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Lakes Entrance, VIC

Important fishing port and holiday town at the mouth of the Gippsland Lakes.

Lakes Entrance is an attractive and substantial holiday destination at the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes and at the north-eastern end of Ninety Mile Beach. The lakes are fed by five major rivers, linked by narrow channels and cover 400 square kilometres. The lakes were formed when the sand deposits from the Tasman Sea created long, narrow sand spits and low-lying sand islands and dunes which eventually became Ninety Mile Beach which separating Bass Strait from the lakes that formed. The rivers flowing into the lakes deposited silt and clay and a series of lakes and swamps were formed. Two areas - the Lakes National Park (2,390 ha) and the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park (17,600 ha) - lie to the south. The region, known as Lakes Coast, is characterised by a minimal annual variation in temperature being relatively warm in winter and cool in summer. It is popular as a place for family holidays, fishing and beachcombing.


Lakes Entrance is located 318 km east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway.


Origin of Name

Lakes Entrance is one of those bleeding obvious place names. It was named, as the name suggests, because it was the entrance for ocean-going vessels to access the Gippsland Lakes which are the largest navigable inland waterway in Australia. It was originally known as Cunninghame after a family of squatters who settled in the area. The local Gurnaikurnai had a Dreamtime legend explaining the lakes: a frog swallowed all of the world's water. The other animals tried to make the frog surrender the water by making it laugh. All deliberate attempts at humour failed but the sight of the eel standing upright on its tail caused the frog to laugh, the water was disgorged and the subsequent flood is said to have created the lakes.


Things to See and Do

Wooden Sculptures
Along the promenade there are a number of impressive wooden sculptures which depict images of Australia at war. The war sculptures "honour the memory of the First World War dead and injured". There are famous images from World War I including Simpson and his donkey and a nursing sister caring for wounded soldiers. The sculptures were created by the chainsaw artist, John Brady, in 1998. A sign explains that the sculptures were "originally memorial Monterey Cypress trees planted in 1924 to honour this district's servicemen who fell in World War I. Twenty six trees were originally planted one for each serviceman whose name is commemorated on the memorial stone near the wounded soldier's sculpture. Characteristic of the Monterey Cypress, limbs started to fall creating a safety hazard. After stakeholder meetings and consultation with arborists it was decided to remove the hazardous limbs and have the tree stumps sculpted in 1998. Each statue represents some aspect of life during World War I, thus retaining the memorial significance of the trees. As an ongoing tribute a seedling grown from one of the original Monterey cypress trees was planted in 1999. This can be seen growing near the commemorative stone."

The Griffiths' Sea Shell Museum
The Griffiths' Sea Shell Museum at 125 The Esplanade has been operating sincce 1962. Among its impressive exhibits are nearly 90,000 shells, the head of the largest marlin ever caught (1358 lbs), some unusual corals, sponges and an aquarium containing sea snakes, blue-ringed octopi and many unusual marine creatures mostly from Bass Strait. Tel: (03) 5155 1538. They are on Facebook. Check out https://www.facebook.com/GriffithsSeaShellMuseum.

The Entrance Walk
One of the easiest walks on a short section of Ninety Mile Beach is The Entrance Walk. It is 5 km return, is sandy (therefore can be difficult if you are not used to walking on soft sand) and extending from Cunninghame Arm Footbridge south along Cunninghame Arm to The Entrance and returns along Ninety Mile Beach (or via the route you have already taken. There is a boardwalk at the mouth of Lakes Entrance and it is an excellent opportunity to study the strange geomorphic phenomenon which has produced the long, narrow strip of sand dunes which runs along the coast.


Other Attractions in the Area

Jemmy Point and Kalimna Lookouts
At Jemmy Point, 2 km west of the town on the Princes Highway as you cross the bridge and head towards Bairnsdale, there are a number of impressive locations which provide excellent views of the lakes, Bullock Island and the lake's entrance to Bass Strait. It is the best place to get an overview of the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes.

