Photo credit: Ricky French

Bushfires, a pandemic and the closure of industries has hit Gippsland hard but signs of renewal are strong and the welcome mat is out.

Story + Photos Ricky French 

Bairnsdale is the region’s largest town and a good starting point for a watery road trip east. It’s 18km off the Princes Highway to the canal-sliced town of Paynesville, once the principal fishing village on the Gippsland Lakes. The marina is still crowded with boats, and you can hire a cruiser to explore Lake King and Lake Victoria. A vehicle and passenger ferry shuffles across narrow McMillan Strait to Raymond Island, where Robyn and David Peile hire out Surrey bikes for visitors to ‘Ride the Koalas’. 

Koalas were introduced to the 6 x 2km island in 1953. Their number once exploded to 600, but there are now around 200, managed through sterilisation and relocation. A 1.5km trail meanders between towering manna gums and you can usually spot a resident koala snoozing above. Robyn says she loves the peace of the island. “At last light the kookaburras call with the setting sun,” she says. “You hear them cackle in turn as the sunlight slips across the canopies.”

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