nonexistent and the helicopter windows had been freshly cleaned for our viewing ease. I did, however, gently nudge at the idea of removing all three windows for a much more authentic experience. Let’s do this properly!
Heli’ rides of any length are not cheap as the cost of putting a large piece of metal safely in the sky, fueling, servicing and insurance is ridiculous. But let’s face it, this is not a bike ride through the park. Spend two less weekends out at the bar and enjoy 35 minutes of pure exhilaration and unobscured views over some of the most spectacular and inaccessible coastline in Victoria.
It’s all relative. Most people that enter the park have visited the Big Drift, Mt Oberon and Whiskey Bay. How many do you think, have laid eyes on the backside of the park with its isolated lighthouse and numerous scattered islands leading towards Tasmania? Not many I’d say.
Note: we even glimpsed one of Tasmania’s islands in the distance!
Skull Island (And We Weren’t Even In A Crash Bandicoot Game!)
One of the standouts for me was finally seeing Skull Island in the flesh. I had viewed online pictures and dreamt of the possibility of boating out to it. But this greatly exceeded my expectations!
Nearing the end of the flight we soared over the expansive and often abstract intertidal mudflats that could very well be painted on canvas. A great way to finish an epic flight.
- Robust AWD vehicle
- Camping equipment (tent, sleeping kit, all cooking gear and food)
- Aeroplane/ Helicopter (luckily there are companies that can sort this part out for you!)
- Camera/ film gear
- Betka Beach
- Thurra River Sand Dunes
- Point Hicks Lighthouse
- Lakes Entrance
- The Latrobe Valley
- Wilsons Promontory
- Squeaky Beach
- Whiskey Bay
- Skull Island
Kudos to the girls, Jacqui at Visit Victoria and Phoebe at Inspired by Gippsland, for whipping up a full on, but truly amazing itinerary and a massive thanks to everyone in the We Are Explorers community who followed us on the Insta stories. The response was overwhelming!