Nyerimilang Heritage Park
Historic Nyerimilang homestead and Nyerimilang Heritage Park are located 10 km from Lakes Entrance via the Princes Highway and Kalimna West Road. The park is open from 8.30 until sunset and the homestead is open from 9.30 am - 4.00 pm weekdays and 10.30 am - 3.00 pm on weekends.
Nyerimilang homestead, with its attractive semi-formal gardens, featuring both native and exotic species, pastoral surrounds, pleasant views of Reeves Channel and the lakes, bellbirds, honeyeaters, water birds, grey box and blue gums along the cliff tops, it makes a fine spot for a picnic (there are a number of picnic tables around the home) or a walk along the circular path, which follows the cliff's edge and returns inland.
The land was purchased by Mr A. Murray in 1884. It was then transferred to Frank Stuart who erected a house in 1892 which he used as a base for fishing and shooting expeditions on the Gippsland Lakes. In the 1920s Stuart's son moved into the house extending it and developing the gardens. In 1936 his widow donated the property to the Anglican diocese of Gippsland for use as a boy's training farm. The following decade it was purchased by 'the quiet millionaire', William Buckland, who used it as a holiday home until his death in 1964. From 1964-1976 it was used as a cattle stud. In 1976 the Victorian Government bought the property, converting it to its present use as a tourist attraction. There is a display outlining the history of the house and the property inside the homestead.
There are four short walks around Nyerimilang - the Whistling Kite Track (750 metres) through grassland and forest of blue gums; Homestead Track (1.1 km) the original track to the homestead passes through swamplands and salt marsh areas; Cliff Top Walk (1.7 km) with panoramic views over the Gippsland lakes and the Bass Strait; Kurrajong Walk (750 metres) a walk linking the Cliff Top and Homestead Walks; and Salt Marsh Track (1.2 km) passes through salt marsh and sandy shorelines. There is an excellent and detailed, downloadable brochure with a good map. Check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/315556/Park-note-Nyerimilang-Park.pdf.

Gippsland Lakes - Geology and Bird Watching
The Gippsland Lakes are a collection of coastal lagoons which were formed when the ocean's sand deposits created lengthy, narrow sand spits, low-lying sand islands and dunes which eventually formed a barrier which separating Bass Strait from the calmer waters. The rivers which flow into the lakes deposited silt and clay which formed a series of lakes and swamps. An artificial entrance was created in 1889 to allow permanent navigable entry. This new mouth lowered and stabilised water levels in the lakes which are fed by a number of river systems - the Latrobe and the Avon (which flow into Lake Wellington), and the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo (which flow into Lake King).

Taken together they constitute the largest navigable inland waterway in Australia. The major bodies of water - Lake Wellington, Lake Victoria and Lake King - have 320 km of shoreline and cover a total of 340 square kilometres.

The Gippsland Lakes possess features of international significance. The Mitchell River delta, for example, is an eroded digitate delta which extends southwards from Bairnsdale along the western shore of Lake King to Eagle Point Bluff. From this point it forms a series of long, narrow, winding jetties of silted sediment which extend eastwards out into Lake King for 8 km.

Also of geomorphological interest are Cunninghame Arm at Lakes Entrance which is a relic of a narrow channel that connected the Lakes to the ocean before the creation of the artificial entrance in 1889; the unique ecology and geomorphology of Lake Reeve with its extensive salt marsh areas; the Tambo River delta which extends 2.5 km south-west into Lake King; the Latrobe delta, protruding over 2 km into Lake Wellington, which is formed by silt trapped by a reed swamp; McLennans Isthmus (a long, broad sandy promontory that separates Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington) and McLennans Strait (a deep narrow channel that connects these two lakes).

The lake's ecosystem is an important habitat for ducks, swans, coots and other waterbirds. Lakes Wellington, Victoria and King are permanent deep saline wetlands supporting populations of migratory seabirds, including the little and fairy terns. Lake Reeve is an extensive intermittent saline wetland of international significance which provides a highly significant habitat for up to 12,000 migratory wading birds, making it one of the five most important areas for waders in Victoria. Other noted bird populations exist at MacLeod Morass, Sale Common, Clydebank Morass, Dowd Morass, Jones Bay and Lake Bunga. The latter is a relatively small coastal wetland that is fresh to brackish, supporting waterfowl, little tern, hooded plover and the white-bellied sea-eagle. Other good bird watching sites to the north are Blond Bay State Game Reserve, located behind Lake Victoria, and Colquhoun Forest. Vegetation around the lakes includes swamp paperbark, reed and salt-marsh vegetation such as glasswort, shore rush, saw sedge and salt grass.

Parts of the Lakes system are used for commercial and recreational fisheries and for other water-based recreation, while the immediate hinterland has been developed for agricultural and tourism purposes. Almost all of the lakes are accessible by boat and boat-launching facilities are available at Hollands Landing, Nicholson and Johnsonville. Fishing trips and boating tours of the lakes and rivers are available from Paynesville and Lakes Entrance.

