I’ve never been to Lakes Entrance before. I’ve been to the region with road racing before and loved towns such as Paynesville and Metung, but never been to Lakes Entrance. I was well overdue for a bit of a mental break. After a couple of days of family time, I decided I would head out on the gravel and make for the little East Gippsland town of Orbost on as little of the bitumen as possible. I promised the family I’d stay off the main roads, especially not knowing the area this far east. While not a bikepacking tour, this should still be a bit of an adventure.
Right behind Lakes Entrance is a ridge line. Not massive, but no warm up, just straight up. Hopefully its all down hill from there. Off I went on a couple of the lesser used bitumen roads. A perfect mix of rolling terrain and sweeping bends. Just me and some ducks really. It was already a balmy 18 degrees at 8:15am, so it could be a warm day. No better place to be today. Quiet roads and the prospect of some great gravel trails.
After a brief stint back on a bit of main road, I turned off in search of my first gravel trail. This road was still bitumen, but still pretty awesome. Again sweeping bends and mostly descending, so what was not to love. The road rounded a bend and had a sudden dip. Around the bend I was presented with a set of temporary traffic lights signaling some road damage ahead. Yes there was. The flooding was just dissipating in fact, but this bend also marked the start of the Gippsland Lakes Discovery Trail.
The entrance to the trail was shut! Orange temp fencing with a big bloody sign. It seemed it had been for a little while and to a degree I could imagine why with how much water seemed to be flowing in the region. Being a bit of an adventurer, I decided to step around the barrier and roll through. My initial thought ‘this really doesn’t seem too bad’. A nice little trail, wandering alongside the Mississippi Creek, which was a little just a little swollen. It was so quiet in here. I could hear what seemed to be every ripple of the creek over rocks and around trees.
The further I rode, the more the top layers of the trail had been simply washed away. All that remained to ride on was the ballast, some as big as cricket balls. If you hadn’t been used to riding this type of terrain I can imagine it would be confronting. I continued on with a couple of trees over the trail to negotiate. Coming around a bend the trail had simply disappeared and I was now riding in the river that had flooded over the trail. It was only 4-6 inches deep and so here I was riding upstream. I was a little concerned about it reaching my bottom bracket. I made the decision that this would not be sustainable and would take another track at my earliest opportunity. I wasn’t sure if I was contributing to damage to the trail, let alone my bike.
I arrived at the next track crossing and scanned Uncle Rd with trepidation. My immediate options were uphill either way. Knowing which was likely to lead north I headed off. Thank you – I chose well. The initial climb was steep but relatively short. Looking into the distance Uncle Rd was an absolute ripper. The surface was fast with hard packed dirt, with the odd patch of gravel to make it interesting. I was in absolute heaven. Not a soul about and my tunes playing through the Shokz. I didn’t want this road to end as I punched along over the rolling hills. I didn’t think this could get any better as I approached the intersection with Lakes Colquhuon Rd.
Oh but I was wrong! Lakes Colquhoun Rd was next level racing gravel. A fast purely gravel road that again I hoped would never end. I was hammering along just loving life in the moment. I was in the mood and head down and motoring. I rounded a bend and out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a sign. Sugar Honey Iced Tea – what was that? It was the sign for the East Gippsland Rail Trail. Damn cos I could have ridden this road to the ends of the Earth.
So turning onto the trail it became immediately evident that the trail had been impacted by recent storm and flood damage. The course sandy surface was heavily saturated, making it like riding in wet concrete. Don’t get me wrong all still very rideable, just not presented in its greatest state. Unlike other rail trails I have encountered, this one made some significant detours to miss old trestle bridges, so no walking the plank for me (see the bridges section of the Great Southern Rail Trail post). This meant some steep descents and just as steep pinches on the other side of the bridges. The morning was now getting along and the temperature was also rising as I reached Nowa Nowa. I contemplated a coffee but thought I was running a little later than I hoped due to my misadventures earlier.
The further east I travelled, the more flooding of the trail and the less it seemed had been invested in the trail and signage. At times I wondered had I left the trail and was just on a dirt path. Then just as I was about to turn and look for options, then there was another indicator showing I was indeed on the right path. Additionally the impact of the recent storms became more evident, especially in the consistency of the trail surface. More ‘hike a bike’ for me as I made my way under, over and around trees. Some significant erosion in some trail sectors, rendering the path to only one bike wide. The trail was so rough in spots …… just about shaking my eyeballs out of their sockets.
With just a few kms to go, I could sense the ‘bright lights’ of Orbost ahead. Just one last little push to get to town, as I got a SMS to announce the family had arrived in town. I crested another little hill and almost rode straight back into a river across the trail. Nope not this time. This one looks a little deep for me. Detours were commonplace today. I found a way across a bridge and back to the trail, which was now nothing more than a single trail dirt path. It was still so quiet! Only one more bridge to cross as I crossed over the mighty Snowy River and rolled into Orbost pretty spent. I had been racing the clock a little and was feeling the effects.
Just a note for those that have not been to Orbost before. On a Sunday there was not a great deal open to sit down and eat, but we did find one place. I could have consumed my body weight in sausages, hash browns and baked beans. Good coffee and good mixed berry smoothie, to wash down a great meal.