DANIELLE NORTON takes three teens on a road trip in a motorhome to the Gippsland Lakes and lives to tell the tale
As I sit in the driver’s seat in the car park at the airport, I can’t help feeling a little nervous. After a thorough briefing, I let the keys dangle in the ignition and take a deep breath. The Let’s Go six-berth motorhome is worth more than $100,000. It has 11km on the odometer and is so new that the seatbelts are still tucked inside the seat creases.
There are padded seats up front, but the teenagers choose to sit in the back all the way from Melbourne to the Gippsland Lakes, where we are headed for a weekend getaway. They huddle around the table, wearing seatbelts of course, and play cards for hours. The lights stay on and their view doesn’t change; they like being cocooned inside and have drawn all the blinds. It’s the antithesis to my idea of a road trip, but I’m happy to let them do as they like. They have a radio system in the back too, so they can hook up their playlist and sing their hearts out.
By the time we arrive at Paynesville Holiday Park, around 300km west of the city, it’s already dark. I reverse into our parking spot and we are thrilled to discover that our site comes with an ensuite. Our van has a toilet and shower but we’re reluctant to use either, hoping to minimise the end-of-trip pack up. The motorhome comes fully furnished with linen, kitchenware and cleaning gear, so all we have to do is feast on our takeaway fish and chips from the local pub and snuggle up in our beds.
The next morning we’re up at sunrise. The teenagers have a running regime (5km every morning), so I follow them to the lakefront township only a few minutes’ walk away. Swans are nesting on the banks of the still waters and we are spellbound watching these graceful birds, so relaxed in their natural environment. The kids become contemplative, so much so that they notice jellyfish in the water over the side of the jetty. Of course, they want to take photos, so they fight over the camera and that peaceful moment doesn’t last.
Bushfires early in the year, followed by COVID-19, have drastically affected the region’s tourism industry. We have arrived without supplies, determined to spend our dollars in a way that helps the communities we are visiting. We pop into the bakery for croissants and crusty bread for breakfast, then pack up the van and pull out, ready for our first adventure outside of the motorhome. We don’t have to go far; the ferry for Raymond Island leaves from opposite the Paynesville Hotel.
The ferry master calls “all aboard” and we file onto the narrow passenger deck. The Raymond Island ferry takes two minutes to transport cars, caravans and people across the water. When we disembark, a playground with sign-posted information about the koala trail catches our eyes and we’re off, following the painted red and yellow poles. We hire a Surrey bike from Koala Bike Tours. Even though they’re teenagers, these kids are not too cool for racing around and koala spotting, so we pedal furiously along the 1km-long trail.
Returning to the mainland, we head to the largest town of the district, Lakes Entrance, where the lake meets the ocean. With their long stretches of sand, Gippsland beaches are stunning, and they fill up over summer, but today the wind is blowing, and we have the beach to ourselves. After a brisk walk and some TikTok-ing the kids need a structured activity, so we drop into Footbridge Mini Golf and Lolly Shop, one of five similar operations in the town. The mini golf is challenging for our group, teen hormones leading to frustration, but also a sense of accomplishment.
The teens are ready for a bit of ‘chill’ time, so we order a pizza and take it back to our home for the night, Whiters. We settle in for the evening in the RV, another onsite ensuite bringing us joy. This one even has a heat lamp so we can shower without freezing. We’ve brought a collection of board games, so out they come and some good old-fashioned family bonding, and an argument about the pick-up-put-down UNO rules ensues. Thankfully, the van has three double beds, so everyone has the space to stretch out and remove themselves from the grudges and smelly feet of their siblings.
The next morning, we head for the pier at the North Arm of the lake and hire a putt-putt boat from Victor Boat Hire. Captain Bernie takes us through the steps: “Turn the key, push the throttle, go”. His wife interrupts with a smile when he’s explaining the marine marker systems that we need to follow on the water. “I just remember that there’s a little bit of port left in the bottle, so the red marker needs to be on the left if you’re heading up stream,” she says. It’s the opposite on the way back.
The speed limit is 5 knots (about 10km an hour), and the boat can’t go any faster, so it’s a chance for the kids to take the wheel and captain their own ship. Still too young to have their boat licences, they’re getting a taste for the boating life. It’s 9am on a Sunday so the town is still hushed, and there are no other boats out yet. It’s so calm that the trees are reflected on the water’s surface, and birds swoop in the air above us, calling to each other.
We return to land and jump in the RV. Coffee beckons, and I make a pitstop at the Lakes Boatshed; a family-friendly cafe on the foreshore. By late morning we are ready for a tour of Ninety Mile Beach with Lakes Entrance Segway Adventures. This is the only place in Victoria that you can actually operate a segway on sand. The owners, John and Bernadette, are waiting on the foreshore to give us lessons. John assures us that “balance is not required”, and he’s right. We quickly master the art of moving our weight back and forth.
There are big smiles and squeals of excitement as we take off, decked out in high-vis vests and safety helmets. The kids race each other up the length of the beach, making elaborate patterns in the sand. This is clearly the highlight of the trip. They feel like ‘grown ups’; driving their own vehicles gives a sense of being in control of their own destiny, I guess.
So happy that they’ve had a good time, and that I can confidently drive such a large vehicle, I direct the van back towards the city once again. I’d planned to stop along the way to support regional farms, imagining roadside stalls blooming with colourful vegetables and fruit, but the reality of this empty esky trip was that we spent our money in the supermarkets, cafes and vegetable grocers rather than at a farmer’s gate. As a last-ditch effort, we drop into the Spud Shed in Trafalgar and stock up on huge sacks of potatoes, fresh organic vegetables, fruit and wholefood products.
As the kids munch their goodies on the last leg of the journey home, quiet and tired, I muse happily about how they’ve grown up so much that they can now sit in companionable silence in our little home away from home. At our petrol stop, I turn from my seat to see them all plugged in; each one intently watching their own TV show on their own device. Companionable or not, this motorhome holiday was a brilliant success.
The writer was a guest of Let’s Go Motorhomes and Destination Gippsland.
From Melbourne, head east for three hours on the Princes Highway towards the Gippsland Lakes area. The Paynesville turn off is before Bairnsdale.
There are dozens of van parks in the area with communal facilities available, as well as sites with ensuites attached.
WHEN TO GO
East Gippsland is beautiful year-round and it’s a good idea to take a jacket any time of year. The region is famous for water activities and beach fun for kids of all ages when the weather is warm in spring and summer.