Stony Creek Trestle Bridge
Located 38.5 km west of Orbost, off the Princes Highway (follow the signs for 3 km on a gravel road), this remarkable structure was once part of the Bairnsdale to Orbost railway line. It is 276 metres long and 19 metres high and was completed 1900. Although it is part of the East Gippsland Rail Track it is not possible to cycle over the bridge. It can be admired from the car park which has a fascinating sign which records that when the rail line was completed: "Pioneers would come to Bairnsdale on market day and leave groceries and bread, meat, tools and newspaper orders with the local traders to be sent out to Hillside, Lindenow or Fernbank rail sidings. Later this service was extended onto the Orbost line, Bairnsdale soon became recognised as the service centre for a East Gippsland. Trains brought new markets to Bairnsdale. Special iced vans built by Vic Rail to transport our butter to Melbourne. Later fish from Lakes Entrance was packed in ice and sent to the fish market. New dairy farms were developed further out in the countryside because now the farmers could take their milk or cream to the nearest siding and have it sent to Bairnsdale. On the rich river flats market gardeners also used the services provided by the railways. For the first time they could grow peas, beans and other commercial perishable crops." The bridge is made mainly from red ironbark and grey box.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Gurnaikurnai people. The Krauatungalung group had two divisions - the Wurnungatti lived around Lake Tyers and the Brt-Hrita around Jemmy Point.

* The Scottish explorer, Angus McMillan, was the first European to reached Lake Victoria in 1840.

* John Reeves explored  the lakes in 1843 and settlers arrived and cattle runs were established soon after.

* Ewing's Marsh is named after the Ewing brothers who took up a run near the Lakes Entrance in 1850.

* Ewing's Marsh was sold to the Roadknight family in 1855. They travelled overland from Colac to Melbourne; then by boat from Melbourne to Port Albert; by bullock wagon to Sale, and then by a steamer to the lakes.

* In 1858 the Georgina Smith became the first large vessel to enter the lakes from the ocean, sailing up the Tambo River with supplies for the Crooked River goldfields.

* From the 1860s Lakes Entrance was important as a port for the trade of East Gippsland.

* By 1864 vessels were regularly using the inlet and a pilot boat, The Lady of the Lake, was used to help vessels through the narrow inlet.

* A post office named Cunninghame was opened in 1870.

* A railway line was completed from Melbourne to Sale in 1879. It boosted shipping activity with supplies, passengers and tourists arriving from Sydney, Eden, Tasmania and Melbourne by steamer.

* Work started on a more stable and permanent, man-made entrance to the lakes in 1869.

* Fishing, on a commercial basis, began in 1878.

* In 1889 the sea surged over 3000 sandbags and flooded several homes.

* The Lakes Entrance Salmon Company operated between 1900 and 1954.

* The post office changed its name to Lakes Entrance in 1915.

* Oil was discovered 3 km east at Lake Bunga in 1924.

* Oil drilling ceased in 1945 when operations closed due to lack of profitability.

* In the 1960s the first large fishmeal plant in Australia opened in the town.

* During the 1970s and 1980s the town's deep sea fishing fleet became one of the most important in Australia. Its main catches are whiting, mullet, gurnard, flathead, gummy sharks, bream, rock lobster and scallops.

* In 2010 the Victorian Government recognised the Gurnaikurnai Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of much of the land around Lakes Entrance.


Visitor Information

Lakes Entrance Visitor Information Centre, 2 Marine Parade,  tel: (03) 5155 1966 or free-call (1800) 637 060. It is open from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily. Winter months 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website with information about accommodation in the area. Check out http://www.lakesentrance-vic.com.au.

Got something to add?

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5 suggestions
  • I didn’t read any historical information about the Central Hotel. The Lawrence family owned and operated for over 100 years. My grandmother was Ivy Louisa Lawrence (one of the Lawrence children). Where can I get more information about her and her family?

    Heather Gerson
  • Here’s six pieces of information you may find useful:

    In 1882 the Fern Bank Hotel, an accommodation house of five rooms at the time, was built on the site of the current Central Hotel for Catherine Gray and later licensed to Captain William Charles Williams.

    On the 29th May 1885, George Robinson opened the first School No. 2672 on the site next to the Fern Bank Hotel in a building provided by Captain William Charles Williams, one of the best known Masters and owners of the famous “Lady of the Lake”.

    In the early hours of the 11th October 1886, a fire occurred at the Fern Bank hotel, totally destroying the hotel together with all of its contents. The Hotel was rebuilt.

    On the 23rd February 1887, Captain William Charles Williams transferred the Fern Bank Hotel’s licence back to Catherine Gray.

    On the 19th December 1889, an application to change the Fern Bank Hotel’s name to the Central Hotel was granted to the then licensee Thomas Sommerville.

    On the 27th September 1890, after the New Entrance had been officially opened and a Pilot and Harbour Master’s Station had been established, Captain William Charles Williams was appointed Pilot due to his long experience with the lakes.

    Greg Stephens
  • What about the building of the footbridge?

  • I am not really wonderful with English but I get hold this very easy to interpret.