Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Fill those empty eskies with these great regional tours
Tasting platter at Lightfoot & Sons Winery- Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Most of us who enjoy travel, have taken the time to investigate how we can support some of the regions worst hit by the bushfires, and the double whammy of lack of visitors because of COVID-19 restrictions.
It can be hard to know which businesses were the hardest hit and how best to support them. I know I looked into it and it got a bit confusing trying to come up with my own itinerary. I wanted to give help where help was most needed. So I was glad when I learned about this reasonably priced Discover Gippsland AAT Kings three-day tour, in conjunction with #EmptyEsky. The coach tour supports some of East Gippsland's beloved towns that have been most affected by the downturn in tourism. They could really do with some help.
But first to fill you in on EmptyEsky. I have nothing but admiration for the young women, Erin Boutros, Eleanor Baillieu and Elise Mason, who started the Instagram campaign #emptyesky after the 2020 bushfires. Desperate to help, they started visiting the regions, paying their own way and putting money back into the communities. On their adventures, they photographed all the great produce, cafes, wineries and restaurants they came across. They gained 10,000 Instagram followers in the first 24-hours! And if you look at their account today (April 2021), they have nearly 60k followers. Recently, a couple of corporate sponsors, such as Jeep and Canadian Club supported their campaign but it's still about paying their own way and supporting the worst-hit tourism businesses. If you want to take a trip to help impacted businesses, then follow their Facebook page and website. Both are great starting points for organising your next trip.
But with the Discover Gippsland AAT King's trip, all the research has been done for you. AAT Kings partnered with EmptyEsky to organise these three-day trips. And they start back on May 28, 2021. Yes, you could hop in a car and do this road trip yourself but there are a few sound reasons for doing it by coach. The first is the number of wineries involved and on a coach, you won't have to do any driving. The second is because, after lockdown, a lot of people feel the need to be more social and the idea of a coach trip with potential new friends appeals. And for solo travellers, the single supplement is surprisingly minimal. Thirdly, there's a lot thrown in for the price. And lastly, to enrich the experience, guests will also meet some of the locals, who will tell stories of recovery and share firsthand how best to help these destinations.
Below is roughly the itinerary but please note, this may change closer to the date. Venue suggestions are dependent on recovery efforts and alternates may be suggested by your driver/guide. I haven't done the exact trip involved but visited some of the venues with Visit Victoria.
The journey leaves from The Victoria Hotel Melbourne, which is good to know if you are from out of town and need accommodation before the trip.
The first stop is the town of Yarragon, with its quaint shops and cafes and chance to support local businesses.
Lunch is in Sale, where there are many local pubs and cafes to explore, such as Jack Ryan's Irish Bar or the down-to-earth Gippsland Hotel, known as "The Gippy" by locals.
The afternoon is in Paynesville a charming village surrounded by lakes on three sides. The short ferry across McMillan Strait takes you to Raymond Island, where you can stroll The Koala Trail, along a path of gumtrees. This is one of the best places to see koalas in the wild.
Back in Paynesville, there's time to stroll along the beach, watch the boats sail by with a cocktail in hand at Pier 70 or discover regional wine choices at the locals favourite Paynesville Wine Bar.
Then, it's across the bay, to the relaxed village lifestyle at Metung for dinner at the Metung Hotel overlooking Bancroft Bay. Metung was a popular holiday spot, with the landed gentry and remains upmarket with a yacht club, Kings Cove Golf Club, and the luxurious Moorings Metung Accommodation perched on the water's edge. Near the jetty, a new gourmet food store, Farmer and the Cook offers all kinds of goodies.
Then to the accommodation and home for two nights at The Esplanade Resort and Spa, Lakes Entrance, which has a four and a half star rating and two lifts. Most rooms have views over the lakes, town or into parkland. There is both an outdoor lagoon pool and an indoor heated pool and spa.
On the second day, there's time to explore Lakes Entrance, a popular Gippsland holiday spot, where the local tourism businesses have taken a hard hit. There's plenty of options to choose from such as kayaking, boat hire (no experience or licence necessary) or even a farm & factory tour of gourmet mushrooms and snails housed for escargot caviar. The hotel has the onsite Illuka Day Spa open Monday to Saturday from 9am – 5pm and on Sundays by appointment. Booking an activity with these local businesses is one of the best ways we can support this local community.
Lunch is at Wyanga Park Winery, in its rustic bush setting. Sample Prosecco, Rose or Cabernet Sauvignon and grab a bottle or two to take home. Supporting local businesses not only feels good but tastes great!
Heading north to the small rural village of Bruthen, perched above the Tambo River Flats, you'll visit Neil and Lois at Bullant Brewery. Neil lost his home during the fires, however, the brewery is intact and open for business and they have great beers.
This evening is free to explore the local restaurants for dinner, but I have to put in a plug for Sodafish. One of Gippsland's growing number of hatted restaurants, Sodafish, has taken over an old ferry on the waterfront. Formerly of The Atlantic (a Crown Casino restaurant), chef Nick Mahlook returned to his hometown. Moored next to the fishing fleet of trawlers, this a truly ocean-to-plate experience. There's gourmet meals inside and a take-out chippery for those who simply want fish and chips to eat on the Ninety Mile Beach.
Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt - wood fired octopus at Sodafish
Day 3 is free for you to go and find a great breakfast and there are lots of local cafes to support. You'll be given a list of recommendations, but having recently been to the area, I must give a plug to Albert & Co. If you think Melbourne has fantastic coffee and beautifully plated breakfasts, this cafe certainly gives Melbourne a run for its money.
Plating Albert & Co, Lakes Entrance Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt
Visit the largest cave system in Victoria at Buchan Caves, spectacular limestone formations from almost 400 million years ago. Meet a husband and wife team at David Lucke's Fresh Food Market plus stock up on local produce.
Possible wineries on the trip include the much-lauded Lightfoot
& Sons winery, take in the sweeping views of the fertile valley. Or Nicholson River Winery, where Ken will introduce you to his extensive range that is Estate grown, made and bottled over locally-sourced cheese and wine pairing.
There will be a charming group meal at the farm to plate café The Long Paddock. This place alone is worth the trip. It has even been written up in The New York Times. Chef Tanya Bertino was formerly of Ledbury in London and she and husband Anton Eisenmenger have worked with top overseas chefs. The baked goods are delectable and while there is fine food, the vibe is unpretentious, with deliberately mismatched, crockery and workers dropping in for morning tea straight from the fields.
Visit Victoria, photo Rob Blackburn, plating Long Paddock
Before returning to the bustling city of Melbourne, get ready to fill your eskies at Myrtlebank Farm. This family-owned and operated farm business offers local produce directly from the farm gate. Fill up with free-range eggs, dairy products, seasonal fruit and veggies, sweets and jams, you will be further supporting local farmers and rural families in the community.
A fabulous trip Nadine. I like the idea of not having to drive and organise accommodation. Travelling by bus gives you an elevated view of the passing countryside. I have been to many of the places mentioned, but would happily return.